My 7 Great Ideas and Themes Behind #TEDxNYED 2011

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose5 Comments

Despite my expected candor about the state of education conferences like these, I also reserve the right to speak on the ideas without attacking the person (because, for some reason, using the name of anyone in the edu-tech pantheon makes you vulnerable to fan-boy snipers and gasping doubters clutching their jewels). My TEDxNYED experience started off well enough because a) I live in the city so b) it only took me 30 minutes to get there c) the views at the New York Academy of Sciences were tremendous and d) friends like Diana Laufenberg, Stephen Lazar, and Tara Conley all made the side conferences that much more interesting. Last year, I was a newbie seeking a map to the views and faces who congregated upon The Collegiate School.

This year, I knew the territory too well.

1. I noticed the general theme of making technology human. I appreciated the idea of humanizing technology. Staying connected is important, but it has to be in the context of making those human connections more real, not hiding behind a computer like a modern-day Wizard of Oz.

2. I liked the fact that kids got to read their poetry in front of adults, even if it was teleconferenced. The presenters actually involved kids. In a presentation. With adults! That’s important. Yes, I’m aware there’s a TEDxKids, but the presentations I’ve been to sound like a me-me-me fest. Speaking of which …

3. I fear whenever any presenter uses “I” and “me” a lot. It speaks volumes about their school environment and the possible facades they’re presenting about their “impact”on our future citizens.

4. We (and by “we”, I mean me and my fellow peanut gallery observers) couldn’t help but notice how powerful not having a PowerPoint at a presentation can be. It will either make you look severely under-prepared or supremely confidence and awesome. In both instances, the latter was true.

5. Never mistake popularity for inspiration or relevance. Ever.

6. For that matter, never mistake aloofness or obstinacy for fallacy. For instance, before the conference, I already held certain views about a few speakers. Most of them proved me right, but one in particular made me see my own failures in objectivity. The person can be a jerk or any other set of names I won’t mention on a Sunday, but if they share the same viewpoint or idea I share about the current state of education, then they too are an ally. Which brings me to …

7. Diversity talk is a litmus test … for their openness to new ideas. Yes, I was the first in the Twitter back-channel who brought up the lack of diversity in the audience (the speakers came from all walks of life). Yet, what ensued was two separate discussions: one about problems and one about solutions. I lean more towards the latter. I met others in the conference who knew how to market a typical edu-geek event to more colored people. I even found others with a similar mindset as me who weren’t colored, but understood the need to find different voices based on race, class, gender, and occupation.

Overall, the experience reminded me of the work people like me have to do in order to push the conversation to a more inclusive dialogue. I have to use my bit of influence to ensure that more people who want to open these conversations up come with me.

What did I miss?

Jose, who just wants to talk the ideas out …

Comments 5

  1. A few thoughts:
    Item 3) I’ve been thinking about this a lot, mostly in terms of criticizing myself: we need to be skeptical of people who talk about what THEY do, as opposed to what THEIR STUDENTS do. I’m very guilty of this as well in my writing. Gary Stager’s and Dennis Littky’s talks stick out in my mind for getting this right a few days later: both of their speeches focused on what their students have achieved.
    4 & 5) Yes
    7) I sort of have to disagree here. I’ve intentionally worked for years to get to the point where I am okay entering these conversations. There are lots of whites who would agree with us, but who wouldn’t feel comfortable or able to enter the conversation. Likewise, I’m sure there are plenty of people of color or don’t feel like the conversations are worth having because nothing will change; this might be an issue of efficacy as opposed to openness.

  2. Post

    Thanks for dropping by. With regards to #7, you have a valid point. I’ll also say that working towards getting better is the first part of the conversation. The best way to have experienced something is to actually go through it. We saw some people who handled it as long as they could, and that’s a start. I also notice that, frankly, my people get into things that intentionally make others uncomfortable for the sake of doing that, and not for the benefit of actual progress. Yes, there are topics that are uncomfortable no matter how you speak on it, but when you ask those people for solutions, how many of them want to create some?

  3. In regards to #7…the diversity conversation is necessary both in terms of TEDxNYED but also in terms of the larger education discussion. That larger discussions includes: How can we encourage diversity in the profession of teaching? and What structures need to be created and supported to allow students of different backgrounds to have a level of access that approaches the opportunities of the privileged? Perhaps there should be a TEDx dedicated to this topic.

  4. Jose,

    Excellent reflection and honesty. You’ve not not challenged yourself to focus on solutions, but others as well. Number 3 is a valid point. I don’t believe many intentionally speak about themselves in terms of their work, but it might be a necessary part of explaining the process. This is something I have done several times and am aware of the dangers of sounding all powerful, all mighty. Only God can do that! Your point reminds us to stay focus on the students, which is why we are educators in the first place, regardless of position or title.

    Number 4 is also a valid point. However, there is a great deal of pressure to have some type of visual during a presentation in order to engage the audience. These PowerPoints should probably include more visuals than text and move rather quickly. With or without a highly visual PowerPoint, preparation IS A MUST for any presenter regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or profession. Prior planning prevents poor performance!

    Now to Number 7: this is an age old problem that we have to continue to find sustainable solutions to overcome. My best advice is to invite people of color within your circle of influence to not just engage in conversation, but to share what they are doing in classrooms across the globe. Maybe there are still questions about credibility, validity, influence, or awareness. I’m not sure, but I’ve never heard of TED talks until my leap into Twitter. It’s now my responsiblity to share this powerful resource with my friends and colleagues within my circle of influence. For example, I a part of the African American Administrators network called Breakfast With A Purpose (// We meet on a monthly basis to discuss trends, share ideas, listen to presentations, and focus on solutions. It’s a powerful group that is making the difference in the lives of many people. The organizer, Zorba Ross is a dynamic and gifted person that has a strength of brining people together for action.

    Here is a thought: maybe he can be invited to participate in a TED Talk in the near future. BWAP has presented at a couple of national conferences this year. What do you think about this?

  5. Post

    Daniel, perhaps that will happen. I wonder if anyone will get their ideas around this …

    Dwight, thanks for the awesome feedback. Preparation is a MUST, and frankly, the visual is important to anyone’s preparation. But the one speech I loved most happened to not have any PowerPoint whatsoever.

    I advocate for any speakers and participants of color to be part of the TEDx movements if they can (or any ed-conference). I also want to alert you to the TEDx videos that have been successful. All the best speeches have told one of two great stories around one central idea or vision, thus making it unlike any other conference. I don’t organize any TED conferences, but if ever I was given a voice about the selection of speakers, that’s what I’d say. That goes for any speaker of any color. Having said that, I’d like to know more about BWAP, man. See you on Twitter.

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