Western-Centric Privilege | Now What?

People of privilege, yeah, I mean me.  I’m talking to you, me.  I always find myself a bit silenced when this issue is raised.  Yes, I am white and male and by many, many definitions privileged.  And does my privilege impinge upon those without it. Probably.  All the way down.

So…I see what the problem is.  I am the problem.  If I am the problem then what does that signify?  I don’t know.  The issue always flows like this for me.  I see what and I see the “so what” but what of the “now what”?  And don’t tell me, please, that I have taken the first necessary by being aware of the problem.  Nope.  That don’t signify to me at this point. Here is my elaboration of this issue using a tool new to me called Sway.

This is remixable. Help clarify what privilege means in a global village.

UPDATE: As per usual.

A Shepherd’s Journal: February 22, 2015 | The Night Stage


There are three ewes ready to drop.  Or so it would seem.  I got up early this morning (2:30 am) to see if they were going to lamb.  I don’t know who was more expectant, me or them.  Me, I guess, because there were no lambs.  The expectant leaving me expecting.  I am glad, but there is no certainty that they would not lamb in the next thirty minutes.  This seems to be the year of the sheep with precipitous births.

An outrageous combination of 14-inch powder snow, rain/sleet/more snow, and temps above freezing has left a heavy, cloying fog everywhere.  I could easily lose the ewes in this milky mess if I didn’t make a head count. Six in the barn.  Eight in the field. I guess that makes me the pitcher to round out a baseball squad of sheep.

Yesterday was exhausting.  The barn flooded as all the rain and melting snow gushed downhill and straight into it,  sliding over our filled and frozen drains installed to prevent that very thing from happening.  My wife and I spent the better part of the morning digging trenches in the frozen ground to divert the torrents.  The barn still became a manure pond.  We moved the ewes and their babies into a barn space that we usually reserve for hay.  More work.

giphy (22)


A mama of triplets is deciding whether or not she wants to accept her third baby. Our experience says no.  That means we will raise this big healthy ram lamb as a “bummer”.  Milk replacer is expensive and the time needed to bottle feed three times a day is even more dear.  Thank God school has been cancelled all week.  I couldn’t get out our half-mile farm lane if I wanted to.  I tried to pack down a path to drive out yesterday, but it was just too risky to try.  More cold weather coming.  Refreezing might actually help.  Please no more rain.

I don’t want to make it sound like I am doing all of this by myself.  My wife is the real lioness here.  She patrols the barn during the day, tending to them all as if they were her own children.  I am beyond lucky to have her as my friend.  Sheep farming is one of the shared loves that has kept us working together for so long. Over 30 years with lambs and life. Lucky me.

The thick fog of thirty minutes previous seems to lift like a white proscenium fire curtain.  Gone, revealing a starry sky and Nature’s night stage.  I walk it with a torch for a prop  and a role to play.  I am mostly a reluctant actor, shy and so full of stage fright I act just to survive. Stage left. Stage right. Prologue. Epilogue. Comedy. Tragedy.  In the amphitheater,  standing in for an indisposed actor, reading my lines “from the book” as the theater folk say.  Eyed by my sheepish audience. So I end


What We Need Is Some Illiterate Narrative

This post started off as a very short comment on the chart below.  It has become the monster below.  Please, dear reader, forgive me, but please read me.  I need all the help I can get.

Audrey Watters has a salutary chart in her most recent blog post at HackEducation.  The chart below is a summing up of the Horizon Reports 2004-2015.  So pretty.  I am so glad she made it all so legible.  There are many stories in here to be teased out and philosophical assumptions to be spoken to.  A steaming pile of ramen and soup to eat!

Watters, Audrey. “Horizon+Tracking.png (956×593).” Blog. HackEducation. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.
Watters, Audrey. “Horizon+Tracking.png (956×593).” Blog. HackEducation. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.

Watters argues that the chart’s accuracy, Horizon’s batting average,  is not so important as what Horizon’s imaginative ‘process’ reveals about how the story of ed-tech is told.  I, too, am interested in both the failures and successes of the Horizon imagination, but where does it go from there.  What does the use of wikis and their transparency reveal?  Just because we can see the inner machinations of the experts panels at Horizon, that ‘information’ does not speak for itself.  It is the story we tell with the data, it is the signal we filter from that dogpile of noisy puppies that is what Watters is interested in.  My question is this: is our current narrative about this dogpile up to the task.  Do we need a new way of imagining the story in order to tell the new ed tech story? Can we proceed to imagine a future from the past or must we imagine that future from the future?  What I ask goes to the heart of what ‘history’ and ‘imagination’ mean to the idea of narrative  and who should tell the story of any future.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”~G. Santayana

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”~Heraclitus

Should Santayana or Heraclitus tell it?  Does the past dispose of the future, condemning us to repeat it in some Fated endless recursion or is the future’s story told by the imagination as we take unique steps toward what we invoke from that future?  I think that I would prefer the story was told by Heraclitus not Santayana.

Consider the chart above. I love charts.  I love teasing out the stories in them.  I love how they sum up.  For example, you would expect that the items that appear in the “Four to Five Years Out” column for 2004 would begin to appear in 2008 and 2009.  Do they?  I don’t know for sure.  Sometimes the terms that Horizon uses to couch their predictions is much like that of palm readers and horoscope diviners–wide enough to apply across a wide swath of the adjacent possible but really the frailest of signals. They don’t appear to tell much of a story.  I really don’t think that is Horizon’s purpose.  They understand the future in Santayanan terms-past is prologue to future.  They mine what has happened and they think that this is enough.  But what if they wrote their narratives with the idea of delineating lots of possible paths to the future or even better showing others how they might imagine that future into being.  That would be a very different narrative.  It would inevitably have some figurative elements to it.  Metaphor, metonymy, analogy, as well as humility and a rich capacity to prefigure instead of configure the future.  Poetry? Cinema?  Multigenre narrative?  Next generation Monte Carlo simulators? Black Swan machines?

Yes, when I see the realm of the possible and their adjacencies as a way of telling the edtech story then I find myself radically bored by Santayana’s crew at Horizon even at what seems only short time jaunts of a year.  By the by, why don’t they ever go out two weeks or two days. Prediction is prediction, right?  But that is my point.  There purpose is not to foretell but rather to argue.

This is to say nothing about the metaphor of the chart above.  I see it as surveyed territory with metes and bounds.  It is a platte book with ownership dilineated:  ‘mobiles’ owning this field this year and then his daughter ‘mobile apps’ owning it another.  Each edtech idea is contained and a property entire unto itself.  This way of telling the story is as handy as a pocket on a shirt, but it is also a handy ‘lie’.  Ideas are very rarely self-contained.  They are not atoms (or as Leibniz called them, monads).  They are more like messy pieces of memetic code replicating willy nilly.  And they are totally species agnostic as to who they have sex with.

A satellite view of my farm.
A satellite view of my farm.

As a farmer, when I see this chart I think of a farm with regular fence fields.  But I know when I get my muck boots out on them they become irregular in elevation and in what grows best in them and what flora and fauna haunt their margins and a multiplicity of need and purpose.  And I see that some of those fences will have to go and that I will need a pond here or some drains there. I see the chart above in much the same way.  I have made the world what James C. Scott termed ‘legibile’.

Venkat Rao has written about this better than I can.  I recommend him, but I can borrow an image from Scott that says it all.

scottForestry (1)

The chart is a rationalization of the state of edtech.  It is analogous to  the forest above on the reader’s right. Rao sums up this recipe below (apologies for the long quote):

Scott calls the thinking style behind the failure mode “authoritarian high modernism,” …

Here is the recipe:

  • Look at a complex and confusing reality, such as the social dynamics of an old city
  • Fail to understand all the subtleties of how the complex reality works
  • Attribute that failure to the irrationality of what you are looking at, rather than your own limitations
  • Come up with an idealized blank-slate vision of what that reality ought to look like
  • Argue that the relative simplicity and platonic orderliness of the vision represents rationality
  • Use authoritarian power to impose that vision, by demolishing the old reality if necessary
  • Watch your rational Utopia fail horribly

The big mistake in this pattern of failure is projecting your subjective lack of comprehension onto the object you are looking at, as “irrationality.” We make this mistake because we are tempted by a desire for legibility.

What the Horizon Report does is create a blank slate reality and then projects onto what it must view as a blank slate future.  Of course it is a failure, but as you will note in the final two bullet points, there are some very practical political realities that can arise from the blank slate.  Its very process can lead to ever greater failures.  Has it?  Now that is an interesting story to tell:  who has relied on this report to make future going policy decisions of consequence?

I look forward to Watters’ other shoe to drop on this.  I do not like the dreamfield that I see in the chart.  It is potentially a map for control.  And to gain control you have to dumb down the narrative.  Where there are guardians of the narrative there are uncast shadows and strings leading straight up to we know not who.  A worry.  Yes?



Hope Full in February, the Honest-to-God Cruelest Month

Going on about the weather is trite when the weathermeisters natter on. But when I have to get up at 3 am to check on the lambs, it is not. Verily it is not trite. In fact the past week has been an exercise in the depressive grinding of its miserable self down onto me and mine. I am reminded of our first year as shepherds. We damn near slept with the sheep that year with a copy of Ron Parker’s The Sheep Book at the ready yet somehow that night we managed to need to sleep so there was a two hour window of time very early in the morning when we were not there.

Of course, you anticipate the teller of the tale, “And that was when the ewe had her lamb.” I neglected to tell you that this was as cold a day as Kentucky had seen… ever. My wife and I both went to the barn and saw a cold lamb puddle on the ground, not so newborn. Nothing could live through this, I thought. Then we saw the faintest movement of a slippery pink tongue. No, it was alive! I tugged the ewe lamb from the ground. It wouldn’t budge. Without thinking I grabbed a grubbing hoe from pile of nearby tools, dug up the ground around and underneath the lamb. My wife bundled up the baby along with clump of attached frozen manury ground and raced to the house.

Our deep shepherd-y reading had told us that a frozen lamb sometimes responded to a warm submersion. I filled the sink and without much hope we dropped in our little lamb-sicle. When she hit the warm water, she let out at a hot gasp and her whole body shivered and quivered into gear, alive in a warm sheep shit stew, stinking and alive. Even in the worst of times we remember this hope filled moment. The lamb went on to bear her own lambs and you would never know she had ever been nearly frozen except for the tip of her left ear that drooped only a little from frostbite nerve damage.

Today I feel the need to share a video that is also an “ante up” into the near future. That’s what hope is, right? It is the ante in the great and infinite  poker game of life.

We grow some of our own plants for the spring garden. In the video you see tomatoes and peppers and flowers. It really is too early for the flowers, but we will probably put them in a low tunnel of plastic to protect them outside. Seeds and trees are the great feedforward electromagnets that power my engine. We plant them and they pull us toward their emergent future. They give us an anchor there, a sense of the inevitable. Yes, the time will come when these plants will be grounded and that future ‘grounding’ is what fill me with hope.  That and a little feedback from the past that says to me like Theodore Roethke says below–trust in the emergent driving force of the seasons and nature.  We are all cuttings.


Sing it, Saxomophone Man!

Kevin had a bit of musical bio this morning on his website. It inspired me. Real self-insight into what makes this polymath tick. And I’ll give you one clue–it’s what comes out of the horn. Yes, music. Saxophone music to be specific. Kevin’s got a real gig with his band coming up so I am coming up with a fantasy playlist for him of Saxophone “kings”. I am embedding the list below. It is public and collaborative. Join in and add to the list in honor of one of our musical sons–Dogtrax.

Saxomophone Set List from tellio on 8tracks Radio.

February 19, 2015 | A Shepherd’s Journal: The Fragile Crack of Frozen Stars


When it is -11 degrees Fahrenheit (-24 C), the snow doesn’t so much crunch as it …squeaks.

I wait in the dark at the gate. Again.  Yesterday was a meal best left behind for the post trauma to come.  Today I voice a prayer for ‘no new mamas’.

I listen deep inside like an equitorial tracking station pinging for space craft. Was that something? No.

The wind has mercy.  I am only marginally cold except in my exposed face, but I am imaginative enough to bring up my dear Jack London in the similar dark but way worse.

I trudge and squeak down to the rambling pile of desuetude called our barn.  The snow is a Godsend.  It insulates the ground from a truly deep freeze.  Some old timers say a February snow is worth an April fertilizing.  We shall see.

I pass the spot where we lost two lambs yesterday.  Another motto: raise ‘em on the ground.  In other words, hope your lambs be small and easy to birth.  Raise ‘em on the ground, not in the womb.  These were among the largest lambs we have ever grown in our thirty winters of joy and pain and shepherding.  Too large to make it safely out. You don’t want to know how hard we tried.

I see the ewe who lost them both.  Yesterday, after my wife heroically midwifed them out,  the ewe licked and licked and licked them.  A bleat, a sideways look to us.  She paws the lambs still sticky and golden from birth. Post trauma.  I walk into the barn.

No new mamas. My prayer has been answered.  I break the ice in their water buckets.  Later I will swap out empty buckets for fresh ones and hope desperately that the so-called frost proof hydrant at the barn has not frozen.  That would probably mean hauling water from the house.  An all day affair.  We have done it before.

I think about my wife upstairs at home, deep in the piles of blankets and cats.  I imagine that warmth like the shot of bourbon I probably should have had before I came down here.  She took the late evening duty.  She is the real shepherd of the two of us.  I got the early morning duty.

I feed out hay and a little grain.  The ewes and their lambs are snug in their little lambing ‘jugs’. Sufficient unto themselves even to eleven below zero. The expecting ewes outside stir with anticipation so I toss them a few flakes of hay to keep them from talking behind my back as I trundle uphill to the house, to the warmth that loves me and doesn’t want to kill me.

At the gate I note that my beard is icicled where I have been breathing.  I turn off the flashlight. Frozen photons rain down from the new  moon sky. It is dark matter lambtime in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.


February 7, 2015 | A Shepherd’s Journal: Nothing. Done.

I have a reason to
be about
inside this beastly hour
scrubbing the moony
fields for
a mule braying
at distance.
Mars two handbreadths
away from
a waning full moon.
shadows full as noon.
Young toms
touching whisker
trading sniffs
of where they’ve been.
neighbors a mile away
security lights ablaze.
stars even farther.
I listen for a ewe’s
faint chuckle,
for a lamb’s quivery birthbleat.
the moon points to nothing.
I am up for the nothing.
the shepherd’s chore of declaring
nothing new tonight–


Engagement: I Do Not Think…

INIGOI don't think

When I search Google for “engagement WKU” I get a hot mess of stuff.  In fact it clarifies for me how the word has lapsed into confusion (at least for me).  The Google nGram chart below for “student engagement” indicates that before 1962 there is no record of  the use of the phrase “student engagement”.

The Oxford English Dictionary connects engagement to mortgage in a feudal bow toward reciprocal duty.  The modern usage  has abandoned this idea of shared duty for the behaviorist schema that engagement is something we do in order to elicit the response we seek.  In other words where engagement had once been a two way street, it  has now been reduced to a “treatment”.  I get attention by doing something to get it.



I am trying to figure out what this word means in the classroom.  With the aid of two blog posts, one by Steve Greenlaw which led me to another  by  Gardner Campell nearly ten years ago, I have begun to  sample what engagement might mean.

Here is the idea that Gardner Campbell suggests:  treat engagement like an Apgar Test.  Interestingly, out of my 60 university students only four of them admitted to having heard of the idea and only one nursing major and one elementary ed major could speak specifically to what it meant.   As a husband whose wife birthed all of our babies at home (she is my hero), I helped administer the Apgar Test to all three of my newborn squids.  My favorite observation from the midwife of my first born was “pink to the fingertips”, an observation that meant a lot considering my son had the umbilical wrapped around his neck.

The idea here is to use this tool as a simple screening device to get an even simpler take on whether or not your learners are either finding themselves engaged or are actively engaged.  Below is the HaikuDeck I used in class to administer the Gardner’s Apgar. If you click here you can also see my slide notes.

Gardner’s Apgar – Click here to see slide notes and observations.

I have prepared a Google Form for use in future classes:

One of the reasons for doing this work is to push back on the behaviorist notion that engagement is an experimental stimulus to be applied to learners in order to get more of it. Engagement is indeed what the teacher does, but it is even more what the learner does and even more than that it is about how everyone in the community connects. It is what the learner brings to the task at the hand, what she brings to the community of learners, and what we all share as our “ante into the game”. And the game is no fun unless you have skin in it.

Feedforward in the Garden of Your Mind

One of the projects I have started the year with is a Google Form survey. I have asked students to fill out this form.  Tomorrow we will look at the data in this spreadsheet that the form above generated. There is an amazing cache of data in there and I have asked my students to find stuff of interest.  I am looking forward to their observations with keenness.

Here is the last question I asked them: “We will end the semester at some point. May 15, in point of fact.. The Ides of May (if there is such a thing). Write for me what you imagine you might have done in your semester in English 300.”

My response to this question below is an example of feedforward as far as I understand it.  Or as some folks call it,  ‘presencing‘. I am trying to use my fervid imagination as a way to pull both myself and my class toward a more valued future, a previously unopened door to a more potent adjacent possible.

“OK, relax. Turn on the time machine. Set it for May 15, 2015. On.

What a glorious spring is has been! I smell cut grass and the beginnings of a cool morning breeze.

I am waiting for the last projects of the semester. It worked. My fellow learners bought into the idea that what they value and what they need to know is critical to learning, their learning. We did a lot of stuff. Some of it very unexpected. Who could have predicted that the Google+ community would have produced so much collaborative work. I said at the beginning that collaborative work was allowed and boy did they take me up on it. Some of it ended up as conference papers and presentations but others were epubs and even service learning projects.

Speaking of presentations. I have never know so much variety and such quality. When I invited my department head in to watch he insisted that he only had ten minutes to watch. He stayed the whole hour and then he started pounding on the doors of other faculty to tell them they had to come watch. It was so crowded that I was really glad someone had the idea to stream them. I had a couple of colleagues, one in Egypt and one in France tell me that they had never been so excited about teaching and learning afterwards. We had pechacuchas and ignite talks and incredible demonstrations and even someone who did theirs on a Google Hangout from Saudi Arabia. Thank God for all those adhoc Google Hangout everybody started doing when one of us needed to be gone for a week for surgery.

I always say half joking that the great and happy secret of my job is that I get paid to learn. I think I really am getting paid this semester. The podcasts that we started doing on a regular basis throughout the semester have really taken off in the edtech community especially the ones that were led by students.

And this says nothing of how I have gotten so much help on my MOOC project–MOOC HOSTEL. I don’t think it would have happened without the class’s help. First, they helped me with the user experience. Second, they became active users of the site. Third, they began to spin off projects for blogs, podcasts, YouTube Channels.

Don’t get me started on YouTube. Our channel rocks. I don’t know whose idea it was to make that work or the class internet radio station. In fact the sheer volume of fun and useful stuff generated blows my mind: memes, videos, multigenre, pix …just astonishing.

Everyone had something they took pride in creating and will take with them into the future. Apps, series of posts, a research blog, a twitter account with 500K followers–that was a huge surprise for everybody. “

Some folks might think that this is hyperbole.  In fact it needed to be even more embellished than I managed.  I wonder what my students will think when I read this to them tomorrow, this missive from the future.

I can revive the signals …~Richard Taylor