Thursday, March 05, 2009

Let's Talk Poetry: Part Four

Ok. So, if you've gotten this far in my admittedly scatterbrained four-part series, you might have asked yourself: what in the heck has this got to do with running a paperless classroom?

Well, you got me. It's not got that much to do with running a paperless classroom. Except in this way: in thinking out loud about my experiences with the Web, I've begun to think about how those experiences led me to go paperless and also to think about why in some quarters what I'm doing seems either a) so weird b) so useless or c) so soapbox-ish.

Concerning the former: guilty as charged. A paperless classroom is weird. I've taught in public school, I've taught in private school, I've done observations of charter schools and GT youth centers, and of course I went through school myself. And yes, the paperless classroom is totally weird. But not in the novelty sort of way. Rather, in that it's so effortless. Naysayers often accuse me of being a tech-head, but in fact, despite the fact that the structure of my classes remains entirely technological, the content and discussion that arises in those classes is as entirely humanistic and liberal-arts-minded as the best classes of my own experience as a student ever were. In fact, the technology -- if anything -- only gives us more time for my students and I to actually talk to one another rather than sit through mind-numbing lectures. Weird, yeah.

Second, technology is only as useful or useless as you want it to be. Hammers aren't very useful when you need to screw something in. That said, to live one's life refusing to ever pick up a hammer means a lot of loose nails.

Finally, I admit (and it should be obvious to any of the regular readers here) that I'm more than a bit wordy. I chalk that up to those early reading experiences and the over-indulgence in Kerouac as a kid. But if I do occasionally sound like I'm up on a soapbox, it's only because I really do care about what's happening with educational technology. And I don't want us to lose sight of the 'educational' part of 'educational technology'. We can teach kids to use blogs til the cows come home, but if we don't give them the critical and creative skills they need to use their minds to produce content and analysis, well then we're just gonna be stuck with a bunch of mindless drones anyway. If however, we denigrate the 'technology' part of 'educational technology' we do so at great peril. Because if we let them out into the world of the 21st century without 21st century skills, it's like letting 'em loose on the highway without drivers' ed. It'll be a bloodbath.

Back to poetry.

Phil and I, over far too many cups of coffee in the basement of Dudley House, decided to call our online multilingual poetry journal 'Annetna Nepo', or 'Open Antenna' in reverse. The idea was that we'd create a space on the Web that was for poetry the equivalent of a busy European train-station. Nothing but flashes and fleeting glimpses of a host of languages flittering through passing conversation, strident over loudspeakers, missed in the hushed whispers of a mother to her children. We put out two issues and in the course of a few months we met poets of the most amazing caliber from Wales to Eritrea and back again. Within days of opening shop, we had a team of translators from California to England who wanted to help us understand the mixed language soup we were compiling.

Phil's since gone on to a university professorship and I've obviously gone on to do my own things. But, when I read over my students' blogs; when I see the connections they are making and the 'places' they have visited; I can't help but think back to those days of editing that poetry magazine. I can't help but think about the connections and networks that I developed through poetry, art, and the Web. And I feel the full thrust of what technology and the liberal arts can do when they realize a synergy of elements rather than dwell on their differences.

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