Introductory Tidbits

by wltreece

When I was emailing potential contributors to Intro 2 Ed about posting schedules, I said something to the effect of “Post when you are so moved — but try to be moved every 1-2 weeks?”

Well, I haven’t had any epiphanies about education in the last 1-2 weeks, and I’ve struggled a little to figure out how to introduce myself. I’ve also found my fellow bloggers a very tough act to follow – kudos to Ben, Appleseed, Allison, and Mary! I can’t wait to learn more, and I’m looking forward to hearing from everyone else.

I’m interning with the Notebook, an independent publication covering the Philadelphia School District. So far I’ve written articles about a new non-profit supporting athletics programs, a Philly teacher competing for a $10,000 prize, a youth town hall on school pushout, a motivational event for high school students, awards honoring leaders in Philly education, a national attendance competition, and a town hall on school discipline.

It’s probably fair to say that I’m experiencing more of an Intro 2 City Politics, Philadelphia Non-Profits, and Advocacy Journalism than an Intro 2 Ed. It’s all valuable, but I have a feeling my contributions here will be of a slightly different flavor than my fellow bloggers.

Notable moments so far have included:

-A school principal blatantly hanging up on me.

-The Notebook winning Philadelphia’s Open Data Race with a proposal to track college attendance statistics for Philadelphia students.

-I was interviewing someone, and it was the sort of interview that turned into more of a conversation than a one-sided interview. I disclosed that I was working for the Notebook part-time and looking for other sources of employment, and when I mentioned I graduated from Swarthmore, my interviewee said, “Send me a resume.” We’re having coffee later this week. Which is cool – this unemployed liberal arts grad finds it heartening to learn that some employers have heard of Swarthmore.

I covered a youth town hall on school pushouts, and used this quote from a student: “I got locked up in seventh grade. A teacher hit me, and I swung back, but they said I assaulted him.” The same student also argued that her school’s uniform policy was too strict: “If I come to school without my school shirt, I get a day of in-school suspension, plus another day of suspension. I miss school for two days.”

It’s important to quote students, for obvious reasons – to complete the picture, and because giving voice to people who have been wronged by Systems is, well, a good thing. But I start to have second thoughts when the first comment includes:

“Stop partying and having sex– do your homework instead. Stop buying cigarettes– buy yourself a pencil and a binder. Stop showing off your butts and cleavage- wear the damn uniform. Then, maybe you won’t have a problem.”

I’ve been to the Internet, and I’m no stranger to comments ranging from critical to abusive, but I’ve never felt personally complicit in an anonymous attack on a high school student. I didn’t need to quote her, and now there’s a (permanent?) record of some pretty inflammatory accusations against a 17-year-old student.

Comments are content. That’s a direct quote from a journalism conference I went to last weekend, where a blogger argued that for his hyperlocal publication, readers are drawn to comments as much as they are to news stories. This isn’t revolutionary, and should be familiar to those of us who have frequented the labyrinthine nested comment threads of Swat’s Daily Gazette, or any community-based newspaper. And I love comments! If journalism enables democracy, comments make journalism that much more participatory.

I don’t regret quoting her – she made valid and relevant points. But it’s frustrating when the open qualities of the web, which in many ways lead to a more democratic model of advocacy journalism, instead detract from people’s dignity.

I’ll close with some background on why I wanted to start Intro 2 Ed.

I feel like many of us twentysomethings want to start a blog. We’re held back because, I mean, what do we have to say that’s unique? Besides, blogs are hard to maintain by yourself. It feels like nobody is reading you.

My friends and I all had livejournals back in high school. I look back on those geeky entries now, and while it’s easy to make fun of all the teen angst, blogging on a regular basis was such a fantastic and formative use of my time. I’m so, so glad I chronicled my worries about getting the right part in school plays, ranted about cliques, and scribbled liberal screeds against Bush. I learned about representing my life publicly, was held accountable for my views by my friends, and practiced writing outside the classroom for the first time. (Maybe Ben will critique this tech-utopia I’m painting of a digital learning experience, but I remember it fondly.)

None of that could have happened if we didn’t have the critical mass to keep our blogging community going. You need a sort of easy back-and-forth with people you trust to make it worthwhile.

My hope is that Intro 2 Ed will provide a support system that stops us from feeling as if we’re just flinging words out into the ether. Frankly, having some sort of common ground is almost more important to me than the fact that our common ground is education.

Is that a tall order? I hope not, but if so, it should be a fun one as well.


PS. I have no idea what I’ll be writing about next! Perhaps the job search, perhaps some news articles, perhaps I’ll adapt some things I wrote at Swat. Or maybe I’ll have an epiphany!


2 Comments to “Introductory Tidbits”

  1. Despite the lack of epiphanies you provide a lot of food for thought here, Will! Thanks for the links to your articles – it was fun to read them. Two of the vignettes – the one about the comments and the one about starting Intro 2 ed to follow up on your high school experience of public writing almost seem contradictory to me. On the one hand, you want to protect the 17 year old from comments; on the other you open yourselves and others up to comments through blogging. I guess there is a difference in authorship and choice – you represent the 17 year old and so he/she is attacked instead of you taking the hit if someone comments on your blog. And there is a difference in more anonymous comments and blogging within a community of friends. But the thread of public authorship and response is there; it seems to me, ideally, schools probably need to be engaging students in both the experience of and conversations about this kind of literacy and dialogue. Not something currently represented in any English (or other) curriculum I know about. Your reflections on the tensions involved in quoting someone also certainly reflects my own experiences when I do qualitative research and choose which quotes to use in my writing. Even when we are giving people voice, we are also using their words to our own ends. Not an easy position. Just some thoughts!

    • Lisa – thanks for the comment! I think you hit the nail on the head re: choosing quotes for qualitative research – this definitely reminds me of that class from seminar. It’s easy to say that you’re “giving voice” to people when you’re actually becoming the voice of others, supplanting them. I’ve written a few articles where I desperately wanted there to be a really juicy story that just wasn’t there when I started to gather quotes.

      Yeah, I’m definitely feeling the tension between wanting a free-wheelin’, comments-everywhere sort of uncensored internet utopia, and wanting to create a community that maximizes civic discourse. The Notebook is a community organization, with online forums that succeed when they create a safe space and fail when they don’t – probably the same can be said of other online educational tools, and even this blog. As you suggest, I’d love to see classrooms create safe spaces online to use as educational tools. At the same time, I think this works best (or has the most impact) when it’s organic and personal – I’m not sure that teachers could’ve made me excited to blog about my private life.

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