Tale of Two Conferences

Tale of Two-Conferences, one for Educators, One for Newspaper Editors

Since I’m from Boston, but have lived in metro-Atlanta area for 36 years, I wondered what all the fuss was about when I read the headlines in the last two editions of the Marietta Daily Journal (MDJ), “Redden sends 54 Educators to Boston (7/19/05) and “’Boston boondoggle’ questions strike nerve (7/20/05).” I wondered also why Cobb County would send 54 educators to a conference on the topic “Building Learning Communities 2005.” So I Googled to the conference, and found a robust and detailed website. I was a bit suspicious when I noticed “November” in the title given the fact that he is one of those high-paid consultants that should stay in Boston in the eyes of some in Cobb County, and certainly the editorial staff at the MDJ. The first thought I had was, this is simply a conference where the participants sit in a large lecture hall and listen to what the guru has to say.

Did not find that all! Instead I found an intensive three-day conference (July 19-July 21). I then thought, I bet November is the keynote speaker at least one of the days. Nope. There were three keynote speakers, Dr. Christopher Tan, from the University of South Australia, Dr. Michael Resnick,, MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA, and Sir Dexter Hutt, Executive Head of the Ninestiles Federation, Birmingham, England. I wondered, where’s Waldo (November)? I found him on the program giving 1 1/2 hour-workshops each day, concurrent with 6 other workshops presented by different educators and an end-of-the-day wrap up session for half-an-hour.

The conference was not about Mr. November (not to be confused with Mr. October) . Turns out the conference was about critical thinking (this idea ought to please those who advocated the “evolution and critical thinking stickers” on biology texts in the county) and information literacy, online community building, leadership and managing change, and transforming and designing new schools.

Now the MDJ would have us believe that 54 Cobb educators went to Boston to frolic at wine and cheese parties, take a cruise on Boston Harbor (not a bad idea, given some of our early patriots used the harbor for a famous party), and to just enjoy the beauty of this New England city. They would have us think that these 54 educators went to Boston to sit at the feet of November, the computer guru. They would have us think that on day-one the only activity was and I quote the MDJ “a one-hour afternoon feature called Reflections/Sharing with Alan November,” followed by canoeing in the evening.” Here is the real story. (You can check my facts by going to the conference web site.) Day one started with registration at 7:30 am, followed at 8:30 am by the first Keynote of the conference by Dr. Christopher Tan. His topic: “Powerful Collaboration Tools for Empowerment in Global Knowledge Ecology. Then starting at 9:45 – 11:00, there were 7 workshops; from 11:15 – 12:30, there were 7 more workshops. And, oh, yes, there were 8 more workshops from 1:30 – 2:45. November’s session was from 3:15 – 4:00. Then back to the hotel by shuttle bus, and a free evening. Canoeing was optional. Days two and three followed the same pattern of keynote and workshop sessions. And by the way, there was an optional set of pre- and post-conference sessions that participants were invited to attend on a first-come basis.

Yes, there was a wine and cheese reception; yes there was an Boston Harbor Dinner Cruise. But these events were at the end of the day, and optional. And yes, there was a powerful conference for planned for educators from around the country.

Then I wondered what kind of conferences do newspaper reporters and editors attend? Do they have receptions, serve wine and cheese, have dinners, and so forth? So an other round of Googling brought me to the American Society of Newspapers Editors (ASNE) website , and details of their annual conference (April 2005), held a the Washington, DC Marriott Hotel. They had keynote speakers too. And they had, like the educators at the Boston conference smaller, intimate workshops. I wondered, who do they have as their keynote speakers? Here is what their program said about the keynote speakers: “President Bush will speak at Thursday’s lunch. In addition, we will hear from First Amendment Lawyer Floyd Abrams; Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Poet Laureate Ted Kooser; News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch; Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.” They had luncheons, and receptions with wine and cheese, and optional excursions around Washington. It cost the editors between $500 – $700 just to attend, meals, drinks, hotel not included. At least the educators got the first glass of wine free! I don’t know if any of MDJ editorial staff went to this conference. However, based on the website I would highly recommend it next year.

The conference that our educators went to in Boston was not the “Boston boondoggle.” It was a first-rate professional development conference powerfully related to the District’s goals of bringing education in Cobb into the 21st Century. Just like the Newspaper editors conference, in which new ideas are presented, our educators were “involved” in cutting-edge ideas that they can bring back to our schools, a benefit to thousands of students and their parents. And one other thing that was common to each, just as the ASNE conference had a general, we have one too!

No Paradigm Shift in Cobb County, Georgia

In Cobb County, Georgia’s second largest school district (just outside Atlanta), the district superintendent and school board have initiated the Power to Learn Project. Power to Learn will put an i-book in the hands of every student grades 6-12, as well as every K-12 teacher. The total cost of the project will be $100 million. The first phase is underway; each teacher has received a computer, and each student in four high schools will get computers this fall for a year of experimentation. However, the project is in serious jeapody. On Friday, a citizen (represented by former Governor Roy Barnes) from Cobb County took the school district to court. At the hearing, it was recorded into testimony that the final evaluation scores of the competing computer companies (Dell, IBM, Apple) were altered. The alteration resulted in Apple getting the contract when, according to the testimony of Cobb official, they were rated lowest. Now the school district is considering having the Cobb district attorney summon a Grand Jury to look into these allegations.

Why is this happening? Firstly, putting computers in the hands of every student requires a paradigm shift in thinking regarding the nature of school curriculum and how students learn. There has been very little ground work in preparing citizens or educators for such a change. Paradigm shifts require new ways of thinking. Most change in education uses the integration model, in which a new idea is integrated into the present paradigm. A paradigm shift means the new idea supplants a previously held view, like moving from the Ptolemaic to the Copernican view of the universe.

My guess is that the Cobb officials in charge of the Power to Learn project had not realized the “power” and subsequent reaction of the citizen’s of Cobb, a very conservative power center. The local newspaper, The Marietta Daily Journal, has been the forum for the discussion surrounding the project, and most of the letters and opinion essays have been against the project. More will be discussed at this site on this project in the days to come.