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Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's An Interesting New World for Our Children

There were two articles in the NY Times last week that both gave me pause to wonder about what a different world our kids are growing up in and what, in turn, their children will find to be the norm for their lives.

The first article was about a school in Vail, AZ (right outside of Tucson, area-wise, a large district) that had kids on buses who were stir-crazy and noisy. So they got a plan and put an Internet router on the bus. Voila! Problem solved. Now it's really quiet with everyone typing on their phone or laptop.

Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared.

“It’s made a big difference,” said J. J. Johnson, the bus’s driver. “Boys aren’t hitting each other, girls are busy, and there’s not so much jumping around.”

(Yes, I'm sure they are all studying.)

An early test came in December, when bus No. 92 carried the boys’ varsity soccer team to a tournament nearly four hours away. The ride began at 4 a.m., so many players and coaches slept en route. But between games, with the bus in a parking lot adjacent to the soccer field, players and coaches sat with laptops, fielding e-mail messages and doing homework — basically turning the bus into a Wi-Fi cafe, said Cody Bingham, the bus driver for the trip.

Now I grew up in Arizona and the distances between schools in different cities can be great so this is a swell idea especially in terms of kids getting something they need done finished while still enroute to something they want to do. But I see kids texting all the time, not talking. So now, instead of talking to a real, live human being sitting across from you on the bus, a student can escape. Between Facebook, texting and the availability of Internet access everywhere, I wonder when kids learn to interact.

The second article was about a young German woman (17) who is newest It Girl over there. She has already written and had staged a play and a movie so her first novel has been widely anticipated. Here's the problem: a blogger (yay bloggers!) found that she had lifted some material from another book. And, in fact, lifted an entire page in one place. Bad news, right? Not so fast.

On Thursday, Ms. Hegemann’s book was announced as one of the finalists for the $20,000 prize of the Leipzig Book Fair in the fiction category. And a member of the jury said Thursday that the panel had been aware of the plagiarism charges before they made their final selection.

“Obviously, it isn’t completely clean but, for me, it doesn’t change my appraisal of the text,” said Volker Weidermann, the jury member and a book critic for the Sunday edition of the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine, a strong supporter. “I believe it’s part of the concept of the book.”

"Concept of the book"? Welcome to the brave new world we live in where music sampling is common so why not literary sampling?

Although Ms. Hegemann has apologized for not being more open about her sources, she has also defended herself as the representative of a different generation, one that freely mixes and matches from the whirring flood of information across new and old media, to create something new. “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” said Ms. Hegemann in a statement released by her publisher after the scandal broke.

My response is not printable here but basically - BS. Now, yes, maybe this is the new generation's answer to art - everything old is new again. But there is no such thing as originality? And what's up with this new "authenticity" or is that a new way of saying "keepin' it real"? I don't know.

As someone who has tried writing fiction the past, I would say that there is nothing new thematically. Good versus evil, love conquers all, boy meets girl, blood is thicker than water. BUT just because there are no new themes doesn't mean there are no new stories. For example, we have raced so far ahead in medical advances but we are way behind on medical ethics. Child dying and need bone marrow? Create child 2 to save child 1. The theme is love of a child but that story couldn't have been written 100 years ago so it's a new story.

We go to new movies all the time, not to see the same stories but to hear themes retold in a new way. (And that's why I'm going out on a limb and saying that Avatar, with all its flash, will not win Best Picture. Story in film trumps everything for me and, I hope, the Academy.)

But, this is a new generation who now, apparently, believes in openly borrowing from anywhere. Yes, from the start of art, people have "borrowed". But I will say I am astonished at how brazenly it is being done and endorsed. Will our grandchildren never be punished at school for plagerism because, well, they just "borrowed" a phrase or two?

May you live in interesting times (I borrowed that.)

13 comments:

zb said...

I'm horrified, too, both by her statement, and the prize committee. Borrowing is fine; I've a big advocate of "borrowing" (and was horrified by the recent decision on the catcher in the rye "remix"; horrified enough to order a copy of an admittedly bad book from England).

But, borrowing without citing is stealing, and it's horrid.

(I'm with you on the weird positive portrayal of plugging kids in as the solution to the bus ride. What indeed, happened to reading, and talking, and perhaps having a moment of stillness. Perhaps they could have just given them some tranquilizers instead.)

Dorothy Neville said...

Wow, I got a different take on the wifi on the bus article. This is a seventy minute ride each way every day to get to school. Providing wifi offers an opportunity for learning that wasn't available before. The article quotes both teachers and students saying productivity is up. Sure beats enforced socializing for 140 minutes a day and then having to stay up late doing homework. Just because some kids will use the wifi unproductively, does that mean that it's bad to have for others? These kids didn't choose to live where the commute to high school is over an hour each way. Their parents did. Two hours a day, 175 school days a year, that's three hundred fifty hours a year where kids now have a choice to socialize or get work done or both. Seems like a win and seems like providing the wifi shows respect for the kids and their education.

And sports, aren't they great for kids? Don't kids get socializing and other positive values from sports? Sure, but when geography means participating means spending many hours on a bus, wouldn't providing wifi help kids manage sports and academics better?

Plus anything you can do to encourage teens to ride the bus to school instead of driving has got to save lives.

hschinske said...

I'm a lot more troubled by http://www.boingboing.net/2010/02/17/school-used-student.html

"According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools' administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the Robbins's child was disciplined for "improper behavior in his home" and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines. ..."

Helen Schinske

seattle said...

Parents in search of peaceful car rides have been plugging their kids into portable dvd players and game boys for years. I've seen some vans with two drop down DVD players (one for each kid) playing at the same time!!

We have gone way to far and it's beyond creepy now. But in history when we go too far we usually turn back (IE organic foods, traditional math, etc). We balance.

I hold out hope for an anti media-entertainment movement...sometime soon!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Dorothy, I'm not against the WiFi. Believe me, I've spent hours on those buses bored stiff. But I just wonder if eventually all buses, no matter the length of ride, will have them. My broader question is what kind of different life experience will our kids have? Does that much face time with a machine mean anything to how they have face time with real humans?

Anonymous said...

Another interesting article this week: High Schools to Offer Plan to Graduate 2 Years Early http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/18/education/18educ.html?ref=education

Patrick said...

In an academic paper, borrowings must always be cited. But in art?

P.G. Wodehouse's novels are a guilty pleasure of mine. They are full of borrowings, well-known phrases lifted out of Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Book of Common Prayer to fit a comic situation. Wodehouse does not provide footnotes. Every literate person who grew up in late 19th century England would recognize them without footnotes, and the people who didn't recognize them wouldn't find them funny after the joke was explained anyway.

On the other hand, Wodehouse would borrow a phrase here and there, not a whole page.

Anonymous said...

re: "According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools' administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. "

Two lessons:

1) If you're using a computer that you didn't set up yourself from scratch you should always put a post-it over any built-in camera when you're not actively using it. In fact, even if you're a computer guru and built your Windows machine from the ground up it's a good idea because you just don't know when some browser plug-in, or downloaded app or game is going to access the camera.

2) This kind of covert monitoring would not have been possible on a Macintosh (without some seriously gnarly hardware modifications) because there is an indicator light right next to the camera lens that comes on whenever the camera is in use. No matter who or how or when. All computers should have this safety feature, but they don't. Something to think about when you buy your next computer.

zb said...

"They are full of borrowings, well-known phrases lifted out of Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Book of Common Prayer to fit a comic situation."

But, he didn't cite, because he presumed that his educated readers knew that he was lifting "well-known phrases" from Shakespeare, the Bible, . . . . One doesn't cite "To be or not to be . . . ." or "To everything there is a season . . . " because everyone is expected to know where they came from.

What this girl/woman did is different -- if she lifted paragraphs from an unknown (or much lesser known) text. Being part of the fair use posse doesn't means that we have to point out stealing when it happens, even if we think that prohibitions on fair use are tragic.

seattle said...

No wonder the Shoreline School District gives each middle and high school student a Macintosh!

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

With all of the e-mails that I am receiving right now from the PTSA and the LEV about connecting student test scores to the evaluation and therefore the salary levels of teachers, and asking everyone to contact their representatives to vote for an amendment that would do just that, it seems that this topic would be a conversation worthy of a thread this weekend.

Our representatives are in town this weekend and having community get-togethers and the LEV is requesting that parents meet with their representatives to show support for an amendment to Bill 6696 which is about merit pay. The PTSA spoke in a hearing this week requesting that an amendment be added to the education reform bill that would require the assessment of a student, basically test scores, be tied to a teacher's evaluation which is what teachers' promotions and salaries are based on. That, in simple terms, is called merit pay and ties into the Race to the Top funding requirements. It's definitely on the minds of many who are lobbying for merit pay in Olympia as we speak.

I think that this subject is worthy of discussion if for no other reason than parents and others who read this blog can understand what the amendment is and the larger picture in terms of long term ramifications of an amended bill before clicking a button provided in an LEV e-mail requesting that merit pay be part of that package.

wseadawg said...

MW: I finally had a chance to watch Heidi Bennett's presentation at the Board Meeting by re-run the other night, and saw you standing there.

I feel compelled to say that the speech was tedious to watch and listen to, and the Big 4 Points that Heidi spoke of feel flat and were essentially meaningless, except for telegraphing support to what the Board and MGJ are doing.

As I recall they were essentially as follows:

1. Effective Teachers.
2. Effective Principals.
3. Adequate opportunities for students.
4. Community Involvement.

Well, um, DUH! Do we really need to publicly state those things? Aren't they already inherent? Isn't that like saying, "I want my food to taste good?" Gee, no kidding!

What bothers me is that, instead of accomplishing anything, those 4 points and all the signatories and supporters of them are doing nothing but telegraphing their support for Education Reform proponents and RTTT inspired reforms. There is absolutely nothing organic at all about those 4 points, and by encoding "effective teachers" and "effective principals" into them, you are broadcasting and telegraphing support and endorsement of the Education Reform movement started by George Bush and his cronies, and now carried forth under Obama by Arne Duncan.

If you've read the legislation pending in Olympia, you can see all the openings for "alternative certification route teachers" (translation: former, unemployed or retired business executives who now want to teach and indoctrinate their corporate-centric philosophies into children), as well as the movement toward more and more data collection and standardization, a cottage industry of highly paid outside consultants and auditors, new opportunities aplenty for new management and oversight mechanisms, yet, almost nothing that increases resources and support for teachers on the front lines, while demanding more and more from them.

We are at a serious cross-roads in this state. The new legislation demands a lot from teachers and demands concessions from their union, while demeaning their profession and carving up the education budget and industry like a thanksgiving turkey.

This is what people who oppose social safety nets embrace. If you can't dismantle government with popular support, then weaken, starve, corrupt, and bleed it to death. Make it so ineffective it will be ripe for outsourcing to the private sector and presto, there you have it.

The CVS put forth at the 2/3 Board Meeting endorsed all of this and while time will have to tell, I believe it was a huge, huge mistake and fueled a movement that I do not believe is good for our schools and our kids.

wseadawg said...

MW: I should acknowlege and apologize for being off topic with my post, which probably comes out of left field.

I should also say that I normally support and agree with about 95% of what you do.

I am, and remain, very skeptical of this reform agenda and the RTTT panic-driven policies. Having read Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine" recently, I think all this "now or never" or "crisis mentality" leads to hurried decisions and the embracing of bad policy. I am sickened and disgusted at the Obama administration's inability to enact much greater needed reforms on Wall Street or Health Care, while slamming teachers and blackmailing states.

We should object to those Byzantine tactics on principal and call them out for it. We should not participate in such corruption.