What Crisis? Edublogging as Rome Burns

On Blogging in the Late Weimar Republic

Crisis? What Crisis?

Reading the headlines of Alltop.com’s “top education” sites1 brings to mind the cover of the old Supertramp album, showing a man sunning himself in a bathing suit on a lounge chair, surrounded by grimy industrial waste. The album’s title? “Crisis? What Crisis?”

Economically, American banking deregulation has dragged the US, and the rest of the world, into a crisis creating comparisons to Depression Year 1937.

Politically, the McCain/Palin campaign is whipping up hatred that makes such sober and respected political commentators as conservative David Gergen openly express fear that civic violence could be the result – and others worry that the unthinkable return to political assassination is now possible.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration continues its assault on the constitution by violating the 200-year-old law of Posse Comitatus, which protects US citizens from being oppressed by their own military, by deploying an Army Brigade to police American streets, and be answerable only to him. Soldiers disobeying, say, an order to arrest members of Congress, or citizens protesting Wall Street, would be court-martialed and serve prison time for serving their democracy instead of their dictator.

And Sarah Palin, the naughty librarian (who can’t name anything she reads, and who may as well gyrate while she winkingly chants “Drill, Baby, Drill”) doesn’t care about the causes of global warming – a position I’m sure would not be shared, could we ask them, by the 25% of mammals now endangered worldwide.

Everything is Political – Except Edubloggers?

So how many education bloggers show the slightest indication, on their blogs, that they find addressing these crises worth “suspending their edublogging campaigns”?

Answer: a whopping 17 – out of the 130 blogs with over 600 posts on Alltop’s education page.

So without further ado,

The “I Didn’t Wordle as Rome Burned” Award

  1. The Chancellor’s New Clothes (Our Political Role Models: recommended)
  2. Iterating Towards Openness (Scary Sarah: recommended)
  3. ODonnell Web (McCain’s hate speech: recommended)
  4. History is Elementary (close reading of rescue bailout bill: recommended)
  5. Borderland (always recommended)
  6. Stephen Downes’ OLDaily (economy: recommended)
  7. Joanne Jacobs (on Ayers as still-revolutionary)
  8. NYC Educator (McCain’s anger issue)
  9. Piloted (teaching campaigning)
  10. My Wonderful World Blog (foreign policy debate)
  11. Assorted Stuff (on This American Life’s Wall Street podcasts)
  12. Facing History and Ourselves (educating about campaigning)
  13. Factchecked (gasoline as political issue)
  14. Education Week (Ayers smear)
  15. ASCD: In Service (education debate)
  16. The Fischbowl (debates 2.0)
  17. MindOH Blog (vote)

A Maverick’s Plea for Reform

I’m aware of the many reasons that educators might not openly advocate their political views. I can only hope it’s ye olde self-censoring fear for your jobs that causes this silence, instead of indifference or worse.

All I know is, for this month at least, there are more important things to spend time on than writing about classroom blogging policies, PLNs, global collaborations, Moodles and Nings and Wordles.2

A bit of reading on the Weimar Republic‘s failure, and replacement by a famous military dictatorship in the midst of an economic and military crisis – accompanied by extreme racism – might be a good place to start.

I’ve also enabled Diigo to post my daily bookmarks and annotations here. I’m on sabbatical this year, so decided to share what I have time to read. Feel free to check out my Stumbleupon bookmarks too.

I hate feeling like some silly Cassandra.

But I’d hate even more to be one of the Trojans who laughed at her.

~     ~     ~

  1. and we all know what a debatable claim that “top” is []
  2. Anyway, haven’t they all been written into the ground by now? []

37 thoughts on “What Crisis? Edublogging as Rome Burns”

    1. I get your intent and don’t mean to nitpick, Harold, but I’m having trouble with the choice of “subversive” to describe the simple act of voicing your positions on social and political issues. In the 19th century, it was a normal part of citizenship, wasn’t it?

  1. Clay,

    While I admire your passion for politics, I certainly don’t feel knowledgeable enough to shed any light on the situation. Certainly as a Canadian, I’d be less qualified than most but even as a federal election in my own country is 5 days away, I’m not even sure who I’d vote for and would only be able to write about my confusion and frustration with the lack of clarity.

    I admit it, I’m not a very good citizen. But what concerns me is that just like I would take an non-educator’s writing on education with a grain of salt, I have a hard time finding folks who’s opinion’s on politics I trust. Those inside politics are rarely able to speak objectively.

    In general, the people whom I most trust are politicians and critics who can see both sides of an issue. No one is all bad and no one is all good. US politics is so polarized that I can’t find anyone who can provide a balance. That’s not to say people don’t have a preference but the discussions are rarely more than a hard slam against the opponent. When a Democrat criticizes Obama, I listen. When a Republic credits Obama, I listen. Same is true for McCain or any other politicians. I’m looking for objective voices. They are hard to find.

    I’m not smart or knowledgeable enough to provide a balanced look at politics. Maybe it’s lame but that’s my excuse.

    Dean Shareskis last blog post..I’m sure I’m doing it wrong

    1. You know I love you, Dean, but I want to agree that for educators who talk about being “lifelong learners,” saying “I’m not knowledgeable enough” about politics does seem lame. We’re all about critical thinking, reading, learning, communicating.

      That was sort of my point about “suspending the Moodle-talk” to learn about things we should know to be good forces (which simply means informed and critical ones) in bad times. If we’re not, then what’s the value of our vote?

      As for objectivity, you know that’s a myth, right?

      And in the age of YouTube and blogs, we’re privy to campaign moments, arguments, evidence, and points of view that the media won’t show us, so we really can inform ourselves now better than ever before about political and social issues.

      And for the record, I’ve criticized Obama on these pages more than once – most strongly for supporting the bailout without being open to other approaches.

      But there is simply nothing in the same universe of egregious shame that Obama is doing to compare with McCain/Palin.

      And so we share our thoughts.

      You’re Canadian, though, so it’s not as big a problem for you, you lucky dog.

  2. Not sure if people wore their politics on their sleeve in the 19th C. In Europe and the British Empire it was all about King and Country, and politics were for the rich. Around here, many people voted the way their parents did.

    Also, the simple act of voicing my opinions on social and political issues could be very subversive – to my business and my ability to earn an income.

    Harold Jarches last blog post..The second week of Work Literacy

  3. Because my blog is also a classroom resource, I’m loathe to express my specific political views on it–my school admins are drowning in complaints that teachers are espousing pro-Obama or pro-McCain views in their classrooms, and I’m not getting into it. The simple fact of the matter is that my students are (mostly) too young to vote, and their parents have made their minds up already–my district is full of high-dollar-amount donors, $1000/plate fundraiser host families, etc.

    I did bring my sophomores to a State Rep debate held in the high school, and they had a lot to say about it. These kids are tuned in to the process, and how it’s covered in the media. They’re savvy. Some support Obama, some support McCain, and they’ll argue their positions as long as I’ll let them. It’s heartening to see.

    No, I’ll keep my personal politics off my blog and save them for my Facebook arguments with my irrationally conservative and xenophobic friend. If it were a personal blog, or if I weren’t a public school teacher, perhaps I’d think differently. But since my biggest audience is teenagers, I’m just not gonna do it.

    Jeff Wassermans last blog post..Welcome to the desert of the real

    1. I hear you, Jeff, and you point to a question that deserves asking: Who is the main audience of each edublog? I suspect that in the great majority of cases, unlike yours, it’s other edublogging adults – voters all (at least if they’re American)- and not students.

      But maybe I should check out Facebook, which while I have an account, I don’t use. But the readership there is less broad.

      Anyway, thanks for weighing in.

  4. My professional blog is about education and like Jeff and some others, I just don’t feel comfortable including my personal political views there. Instead, I maintain a personal blog where I put those kinds of things (http://simplykaren.org/wordpress/). There is a link to that site on my professional blog so if people are interested in learning more about me and my views beyond education and technology, they are free to explore but I am not forcing it upon them. I am trying to maintain some separation between a personal and professional life, I suppose.

    I have found myself crossing that line with Twitter, however, and felt a little uncomfortable with doing that but it seems less permanent, I suppose.

    KarenRs last blog post..A Little Freedom and Personal Space, Is That So Bad?

    1. Karen, I’ve thought about doing the same thing. But I find myself chafing against this cubby-holing that says I’m an “edublogger” – I’ve always been political, since day one, on these pages, though not to the degree of late, which didn’t seem justified until, er, lately.

      It’s something to think about. But it’s interesting to me that educators shy away from sharing their own critical thinking about the most important issues of the day. It sort of goes in great irony against the grain of what Web 2.0 is all about.

      But I’m aware that I’m ignoring the question of “what ‘edublogs’ should be allowed to say” – and now we’re back to the old debate about whether there are any “rules” at all about our use of this world, and whether there should be.

      Shirky’s “publish, then filter” principle seems to apply here. I’ll publish, and let the reader decide whether to filter it out, or let it in.

  5. Rome’s been burning for awhile, now. I’m guessing my last comment suggesting that you keep sharing thoughts on Gilgamesh for me (and Nero) to enjoy did not fly.

    Anyone who pays any attention to history, to politics, to our society can see what’s been going on–and it has been going on for several decades now.

    My daughter was beaten by a police officer back in October, 2001. She was jailed. Officers had badge numbers covered up. She was in a peaceable assembly protesting the Bush administration’s plan to bomb people who had nothing to do with 9/11.

    Thursday at lunch, one teacher said that voting for a Democrat is akin to inviting terrorists to bomb the US.

    I read Naomi Wolf’s words years ago, and they rang true. I kid about my tinfoil hat, but these are troubled times.

    In the classroom, I (attempt to) teach children how to think critically. My own views do not (or should not) matter.

    I have faith that if I teach children how to think, they will reach reasonable, humane, and (dare I say it?) loving answers to the ills around us.

    I hold a position that wields tremendous power over other clans’ children (loco parentis is a big deal to me)–if I espouse my positions publicly, it betrays my faith in the rational approach, and undermines what I am trying to do.

    I am not saying we should not be screaming from the rooftops, though it is a shame that we are such a nation of sheep, blind sheep at that, that only the loudest get heard.

    I am saying, though, that once I start screaming from the rooftops in an edublog forum, I am betraying my trust in the ability of a republic to educate its children.

    (Not that I am not almost there already–but if I give up my faith that humans can think and love, and that we can teach humans how to think and love better, then I am not only giving up on my livelihood, I am giving up on life.)

    I do scream and shout, just not in the ed world. If you ever visit my classroom, you’ll hear some very interesting things from children once they are allowed to think on their own. You will hear views contrary to my own, but that are on their way to being reasonable.

    I had a very engaging months/years long on-line discussion with a brilliant young man studying at Oxford, a man who held some views obviously pushed on him. We disagreed on just about everything political, but I told him that given his mind, he and I would be much closer to agreeing on things as he got older than he knew.

    And, years later, the transition has been startling to some, but not to me.


  6. Just FYI, Clay, make that 18. My politics have been more NYC-central, but I feel important nonetheless, and if we know anything NYC, it’s that that’s really Rome, with the US being Italy.

    With that said, that’s a fine list there. I need to add some of these people to my Google Reader. Good read.

    Joses last blog post..The Holiest Redeemers

    1. Jose, I stand corrected. I just read the pop-up first paragraphs of the latest posts on Alltop, so if I missed something, my bad :)

  7. Clay,

    I do hang my head in shame somewhat as to my ignorance and apathy. I’m just not convinced everyone has to use their professional space for this. It’s taken me a long time to sort out who’s opinions are valid in the world of education.

    I’ll also admit to a possible naivety about my beliefs in politics, at least from a Canadian perspective. I’m inclined to believe that the differences between parties are much smaller than anyone would like us to believe. As I said earlier no one is all bad or good but in general, I think most if not all politicians do want what’s best. And while their approaches might be slightly different, the ultimate results of their implementations of policies would be negligible when juxtaposed against the entire policy and given many uncontrolled variables, particularly when it comes to economics.

    Naive. Maybe but the emphasis of the media and blogs are designed to polarize,smear and persuade. Not convinced that’s the best way to learn.

    Dean Shareskis last blog post..I’m sure I’m doing it wrong

  8. Ok, so my conscience is compelling me to say that my co-author and I do blog under pseudonyms.
    Writing this way affords us a lot more freedom to condemn the system in which we work.
    Less credibility, maybe, but definitely more freedom.
    I don’t know if I would be as honest if I were using the blog as a professional outlet and using my name.

    avoiceinthewildernesss last blog post..Will Canada Take Us?

    1. Subversion rarely works well, and pseudonyms should be condemned in an open, democratic society.

      On the other hand, not sure any open, democratic societies exist.

      I don’t know if I would be as honest if I were using the blog as a professional outlet and using my name.

      This is the crux–real change requires removing the masks. Real change requires risks.

      And few of us are willing to take off our masks.

      And few folks pay much heed to people behind masks.

  9. Dear Clay,

    I am dragging this over to my site: What is our responsibility as teachers as Rome burns.

    It’s sort of a blog hijack, but a somewhat different issue than the one you pose.

    (I got a belly full of fresh clams, and saw a rare midday rainbow colered halo bordering the sun–hardly a rational response to the fires around us, but mircles nonetheless.)

    And you got me thinking. I may alter my behavior a tad.

    Michael Doyles last blog post..What I wnat to teach in biology….

      1. I realized after posting that what happens on a blog is very different from what happens in the classroom.

        Now my brain is spinning around with a different sort of response to your post. Where does the classroom end? I do, after all, buy beer at the local liquor store, figuring students my as well see that I am an adult who drinks beer.

        I have to be very careful about my motives–it may be that I am avoiding the unfolding catastrophe around us.

        This week, we’re talking about the influence of humans on our environment. It’s a tough subject to present, not because it’s controversial, but because it’s so unnerving that some kids may lose hope. The key is to kick their naivete without bruising their hope.

        FWIW, the schiool already got a phone call about the way I handled the Large Hadron Collider. (I didn’t say the world was going to end–I asked the class who gets to choose what technologies we pursue when the endgame is unknown. A kid, understandably, only heard half what I was saying and got scared.)

        So I am thinking. Again. A lot. WHich is why, of course, I come here.

        Michael Doyles last blog post..What I want to teach in biology….

        1. Michael, you’re getting closer to my point with that distinction between what happens on our blogs and what happens in our classrooms.

          Other adults, who vote, read our blogs – more than students do, I would wager. And those adults are the ones whose votes might benefit from our own reflections on the issues, and our sharing of what we’re seeing and discovering and thinking.

          On a shakier note, I’m still scratching my head over the in loco parentis argument. While I get it on the gut level of “nobody should influence my kid’s values but me,” I get it less when I reflect that a) by definition, your average parent was your average C student as a child, and thus hardly the bastion of wisdom and independent, deep thought we’d like him or her to be – so maybe their kids need to hear the arguments, identified as precisely that, arguments which permit counter-arguments, of other adults who happen to be their teachers; and b) so many less disinterested parties play the role of in loco parentis – the media, preachers, and unthinking ideologues of all sorts – that it’s disturbingly ironic that the only authority figure without the prospect of profiting from converts or consumers (and I mean teachers) have to muzzle themselves and cede the field to Bill O’Reilly OR John Stewart OR Rick Warren.

          The rub, of course: those types above are idea-peddlers for profit, totally free to hawk their thoughts, while teachers are employees of the State, and thus in jeopardy if they expose the young to ideas beyond the right answers to the safe and irrelevant test.

          It’s mind-boggling, really.

          I’ll stop there for now.

          Thanks for the input. Always a pleasure.

          1. Just to be clear on the loco parentis–I never said I did not influence a child’s values. If I’m not influencing a child’s values, I’m in the wrong field.

            I’m not terribly worried about losing my job–my background allows me to make ridiculous amounts of money for less hours than I spend teaching.

            It is not my business to preach. It doesn’t work, anyway. I’m not terribly good at muzzling myself for job security (if I were, I wouldn’t be dropping the F-bomb as frequently as I do). I am decent, I think, at promoting thinking. If my kids were college students, I’d have no problem with espousing my views in the classroom. They’re not. They’re still embryos. I need them to trust critical thinking, and to trust their results when they think.

            So, yeah, I want to influence values–but not in the typical my-teacher-beat-up-your-mommy sense. I want my kids to think.

            Michael Doyles last blog post..What I want to teach in biology….

          2. It’s less a question of trying to influence values, in my book, than trying to influence the reasoning through which we all arrive at values.

            A teacher who says “My values are right because I’m the teacher” is not a teacher, but a preacher – appealing to his/her own authority.

            A teacher who says, “Let’s examine positions A, B, and C,” and their foundations in evidence, facts, and reasoning, is not beating anybody up, but instead helping learners question everything – hopefully as a scaffold to them having “justified true beliefs,” in IBO language, for their worldview.

            A teacher who does neither is just a test-prep professional who probably hasn’t him/herself wrestled with questions of citizenship and intellectual/social responsibility. (And that’s not aimed at you, Doyle, which by now I hope you know.)

            The best teachers know that they can set up units of enquiry that create the conditions for students to examine the foundations of conventional beliefs across the spectrum, and help students discover they have no good reasons to back up what they think.

          3. Alas, the teachers who feel the need to endorse ideas without truly going through the reasoning far outnumber those who take time to examine premises and reasoning.

            I frequently remind the class that while most of them won’t remember a lick of content (and even if they do, it will be outdated in a few decades), they will keep their ability to think critically. (It does not help that as a culture we pretend to believe that learning “science” in high school is our ticket to economic success against the big, bad Asians. It helps even less that for many of those in charge, they’re not pretending.)

            Now this may sound silly here, and I hope it didn’t sound to silly in class (I had an administrator in the room at the time), but I asked a child who had no idea how to change a tire to imagine what she would do if her phone broke and she got a flat tire miles from help.

            She looked startled, but we broke down the problem together, and without getting into details, developed a way to solve it. If my administrator questions it, I’ll tell her it falls under NJ Standard 9.3: promote critical thinking skills.

            By the time one is finished with public education, you should know how to approach common, simple problems. It’s clear we are failing that.

            A thinking citizenry could not have possibly allowed the 2000 election to be as close as it was, nor would it have allowed it to be swiped as it was.

            Michael Doyles last blog post..What I want to teach in biology….

  10. I have been frustrated since I have been in elementary school (even wrote to Pres. Carter) and no one seemed to care and thought I was highly emotional. I may not put it in my blog, but I am highly polarizing at get-togethers, family dinners, and the lunch room, let alone the classroom. Lack of resources and energy, etc. are all coming true. My husband did not understand cheap oil and what I told him in 1990 is now here. Hate to tell them, I told you so, but I am.

    Do you think people listen? Not really. I am focusing on teaching at this point. Watch the blog through the year. I am not so concerned about edublogging and writing what has already been written by others. I am focusing on the journey I am leading my students that infuses issues throughout the year. Currently in my 3 different courses it is global warming (this is the slowest of all my classes), biodiversity (starting with white-tailed deer here and moving outward across the globe), and plants in Academic Biology (humans use 1/3 of all the plant productivity to our use).

    A species with that large an ego will not be here for long. A just god would surely would not have envisioned a planet this way. I do say this to students. Wait until we get to the real problem: human population. There is a firestorm.

    I also do not have hope for the next administration, too much is wrong and no right answers. Am I cynical? – you bet. Many adults do not have the information to really understand the issues. How do you get them to be critical thinkers and search for truth? I am impressed that this year even my lowest students are showing interest in discussion and questioning about such topics.

    I have another blog that I have made one post about oil and what it really represents. I rarely write there and it is a hodgepodge of stuff. Maybe I should split it between the other blogs I have. Your post is giving me pause and rethink this again. I still think chronicling what we do and what we learn may be a much better way to get a message out and get some one to think.

    Louise Maines last blog post..Knee deep in projects

    1. Louise, interesting comments.

      I’ve changed my approach of late to play political echo chamber of stuff I’m finding elsewhere, in hopes that the viral nature of the web can increase exposure of things like that Palin Debate Flowchart I found elsewhere – and that around 1,000 people have visited from email sharing from earlier readers. The guy who made the flowchart has benefited from so many of us sharing his work. I think he made Digg’s hotlist.

      I don’t know if it will make a difference, but it’s within my sphere of influence to try to create the conditions for that difference. But again, especially in light of recent research I’ve read on the nature of political belief – that it’s emotion-based instead of rational – I have my doubts. But I figure maybe the same people that are the decisive swing voters may be less emotional and more rational.

      There’s another aspect of all of this that intrigues me, and that’s the role bloggers can play in amping up the news that the mainstream media underplays or ignores. Palin’s witch-hunting Pastor Muthee is the best example, or maybe her cozying up with Alaskan secessionists (the opposite of “country first-ers”), both of which the mainstream media ignore, while at the same time heavily covering the Obama/Ayers and Obama/Wright allegations. We in the blogosphere can do our collective part to redress that media imbalance by shining our lights on its blind spots.

      Again, that may be fruitless, but also may not be.

      I have to think there is hope for the next administration – though I’m not convinced Obama is sufficiently free of corporate and lobbying influence to to fulfill that hope – and that there are right answers – energy independence a la Obama’s declared ambition to create a Kennedy-esque “man on the moon in ten years” program to fund alternative energy to free us of our bondage to the Middle East, which would also reduce our military adventurism in that region, and open up new diplomatic possibilities to solve problems in that region (or at least stop causing them).

      I’ve rambled enough. Thanks for your comment.

  11. So, like Michael, I’m posting my response on my blog. Because I teach American Literature I have the luxury and the pleasure of teaching On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau. So, I direct your attention to our American historical radical left – another fine New England transcendentalist.

    Kate Tabors last blog post..On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

    1. Kate, I hope everybody takes the time to see something from English class actually made – gasp – relevant to citizenship today. Great post. Thanks for brightening my day.

  12. Well, If I was a US resident I would be voting for Barack Obama. That’s my position. In fact I would encourage people to get off their fat arses and vote. For anyone. As long as they utilise their right to vote. I wonder if there are US citizens that have never voted? I believe voting is not compulsory in the USA. It is compulsory here in Australia.

    I have not blogged about the US Presidential election. In the past I have blogged about our previous Prime Minister John Howard and the detrimental effect his party and its policies were having on our society. he was such a complete anal retentive ignoramus. He sullied the reputation of my country. I had blogged about Bush on my older blog.

  13. I wrestled with this “challenge” and finally posted the result: I feel I have a professional obligation to use my influence responsibly, to refrain from promoting a specific candidate.

    That said, my horror at the McCain/Palin ticket, and all that it represents, is probably evident to my more astute students.

    I don’t feel there is any real choice in this election. It’s possibilities or disaster.

    dianes last blog post..Politics in the Classroom

  14. Hi Clay,
    I’ve hummed and hawed about this for a couple weeks now and I guess I need to come clean.

    You know that like Dean Shareski, I’m Canadian. I therefore feel my opinions on the subject of the upcoming American presidential election are mostly irrelevant and unimportant.

    While I think voicing an opinion is important – I have never been one to be silenced – I see little point getting riled up over an election that I have no control over or impact on. And though I do have things at stake (as simply a citizen of the world, which America influences), on a daily basis I have much more pressing concerns.

    Another reason I withold somewhat: privacy and courtesy. I am by far the most liberal of my large extended family, many of whom are card-holding Conservatives in Canada, and I need to respect that. My public outcries have the potential to harm some of them who are running for office at the provincial level. I feel strongly about my beliefs and values, but I also care about my family and do not want to polarize what is already a delicate circumstance. (Part of it is self-preservation – I’m already polarized enough, being the “crazy” one who moved overseas!)

    I have to admit that in the last several weeks I have been suffering from American election fatigue and I have had to avoid the bloggers – edubloggers and otherwise – who are so ultimately focused on politics at the moment. This is part of the reason you’ve not see me around Beyond School lately; I’m a bit sad but I just don’t have much to contribute to this conversation and so I have been devoting more time to others in my reader. I’ve also had to literally turn Twitter off during the debates because the commentary from all my active, American, political Tweetpals is so distracting from my other areas of focus.

    I tend to visit fewer American edubloggers in general because I sometimes find the focus to be overly about American education that it doesn’t apply to my current situation or experience. I was initially drawn to Beyond School because, though you are American, you were working overseas. I’m looking forward to when it all is over and you return to blogging the other “usual” stuff. I feel I’ll have much more to say then. In the meantime, I do commend your forthrightness and the way in which you challenge your readers to think – about all things, politics included. Just know that in that, I’m not really your target audience.

    Adriennes last blog post..Absence = Affirmations + Aspirations

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