Monthly Archives: January 2010

quiet is ok

I’m having a hard time understanding how anyone can defend Clay Shirky’s A Rant About Women, a blog post that’s receiving a tremendous amount of attention in the blogosphere and on Twitter.

Basically, Shirky says he knows what success looks like among academics – and in our society generally – and he knows how it’s achieved. It’s a formula that women don’t currently have a handle on but better master otherwise they’ll be overlooked, passed by, doomed to obscurity. And what is that formula? According to Shirky:

… women in general, and the women whose educations I am responsible for in particular, are often lousy at those kinds of behaviors, even when the situation calls for it. They aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.

I’m an Asian-American. And I’ve heard similar arguments made about Asians – that we are quiet, unassuming, unwilling to draw attention to ourselves. Though it’s impossible to generalize with any kind of accuracy about the various cultures that fall under the umbrella term “Asian,” it’s true that in some Asian societies self-aggrandizement is frowned upon. So, would Shirky have then felt comfortable writing a post titled “A Rant About Asians”? Would you have felt comfortable reading a post with that title? Would you have felt Shirky’s was a defensible position if you had read the exact same piece by him but everywhere you find “women” now you found instead the word “Asians”? If your response to any of these questions is “no,” then you can probably understand why I’m dumbfounded that anyone sees Shirky’s generalizations – and, understand, I have great respect for much of his work and in fact have held up his thoughts as dead-on elsewhere in this blog – as shedding light on the plight of women writ large.

So, in essence, Shirky believes that the solution to the problem of women not receiving their fair share is to have them take on the mannerisms of the dominant group. Shirky writes:

Now this is asking women to behave more like men, but so what?

He goes on to explain that we as a society have essentially conditioned men to act more like women recently, so where’s the concern? But Shirky misses the point. We shouldn’t ask women to act like men in order to succeed. Just like we shouldn’t ask Asian-Americans to act like white male academics in order to succeed. Instead, we should ask ourselves: What is it about the landscape that unfairly dictates who will succeed and who won’t and what can we do to change that inequity?

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disorganized sports?

I had a recent conversation on Twitter with Ira Socol about the Jets at the start of their improbable march through the playoffs. It began after Ira reminisced about seeing THE Jets-Raiders playoff game at Shea on Dec. 29, 1968.

That brief exchange got me to thinking about growing up playing football with my friends in Flushing, former home of the Jets. In elementary school, we tried to get up a game each Sunday morning on a grassy field near the local Y. We each had gotten our families to buy us a football helmet and shoulder pads – no small thing, especially for those of us who were poor. I had a purple and white Vikings helmet – I followed my brother’s lead, and he liked the Vikes – and a sky-blue LA Rams jersey. But no one of us had the same uniform or helmet. We were a small, motley crew, playing on a small patch of grass and mud which, during Jets’ home games, had a view of the tops of Shea’s tall halogen floodlights about a mile away.

Once in a while, we’d get the urge to walk to Shea and “sneak” in after halftime, when the gates would be thrown open, ostensibly to allow ticket-holding fair-weather fans to leave. (Because at that time, the Jets were pretty bad.)

During the week, after school, we’d play two-hand touch in the asphalt-covered parking lot at the Hebrew school, eschewing the heavy equipment of helmets and shoulder pads. All we needed was a ball and a sliver of space. The parking lot was generally empty, but you always had to watch out so as not to collide with the random parked car. David, Charles and Mark would sometimes join us after Hebrew school was over. I’m not sure if we looked completely odd, this racially mixed group of kids playing football in the synagogue parking lot. Or whether Flushing was so used to this kind of integrated tableau that no one gave us a second look.

Later, in high school, I played touch football with my friends on a small strip of concrete in the West Village, in the front courtyard of the NYU graduate family housing complex. No first downs because the length of the “field” was too short. It was vital to stay on your feet because the concrete was unforgiving and staunching bloodflow during the long subway ride home back to Queens was annoying, to say the least. My friends and I from Stuyvesant would play with kids who lived in the buildings. We never had a scheduled time – the games formed organically.

Of course, disputes often arose. Rules were argued – “You said the car was out of bounds.” Roles were vied for. Scores were contested.

But in the end, we worked things out ourselves.

All this – the helmets and jerseys, the nearly daily football games, the walks to Shea – all this happened and not one of my friends was ever killed or kidnapped or maimed. Maybe we were lucky. But maybe being in charge also made us slightly more careful and caring of one another. In fact, I’ve always been mystified as to why adult-supervised sports, like football, are referred to as “organized.” As though what we kids were able to do in the synagogue parking lot and on the concrete at the NYU towers was the opposite, or wasn’t based on organization. That somehow adult supervision equals better, safer, less chaotic – a demeaning of what kids are able to accomplish on their own.

I say let’s stop using the term organized when referring to sports leagues for kids. Unless we distinguish between “adult organized”and “kid organized.” Because  kids can be very organized when it comes to the things they care about.

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blurred lines

I listened to a fantastic discussion this week on the webcast, Teachers Teaching Teachers. Paul Allison, who through sheer determination and, frankly, stubbornness, has kept this program going has hosted conversations with influential educators from around the world. This past week was no exception.

Folks from Global Kids, along with NYC teachers and educators from Oregon discussed games and gaming.

I plugged into the iTunes feed, participated in a chat that included students and tweeted some of the salient sound-bite-able portions.

I loved listening to the discussion surrounding the educational potential of games and game creation – the promotion of systems thinking, for instance – and how the teachers on the program implement gaming in their classrooms.

As someone who grew up playing games, analog (Risk, Monopoly, Life, Battling Tops – you name it) and digital (I went to college with the Ms. Pacman champ of Connecticut), and as a teacher who used game-playing as a teaching strategy in math with 2nd graders, I was deeply engaged by the topic.

Afterward, as I tried to synthesize the rich conversation, my mind touched on the obvious idea that introducing games and gaming in school is one step towards the blurring of the line between in-school and out-of-school. I thought back to the seminal Pew Internet and American Life study from 2002, “The Digital Disconnect: The widening gap between Internet-savvy students and their Schools.” Nearly 10 years ago, we were facing the dilemma of students arriving in school aware that the ways in which they acquired knowledge outside the classroom wouldn’t be open to them inside the classroom. At the time, my response as a technology professional development specialist was to help teachers bring the Internet into the classroom, and therefore put the Internet into the hands of students.

But what I’m thinking today, right at this moment, influenced by the blurring of lines for me professionally and personally as I engage more with Twitter and read the book “Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out” is that I need to have greater nuance in my understanding. That my framework of the issue – in-school/out-of-school – may be wrongheaded. That instead, what I need to do is honor our students’ already-existing personal learning communities, which have lives in school and out of school and sometimes in and out of school, and, additionally, help them figure out how to foster new ones so that they can access more and different kinds of knowledge.

It’s a different type of blurring of the lines between in-school and out-of-school, one that is holistic rather than linear. It is a Venn diagram of multiple overlapping circles, circles that represent a student’s many learning communities – sports, music, TV, books – rather than a flowchart of back-and-forth arrows between home and school.

(As an aside, who knew there was a LOTR version of Risk? I may need to buy a game tonight …)

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