I am very frustrated after attending a huge professional development conference for educators this past weekend in New York City. The conference was sponsored by WNET and The National Education Association among others. It was called the Celebration of Teaching and Learning. The event was held at the New York Hilton Hotel, and was a sprawling extravaganza of technological sights and sounds covering three floors. There were signs, banners, booths, and even a live alligator amongst the beeps, blips and colors of computer driven screens everywhere.
There were Vendors galore on the exhibitors’ floors. The booths numbered over a thousand and represented most of the players in the field of Educational Technology. In full disclosure, I was a guest of my wife’s company Vizzle, a visual learning and networking application for teachers of children with Autism. There were thousands of attendees walking through the exhibitor’s halls, as well as attending the many workshops being offered throughout the day. I have been involved with planning educational conferences for years. I know what it takes to plan a successful conference. This was a well planned and wonderful conference.
Yes, there is a big “BUT” coming up, but not yet. I am quite involved with educators through Social Media on a daily basis. I own or participate in many educational groups online. I manage #Edchat and The Educator’s PLN. I have been a teacher from the elementary level to Higher Ed since 1971.I was also an active participant and leader in a teacher’s union for over 30 years. All of this gives me a somewhat unique perspective when I attend educational conferences.
In today’s climate teachers, and what they do, are under attack from many fronts. Many educators I come in contact with are reflecting on what they do. The reform movement which is paid lip service by most is being taken seriously by many educators. They are reflecting on what they do and how they do it in order to make it better. Educators are struggling, as are many others, to understand what is important in education. The only thing we can all agree on is that Education, as it is today, is not meeting the needs of the people paying for it. Since everybody pays for it, everyone wants a say in how to fix it. With all that is involved, it seems the people with the most power (money) have the biggest say. That limits the ability of educators to affect a change in the area in which they have the most expertise. They certainly have more expertise than those who are now the loudest voices for change.
Now, back to the Conference! I did not attend the workshops, but I have no doubt about the superior quality of the content or the presenters. I do have a problem with the lack of topics dealing with issues educators talk about through Social Media. I looked for Social Media specific presentations, banning, filtering, blogging, Social networking, or PLNs. I was more than disappointed. There were many teacher union topics which addressed the effects of reform from a labor point of view. These were much needed. Teachers need more preparation on how to stand up and protect themselves against attacks without merit.
As an aside, I saw very little, if any, Back Channeling from the workshops or keynote speeches. The attendees at this conference were not social media savvy. There was very little tweeting for a conference of this size. Most of the tweets coming from the conference were from Vendors. They get it!
My one big objection was the majority of Keynote Speakers. I know that WNET was a sponsor of the conference, and it is understandable that they would want media personalities on the program. However, they had to have been chosen for glitz and glamour or popularity, but certainly not for educational expertise. My problem is that the media is greatly responsible for the myths and misconceptions that are sidetracking a needed education reform movement. Media personalities are not educators. I don’t understand why their opinions would be given more weight than the voices of educators. Why do we, as educators, give the power for education reform to so many non educators? Where are the educators, who will stand up and address what should be focused on for meaningful Education Reform? Congressmen are the only people allowed to reform Congress. Senators can only reform the Senate. Any changes to the medical profession would not come from anyone without an MD in their title. Even the restrictions placed on wall Street come from Wall-Streeters. Of course Lawyers need no reform, but if they did…
Diane Ravitch was also a speaker at this conference. The planners failed to recognize how important her voice is to educators. The room she spoke in was too small for the audience. There were not enough chairs to sit in or space to stand on. Dr. Ravitch spoke for about an hour addressing many of the myths about education that are side tracking real Education Reform. The audience affirmed her speech with applause and cheers. I supported her by standing for the full hour in the back of the room (poor me). The planners videotaped the speech, but never streamed it over the internet, or even said if it would be available in some archive. That says a great deal about their commitment to “Celebrating Technology in Education”.
I sometimes think that educators are their own worst enemy. Many educators are doubting themselves and their worth because of the throngs of detractors. Teachers turning on teachers is a strategy to reform labor not education. Playing fast and loose with numbers of charter school results is a strategy to promote privatization. Many want to push public education to the private sector for reasons of profit and not learning. Bill Gate is entitled to his beliefs, but his misguided beliefs are being sold to the public and educators by using huge amounts of money. Influence is being bought. We need not help him in those efforts. We need real educators to step up and stop giving away our power to lead for education reform, a reform for learning and not labor.