A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Digital Blues

I remember when Tommy, a job superintendent from some construction company, used to call in orders during the roaring eighties. Tommy used to joke about all of the cell phones he used to throw at the wall, and if I messed up his order, or made him wait too long, he might need to send me the bill. Today, I felt like throwing my dad's IPhone and my mom's IPad at the wall, and I was reminded about Tommy, who was so great at managing huge construction projects, and earning profits, that his bosses could afford to constantly be buying him the latest cell phones. Unfortunately, I have been swimming in a sea of red ink ever since I decided to go "all in" as a teacher, not because I can't teach, but because I must have offended somebody along the way, and there is probably some black mark in my files, or one of my references is poisoning the waters, or otherwise I would already have a full time teaching position.

Playing with Apple products this Sunday, the simplest of simple tasks became torturous, even for someone whose original computer was the "fat Mac 512." An old gadget geek, I have always been persistent enough to overcome most technology woes, but my experiences with Apple products, Evernote, a free "productivity app," and the "cloud" were frustrating enough to making me want to become a 21st century Luddite, and reject digital for analog, since analog is reliable and cheap, just like my friend Ricky, who is too intelligent to be a handyman, whose craftsmanship and heart is too old fashioned to make much of a profit from little old ladies, who is too proud to demand the respect that he deserves as a professional, because he takes what he does and who he is personally.

My efforts to show my parents the benefits of getting with the times and actually using their IPhones and  IPads as they were intended to be used began with a simple effort to download Evernote, a free productivity app with unlimited potential. Apple's clunky security features required Fort Knox quality passwords, which my 78 eight year old mom and my 82 year old dad were unable to remember -- no wonder Kurzweill has recommended that passwords go the way of the dinosaur, and has been promoting a physical key as the password's replacement. What should have been a 5 minute walk in the park turned into a detour through the Valley of Death. Unlike my lovable Fat Mac, Apple's modern user interfaces were not intuitive -- no wonder why dad has no patience for it. He has a revolution to fight! Unlike my Android, going backwards as I tried to navigate Apple's App store became a Labyrinth.

Later, I discovered the unreliability of Evernote, when overtasked by incompetent neophytes. Shocker! I was unable to corral my dad to help him help me manage the file sizes as I interviewed him. Episodes from his first encounter with Medgar Evers, dirt road encounters with a famous murderer in Ruleville, secret church meetings with political activists as they identified hard and soft targets in a church in Greenwood Mississippi, just like what he had experienced while working in the Strategic Air Command, only in Mississippi, which in 1963 was still fighting the Civil War, a suppressed report on Mississippi was flowing like water. Visions of Denzel taking a leading role in my movie flashed before my eyes, but reality hit like the naked lunch at the end of my fork. 4mb audiofiles, 48 minutes long did not compute. Evernote teased me with a vision of how easy quality collaboration can be, then left me nearly in tears, when the 4mb  wav audiofile "disappeared," was removed from my dad's shared Evernote Notebook, probably by some manager of a "cloud" server farm, before I had an opportunity to save the file to my hard drive. My dreams of being a modern Boswell to a Samuel Johnson shattered like a broken cell phone, because I had been unable persuade my dad to pause every 3 minutes to parse the interview into manageable chunks that the technology could handle. Poof! My dream of getting my mom to recreate her animal stories from the Internment Camps, from a child's eye, which I lost originally when my old microtapes were destroyed in the attic, were frustrated by the unreliability of cloud technology and lack of trust in the process. Once again, tonight I drank from the bitter cup of defeat.

When I stop by my parent's house in Arlington, I prefer to come unannounced, because I know that if I give too much advance notice, they will pounce on me. Their questions always probe the open wound, wondering about my efforts to find a seat on the bus in the field of education, efforts that are not going so well, and that I do not enjoy talking about, despite having invested several years, and thousands of dollars trying to become a master teacher, despite the positive way students naturally respond to me, especially when I engage them in dramatic read alouds. The less time my parents have to prepare for my Inquisition, the better.

Generally, I bring Mabel with me, since Mabel always forces the issue. When Mabel is ready to go, she quietly sits facing the door on the door mat. Her body language is unmistakable: she needs a "walky walk," or just wants to go in "daddy's truck," because it is time to go.

Today, I came to Arlington in search of Francis Bacon's argument about the appropriate use of science and technology, Francis Bacon and the Modern Dilemma, written by Loren Eiseley, which I hope to use as I frame my argument about how technology is being used or not being used in schools, not to clear up all of the mistakes I made when I posted about Medgar Evers, not to bring my parents into the digital age. My plan was to get in, find the the book, and get out. Mom did not have the book, so I ordered it on my Smartphone for less than $5 online, not from Amazon, but direct from a domestic book seller via Abe Books. At the same time, I ordered Red Kimono, by Jan Morrill, after I came across her recent Facebook posting -- a must read. Accidentally, I came to understand why my parents have not chosen to "go all in" with ubiquitous technology. Given my natural curiosity and general overconfidence, I decided to seize the opportunity to demonstrate my vision of appropriate technology use.

My vision of technology has become a flashpoint with both students and administrators as I have tried to engage students with intransigent behavioral issues in purposive learning experiences that incorporate technology and have found myself drawn into unwanted power struggles. Most teachers do not understand technology, partly because most teachers happen to be women, and unlike me, are far too focused and practical to waste hours upon hours fiddling with gadgets. Most teachers efficiently find analog solutions that work perfectly well in the classroom, which are good enough. When administrators observe a room full of students playing with computers, they tend to overlook important details about what and how students are using them. Districts invest millions of dollars into computer technology, which in my experience is generally being used inappropriately, or not at all, because the process is so incredibly time consuming, frustrating, and disorganized.

When I tried to show Nancy, a 6th grade student, the Google Art Project, which enables anyone to visit virtually any art gallery in the world, I needed Chrome, and lacking administrative privileges, I was unable to seize with the full force of the moment, and lost out on my Robin Williams like moment from Dead Poet's Society. When Nancy and I tried to publish her writing using one of several underutilized XP Dells, in which she shared her dream of becoming a famous artist, just like Da Vinci, finding the network printer in our room on the student computer was unnecessarily laborious. When I tried a workaround, and saved it to my Skydrive, it worked one day, then some net manager decided that my Skydrive was a security risk, and blocked me, so I invested the time in finding out how to find a network printer, instead of investing time with Justin, a student with expressive language difficulties who found it nearly impossible to generate sentences. Arghh!

At least I was able to show Nancy how she might insert a copy of the Mona Lisa into her paper. I wanted to show Nancy how she might digitize her own drawings, I wanted to show Nancy how she might insert her own drawing them in her paper, because a reader would be more interested in her unknown drawings than the work of some famous, but dead artist, but I didn't get the permanent job. Again, I lost my seat on the bus.