Thursday, June 25, 2009

Iranian Protests, and "Students Without Borders"

If you thought the way social media is being used in the context of the Iranian protest movement was a flash in the pan--think again. The web and social media is changing our world and the world our young people are growing up in. A world where a twitter, a text message, a new facebook photo forms part of a continuing conversation with peers, the media and a planetary network of others they know are out there but who they may never meet.

As proof of this new set of realities and the way some creative teachers are realizing the educational potential of a fast moving world, take a look at this recent Washington Post article:"Ballou High School students in the District made a dance video to go-go music, and an Israeli school sent back a folk dance video. A New York class talked to French students about Barack Obama's July visit to France as a presidential candidate. Students in Montgomery County and Romania last fall shared ideas on whether cyberbullies should be punished. Harford County students -- including many who had never visited nearby Baltimore -- debated the merits of chocolate milk with peers in Uzbekistan and Morocco. (Chocolate milk, the students report, is popular in all three countries.) The sixth-graders from Harford's Magnolia Middle School also chatted with Iraqis and Slovenians about popular music. Eminem was a universal hit."

Let's hope that more teachers draw confidence from such accounts and begin to connect their classrooms with the wider world. Part of the reason is that we need to prepare our young people to use the new Web 2.0 tools in a way that extends our ability to create a community beyond our own geographical boundaries. We also need to help our students understand that people in countries like Iran share the same kinds of human aspirations they do. One simple human exchange can counter efforts by politicians,media and even textbook writers to prevent us looking at others as more like ourselves than not. It is clear that through the kinds of contacts that Post writer Maria Glod describes, these "Students without Borders" are beginning to see themselves (as one of their teachers remarks,) as "global citizens."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Responding to an I-Phone World

I finally got my iPhone for Fathers Day--(amazing how my family read my mind!)there was no telling my excitement when the great 3G version of the phone arrived in the highly seductive Apple packaging. I was very thankful to them and to Apple for giving me again a gadget that truly offers something mind-expanding in the same way that my I-Pod and my I-Mac have been at prior times in my consumer history.

Now I can 'tweet' and 'facebook' (no verb comes to mind here) and 'Google' to my heart's content from almost anywhere and certainly at any time. The reality of a globally interconnected world is here in this small and lightweight package with the famous astronaut taken picture of the blue earth on the front screen --before you slide the virtual switch to see your decorative looking 'apps.'

The iPhone enters a world built for all of its swiss knife capabilities--using all the new social media that demand real time communications. But does a world so tightly socially networked have room for both a Google and a Facebook? I was set to wondering this question the other day after reading an article in Wired (not available in electronic form just yet otherwise I would link to it--it is by Fred Vogelstein by the way) that suggested the same--that there was a battle between a Facebook and Google ruled planet. The underlying reason for the competition was that there were two ways of seeing the web--one Google--top down organization of information through mathematical algorithms and the other personal and human centered. Facebook believes that with their millions of users (carefully screened off from Google's big brother like crawling engines) they can deliver answers to people on what to read, visit, listen to etc than the impersonal Google.

On reflection I think the analysis is wrong --while both envy each others' market share we now live in a Google, Facebook and Twitter world--they all have a place in helping us to know it--know each other and come to terms with our interconnected realities in different ways. Even Twitter--that comes in for a great deal of knocks-(self indulgent time wasting)has proven itself in this latest Iran crisis to have socially redeeming value. I also agree with what Clive Thompson said that "the real appeal of Twitter is almost the inverse of narcissism. It's practically collectivist — you're creating a shared understanding larger than yourself. "

The challenge is out there for journalists just as much as it is for teachers, to make sense of that "shared understanding." It is too easy as teachers to pretend that the issue of the way the new media is changing our world can be put off until another day--but it is worth tackling now--not just because more and more students are getting their news through the new media and getting their content through Google (not to mention turning up at school with smart phones) but because it threatens our relevancy as teachers. We cannot prepare our students for a world that no longer exists. We have to acknowledge that the planet's rapid fire communications are in danger of rendering our traditional textbooks and libraries as dinosaurs --we need to provide our students with the global awareness and media literacy skills that can help them make sense of both the nightly news and their academic studies.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Lesson in the Need for Global Awareness

According to a new book The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses by Stephen H Norwood,many American university academicians were complicit in the Holocaust.

Norwood describes in an interview, university leaders as unconcerned about the Holocaust because of their own anti semitism and policies to exclude Jews from entry into their clubs that they saw as an Anglo Saxon fiefdom, "They just didn't care very deeply about Jews and anti-Semitism because they were themselves involved in maintaining quota barriers against Jewish students. There were very, very few Jews on the faculties of American universities throughout the entire inter-war period. And there are whole fields that were basically off-limits to Jews," he says.

Norwood in the same interview sets out the larger context in which this was all taking place,

"As many working and lower-middle-class Americans marched in the streets and struggled to organize a nationwide boycott of German goods and services, American universities maintained amicable relations with the Third Reich, sending their students to study at Nazified universities while welcoming Nazi exchange students to their own campuses. American’s most distinguished university presidents willingly crossed the Atlantic in ships flying the swastika flag, openly defying the anti-Nazi boycott, to the benefit of the Third Reich’s economy. By warmly receiving Nazi diplomats and propagandists on campus, they helped Nazi Germany present itself to the American public as a civilized nation, unfairly maligned in the press.”

The period that Norwood studied came to an end in 1938 with Kristallnact. With that event , Norwood writes, "American universities become significantly involved in protest against Nazism. Even then, the initiative came largely from students."

This last point reminds us that it was largely student activism that forced many American universities to divest in South Africa during the apartheid regime. For example, according to a source from the Michigan State University education school (a leader in divestment) it appears that the divestment of University of California Berkeley's $3 billion in stock holdings "was particularly important" since in 1986 when this action occured "it was the largest public institution to take a stand." One important person at least remembered the event when Nelson Mandela, during a visit to the area after his release from prison, pointed to this event "as a catalyst that ultimately helped end white-minority rule in South Africa."

It would be nice if today that sense of moral and ethical responsibility for the planet and its people came from university leaders and not just from the students. One road for universities to take inorder to regain some moral high ground in this area would be to require global education and awareness as a core part of their curriculums.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iran Crisis and the Rise of Twitter and Social Media

There is considerable chatter in the blogosphere right now concerning how the protestors in Iran are getting their words and images out in the face of media
prohbiitions. Twitter and Facebook have become ways that friends and families as well as the media are piecing together what is happening.

I read one piece asking whether Twitter is the new CNN. Brian Scobie reported for Techcrunch on a "140 Characters conference" to "explore how Twitter was transforming the process of news gathering and lead sourcing. Joining Scoble was Ann Curry (@AnnCurry)—News Anchor on NBC’s Today Show and host of Dateline NBC, Rick Sanchez (@ricksanchezcnn)—host of the 3PM weekday edition of CNN Newsroom, Ryan Osborn (@todayshow)—producer, NBC Today Show, and Clayton Morris (@claytonmorris)—anchor, Fox News."..

Robert Scoble (the conference host) said of his inspiration for the session, “I wanted to learn more about the election in Iran and the crisis and the violence that was spilling onto the streets. I couldn’t find anything on CNN. In fact, all I could find was Larry King talking to motorcycle mechanics.”

Can Twitter fill the vacuum? Yes and no seemed to be the answer. Yes --it is real time but no we cannot keep up with its furious pace--it takes time to validate what is being said and then form it into a coherent picture. As Ann Curry said the pace of the story is simply too fast for anyone to catch up. The other point she made seemed more important--Twitter --by giving us access to so many people we can choose to "follow" allows us to understand a story from a personal angle. This more personal approach to newsgathering is effecting old media. Ann Curry's "mandate"

"for news teams is that I want them to shoot every story like it’s about their mother, brother, sister, father, and cousin. Tell it that way. That’s the road to clarity, truth, understanding and fully becoming global.”

This brings the subject back to the need for all of us whether we are young and old to have a way of bringing different worlds into focus--as Jesse Kornbluth says In Head Butler (6/17/09)"politicians and pundits who, last year, wanted us to bomb Iran, no matter how many civilians we might kill, are now passionate defenders of the Iranian protestors and dissidents, many of whom would be dead if we had sent planes aloft." This is in part because we have through the magic of the media finally began to figure out these are people with hopes, dreams and aspirations like ourselves. As we get more of our news from Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube and all these other forms of social media--the ability to interpret, to judge, to evaluate sources is going to fall on the consumer and so we need to figure out better ways to help them build both global awareness and media interpretive skills.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Chapter in Global Understanding Beginning?

We could have avoided the financial mess we are in
according to incoming dean of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, Garth Saloner--"If there had been more "critical analytical thinking" about the weirdness of the debt market among executives at financial services institutions, then maybe we wouldn't have plunged into the toxic mess from which we're still struggling to extricate ourselves. So the San Fransico Chronicle reports.

We know we could have avoided the Iraq debacle with a bit more global thinking --as just a symptom of the mindset --we only had a relatively few Arab and Farsi speakers at the State department and elsewhere for too many years. But it is not to recent history we need to look --Vietnam provides a prime example of cultural ignorance when we misunderstood the nationalist struggle that had been going on for hundreds of years in that region and insisted on pasting our own cold war template over it.

But now we are hopefully in a new era--not just signalled with the remarks of the incoming Stanford dean as we have mentioned but with the words of our new President
Barrack Obama. His Cairo speech hit all the right notes. His refererences to his own cross cultural history and his appreciation of the US complex ties with the Muslim world were especially noteworthy:

"I also know that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President, John Adams, wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they've excelled in our sports arenas, they've won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers -- Thomas Jefferson -- kept in his personal library. (Applause.)

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. (Applause.)

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. (Applause.) Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words -- within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum -- "Out of many, one."
To read the entire speech click here.

Let us hope we will continue on this path towards greater understanding..