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Helping students find their voices, or not

Chris Powell’s editorial in the Manchester Journal Inquirer last Wednesday was entitled Forget Sheff: Take up the real city problem.

It starts off:

Some state legislators have noticed that the settlement of the Hartford school integration lawsuit is a sham. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent building and operating "magnet" schools and busing students around the Hartford area but the city's schools are less integrated than they were when the settlement was reached four years ago, and the performance of city students is no better either.

It raises interesting questions. How effectively is money being spent on education in our state? What are the real problems?

Stephen Wilmarth run the The Center for 21st Century Skills. The Center is “a semi-autonomous organizational unit of Education Connection to enhance and expand upon the efforts and collaborations of existing Education Connection staff and their work in the area of 21st Century Career and Technical Education.” Ultimately, I believe, some of the funding from legislation that came out of the Sheff v. O’Neill decision supports Steve’s efforts.

I sent him an email to ask for his opinion about the editorial. I expected Steve to talk about how our educational system needs major revamping, particularly in the areas of curriculum development to meet the needs of a 21st century workforce. Instead, he focused on economic disparity:

I think you're going to see some real issues and social unrest over the next several years, because the problem can not be contained in the long term by a policy of building schools and cutting ribbons for show. The problem is…a problem of economic disparity. And it is a problem that is creeping out of the cities and into what we might have called "middle class communities" like Seymour, Naugatuck, Middletown, and others. Either Westport and Greenwich accept Bridgeport's students in their schools, or work their political power to change the rules of the game and insure that every CT student have an opportunity to be educated in a manner that enables them to be productive members of society in this century. It's not a hopeless challenge, but it will take courage and commitment.

So, what are the issues that our schools are trying to address today? First, there is the case of “Voice in Conflict”, a play put together by a theatre class at Wilton High School. This was the play that was judged to be too inflammatory by the school’s superintendent to be put on in the $10 million auditorium, so instead the students were invited to perform the play in venues around the country.

Now, a new case has emerged. Lauren Doninger has filed a suit on behalf of her daughter Avery who had been class secretary for three years at Lewis S. Mills High School because she wrote a blog post calling the superintendent a “douchbag” for canceling a concert at the school.

What does any of this have to do with Chris Powell’s editorial about Sheff v. O’Neill? What we need is better education in our state, education that helps all people find their voices. By helping all students find their voices, we can engage in dialogs that truly bridge the racial and socio-economic gaps that plague us. Unfortunately, school administrations in Connecticut seem more concerned about making sure that students do not find a voice, especially if that voice criticizes the administration or presents opinions that not everyone agrees with.

Insider/Outsider Politics in Connecticut

Over on MyLeftNutmeg, there is a post about an upcoming gathering of Young Democrats in Stamford. The attendees include several notable political figures from the area and my good friend Sal observed that it looked like a lot of insiders there.

This spawned a lengthy discussion about how easy it is to become an insider in blogs and in Democratic politics in Connecticut. It was noted that Sal is the State Coordinator for a Presidential campaign and is in many ways very much of an insider himself.

To me, it felt that some of the people who had crashed the gate and become insiders were defensive about their role on the inside and dismissive of those who remained outsiders. There was talk about the insider/outsider dichotomy as being divisive. This is unfortunate. There is nothing wrong with being an insider or an outsider and ideally we should embrace the insider and outsider aspects that we all have.

I am very much an insider. I am helping with the technology for Jim Himes’ campaign. I was Ned Lamont’s technology coordinator. I was John DeStefano’s blogmaster. I was campaign manager for my wife’s campaign when she was one of the first Dean Dozen candidates in the country. I was a very active volunteer with the Dean campaign and have been ask to write chapters for various books about the Dean campaign. I was credentialed to cover the Libby Trial in Washington this year, the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, and numerous other events. Yeah, I’m very much the insider these days. I’m proud of what I’ve done and hope to continue doing it.

At the same time, I feel a tad uncomfortable. You see, I’ve always been an outsider, the outcast, pariah. I wasn’t one of the popular kids in high school or college. I never intended, nor particularly wanted to be an insider. It happened by accident. At the same time, even today there are special gatherings of bloggers that I am not invited to. There are ‘true insiders’ that I feel uncomfortable around and would say that I’m not a ‘real insider’. They dismiss whatever I say as self-aggrandizing.

I guess it is a good thing. I think it helps me keep my edge, my perspective. You see, I believe the most significant political moments have occurred when the outsiders and the insiders meet. What matters is the moment of crashing the gate and the mixing of ideas and energy that happens in the moment. Political groups often talk about their insider/outside strategies, and I think we need recognize the importance of these strategies.

Yes, it is very easy to become an insider here in Connecticut and within blogging. We need to keep it that way. We need to be aware of barriers we put up, intentionally or unintentionally which keep out people who feel like outsiders.

This is some of the reason I like to focus on non-political blogs. I like to visit, get into discussions and get ideas from people who are much further outside the political process then some of the self-professed outsiders in political blogs.

The Internet has broken down many barriers to communication, but many more barriers exist within each one of us and our interactions with those around us. Let’s take our gate crashing seriously, not to get inside, but to make it easier for everyone to get inside.

Come, Let us Reason Together

People have asked why I link to conservative blogs here. On a mailing list I’m on there is a big discussion about whether or not they should link to conservative blogs. I find these comments in profound contrast to a discussion I was part of Monday night about the book Extreme Democracy. In that discussion, there was talk about including more people in a deliberative process. In other discussions, people have talked about how compromise, which was once a key part of the legislative process, is now considered bad. Politics, itself, is also considered bad and an extended debate is derogatorily called ‘political theatre’.

President Johnson often used the phrase, “Come, let us reason together”. It was a call to deliberation and compromise. If he were alive today, it would be a call to cross-linking. It is a call that we desperately need to heed. Some of you will raise the objection about not compromising with those who are unwilling to yield on their side. That is true. That would not be compromise, it would be appeasement or capitulation. Instead, we should seek those on all sides of the political spectrum that are willing to engage in meaningful dialog.

The phrase that President Johnson used came from the first chapter of Isaiah where the prophet speaks out against a nation that has rebelled against God. The second half of the verse goes on to say, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

Reasoning together, meaningful dialog and, yes, cross-linking to conservatives are part of the reconciliation process that we need here in America. It is part of a process that we need to model to the people of Iraq if we want to see Iraq avoid further violence.

So, I will link to conservatives. I will even link to people that say things that I consider inappropriate and hateful if by doing so, I can help bring about a dialog to heal our country and our world. More importantly, I will go out into the marketplace. I will link to mommy bloggers, pet bloggers, sports bloggers, even SEO bloggers to the extent that I can get new people to join into the dialog about how to address the issues we face. I wish more of my progressive political bloggers would join me in this.

Come, let us reason together.

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Who owns the group?

There is a group of people that meet at a conference every year. For the past couple of years, it has been facilitated a certain set of people. This year, the conference organizers have selected someone else to facilitate the group. I know some of the people in the group. They are smart people who like to think about group processes, and recently they got into an interesting question about who owns the group.

Is the group owned by the organization that sponsors the conference? By the group facilitators? By the members of the group? What does a change in group facilitation do to the group? I thought it might be interesting and expand it a little bit.

First off, we are all members of many groups. Some are very informally organized. Others are very formally organized. There are the group of people who are reading this blog post. This group has subgroups, people who come to the site, and people who read it through some sort of feed reader. Each of these groups can be broken down into further subgroups such as what browser or what feed reader is being used, or how you found the site in the first place. These grouping are very informal. People in the group may not know one another or communicate with one another. As such, these groupings are less interesting to me, at least for this blog post.

On the other hand, on a site like MyBlogLog or BlogCatalog, people can identify themselves as readers of this blog. On MyBlogLog, I can send messages to everyone who has identified themselves as a reader of my blog. Others can see who is in the community and read their blogs. Does MyBlogLog own that group? Do I? Do the members of the group?

In a similar sort of way, there are various people that gather to watch movies together because of some shared interest. The same questions apply about whether the organizers or members own the group. Yet in this case there is another possible owner of the group, the producers of the films being viewed. I like thinking about this because it perhaps brings us closer to one of the reasons why this is an important question. Ownership and leadership of groups affects the way communications take place and perhaps more importantly, the collective thoughts that emerge out of the group.

This might seem like a lot of theoretical words right now, but it can have some pretty immediate application. As an example, I was a member of a mailing list back in 2003, of people supporting Howard Dean for President. This group also met face to face from time to time. Who owned that group? The Dean campaign? They stayed away from any aspects of ownership, particularly for campaign finance reasons. There was the person who had set up the mailing list, who from Yahoo!’s perspective owned the group. There was a woman who was very active with the face to face meetings who tried to assert some sort of ownership of the group, and then there was the group itself.

During the power struggle between a couple of the people asserting ownership, I was drawn in. There were discussions about whether or not the group owned itself, and if so, how did it handle leadership and the administrative functions of the mailing list. In the end it split into two different groups which faded away after the campaign was over.

Within political blogging today, there are many mailing lists where bloggers congregate to plan their strategies. Who owns these groups? Who owns the progressive political bloggers or ‘the netroots’? Who owns the group of people that participate in DailyKos or are going to YearlyKos?

How do these ideas affect people stepping into the blogging? I know people who have resisted posting content online because they aren’t ‘bloggers’. They aren’t part of some group. They don’t feel qualified to join the group, or they don’t want to associate with some group.

By thinking about the nature of groups, perhaps we can learn more about what is going on around us in our blogs and mailing lists.

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Technology tidbits

dk2 invited me to Pownce. I’ve signed up, looked around, and so far, it looks like yet another Twitter or Jaiku. It uses Adobe’s Integrated Runtime (AIR) to run an application on your desktop. Unfortunately, AIR doesn’t run on my old NT based machine. Perhaps I’ll try it on a different machine later. Until then, I’m not sure I’m seeing that it does much. It doesn’t even seem to have RSS so that I can link it nicely to A maze of twisty little passages, all alike . If you use Pownce and can tell me what I’m missing, please do.

A week ago, Kevin Makice pointed me to Remember the Milk. It is a simple, well done task list. It integrates with netvibes, Twitter, Google Calendars, and can be accessed from your cellphone (although not by text messages, other than via Twitter, as far as I can tell). It also has an API and third party services. I don’t use task lists a lot right now, but it does look like a neat tool.

Over on Orient Lodge, I was checking various logs and found that Google was crawling over forty different pages with the path ‘browse/Office2003Blue’. The problem is that I don’t use OfficeBlue so they were all not found. I added a Deny line for Google searching the browse subdirectory. As I searched around, I found Apparently a lot of people have been using OfficeBlue on to search different sites. It looks like it does proxying and strips out photographs, which might not be work friendly.

Beyond that, it appears that OfficeBlue is often used for spamming or phishing. There was a brief mention of it on, and I came across an anti-phishing site,

PhishTank is a collaborative clearing house for data and information about phishing on the Internet. Also, PhishTank provides an open API for developers and researchers to integrate anti-phishing data into their applications at no charge.

It looks like an interesting tool.

One final technology tidbit for this morning Alexa has finally gotten around to a Firefox Toolbar. As I’ve noted before, Alexa isn’t the most reliable ranking system. Anyone who uses it seems to have abnormally higher ratings for their own websites, which is part of the reason why I’ve been rating higher than some of the Presidential candidates. I’ve added the Alexa Firefox toolbar. So far so good.