A conversation with my daughter… Her first impression of LAUSD

This afternoon my wife was driving our two lovely daughters by our neighborhood elementary school when the following conversation ensued. As told to me by my wife.

Niloufar: mommy what’s that?
Mommy: it’s a school.
Niloufar: no it’s not.
Melody: no it’s not Niloufar. It’s a park.
Niloufar: (considering her little sister’s opinion) no it’s not Melly, it’s a school. it’s just trapped!
Mommy: What do you mean Nilou? What’s trapped?
Niloufar: (pointing to the Gated fence around the perimeter of the elementary school) it has… that thing around it.

Wow… Its not like I hadn’t heard this sentiment expressed from different folks throughout the years. From community members to teachers in training, the general consensus, at least anecdotally, is that our schools look more like prisons. Even at a campus like Augustus Hawkins, which gets just as many compliments for its beauty. People still have a hard time juxtaposing the iron and metal enclosures surrounding our real schools with the image of the “ideal” school we have in our heads or hearts.

My wife reminded Nilou that her school also has a fence around it… Nilou contested this truth at first, and then pondered deeply about the implications of that. That is where the conversation stopped. But it is at that point that my wheels began to spin. What is it about the fences at my daughter’s school that fade into the background and communicate freedom and play while the ones down the street at what most likely will be her designated home school scream “trapped?” I have some working theories of explanation around the play based nature of my daughter’s school, the socio-economic demographics of different areas, and the broad aims of the educational policies enacted in the district I am employed by… but Nilou is not aware of any of these things on a conscious level. It leaves my wondering about the importance of aesthetics in our visual landscapes and the influence of socially constructed terms like “schools” and “parks.”

Connected Learning… What are we Connecting with?

i have a feeling if i continue to write in this blog space that i will increasingly be exploring the intersections of education and parenthood. it makes sense as these things take up the majority my cognitive processing power and time. they are also inextricably related, right?

i often try to multitask, knowing full well that it is not possible. i was attempting to do so this morning; listening to @anterobot give an interesting sit down with the Connected Learning Alliance podcast (see below) while trying to give and pay attention to my almost 2 year old daughter. it wasn’t working. as i listened to antero respond to questions about technology in classrooms, the power of connected learning, the missteps educators often make when attempting to have connected classrooms, i realized that my use of technology at that moment was not connecting me to the one person i should be connecting with.

so i pushed off the feeling of guilt with the pause button on the podcast, realizing i could always come back to this archived audio recording, but that i would have to rely on my own mental archives of my daughter playing with blocks and using imaginative play, pretending to serve me imaginary food in an abalone shell. and i think here in lies the paradox of connected learning in our current state of the technological revolution.

technology, particularly online and mobile, have the power to turn participants into perceivably passive “zombies.” as a parent i see this all the time. parents at the park on their phones. passively observing their kids from a far. it should also be noted that 1) i am also guilty as charged and 2) parents often need a break from only interacting with their beautiful (sometimes frustrating) children, especially who stay at home full time. the park provides much needed space for the both the child and the parent. one engaging in independent or codependent play, the other independent or social interactions online with mobile technology. both healthy and necessary at times if appropriately moderated. i have also seen this as a teacher in the classroom. there is nothing more frustrating but easier to identify than a kid on their mobile device, with their mouth half open, staring at their crotch… put your phone away and pay attention! it should also be noted here, that when i am in the position as a learner (often in professional developments or teacher trainings) i often find my hand creeping towards my phone to interact online. LIVE IN THE MOMENT!!!

and yet technology has the enormous capability to create powerful spaces of interconnection, the likes of which would be not be possible otherwise. antero speaks of google hangouts and video chats like skype, powerful online portals i am privileged to use frequently. just last night my wife and i reconnected to a close couple of friends we hadn’t seen in awhile, opting for a video chat on our laptops because our phone batteries were dying. it was surprising pleasant and non-pretentious. these opportunities at times help to strengthen my own families’ bonds, facetiming with grandparents and cousins. they have also created authentic and unexpected educational collaborations in my classroom, working with university students and professors in colorado (CLRN) and illinois state. it is a refreshing break from the classroom that exists only within its own four walls. sharing questions and ideas with learners in other places excites the learning space back to one of authentic enthusiasm and engagement.

so back to the paradox. or rather the false dichotomy. what is troublesome with conversations about technology, connected learning classrooms, and the like is that its often presented in traditional spaces – the media, schools, teacher education programs, policy making board rooms, etc. – as an either or. either cell phones have absolutely no place in the classroom because they interfere with one’s ability to focus on the task at hand OR they are the next best tool that can transform ANYONE’S classroom practice. this is a disabling dichotomy. dialogue should be more nuanced and critical, examining both the possible as well as the problematic potential and real world case studies. i know i have found myself frustrated with the lack of conversation by colleagues challenging conventional rules and policies around technology use in my school, an institution that at its very core repositions technology use and traditional teaching models.

in short i guess i agree with antero’s assessment of deepening the dialogue with teachers primarily. and this is no surprise given our often overlapping interests. however i found it interesting how i responded as a parent in the moment, prompted to critically reflect in real time and make adjustments when asking myself… who exactly AM i connecting with at this moment? i am glad that pushed pause in that instance. i think part an important part of the dialogue is the ability to push pause and give real time and space to think about implications of our interactions, online and in the real world… and that they say about us as students, teachers, parents, and a culture.