Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hacking: Apps, School Budgets, Hegemony

Jason Jones, co-founding editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education's ProfHacker, sent me a Tweet today:

Which led me here:

Jason and I met at MLA11 and have chatted intermittently since January about public school education. We both watch what's going down in our local districts (his: New Britain, CT; mine, Lake Oswego, OR) and send nervous tweets about radical cuts to teaching staff (80 in his next year) and impending school closures (proposed 35% of elementary schools in mine).

We've also talked about how far out of sync our districts are with new media curricula. Hence the cool Tweet he sent today: a way to crowdsource said curricula by asking teachers what they need and offering up micro solutions in the form of apps. From this distance and through my perpetually-at-hand, rose-tinted glasses, this seems like a great premise for workable solutions. In public school districts where admins in charge of tech are usually thinking only of equipment replacement, crowdsourcing seems like an efficient workaround to get some curricular innovation dirt cheap and super efficient. From the "Hacking Education" Contest:
Help to shape your school system's budget by revealing what teachers really need. Build the first mobile app for hyper-local education philanthropy. We've got a list of suggestions to help get you thinking.

On the long parchment scroll of stuff I love about the Internet, quotations like that one live near the top.

Jason's suggestion is timely because I just found out I've been named a Fellow at Washington State Vancouver's Mobile Tech Research Initiative.

WSUV is a hub of mobile tech research and storytelling. Dr. Dene Grigar, Assoc. Prof. and Director of WSUV's Creative Media and Digital Culture Program, was just awarded, with Brett Oppegaard, a $50K NEH Start Up Grant for the Fort Vancouver Mobile Project.

It's ironic that at this moment when mobile apps are at the cutting edge of digital academic research and enable the timely fulfillment of hyperlocal public education curricular goals, our schools are being hacked to bits: not binary digits, but little paper snowflakes where whole sheets of paper once unfurled.

In my own district, the School Board will vote next Monday (April 25) on how many elementary schools to shut down and whether or not to move 6th graders from elementary schools to middle schools.

Regular readers of this blog know that the parents of grassroots org LO United surfaced $4-8 million of alternative budget reductions and a substantial body high-test academic research about how 6th graders fare in middle schools compared to elementaries.  (Short answer: poorly.)  LO United supports closure of one school and keeping 6th graders in elementary school.  After studying the issue, I made three videos to promote the LO United positions: "Keep Our Schools Open,""LO Unites: Saving Schools and 6th Graders," and "Fiscal Responsibility."

Here's where the part about hegemony comes in.

I had assumed that community resistance to the LOU positions emanated from doubt about the quality of LOU's work.  I made the movies to let LOU experts talk and find an audience.  The videos galvanized conversation, but the lion's share of credit falls to the assiduous LOU folks who kept up a steady stream of emails and face-to-face meetings with district admins and the School Board, who have used LOU tools and data to revise their original plans.

What motivates the huge impending change in our school district is not the surface story about budget, but a deeper one about ideology.  Hanging around at pick up, volunteering at art lit, co-hosting a mom's margarita fundraiser for the school, I hear again and again: 6th graders are bored in elementary school.  They need the specialized curriculum at middle school.  I wasn't even tracking it at first.

Then I drove my 4th grade daughter to volleyball practice at the local jr. high and she said, "I can't wait to go here!  You get to choose your classes!  6th graders are bored at my school."

That's how hegemony works, right?  Invisibly.  Not a top-down declaration but murmured here and there.  It functions the way gossip does, policing community values.  "Everyone" knows it to be true. Perception of this kind is not susceptible to facts because it is boundless like water, always moving, re-routed by a little factual blockage here and there, but finding nevertheless its path to the wide river of common knowledge.

This is a picture of a colonized subject.  With a little Geek Dad thrown in for Jason.