SITE 2006 keynote by Janet Swenson (3/21/2006 in Orlando, Florida)
– Can you hear me now? Composing Connections Between Classrooms and Communities
– professor at Michigan State Univ, directs the writing center

[This presentation is also available as a podcast, with Janet’s generous permission]

Janet came to the attention of SITE leaders because of her innovative uses of technologies
– is Chair of SITE English Education committee
– and VP of SITE Teacher Education Council

At the National Writing Project, Janet and collegues succeeded in getting a several million dollar increase for the NWP while other programs were getting cut

Janet has wanted a participatory keynote, so we have people

Much of my work is done now in workshops, rather than talks
– important to hear rebuttals, confirmations, and extensions
– important to hear the views of those who are marginalized, who can’t be here today
– our era is one of restricted travel and restricted travel budgets
– voices that are not here are still critical for us to hear
– we can have more dialogic and responsive keynotes using new technologies

Blogs may not be the best way to have a dialogic keynote
– need a way to have threaded conversations
– this move to have interactive keynotes matches with what many others have said we should be doing with “generative professional development coaching
– grounded in inquiry and reflection
– participant driven
– sustained, ongoing and intensive
– connnected to and derived from teacher’s ongoing work with their students

Nietzsche and Thoreau thought it was folly to have decisions made by groups, “The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki provides evidence that groups can make better decisions than individuals
– to do that, there are 4 criteria that they should meet
1- their members are diverse and use different sources of info to make decisions
2- members are independent and not reliant on one another
3- members are decentralized and unable to use coercion to influence decision-making
4- someone should periodically summarize the group’s diverse points of view

We are not sure at this point if an interactive keynote will be too disruptive and lead to too fragmented

Those willing to engage our our pioneers
– debate is an innate part of living in freedom
– disagreeing should be a high complement
– it means an idea was expressed that is worthy of comment
– we SHOULD challenge one another’s ideas and understandings

We can process 500 words per minute, even if I go real fast I won’t be going faster than 150 WPM
– so check out the blog!

A second beginning, with a short personal anecdote
– 68-72 was my undergraduate experience
– listening to 11 o’clock news was a highlight of my day each day
– I disagreed about almost everything with my dad, who is a staunch Republican

I didn’t want to hang out exclusively with people who agree with me

We are living in an era of vitriolic epitaphs where things are hurled at one another without a lot of reflection
– a lot of horrible things are happening worldwide
– people are suffering injustices because they don’t have the power or willingness to protect themselves
– we need to ask what our role and responsibility in that situation
– what is the role of a teacher educator in our society: different from the butcher, the baker, the candlestickmaker
– since the
– we need to shake off complacentcy, we need to identify educational missteps and RAIL against them in the press, in the offices of those who represent us, when educational policymakers are developing policy

We need to rail about them to the people who send their children to us, and to our students and our students’ students
– we need stronger connections between the communities that intersect

– what is being done today in education
– what do we share and where do we differ on educational policies and practices

Video clip, you have got to get mad first
– from

If we don’t get mad, I am afraid we won’t take action
– I want you to get mad because I am afraid, that we are going to get too accustomed to one travesty after another
– if we swallow hard and look the other way instead of holding our government accountable for the mistreatment of children, then it will become in

What should we become mad about?
– become passionate advocates for children, esp for those from low SES communities
– for those who have been effaced from many conversations

The world’s children deserve better than what we are giving, and as teachers

I don’t think this can count as an official educational event if I don’t ask you to take a test
– Question: Who wants to improve education?
– we are divided on so many issues, but we are united on improving education, education has become the poster child of politicians everywhere
– politicians like to assign responsiblity for problems in education and assert that if they are elected
– education has become politically charged over the past decade, work of teachers and teacher educators has been denigranted

I am mad that education has become a campaign slogan
– that many with very little experience or knowledge in education are telling others how to do it

These people are endangering all of us

Of course all of us want to improve education, and are not satisfied with the status quo
– I have strong feelings about how we should move the educational reform agenda forward, based on 34 years of teaching, 9 years of postgraduate work
– I am insulted to be told that I don’t know how to do my job by people outside my field

NEXT question: who is your favorite educational theorists

From Harvard Educational Review, Volume 75, Number 4
– Margaret Spellings says GW is her favorite

Next question: Who is in favor of leaving children behind?
– the naming of NCLB is brilliant, because it casts those against the bill as against the goal of educational improvement (actually FOR leaving children behind)

The only way to have freedom is to have free speech, to expect free speech
– my dad and I knew that naming our positions in certain ways could shut down debate
– that is the foundation on which democracies are built

To the Dept of Education I say “shame on you”
– if you care about this country and children
– do not use titles to shut down debate

Let me repeat: I am not satisfied with the work of educators, I think it is right for the public to expect more of us
– what I am opposed to are mandates that come down from people who haven’t spent a year in a classroom with children who haven’t had enough to eat, with kids who don’t see their parents part of the working poor
– I am sick and tired of people who say I am condemning students by my low expectations

My state is spending millions of dollars on testing to prove that my children


Aristotle calls this logos: appealing to reason
– we need to remember the pathos and ethos as well
– pathos appeals to the emotion (think about “Nation at Risk,” Johnny Can’t Read, NCLB, very visual references, etc)
– message is it is that teachers are not taking care of kids

We need to be in closer conversations with those who make educational policy and fund education

colleague used to challenge me: just do the right thing and keep your eye on the prize

I have listened and nodded by head, and not done enough
– talk to me about accountability when you send all kids to
– when education is politicized it also becomes nationalized, but this is coming at a time when we are becoming globalized

Remember Lakehoff’s work on NCLB
– think about athletic races
– timers, starting lines, finish lines, prepared surfaces
– is education a race? that is what we are hearing in this country
– we are hearing this all the time, and that US children need to get back into first place
– this analogy doesn’t work for me: what is the finish line? I thought we were trying to create lifetime learners, I thought we recognize that

The race today seems to be creating the most standardized students
– the country most known for innovation is now trying to have students reach one single, uniform set of standards

I am still waiting to walk into a school that says, “Welcome to Wilson school. We’ll make sure your students conform to the standards.”

Prizes: access, equity and excellence
– providing access to authentic educational opportunities
– we will all benefit from this: this is actually very self-serving

So you care if it is a child in Africa who finds the cure for cancer versus a child in the US?
– or if a child in Denmark who figures out how to reverse global warming, someone
– we are interdependent, the world is at risk and we are an interdependent people

Many have come here to understand the power of narratives
– they can help us understand cause and effect

Next segment: a story
– when we only talk in statistics, we are not really talking about children

Story is about my first year of teaching
– to just a few paragraphs
– my first teaching city was Flint (“Roger and Me” by Michael Moore is set in Flint, several years ago a 2nd grader shot a classmate)
– when I arrived in Flint, I arrived with pedagogical knowledge: thinking I knew what to teach and how to teach
– what my students taught me is I didn’t know who I was teaching
– most students were low SES and didn’t plan to go to college, they didn’t buy what I tried to sell them in terms of a future
– b/c they didn’t care about going to college, the only collateral I had to trade with them (grades) were useless
– Congress says we need to make kids learn: that is much easier to say than do
– my recourses: call home or throw out of school
– so I had to look for other ways to get their cooperation
– my students came to school primarily to see their friends, another problem was that I replaced one of their favorite teachers
– one day I shouted, “what do you want from me?”
— kids didn’t understand this was rhetorical
– when Mrs. Hamilton was there, they got to make up plays about their lives, and write them down, and share them with each other
— from that point on there were
– I found many other ways to get them engaged in their own literacy learning, as their respect for me grew, my ability to push and challenge them further has grown

Today in flint, there is a standardized curriculum where students are expected to be on the same page on the same day, in each grade

Story of Alicia
– one of my students after class, who came in with a brown paper bag
– her mom had moved away while she was at school and left her belongings on the front porch
– so she came back to school to ask her teacher what she should do
– In our schools there are far more Alicias than we admit
– half a million children in Michigan live in poverty

Family income level is the #1 predictor of academic achievement
– are Michigan teachers not doing their jobs?
– how would we know?
– same strategies use to denigrate K-12 teachers are now being used to attack university professors

Detroit News, March 12, 2006 ran article “Professors paid not to teach”
– article cited millions of dollars wasted by the state on sabbaticals

Whose job is it to let people know about “our job”
– are we going to wait till our reputations have been as compromised as those of K-12 teachers before we get involved

Margaret Spellings now has a 19 member commission looking at whether we need new NCLB legislation is needed for higher education

NEXT QUESTION: We believe effective tech integration and PD can improve student learning, yet…
– PT3 not funded, FIPSE gutted, E2G2 zeroed out

I want you to get mad and take action
– what do we do?
– we need to think about how to hold ourselves accountability
– maybe one place to start is on the SITE blogs

SITE is interdisciplinary and international

We need to identify points of agreement and disagreement, and stay in respectful dialog

ETAN is EdTechActionNetwork formed by ISTE
– can easily locate and “productively challenge their thinking”
– stand up and be counted
– when we do this, we show we value freedom
– when freedom is not practiced, it atrophies

Rhetorical question from last year keynote
– are we talking to ourselves?
– Ian’s challenge last year to find ways videoconferencing can improve our practices, but also how we can be more activist

Think about how digital storytelling can support activisim

If students can experience rich educational opportunities, that will happen when educators who have spent their lives get mad and get involved

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