Yesterday was TEDxNYED. The curators, all volunteers, put together a fabulous series of speakers who have lots to say to educators. Here are some

By Keith Jarrett*

By K. Jarrett*

thoughts about the day.


Highlights for me included a chat by the paper towel dispenser in the women’s room with Ning CEO and co-Founder, Gina Bianchini. Ning is a powerful educational tool, but current terms of use set the minimum age at 13.  It’s one thing to fudge the year of birth question when you’re registering for a site you’ll use at home, but I don’t know many teachers who’d risk this for a whole class of students.   Gina was genuinely interested in my experiences of using Ning in the classroom. When I asked if we’d ever see Ning for 12 year-olds– the current terms of use says 13 and older only–her immediate response was that she’d have a talk with Ning chief counsel. Just think– Ning for 5th & 6th graders! Wouldn’t that be an awesome thing?


Several themes emerged from the talks for me. Mike Wesch’s slides of a remote village in Papua New Guinea opened into a story of seismic shifts in the villagers’ lives wrought by the simple technology of pencil & paper. Almost overnight the village went from a community based on relationships to one based on the letter of the law– no pun intended. Where once issues had been resolved by people circling to determine how to mend relationships, the new priority became laws.

The analogies were clear. We can celebrate what technologies make possible. Do we consider what we might be letting slip away?

These ideas framed the day for me. From one talk to the next, I reflected on ideas about generosity, openness, the importance of relationships– someone even used the word love. What do we give and receive, freely and openly? Information? Creative products, e.g., video, lesson plans, etc.? Support? Friendship? Professional development? But it’s not all roses and sunshine. We’re starting to get glimpses of the darker underbelly: increased surveillance; legal challenges to accessing, remixing, reposting information; more time plugged in than relating to the people around us;  more control (is that even possible?) of what teachers are allowed to access or even do in their classrooms.

Yet, I’ve got a confession to make. At one point, I scrawled in my little TEDxNYED notepad, Where’s the news here? Much as I enjoyed the talks, the ideas, the chance to reflect  and share with others, I left the feast feeling some pangs of hunger. I guess it’s not the TED format, still, I would have loved to sit with a group of teacher educators and/or English teachers, kick around some of the ideas we’d heard and come up with one or three specific ideas of what we’d try in the coming week(s).


At one point, I think when Henry Jenkins was speaking, I tweeted Would love to see kids rise up against the culture of testing. Test day walkout organized statewide? Somebody retweeted “Nationwide?” but I believe each state tests at a different time. Could we please get some kids on this? 🙂


One more tweet. Are media production or social action the only outcomes we can aim toward in teaching “literacy”? I don’t think so.

You know, I would never want to be a teenager again. The two things that got me through: a junior year alternative program & its teachers, and my journal. I just wanted to write, in a notebook, under a tree.

I don’t think every kid has to do the same thing in school. I hope, in our enthusiasm for tools and ideas like collaborative learning & participatory culture, that we don’t turn these into the new poster children for good teaching & learning (so-called “best practices”).

I hope that we take all the new tools, media, ideas, and work with kids to build tons of options. I hope we let the kids choose.

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