A Positive Digital Footprint

This evening I went to a digital safety presentation by a youth resource police officer sponsored by our local PTO. Most of what he said was fairly valid, but the way he said it was questionable in my mind.

First, it was very much of a digital immigrant telling other digital immigrants how their digital native children should act online. He admitted that he just didn't get why people talk about food or share their location online. In my mind, this made him less credible.

More importantly, his talk sounded like he was asking the parents to limit or curtail their children's online activity. To a certain extent this makes sense. We don't want kids to do things online that could end up hurting them. He spoke about making sure that kids didn't grow up with negative digital footprint.

I suggested that he might want to look at things from the other side. How do we encourage our digital native kids to have a positive digital footprint? How do we help these digital natives develop a good digital portfolio and a strong personal digital brand?

These are the questions we should be grappling with.

The Supermoon cannot be stolen

I continue to be overly busy so I am not getting as much writing done as I would like, but I've got a few moments, so I thought I'd reflect on the 'supermoon'.

What does it mean when the moon reaches perigee in Capricorn, the tenth house of the Zodiac, shortly after the summer solstice? There are many different ways to look at this, so I'll try a few different angles.

Larry Sessions, a writer for EarthSky, asks the question, Does a supermoon have a super effect on us?

He finds:

A supermoon’s effects are imperceptible, far smaller than those encountered in other everyday situations, such as being near a mountain or even a large building.

He talks about this in terms of gravitational force, and finds the effect to be "about 110 milligrams, roughly equivalent to about 1/9th the mass of a paperclip." That's not much of an effect.

He did acknowledge that "the full moon can appear as much as 14% larger in the sky and 30% brighter to our eyes than at minimum size and brightness." This change of brightness to the moon is likely to be unnoticeable from one night to the next, but when someone mentions it, it can lead to observational bias. Mention to people things that happen during full moons, especially during supermoons, and people will look for the occurrence and when they observe it, generalize about it.

If enough people mention something, it can start trending on social media. It can become a fad, a meme, or a topic of the day. Enough people are talking about the 'supermoon' that it has become a top news story showing up in my Google Feed, including a link to Larry Sessions' article.

So, while the effect of a full moon at perigee may be minimal gravitationally, it can be profound psychologically. Some may think about this in terms of vampires, werewolves, and the zodiac. Yet I'm interested in other aspects. I find the moon beautiful. Anything that gets people to stop and think about beauty, to gaze on something beautiful, is, in my book, a good thing.

Tying this to science, anything that gets people to stop and consider the motions of the earth, the moon, planets, and stars, perhaps even ideas like gravity and inertia, is also a good thing.

What would it be like if everyone took a moment every day to reflect on something beautiful and to share it? What would it be like if everyone took a moment every day to think about the wonders of how the universe is created and how humans have used science to broaden their understanding of the universe?

Unfortunately, too many people have too much on their minds in terms of making money and gaining power. Perhaps, instead of focusing on the fabulous creatures, the zodiac, or even beauty and science, another reflection is called for.

There is an old Zen story entitled, The Moon Cannot Be Stolen

A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. "You have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift." The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, " I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."

So, I give to you this different way of thinking about the supermoon. It cannot be stolen.

"Flowers are Red"

The week started off with a trip to Boston for the launch of my middle daughter's book, Don't Make Art, Just Make Something.

Have you ever noticed that
whenever someone does
something particularly well,
we call it art?

The thing is, if we're always
trying to make art, we miss
out on everything else we
can make.

It was the final week of the General Assembly up in Hartford, which passed AN ACT CONCERNING DISSECTION CHOICE.

A local or regional school district shall excuse any student from participating in, or observing, the dissection of any animal as part of classroom instruction, provided the parent or guardian of such student has requested, in writing, that such student be excused from such participation or observation.

It was also Artweek at Beecher Road School, where my youngest daughter is a student. Recently, they took a trip to the Yale Center for British Art, where they saw George Stubbs painting, "A Lion Attacking a Horse". To a young girl who loves horseback riding and who has recently given up eating meat due to her love of animals, it was a disturbing painting.

Even more disturbing was when she was told to reproduce the painting in art class. She didn't want to reproduce violence and because of the subject matter, she asked if she could do a different painting. When she was told no, she did her own version where the lion was lying down with the horse. It was rejected by the art teacher. Perhaps, as Isaiah 11:6 says, a child shall lead them.

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

Fiona related this to us over dinner this evening. I suggested that she should ask to reproduce paintings from de Kooning's Women series instead, but didn't go into details. I also introduced her to the song, "Flowers are Red" by Harry Chapin.

A Lion Cuddling a Horse

It will be interesting to see what directions her artistic express takes.


Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit; the month of June rolls in with hot humid weather, and life slowing down, close enough to normal for me to write my typical start of the month blog post with the childhood invocation of good luck.

Today, being the first Saturday of June, the Essex Rotary Club is having their annual Shad Bake. I've never been to a shad bake before, but a friend has spoken highly of them, so I'm thinking about working this into the schedule if possible.

Then, tomorrow, Miranda's book, Don't Make Art, Just Make Something gets launched up in Somerville, MA. I'm really looking forward to the event. Miranda just received her Masters of Education in Community Art, and the book has a bit to say about the educational system. For example, see this video of Miranda reading an excerpt from her book.

It fits well with Sarah Darer Littman's Op-Ed in CTNewsJunkie, An Open Letter to Connecticut Students.

June will see the end of the 2013 legislative session in Connecticut. I'll complete the CT Health Foundations, Health Leadership Fellows program and be doing various social media presentations.

Perhaps most importantly, I'll be spending time, when possible, swimming.

Thinking Outside the Oval Circle

As I sat at the Commencement ceremonies at Lesley University's Graduate School of Education, I thought to myself, "When was the last time you saw a help wanted ad asking for a standardized employee, must be good at filling in oval circles?" Most of the help wanted ads I see are looking for unique creative thinkers that must be self-starters able to work well in teams.

It seemed as if many of the teachers in the audience who had gone on to get advanced degrees knew all to well the failings of our push towards more standardized testing. The messages from the speakers were about the value of radical approaches to education and compassionate inclusiveness; when we think about 'them', all those people that are different from us in this shrinking world, we will eventually come to understand "They are us".

Looking at things from through the lens of health care reform, a topic I've been immersed in recently, I wondered what education reform could learn from health care reform. One of the big topics in health care reform, when you get past the hyperbole about Obamacare, is evidence based research into health outcomes. What are the outcomes we are looking for and how effective are different health care procedures?

Perhaps we need to look a similar way at education, what are the outcomes we are seeking? Are we looking to standardize all Americans and make them good at filling in little ovals? Standardized testing may be good at this, but is it what we're really looking for? How about teaching creativity and teamwork? This may be more useful in helping students find jobs and be productive, but is employment and productivity the highest goal we should be seeking? Where do values like compassion fit in?

Another key topic of discussion in health care is establishing the proper level of testing. Our health care costs have gotten out of control, in part, because of an over-reliance on testing. How often should a patient have a mammography? A PSA test? A colonoscopy? When are MRIs really called for?

If a patient tests negative for a condition commonly screened for and doesn't have a history indicating the likelihood of a condition developing, perhaps they should be tested less often. Maybe we should look at the same thing with standardized testing of students.

Many of my friends are eager to dismiss standardized testing outright. It has been promoted by corporations that benefit from it, and has not been designed by teachers in the front lines. Yet I've spoken with others that defend it, particularly as a tool to address underachieving schools, often in poor urban ethnically diverse school districts.

Following the idea of testing in health care, if a school is performing well, perhaps it shouldn't have yearly standardized tests. Perhaps every three years is sufficient, maybe even less frequently, depending on the stability of the teachers, the administration, and previous test scores. Yet for school districts that are not performing well, they might be needed on a yearly basis.

By moving away from standardized testing, schools can pursue lessons that will really help students in the real world, while schools that aren't managing to cover the basics continue to work on fundamental topics. Of course, this begs the question of what the basics really should be, what really is fundamental to a good education. As we think about a core curriculum, are we really teaching what will be core to students success in the twenty-first century, or, are we teaching what is core to maintaining the profits of an educational testing complex. That's a topic for a different blog post.

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