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My 7 Great Ideas and Themes Behind #TEDxNYED 2011

by Jose Vilson on March 6, 2011

in Jose

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 …


Last Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting journalists, policy makers, and fellow edu-bloggers at the Education Writers’ Association conference at the Carnegie Corporation in Midtown Manhattan. I do have to thank Linda Perlstein, lead editor for the EWA and the person who personally invited me, and the folks at Carnegie. I rarely miss opportunities to learn and discuss others’ points of view, especially from those who shape current education policy and the people primarily in charge of disseminating this information to the nation. As someone who has a stake in both of those groups’ functions, and someone who has his public voice in a few domains of his own, I thought this meeting would help all interested members do their part to move the message in a positive direction.

Much of the underlying drama prior to the meeting stemmed from the utter lack of teacher representation in the panels. As usual, whether it be Education Nation, Oprah, or another institution meaning to discuss education, we saw just another meeting where the teacher voice would get restricted to that of object and not subject. We would get to ask questions but not provide answers. Disheartening as that was, teacher bloggers found a way to ask just the right questions that might draw attention to the profession with a voice, not for the voiceless. Many of the people in the room who weren’t teacher bloggers were under the assumption that a) the bloggers in the room weren’t actual in-class teachers and b) teacher bloggers weren’t well researched as they were.


What I found throughout the day was a way for teacher bloggers to demonstrate the power of their voices by speaking in terms that the journalists themselves could write about. It was less about the struggles in the classroom and more about the factors that lead to the difficulty we’re facing with pinpointing the discussion around the classroom. We brought the discussions of race and class to the points made about recruiting and hiring teachers. We brought the idea of teacher leadership and teacherpreneurism to the fore of professionalizing and sustaining teacher quality. We even had a few opportunities to tell people whose only experience came from working with chancellors and district offices that we simply couldn’t agree with them.

And that’s fine. Because that’s how it should be. Journalists should seek to get the most nuanced and multi-dimensional voice possible, because education isn’t black and white (well … that’s for another post). Sure, we can disagree on the effectiveness of unions, or whether teachers are overpaid or underpaid, but we can’t disagree that the majority of the mainstream coverage on education today has a neoconservative / neoliberal bias. Meeting some of the journalists, I got inklings of information about them that, as a blogger, I couldn’t understand.

So, here are some stories I’d like to hear more of:

3) Teachers do more than teach …

Question to ask: how do you find the time? Focus on: community activists, volunteers, policy advocates / makers.

2) The complexities of becoming a school principal …

Question to ask: why would anyone become a principal? Focus on: negotiating, how they became principals, teaching teachers.

1) When teachers are considered “bad” …

Question to ask: what makes them bad? Focus on: origins of the use of the term “bad,” how school environment affects teaching.

I know I have my own answers, but I honestly would like to hear what others have to say about it. I just find that whenever people write articles about education, it becomes more like an op-ed piece instead of a piece with wide gradations, where all sides and all voices have a balanced part of the narrative the journalist is providing.

And if the journalist has any doubts, they can do what many of the writers did at the meeting I just attended: ask.

Jose, who has a ton of writing to do in his own right …

p.s. – Ken Bernstein also did a good write-up about the events. More forthcoming.