Yesterday and today my son and I spent quite a few hours at Putnam City North High School, northwest of Oklahoma City, at their annual speech and debate tournament. I snapped these photos today in the student commons area. Weekend tournaments can be tiring! Some of the students on our team didn’t leave Friday night till 11:30 pm, and rounds began again this morning at 8 am.

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Note the student in the third picture above, who appears to be playing on an iPod Touch. Angry Birds, perhaps? Cut the Rope?! Or, maybe it’s a cell phone and the student is texting? Also note the mobile phone in the right hand of the student covered with the pink blanket, holding on with a vise grip! I wonder if any teens today actually text while sleeping?!

I took a bunch of other photos at the tournament, and in addition to posting them to Flickr also shared a few during the day with comments to TwitPic.

Of those photos, the following one showing a particular teacher’s cell phone and iPod punishment policies generated the most responses, both on Twitter and Facebook. Evidently the mobile learning revolution is not welcome in this particular teacher’s classroom. I wonder how many iPods and other mp3 players the teacher has permanently confiscated to date? I wonder if any students or parents have appealed this to the school administration, or failing that considered contacting the ACLU?

Cell Phone and iPod Use Policy

The Tweet from the weekend which generated the most discussion on Facebook was this one, shared after I visited with several debaters from Longfellow Middle School in Norman. Longfellow is one of nineteen schools participating in our statewide 1:1 TitleIID pilot project this year. The students told me they were told (by school officials) to NEVER install any new software on their Windows-based netbook laptops, and NEVER change or customize their desktop wallpaper. This is sad and disappointing at multiple levels, as commenters to this Facebook share highlighted.

Comments about Longfellow Middle School Laptop Policy

In his post, “I’ve Learned My Lesson – Question Everything,” Miguel Guhlin quotes Danny Brown:

In business, “leaders” have forgotten what it really means to lead. Instead, they bully employees into thinking their ideas are dumb, and while the employee is on the ground picking their shredded idea up, make sure they stop and get a coffee on the way back.
Educators are telling our brightest students that they won’t have a voice in the business world when they leave college, so be quiet, just listen to your superiors, and maybe – just maybe – they’ll get on in their chosen profession…Question everything. Settle for nothing. Even the most common sense answers can always be enhanced through questions and ideas.

Danny is right: It’s our obligation as educators, learners and leaders to QUESTION. This approach to living and learning is revolutionary, and it’s just the approach espoused by Neil Postman in his fantastic book, “Teaching as a Subversive Activity.” On page 23 Postman wrote:

Knowledge is produced in response to questions. And new knowledge results from the asking of new questions; quite often new questions about old questions. Here is the point: Once you have learned how to ask questions– relevant and appropriate and substantial questions– you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.

Although I was saddened to hear about the laptop lockdown at Longfellow (there’s some digitally inspired alliteration for you!) I was SO inspired (again) by the chance to work with middle and high school students this weekend at a speech tournament. I LOVE debate as well as extemporaneous speaking. There is no “cognitive ceiling” in either event. I heard kids debating about Kant’s categorical imperative this weekend, questioning whether human rights were universal or served the narrow interests of a particular cultural worldview, and discussing whether our criminal justice system is fundamentally flawed because of racial imbalances in drug crime sentencing. At no time did someone say, “Hey, you’re just in seventh grade, that concept isn’t something you’ll get to till you’re a senior!” It was a fantastic (as well as tiring) experience of intellectual discourse and competition. Long live debate and speech tournaments, and the passionate people who make them happen! Londa Madron (my son’s debate coach) is one of my personal heroes!

Do we need to question everything? Absolutely. Can a classroom teacher with a draconian policy on the permanent seizure of mobile devices hide from the light of public scrutiny, or a school’s policy of locking down student laptops to prevent even a DESKTOP WALLPAPER change remain a secret? Not very easily today.

We’ve certainly got a fair number of teachers in classrooms today who would be happy to keep all their students silent, passive, and largely disengaged from any type of real critical thinking experiences. We have another group, however, who take an opposite approach to learning. Learning should be all about asking questions… and asking tough, authentic, challenging questions at that.

The importance of asking questions to learn, both at school and outside of school, was a main focus of the “PopUpSchool” demonstration on the 2nd day of the Creativity World Forum in Oklahoma City Wednesday. Our need to provide differentiated opportunities for learning, to let students learn in different ways, and integrate the arts across the curriculum to encourage GENUINE creativity were also emphasized. The following two, 90 second clips will give you a taste of what the students shared with the help of their teachers.

Jean Hendrickson, the Executive Director of Oklahoma A+ Schools, is the educator speaking about differentiated learning and arts integration in both of the videos above.

If you’re feeling low and in need of some inspiration, make some time to hang out with some students engaging in an activity they love and about which they are passionate. While we sometimes feel surrounded by “change preventers,” the students around us are often already acting as “change enablers.”

I love hanging out with kind, passionate people of any age. Passionate young people are especially inspiring, however. :-)

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