Showing posts with label Random Thoughts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Random Thoughts. Show all posts

Letters Never Published

The following are two letters to the editors at the Salem News that never got published.  Both I feel are useful to have out there as part of the conversation.

No, Bill Maher Was Right

The following was a response to this editorial about Bill Maher and his comments on the Boston Marathon Bombing.  

After lambasting Bill Maher as "morally bankrupt" and "sarcastic" (FYI: he is a comedian), the Salem News attempted to prove how "out of touch" he is by quoting some of his remarks on 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing.  Appalled by what he said, they call for HBO to "let Maher go forth on his own and find some religion."  So, it's “morally bankrupt” to identify hypocrisy with sarcasm and satire about two religiously-motivated events, but acceptable for Salem News to recommend religion? 

What's wrong with Maher, asks Anthony Weiner and Salem News (now that’s an interesting pairing).  He called out the Emperor in his birthday suit.  He took the "moral high ground" by calling out truths of the situations that no one wants to admit.  In both instances, his points were relevant.

Is it braver to kill your enemy from afar or to be present and do it by taking your own life?  We celebrate Memorial Day in this country and what we celebrate in part is those people willing to risk their own life for a communal cause.

If people are killed and maimed every day in tragic events, how can you morally differentiate between them in celebrations and honors?  That we as a culture do so much for the victims and survivors of the Boston Bombing comes at the hands of ignoring the many other tragedies that happen every day to innocent people.

Maher revealed truths we don't want to think about, because it makes the world grayer than we like to pretend.  That's what satirists do; they flip conventional wisdom, recognizing it for a poor stand-in for reality.  That Salem News can't recognize that or wants to waste ink on such a subject goes far in explaining why Maher is a media icon and the Salem News is a floundering print newspaper.  

Actually, Trust Is All Around

I sent this one in when the Salem News published this editorial on concerns around the national trust level and asked for people's thoughts.  They have as yet followed up with anything so they either didn't get enough entries or didn't care for the resposnes.  

Many signs reveal an increasing trust in society, which raises questions about the accuracy of the study.  Is it measuring an antiquated concept of trust--one that doesn't understand how technology may have changed our understanding of trust?  

If trust were declining, then websites such as eBay, Amazon Marketplace, and Etsy would not be the thriving hubs that they are.  They rely on trust of individuals to succeed and many use them daily.  Craigslist or Freecycle also thrive even without a user-rating system.  They require that gut-level trust.  What about Couchsurfing wherein people welcome strangers into their homes house for several days--often for free?  The rise of farmers' and craft markets also indicates a stronger faith in individual people than in faceless corporations.  So if this is what the decline of trust looks like, do tell what would an incline of trust look like?

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What Social Media Has Taught Me About Sensitivity and Respect

Following up on my post about the Boston Marathon bombing and even other posts where I discuss my positive experience with social media, I have been thinking about the fact that social media has made me more sensitive and reflective.  So often I hear people discuss social media as a dehumanizing and vampiric tool on human sensitivity and respect.  The anonymity and distance from one another allows us to be mean without consideration of the impact.  Just do a quick Google search on the latest obnoxious, racist, sexist, and mean things flowing out of the internet and this justifies as proof-positive that the internet is a cesspool of despicable peoples.    At least that's how the argument goes.

But I find it's quite different for me.  I'm increasingly sensitive to what I'm saying, posting, commenting upon, and interacting with online.  That's not to say I'm censoring what I say or refraining from speaking, but I'm more deliberate in what I have to say and I'm likely to vet it more before posting.  Even on Twitter, I think more critically about my use of 140 characters.  I'm still critical and challenge things that I find problematic or dubious, but the ways in which I challenge them are increasingly more restrained.

I find myself doing this for a few reasons.  The first is the fact that because of digital technology, anything can be captured and recapitulated into the larger world in mere moments and I will largely have little say of whether that something of mine is deep and respectful or obnoxious and insulting.  Also, at the end of the day, I want my digital identity to correspond with and reflect my physical identity (or at least my conception of it).   Another reason is that I find much richer and rewarding conversations and dialogue when I post with respect than when I don't.  I make more friends and connections.  I learn more about myself and others.  I get a slice of that human need for dialogue.

I've also realized that aggressive arguing, attacking, and insulting doesn't suit me.  I would rather not be up half the night in such debates like the meme below.  I can easily get an awful sense of indignation and righteousness--that's not hard at all for many of us given the right topic and the wrong comment.  But I find little or no value in dispensing my wrath through social media.  Largely, because it doesn't dispense itself but just sits there waiting to collide into someone else and begin nothing productive but a virtual yelling match between two people.  That is, anger just festers.
We often do this; and yet never feel better.

But the internet and social media feel less and less like an nebulous, anonymous, and potentially hostile environment to me and more and more like a very large room with the capacity for people to hear everything that you may say.  This enormous, ongoing, cross-cultural, trans-generational conversation puts me in contact with many other people in many different places (geographically, politically, spiritually, sexually, etc).  Slowly but surely, the conversations that I've hopped into with more callousness or sense of right have only reminded me of the multiplicity of understanding and process in the world.  In plain, it's shown me time and again that I'm wrong in many different, humbling, and wonderful ways.  Thus in moving forward, I increasingly try to step back before stepping forward.

So where is all of this coming from?  Last week, I heard about the major explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas as it was being reported; it is another tragedy in the unfolding like the Boston Marathon bombing earlier that week.  Upon first hearing it, a host of quips came to mind--none of which were appropriate, but did capitalize on the intersection of fertilizer and explosion.  I have no doubt Twitter and the like are inundated with such quips and off remarks.  I could have easily tossed out a bunch of them, but I realized I didn't want to.  Sure, someone might laugh but it would be at the expense of real people.  People that I'm likely to find out in some way, shape, or form, I am connected to--and who even if I'm not connected to, I'm likely to read about their stories, lives, and experiences from a variety of writers and creators on the internet.  This is what I mean by the large room.  We become much more aware of how closely we are connected and that means we're more connected to events even when they are afar.  We see the human element of the event more and more because it's a quick check of our various social networks to get a sense of who it has reached.  We're increasingly in those networks of connection.  

Thus, more and more, when I prepare to hit the send, tweet, publish, or post button, I'm more likely to think much more about who will read this and how will impact them.  How can I communicate my thoughts and ideas in a way that will effect them without insulting or aggravating them.  I think it has made me a better communicator in many ways and have seen direct and indirect indicators of this.  It's also made my life richer and more enjoyable.

To be clear--I'm no saint in this regard.  I still slip into a more antagonistic role in social media at times.  Though I find it interesting that I'm likely to do that with people that I've known 10 years or longer--slipping into previously established scripts and roles--but for most people whom I know from adulthood and may have never met face to face, I find that I try to maintain a mutual respect, regardless of differences.  It's not an all or nothing and I think there is a learning curve involved.

I think it's also that social media brings to our attention the ways that we are in our day to day lives that we miss or don't necessarily see--but can actually follow in through looking at a week's or month's worth of posts and comments on a social media site we favor.  This opportunity to capture how we interact and be able to examine and study it is something I don't think we really have done well in our day to day lives.  Our conversations, interactions, and gestures are fleeting and thus deny the opportunity to fully study and understand.  Yet, social media has helped me understand what it is that I do and how it is when I interact with people (for good and for bad).  And that is a fascinating opportunity to get a more defined sense of who I am.

I write this, like I write so many other things, because I believe there are many more like me and who have yet to put pen to pad (or fingers to keys) but still find what I have to say resonating with their own experience.  If that is the case, please speak up in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter (@leaton) or elsewhere on social media.  I would love to know that I'm not the only one out there finding that social media is informing and improving our sensitivity.

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A Year of Active Blogging & 200th Blog Post

So I returned to this blog in full force just over a year ago when I renamed the blog and started to write regularly.  In June of last year, I hit my 100th post in total on the blog.  And today, I'm writing about my 200th post, which means I'm averaging about 2 blog posts per week, give or take.  Thus, I've been blogging strong and am starting to see the uptick in traffic that many bloggers talk about in the first year.  I'm not seeing crazy numbers but a few thousand each month--which is better than the scores I saw at this time last year.

In looking at the past year, it's clear that I've found some niches that seem to work for me.  That I blog about my running antics is amusing as I would have thought as a writer, I would never be a runner but learned that being a runner has helped me to be a better writer.  As I've crossed the half-way point with my current Master's Degree (Education, Instructional Design) coupled with my current position, I'm clearly writing more and more about education.  That certainly makes sense.

My top five posts include the following.  It's curious to see the range among them.  I was particularly suprised that the Childfree post rated so high.  My letter to students makes sense since I do believe it to be a well-formed thought about what I would love for students to understand about their education and the reflection on the Boston Marathon was bound to get high reception.

As an act of self-reflection, I have found blogging to be extremely rewarding.  It forces me to think aloud about the different topics that come up in my daily life and formulate a meaningful way to display that to the world.  Given the increasing traffic, I would say that it's somewhat successful.  But even if it wasn't, I'd continue to do it.  I've come to find my conversations are richer--when on topics I've written about or not--because I've come to have a much more reflective thought process in such conversations.  I'm less likely to grab for the easy answer and try to play around with the ideas first.

Branching Out
In the last year, I've added a few things.  There is the Facebook Page so that if people want to catch updates and the occasional reposting of an older post, you can like the page and stay up to date.  I also fixed the RSS Feed for this blog as it was acting wonky and having some problems with it.  I can see now that my subscription list has grown significantly since I fixed it.  The email subscription in the upper right hand corner is also working.

I'm also thinking of adding more media to the site including further developing my Youtube channel and adding audio where possible.

Rewarding and Reward Me?
Beyond the reward I get from writing, the biggest reward I get is from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who tell me they read my blog and enjoy reading it (in general or a specific post).  I hear it in face to face conversations, via text, or in emails.  All of which is great and I am grateful for.  If I had but one request it would be that such comments be not regulated to one-to-one conversations but made part of this blog itself through the comments feature (or through discussion threads when the link is posted to social media outlets) as I have always wanted to this blog to be an act of dialogue more than monologue.  That it brings me into face to face conversations is great--that is certainly part of the goal.  But if you are read the blog, please think about dropping off a comment and letting me know your thoughts (good and bad).  I generally respond to comments and would find it useful to understand which posts are striking people the most (besides just how many hits they get).  

So that's my 200th post.  The question will be how quickly will it take me to get to my 300th post.  I'm anticipating much quicker (especially when I look at all the posts I have in my draft box).  That being said--what would people like to hear or read about?  Are there things you're interested in hearing my take on?

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For No Other Reason...

Than to illustrate that being a turkey has long been a tradition of mind.

In truth, this is in part a fulfillment of an assignment for class to which I will probably take down shortly. But this image is me, circa 1996 or so at the Brooksby Farm Harvest Festival. Enjoy!

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Responding to the Value of Popular Culture

So there's this regular letter-to-the-editor writer for the Salem News, Malcolm Miller, who writes these 3-4 sentence quips that seem to largely disregard and condemn popular culture and society in some capacity or another.  Whether it's sports or talk shows, he is dismay with it all and with any who appear to take value in it.  Last month he wrote one called, "A Cultural Question."  Here is my response to said letter.  I originally sent it to the Salem News but they appeared to pass on it.  So here it is:

There is much to read that may not be considered "good.”  I believe Miller would appreciate the quote--though not necessarily the actual writings since they were more common--of  science-fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon:  "Ninety percent of [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud."

But as one who seems to value the authority of established "cultural assets," you might look to Plato.  He would be more likely to idolize the sports figure as a representation of the ideal than to idolize a book.  As he said in Phaedrus,

"Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise."

We live in a time where we have many forms of meaningful storytelling.  Books absolutely have a place in that world, but they are not the sole means of transferring and developing substantial cultural artifacts.  That we have become a culture of such diverse range and taste speaks more to our cultural complexity than any uniformity to a preordained and highly limited ideal.

Lance Eaton
Watcher of television, films, and even Youtube videos.
Reader of books, comic books, blogs, and even Twitter feeds. 
Listener of old time radio, audiobooks, great speeches, and even podcasts.

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Obnoxious Tones in the Childfree Debate

This article in the Daily Beast on childfree living that was brought to my attention definitely irked me...a lot.  It had enough condescension and judgment about the nature of childfree living that I got a bit twitchy and proceeded to write.  Many of you know that I have opted for the childfree life and regularly engage in the conversation about the conscious decision not to procreate.  I've read and discussed it here on this blog and most of my friends know--it's one of my soapboxes for sure.  I understand and appreciate why people procreate, I just don't care for it and I get annoyed about the ways in which people decide they know what's best for me and other people making the conscious decision. I get further annoyed when writers attempt to talk about people opting for childfree living deliver articles that still echo of judgment.  Of course, some child-filled folks aren't likely to see the strong bias or underlying misdirects that the authors point out since the childfree lifestyle is often foreign to them (note--it's foreign but not incomprehensible--no more than the child-filled life is incomprehensible to childfree folks.  Too many on both sides of the discussion argue that the other can't "truly" understand what the other's life is like.  I find that an extremely misleading assumption.  Our entire lives and interactions with one another are extraction of personal experiences to understand the other person and that has the potential to extend to all aspects of life).  

So here are some of the faults I find with the article. 

Let's start with the first paragraph:  "First, for many younger Americans and especially those in cities, having children is no longer an obvious or inevitable choice."  The problem here is the last bit:  "no longer an obvious or inevitable choice."  Since when is an "inevitable choice" considered an actual choice?  It's not.  If you can have any choice of color of a Model T Ford so long as that color is black--it's not a choice.  So the authors' frame to imply "choice" when historically there wasn't any speaks to a bias of that's what "should" be done.  This bias is made crystal clear by the second sentence:  "Second, many of those opting for childlessness have legitimate, if perhaps selfish, reasons for their decision."  

So not only do adults have actual choice, but they may have actual "legitimate" reasons to not have children.  However, one should be weary because those legitimate reasons are "selfish."  Wow.  First, the assumption that the decision to not have children is "selfish" while whelping out a pup is considered unselfish is problematic.  In many ways, procreating can be argued as an ultimate act of selfishness--particularly in a modern world where each child puts further demand on a ecosystem that humans are already overtaxing and in conjunction with the massive number of children who have no homes or families.  Choosing to procreate in that light would be seen as much more selfish and self-centered. 

But why do my reasons for not procreating need to be legitimized?  I've consciously and purposely chosen not to have children whereas nearly half the pregnancies out there are  "unexpected."  That suggests to me that our lack of legitimate reasons and conscious decisions for procreating in all likely still contribute significantly to the gender gap, since procreation invariably impacts females substantially more than males (both directly and indirectly).  That many can't legitimize their need to breed beyond "because" isn't entirely reassuring and again, given the aforementioned environmental and social issues above, are much more suspect and problematic.  After all, my decision to not procreate puts no further potential burden on the larger social system than that which I already represent.  But those who procreate increase the direct (in terms of resources consumed) and potential (should the parents rid themselves or lose the right to have said child) burden upon society.  But my decision needs legitimacy?  To be clear, it's not the act of procreation that I take fault with.  It's that my decision to not procreate needs to be legitimize and is regularly framed as "selfish" when there's clear reasons why we would want to legitimize the selfish decision to procreate.  

The next problem I see in this article is the term "Postfamilial America."  That somehow not procreating means you are beyond the traditional family?  Again, it hints at this idea of being non-family oriented.  However, many of the people I know that don't procreate are very-family oriented.  Connected and close with their families in ways.  And if by post-familial refers to the idea that we extend ourselves beyond our traditional family bonds; that too is inaccurate.  The 1900s gave us the nuclear family, but "family" has had a much larger meaning throughout history and extended to a variety of people that weren't necessarily family or superficially family.
History of Human Population--we have little
 to fear about a population decline

The article flailing cries that "Postfamilial America is in ascendancy as the fertility rate among women has plummeted, since the 2008 economic crisis and the Great Recession that followed, to its lowest level since reliable numbers were first kept in 1920."  This statement is a bit confusing since first, by fertility do the authors mean women who are potentially fertile or women who have become pregnant?  But I think it's the nationalistic vibe that permeates the article that we see start to rise.  Population decline may be happening in pockets, but the global picture continues to be one of substantial growth.  We're 7.1 billion and counting.  In the course of visiting the Population Institute website for about 10-15 minutes, it was reported that the population had grown by 1000 net births.  

The authors continue to fixate on the concerns and challenges that are supposedly created by those selfish non-procreators.  Whose going to replace the workforce?  What about all those elderly entitlements?  (Of course, he seems oblivious to the fact that adults without children--particularly DINKs--are likely to have more resources to work with and be less of a social burden).  The authors are not concerned about the overall continued population growth in the world, but about the United States.  So much of the challenges that he points to--only exist because of a self-interested and one might say selfish approach to looking at human population.  These are artificial threats created by an artificial barrier called nation.  Here, the authors are playing upon a xenophobic bias (his own and the readers) to ignore the larger picture and just frame the US in a state of crisis (making note that we could go the way of Europe or Japan who also face population declines) that is in part, caused by the childfree selfish people.   

The overall assumption that the population growth of the 1900s was a positive thing seems ridiculous at best given when we know not only about the environmental impact but that in this country millions of children go undernourished and uncared for.  In the end, the idea that childfree living is somehow connected to a potential decline in our culture negates that the practices of the 1900s have created a variety of problems that childfree living actually addresses much more than negatively impacted.  Yes, we have benefited greatly from that growth--I won't argue that.  But the idea that it is sustainable and childfree people are compromising America's future by having legitimate yet selfish reasons for not procreating is ludicrous.  

Ok, there was a lot more that I wanted to write, but I think I'll save that for a book.  This article probably doesn't deserve any more attention.

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School Education: Convenient But Not Really About Learning

This past year, I read a handful of books on education, information, and the brain (see reading list at the bottom of this post for the major influencing texts).  All of it fascinating stuff, but all of it leads to me some rather disappointing conclusions.  As Seth Godin explains in his great TED Talk, Stop Stealing Dreams and Ken Robinson also addresses in his TED Talk turned animation, Changing Education Paradigms, the current education system is not only antiquated, but really, an impediment to learning given all we know about learning.  Given that learning still takes place every day (or rather almost every one of the 180 days students are required to be in school--barring things like field days, ski trips, and other non-education oriented excursions) seems to be a testament to the resilience of children, even when being done a disservice.  

This is not an attempt to bash teachers by any means; their resources and freedom are severely limited and confined.  That teachers are able to find meaningful ways to teach their students despite the impediments put upon them speaks to the resilience and skill of teachers.  Teachers put in an amazing effort to create a genuine learning environment for the students but like their students, that they continue to do so despite such restrictions speaks volumes about their dedication to the artful skill of teaching.  

What concerns me is that we have this rhetoric of wanting to create the best schools possible but often fail at doing just that because it's not convenient or it doesn't work with what school was like when we were children.  I cringe when I hear people say something along the lines of "I didn't do that when I was in school."  That education should be static and standardized during a century in which we have produced entire libraries worth of scientific knowledge about education seems like saying, we should still be treating health according to the bodily humours. 

I don't necessarily think that schools are broken or horrible places, but I do think in many ways we create as many barriers as we remove for different student populations merely for the sake of convenience than actual purposefully chosen reasons.  What follows are some examples of where it seems convenience trumps actual education.

The School "Day"

Typically, school hours for public school are from 7:30am-9am until about 2pm-3pm.  Within that limited and disruptive period of time, students are expected to be exposed to 4-7 topics depending on the school set up in 40-90 minute sections.  Lunch times are truncated to 20-25 minutes, pushing students to wolf down food in order to have what limited time possible to talk and socialize.  But does that format--particularly the 7:30am-3pm slot--actually useful for student education or is it just useful for parents and their schedules.  Would a later start time be useful or would a more dispersed range of time (9pm-1pm and 3pm to 5pm) change learning?  We seem stuck on the this time slot without much reason beyond that it's convenient to the work world, not the learner.

The School "Week"

The 5-day school is meant to mimic the work-week but is that really useful to students?  5 days of learning and 2 days off (of course, that's increasingly not the case for many adults of just working 5 days).  I think about my own experiences and Monday often felt like a throw-away day as we were still settling in from the weekend.  By Thursday, our eyes were set on the weekend.  Would more dispersed education or even less days off improve learning?  It's not that I don't believe children deserve down time, but is the weekend the best form of down time for learning and education.  It just doesn't seem so; again, it just feels convenient.  

The School "Year"

180 days stretched out over 10 months with several vacations interspersed throughout and 5 days a week is the standard rule.  First, why only 180 days?  It equates to just under half the year but is there any other reason for it?  Besides a sense of balance about school and play, it doesn't seem to make much sense (and trust me, I believe there is an essential element of play to childhood and education that we horribly ignore, but more on that below).  And is two months off from education actually conducive to learning since a serious part of the first quarter in the new semester is spent on relearning what has been forgotten or addressing knowledge gaps from the previous semester.  A further extension of this is summer reading where kids are coerced into reading two books among a list of pre-selected books.  This too feels more a product of convenience than actual substance.  I remember my senior year I didn't get credit for summer reading; not because I didn't read (I produced a list of the 42 books I read that summer), but because I didn't read any of the lackluster books on the list.  

The School Classroom

To some degree, I feel this has the most viable change with the introduction of tablets in the classroom and the ways that will change what the classroom means and looks like, but of course, such technology will not exactly be distributed equally for years (that is, until a newer technology comes along and lower-class schools get the hand-me-down technology).  However, having students sit for up to 6 hours a day for their education seems not only detrimental to actual education but to their overall health.  People aren't made to sit for long hours.  It's funny people are quick to yell at video games, computers, etc for making kids fatter because they sit for long hours staring at the screen.  But that's exactly what they do at school; they sit and stare at screens or the instructor or both; allowed to stand up only when it's time to move to the next class or go the bathroom.  We know I'm clearly a fan of the standing desk, but there is something to be said about allowing kids to have some means of control over their body in this regard.  (And I'll even avoid going on a rant about how those chairs and desks are just an invitation to poor posture and back problems).  

School "Activity"

That gym and recess are severely limited instead of highly encouraged is equally challenging.  One of my favorite books of last year was John Medina's Brain Rules. His very first rule is about exercise and how it is connected to learning.  As he says, our ancestors grew up on the move and there was a strong evolutionary tie between learning and moving.  That we virtually banish physical activity and require inactivity seems to do more harm than good.  

Looking Elsewhere for Good Ideas on Education

Overall, I think there is a lot more that we could do with our education than what we have done.  Looking at the Finnish school system and they changed they made in just 50 years, I think there is still much to be done, but so little has.  In large part, I think it's because we're still looking at education through an industrial model--one that treats the parts like automatons being trained to jump through hoops and because it's largely convenient.  If we could throw out the current school model entirely, what would an ideal education system look like to produce learners?

The top list are books specifically, but the rest are books that also influenced and guided my thoughts about this post:


  • A Year Up: Rediscovering America and the Talent Within by Gerald Chertavian
  • The Systematic Design of Instruction by Walter Dick et al
  • Bully: An Action Plan for Teachers, Parents, and Communities to Combat the Bullying Crisis by Lee Hirsch
  • E-Learning by Design by William Horton
  • The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch
  • Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative by Sir Ken Robinson
  • Learning and Change in the Adult Years by Mark Tennant
  • Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? By Pasi Sahlberg
  • A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas
  • The Global Achievement Gap: Why Our Kids Don't Have the Skills They Need for College, Careers, and Citizenship--and What We Can Do About It by Tony Wagner
  • Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World by Tony Wagner


  • Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson
  • The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman
  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by BrenĂ© Brown
  • Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman
  • As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda by Gail Collins
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
  • The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human  by Jonathan Gottschall
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath
  • On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits by Wray Herbert
  • Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age by Steven Johnson 
  • Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
  • Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer
  • Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina
  • Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
  • The The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World by Jeremy Rifkin
  • The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories by Frank Rose
  • Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
  • Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World by Sam Sommers
  • Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World by Christopher Steiner
  • The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph Stiglitz
  • Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room by David Weinberger

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Favorite Posts of 2012

Like many others, I see the end of the year as an arbitrary time to reflect, but that won't stop me from doing so.  This post will highlight some of my favorite posts in the last year (of which there about 90 posts between this post and when I restarted the blog back in March, 2012).  What follows are what I think are some of the best of what I've done.

As a whole I've really enjoyed blogging and how it has helped me think more clearly about different ideas and issues.  It's one thing to have ideas in your head, it's another to talk in miscellaneous exchange about them, but it's entirely something else to collect them together in written form for others to see and respond.  Putting them in this forum has allowed me to share what I feel I can share with the world (my ideas and thoughts) while also allowing me to hear from others where they agree, disagree, and have even been moved by what I've said.

So here are a few of those:

On Becoming a Reader Part 1 and Part 2 (May 2 & May 5, 2012)

We all know I'm an avid reader.  But I think there's a profound importance in promoting that idea and making sure others know the importance and value of reading.  In many ways, it's a solitary act, but one that needs to be regularly discussed in a public forum.

The Right to Fail at College (March 17, 2012)

I'm profoundly challenged by the role of shame and failure in our culture.  I don't think failure is a bad thing, but the ways in which we shame people for failure seems to create more problems. particularly with youth; they will avidly avoid that which they've failed.  When it comes to education, a system that doesn't utilize failure as a learning moment seems to be poor education.

On the Death of a Student (April 4, 2012)

One of my harder posts (emotionally speaking).  The classroom is such an curious environment and dealing with the death of a student in that class is a very challenging event therein.

Standing Tall: After a Week of Active Standing at Desks (June 19, 2012)

I've become a big fan of the standing desk and 6 months later--I still love my makeshift standing desks.

1 Year Later: of Fitbits and Vibrams (June 25, 2012)

A realization of how some tools can actually make all the difference.

Sure, I'll Do That: Where Volunteering Has Led Me (July 12, 2012)

A reflection on the benefits and interesting ways volunteering has influenced my life.

Tale of 9 Runs: Men Cry, Go Figure (August 6, 2012)

Our culture isolates men from talking or thinking much or understanding their feelings.  We are often made to pretend or close out emotional experiences because of the roles "men" are supposed to exhibit.  Here's some of my thoughts on that.

Verbal Handgranades, Vitriolic Banter, and Verifiable Rape (August 23, 2012)

A more nuanced discussion on political rhetoric and missing the real issues that are out there.

Tales of 9 Runs: A Tale of 2 Medals or I Just Ran a 25K, No, Really! (September 3, 2012)

The first long run I accomplished this past fall.  Still marveling at it and the other runs I did this fall.

A Youth Well (Mis)Spent: (Video)Games of My Mind (September 10, 2012)

Video games were a major part of my childhood and I'm all the better for them.

Online Education: Some Considerations (September 14, 2012)

As I've gotten more experience at my job as well as further in my MEd program, some thoughts about the nature of online education are brewing. 

Tales of Running:  First and Last Impressions (September 21, 2012)

 A reflection on the passing of a coach and kind man

Tales of Running:  Resilience and Mules (October 13, 2012)

One of my best reflections on running and how I got there.

Look What I Made: Apple Leather (November 12, 2012)

Maybe not one of my favorite posts per se, but it was one of the most popular in the last year.   I certainly enjoyed making it and talking about it (and am still making batches regularly).

Students: Why You're Smarter Than You Think (November 28, 2012)

Students are sometimes their own worst enemy when it comes to learning.  They need to know they're way smarter than what they give themselves credit for.

If Teaching Online Is Easy--Are We Doing It Wrong? (December 12, 2012)

Again, as I think more about education and what it does or doesn't look like in the online environment, some of these assumptions are problematic. 

Shootings, Troubled Boys, and System Failures (December 28, 2012)

 One of the hardest pieces of writing I did all year, but I also think quite important in the larger discussion around the Sandy Hook shooting.

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Goals & Thoughts for the New Year

I'm generally not one for New Year's Resolution.  It's not that I find them useless, but I've grown to realize that without some kind of structural plan around it, they are unlikely to succeed or to hold any value in the long run.  However, in looking at the year ahead, I do have some goals and things I want to accomplish.  I'm not just listing them here but where possible, I give myself some clear means of accomplishing them and what accomplishment looks like.  Too often, our goals are too intangible ("become healthy"--health is a continual process; not a singular state) or too vague ("get control of my finances"--what would control look like?).

The fact is I would like to be healthier with my lifestyle choices and therefore have the following goals in mind:

Do 10 pull ups

This is doable certainly.  At times, I've been close with 8 or 9 (ok, 8.5).  I have one of those doorway gyms and can do pull-ups regularly, but get out of habit of doing it.  10 would be a good goal as it will take 1-2 months to get back up to 8 (I'm around 3-4 right now) and if I get to 10, then mayhaps I can set the goal at 15 for the year.

Eat out only once a week.  

Inevitably, when I eat out, I eat more.  This includes take-out or eating at restaurants.  There's still a nostalgic element to eating out that this is a "special" occasion and therefore I should get the most out of it as I can.  This one is also tricky because do I count getting coffee in the morning when I hang out at Daily Harvest Cafe or some other place.  I think the goal will be eating out in some form (take out, delivery, dine-in, etc) no more than once a week.  However, if I've found myself at an excessive amount of coffee shops that week, then it's cancelled it out.  (Maybe like a $20 amount cancels out eating out that week).

Run a marathon  

Anyone that's been reading my running posts are not phased by this at all.  Clearly, that's what I've been honing in on.  But yes, I would like 2013 to be the year of the marathon for me.  I start of the year with a 4 mile run, the Wicked Frosty Four in Salem, MA.  If I can hold onto my running routine, I think it will be an achievable goal for sure.

Run 1000 miles this year

 So to help me make the marathon level, I think setting this goal would do well for me.  It breaks down to just under 20 miles per week which could easily break down to four 5-mile runs or three 7-mile runs per week. It's much more than what I tackled this year, but I think I'm ready for it.  Besides, between the marathon and this goal, they will feed into one another and hopefully propel me forward.

Fill the Thankful Jar

Having been inspired by the post below on Facebook (I can't find the definitive origin, but this image was taken from Cathie Beck's page.  So like the image says, I have a tin (instead of a glass jar) and plan to fill it each day with good things that happen.  It's less about enjoying next New Year's Eve and more about making sure I take the time each day to reflect and appreciate making it to the end of another day.

Fill the Good Deed Jar

Similar to the above idea but instead of filling the jar with thinks I'm thankful for, I would record a good deed every day.  This is one that I'm a little hesitant about because I'm less certain that I do a good deed every day, but I think it's an opportunity to explore such a thing and potentially motivate me to do more good deeds.  Of course, the question of what constitutes a good deed I will need to think more about.

Make Significant Progress on the Book

I talked about this before in a previous blog.  In fact, I have started writing the book and have chapters concepts, introduction, and am working on the first chapter.  I want this to be the year that I either finish it entirely or get it far enough into it that stopping would be silly.  This year, I think I will be dedicating morning time to it before going to work.  Typically, that's when I'm blogging or reading, but I think I can look to share that time between blogging and book-writing.

Those are the major goals for the years.  Here are a couple runner-ups:

Keep regularly blogging

I've kept this blog fairly active for the last 9 months.  Go me!  I've actually seen the resultant bump in traffic as a result and am actually getting regular visitors, which is always nice.

Begin learning programming

 I foresee more classes in my future around this.  I just feel that professionally and personally, learning programming would be beneficial and of course, I'm generally curious about what can be done with it.

Use my car less

I love within 6 miles of both campuses that I work at.  I'd like to work on it so that I manage get to work and back several days a week using public transportation, my bicycle, or just my legs.  For this year, I'm hoping I can make that number at least three times a week.

What goals, resolutions, or ideas do you wish to explore in the New Year?

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These Are The Gun Arguments That Are Bunk

Given the mass gun shootings of the last year and in the last decade, the discussion around guns continues to circle around without actual meaning or purpose.  Over the course of conversations with people, I find myself getting to the point where I start to roll my eyeballs when I hear certain faux-arguments.

To be clear--not just because I feel obligated to say it or else be disregarded as a "anti-gun" person and because I actually do believe it--I do believe people should have the right to reasonably arm and protect themselves including guns from realistic and recognizable threats.  I go back and forth about owning a gun myself--not because of any ethical issues about ownership or protecting myself but because that would also entail proper care of the weapon and regular practicing with it (which for those who know me, know that I already do a billion things--adding to the mix can be challenging).  That is, if I were to be a gun-owner, I would want to make sure I could be a responsible one.

However, the words "reasonably," "realistic," and "recognizable" are the key modifiers here.  That people instantly want to (or choose to) believe that a discussion about the places for guns in our society equates to wanting to take guns away from everyone seems to mean they have either drank all of the NRA's Kool-Aid or may themselves not be entirely rational (which is a relevant issue to consider down below when we talk about mental health).  

So here are the bunk arguments that I just don't want to deal with any more, largely because they are a distraction from the conversation and not a meaningful contribution.

People can still kill with "______" so are we going to outlaw "_____."

Yes, they can.  People are wonderfully creative and have ample ways of killing and doing harm.  But that's not a fair analogy on several key elements.  The first is that no one is talking about outlawing all guns.  Quit pretending there's somehow a majority of people in this country that want that to happen and you're some frightened minority.  There is a discussion about the use of guns that are capable of spraying a large amount of bullets in a short span of time.  The serious and purposeful use of a gun such as that is clear, when one contrasts what happened at Sandy Hook and what happened on the same day in China.  Of those involved in the stabbing spree, almost all have survived.  And at the end of the day, yes, other things can create massive death, but they are either highly restrictive (cars, trains, planes, etc), highly ineffective for mass murdering (knives, rocks, crossbows, etc) or complicated enough to orchestrate (e.g. ingredients for a bomb akin to what Timothy McVeigh did).  In the case of cars, trains, planes, etc, we still create numerous blockades (both legal and physical) to prevent the large scale harm by motor vehicles and the like (and in truth, it's easier to dodge a car than it is a bullet; you're likely to be able to see and avoid the car much easier).  In the complicated orchestration, there's nothing preventing people per se but it takes a significant amount of planning that is hard to pull off.  If doing things like bombing were so easy and quick to access, then why do the more fierce gun zealots have to point to McVeigh as proof of evidence that common household are just as easy to kill large amounts of people? Why do they reach back some 18 years if these things are a clear and present danger--unlike semi-automatic guns which one only needs to look back every few months.

Yes, you can kill by other means; that doesn't mean you ignore the ways in which guns are predisposed to kill many people in efficient ways.  That doesn't get the gun off the hook.

It's the 2nd Amendment; You Can't Mess With the Bill of Rights.

I hear this a lot.  Usually, it's gun-advocates yelling at who they perceive as liberals saying something along the lines of "You don't want your amendment of free speech messed with, well, I don't want my amendment of the right to bear arms messed with."  Butt there are ample restrictions on every part of the 1st Amendment.  It has been amply messed with and with good reason.

The 1st Amendment reads:  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

It contains five specific freedoms:  religion, speech, press, assemble and petition.  There is indeed laws that do interfere and disregard religion:  laws that restrict drug usage, forbid plural marriages, and animal or human sacrifice.  There are laws restricting freedom of speech; liable and slander laws are good examples of those as well as the "Shouting fire in a crowded theater" or saying "bomb" on a plane.  The press have their limitations too about the kind of the information they can present and their sources.  The right to peaceably assemble has been disregarded innumerable times (e.g. around national conventions).  And though I don't enough about the limitations on the right to petition, it's clear that some do exist.

All this is to say that there are reasonable restrictions (ok, and some unreasonable; PATRIOT ACT anyone?) on the First Amendment.  They are there because while the founding fathers were intelligent people, they did not know everything and could not foresee all the ways society would become incomprehensibly complicated.  This is true of the Second Amendment.  In the age of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, the gun was not a weapon of mass murder it is today.  It could take upwards of thirty seconds to a minute per shot and these were not the mass-produced weaponry of today, they were regularly problems with the aim and function.  These were the "arms" in the Second Amendments that the founding fathers were referring to.

One has to legitimately wonder if they would have worded things differently if the semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle was available in large quantities as it is today.  Along with that the introduction of mass produced guns and bullets coupled with the significant decrease in price might also have created a different outcome.  Again, in colonial times, a single gun would have costed significantly as would the bullets.  Amassing an arsenal would not have been feasible.  Finally, none of the rhetoric from the pro-gun camp seems to acknowledge that Amendment itself, in its original text, talks nothing of personal protection but solely about the "security of a free state"--not a free individual as a precursor to having a right to keep and bear arms.  That is, the right to bear arms is directly connected to the people's willingness to be part of a "well-regulated militia"  (part of an organized and controlled effort--not just lone gunmen) in protection of a free state (the state or the federal state).  That they never want to discuss what a "well-regulated" militia would look like or mean to their concepts of freedom is a clear indication of choosing to read only what they want to see.

Disarming Everyone Won't Stop Criminals

Absolutely right, but two problems with this.  1.  We don't want to disarm everyone.  2.  This conversation isn't necessarily solely about criminals.  Adam Lanza was not a "criminal."  Klebold and Harris were not "criminals."  They certainly committed illegal (i.e. "criminal") acts, but it was not in the same vein that "criminals" use such weaponry (which is to secure the property of others or protect their own--often illegally obtained--property).  The discussion as it exists right now is more interested in the issue of easy access to assault weapons to people with mental illness who when given easy access to substantive killing machinery may act on it without notice.  And before we quickly go blaming the people around that person (such as Lanza's mother), realize the prevalence of mental illness in our society (26.2% of adults; that's over 1 in 4).  This means if have 200 friends on Facebook; statistically speaking, at least 50 of them are dealing with some form of mental illness.  Since we have a poor means of talking about and dealing with mental illness, it also means we fail them and us when it comes to dealing with issues of access to such weaponry as the Bushmaster.

That's not to stigmatize mentally ill people; but so much of the discussion around guns and gun rights is focused on gun owners as perfectly rational people.  Never mind that humans are generally irrational beings; there is also a large portion of the population whose mental faculties may be inhibited with an illness.  This complicates the issues of accessibility to weaponry because when people are in highly irrational states which is often an element of many mental illnesses, there is no reasoning with them.

The argument about criminals completely (and purposefully) misses the mark because in cases like this (besides missing the mark that it's not about getting rid of all guns),  Lanza had easy access to legal semi-automatic weapons.  If he had not, either the death toll would have been less or it would not have happened at all.  It was not a perfectly conceived plan--it was the impulsive whim of someone lacking the mental faculties to do otherwise like many other mass murders.

Gun Free Zones Don't Work; They Just Make Us More Vulnerable

This one seems to be at the core of the NRA's response to the shooting;  A gun in every school for protection.  First, gun-free zones are for the same reason that speeding limits in schools are there.  By and large, some people are still going to speed or bring guns.  But in both cases, it's about the fact that the increase (of speed or presence) perpetuates an increase in chance accidents.  Nothing makes things absolutely safe, but there are ways of reducing the risks.

Much of what I'm talking about here is easily summed up in a great internet meme I've seen floating around Facebook:

Wanting Sensible Gun Laws Don't Make Me Anti-Gun Just Like How Wanting Sensible Traffic Laws Don't Make Me Anti-Car

In the end, I know tragedy can't be averted entirely, but they can be reduced in number.  Given that we are living in a world that is significantly less violent and brutal than any time in history, our concern (and sometimes obsession) with being threatened and vulnerable is a bit disconcerting, owing more to the 24 hour news cycle and the perceptions of threats as opposed to actual threats.  I would love to see a reasonable conversation about such things, dominated by the majority in the middle rather than the zealots on the extremes.

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