National anti-censorship orgs protest cancellation of Little Brother summer reading program


Last week's news that the principal of Pensacola, FL's Booker T Washington High School had cancelled its One School/One Book summer reading program rather than have his students read my novel Little Brother has alarmed several national anti-censorship organizations, led by the National Coalition Against Censorship. Their open letter to the principal of BTWHS, signed by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Council of Teachers of English, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the American Booksellers Federation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center, discusses the legal and moral duty of educators to put challenging material in front of their students.

I'm immensely grateful to these organizations and especially the NCAC for their support, and I really hope that the principal reconsiders his decision and that I can have a chance to discuss the admittedly challenging themes and scenes in Little Brother with his students in the fall.

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Texas school bans sunscreen because a child might drink it


A parent in San Antonio, TX is upset that her ten year old got sunburned on a school trip because the school district forbade bringing sunscreen to school, on the grounds that a child might drink the sunscreen and be poisoned by it. When called on this insanity, the Northeast Independent School District doubled down, calling sunscreen both a medication and a poison (it's neither).

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Handbook to figure out what's in the public domain


Jennifer Urban sez, "I'm happy to say that the Samuelson Clinic at Berkeley has just released a handbook to help folks research whether older items (pre-1978) are still under copyright in the U.S., or are in the public domain." This is probably the most esoteric question that normal people from all walks of life have to answer routinely; the Samuelson Clinic has really done an important public service here.

Interestingly the project originated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Legacy Project, "a nonprofit organization run by civil rights movement veterans that is creating a digital archive of historical materials."

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Why I'm sending 200 copies of Little Brother to a high-school in Pensacola, FL

The principal of Booker T Washington High in Pensacola FL cancelled the school’s One School/One Book summer reading program rather than letting all the kids go through with the previously approved assignment to read Little Brother, the bestselling young adult novel by Cory Doctorow. With Cory and Tor Books’ help, the teachers are fighting back.

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Student's awesome non-apology for wearing leggings


A student named Chloe Britt was disciplined for violating her school's dress-code by wearing leggings; she was required to fill in a Cultural Revolution-style confessional called a "think sheet" explaining her crime, which she did with a lot of style. "Who was bothered when I broke this rule?" "Mrs Rodgers because she thinks me wearing leggings is more important than me being in class and getting an education." "This is what I could have done instead:" "Nothing. I'm still going to wear leggings." GO CHLOE GO! (via Seanan McGuire)

Kickstarting Kibo: robot-blocks for kids 4-7

Jenise sez, "When I worked for a robotics company, I complained bitterly about the lack of robotic toys for my daughter to my boss, Mitch Rosenberg. Yesterday, he sent me an email with the answer to my problem: KIBO, a robot kit specifically designed for kids age 4-7. Mitch partnered with Marina Umaschi Bers, co-creator of Scratch Jr., to found KinderLab Robotics, Inc., and they're trying to produce the toy I dreamed of for my daughter."

Looks amazing, but it ain't cheap: $219 minimum to get the actual blocks, $349 for the full set.

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Critical thinking vs education: Teaching kids math without "correct" answers


Brooke Powers assigned her middle-school math class a probability exercise with no single correct answer and was monumentally frustrated by her kids' inability to accept the idea of a problem without a canonical solution. After a long and productive wrangle with her kids about how critical thinking works and why divergent problem-solving is much more important than mechanically calculating an answer that you could just get out of a computer, she salvaged the exercise and made something genuinely wonderful out of it.

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Kickstarting an augmented reality, artificial lifeform in a kids' picture-book

Wagner James Au sez, "Created by virtual world/avatar pioneer Jeffrey Ventrella, Wiglets are self-animated, augmented reality creatures for mobile devices powered by an open source AI system, and have genomes that are stored in the cloud along with their geo-locations. 'This means they can exist in specific locations in the real world,' Jeffrey explains. The overall goal with Wiglets is to encourage kids to find/play with their creatures in the natural world."

$65 gets you the book and a virtual Wiglet.

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Openedjam: 3-day event in San Antonio for free/open education activists

Joey writes, "OpenEdJam is a 3-day international event that brings together activists, developers, educators, engineers, librarians, and makers from all fields. We will provide a hands-on environment where participants can collaborate on innovative creations and uses of free and open education resources. Considering the cultural, ethical and technical implications of free and open education resources, we'll come together to discuss, demonstrate and support the future of free and open education. Mariah Villarreal, an undergraduate in San Antonio, TX and AmeriCorps robotics community organizer has put it together. It's amazing to see young hackers out there making noise and keeping the tradition alive!"

OpenEdJam | The Convergent Media Collective (Thanks, Joey!)

What if we admitted to kids that most sex is for pleasure?

Alice Dreger works with intersex kids, and takes an admirably frank approach to talking about sex with her own kid. She's noticed lots of differences between her approach and that of other parents, but the biggest one is that she tells her son that people have sex for pleasure. Her piece about this, precipitated by her kid bringing home a notice that the class would be talking about sex and HIV/AIDS, is a kind of model of rational, sex-positive parenting that made me want to clip it out and stick it on the fridge for future reference.

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Kickstarting Codemancer, a game to teach programming to kids (especially girls)

Codemancer: A Fantasy Game that Teaches the Magic of Code is a fully funded kickstarter to produce an educational game to teach programming to kids, especially girls. Players solve programming challenges to advance through the game, and there's a course for translating your Codemancer skills to coding in python. The developer, Robert Lockhart, has created and shipped games before, which bodes well for this one's eventual release.

$20 gets you the game for Windows, Macos, Ipad and Android.

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U of Saskatchewan fires tenured dean for speaking out against cuts

A reader writes, "Robert Buckingham, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan since 2009, was fired last Wednesday for critical comments about the university's restructuring plans. When he showed up for work Wednesday morning, two campus security guards escorted him off campus. The university not only fired him as dean, but also stripped Buckingham of his tenured faculty position. The termination letter signed by Provost and VP Academic Brett Fairbairn said that by speaking out against the school's restructuring plans, Buckingham had 'demonstrated egregious conduct and insubordination' and was in breach of contract."

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Clapper's ban on talking about leaks makes life difficult for crypto profs with cleared students

When James Clapper banned intelligence agency employees from discussing or acknowledging the existence of leaked docs (including the Snowden docs), he made life very hard for university professors like Matt Blaze, a security expert whose classes often have students with security clearance.

My own books -- which deal with leaks like these -- are taught at West Point at a course whose instructors include a member of US Cyber Command. I imagine a rule like this would make future inclusion on the curriculum difficult, if not impossible.

9th grader ignored by school board runs for a seat on the board

Bridget Erickson, a freshman at St Paul, MN's Nova Classical Academy tried unsuccessfully to get the school board to create a student advisory seat on the board. Roundly ignored, she turned to the by-laws governing the board and discovered that there was no minimum age for board members, so she's now she's running for a full-fledged seat on the Nova Classical Academy school board.

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Standardized testing and schools as factories: Louis CK versus Common Core

Louis CK is the latest high-profile voice to join the chorus against the US educational Common Core and the educational system's emphasis on standardized testing. A great New Yorker piece explores the movement against standardized testing and one-size-fits-all pedagogy.

I think it falls short of the mark, though. The rise of standardized testing, standardized curriculum, and "accountability" are part of the wider phenomenon of framing every question in business terms. In the modern world, the state is a kind of souped up business. That's why we're all "taxpayers" instead of "citizens." "Taxpayer" reframes policy outcomes as a kind of customer-loyalty perk. If your taxes are the locus of your relationship with the state, then people who don't pay taxes -- people too young, old, disabled, or unlucky to be working -- are not entitled to policy outcomes that reflect their needs.

"Taxpayers" are the shareholders in government. The government is the board of directors. School administrators are the management. Teachers are the assembly-line workers. Kids are the product. "Accountability" means that the product has to be quantified and reported on every quarter. The only readily quantifiable elements of education are attendance and test-scores, so the entire educational system is reorganized around maximizing these elements, even though they are only tangentially related to real educational outcomes and are trivial to game.

The vilification of teachers and teachers' unions go hand-in-hand with this idea. At the heart of teachers' unions' demands is the insistence that teaching is a craft that requires nonstandard, difficult-to-quantify approaches that are incompatible with factory-style "accountability." The emphasis on the outliers of teachers' unions -- the rare instances in which bad teachers are protected by their trade unions -- instead of the activity that constitutes the vast majority of union advocacy -- demanding an educational approach that is grounded in trust, respect, and individual tutelage -- the "taxpayer" types can make out teachers as lazy slobs who don't want to jog on the same brutal treadmill as the rest of us.

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