Moving to Medium

mediumlogoThere is a new blogging platform, one that I think is better than WordPress, and I am moving there for future posts. I will add pointers here, but the content will be there.

Why am I releasing total control over my feed here, with my own domain name and wordpress installation? Two factors, curation and convenience.

Medium was developed by one of the co-founders of Twitter. Understanding social media and applying it to content, Evan Williams put together a platform that allows any user to blog, limits the format options to make the content the draw, and allows for readers to decide easily what should be highlighted and promoted each day. Add to that paid authors of note, like Steven Levy on Crypto War Redux, to draw the public.

There are other alternatives to Medium, outlined at Lifehacker, but they don’t put the author at the center, supported by the readers, in a symbiotic relationship that is an evolution from what publishers used to do. Medium acts as a medium, but is, in its current state, almost invisible. Something I like.

As an occasional blogger in the days of fading RSS use, I cannot expect people to come to my domain to read what I have to say; it gets lost in the shuffle of a million other blogs. With Medium, I have a chance that they may get linked or looked at more often. As well as the convenience of web-based posting. Find me at https://www.medium.com/@tokyokevin

UPDATE: about a year later. Medium is going through some changes. I am back here. Sorry about the leave.

Voting on Convictions

the-strategy-1080536_640I am usually a strategic voter. I sometimes switch to the Republican party so I can vote against the wingnuts in the primaries, as the chance a local Democrat getting elected are pretty close to nil (in Loveland, Colorado). I have been political since helping Dad deliver Kennedy brochures as a tiny kid to the ward where he was the Democratic precinct captain. Seeing Hubert Humphrey lose to Richard Nixon was an eye-opener. Watching McGovern go down in flames consolidated a real fear of voting with too much conviction and not enough strategy. Worst was to see Al Gore lose the squeaker to G.W., and I do blame the 3% that Nader garnered.

Sure there was Jimmy Carter, one of the best presidents and probably the best person to ever hold the office. Read some of his books. But you know how that ended. When Reagan waltzed into office, I was already overseas in Barcelona. I returned for a graduate degree but did not stay. I have watched the decline of America from afar, in Tokyo. Sure, I contributed, many times to the Obama campaign. Worked as much as I could to get the word out. He has done as much as possible in a system that has become dysfunctional.

hillary-41775_640Hillary has always seemed the logical extension of this run. She has balls. She is a scrapper. She is smart, and resilient. She knows the ins-and-outs of the system. She will get things done. And she will make history as the first woman president.

I agree with Bernie Sanders on almost every point in his platform. He is a good thinker, and presents his ideas well. I am worried, though, that he would be another Carter. And the right is more aligned than in the late 70’s. It is a different ballgame. When the rubber meets the road, I am not so sure he would be able to deliver. He expects a revolution, with a surge of young liberals voting their conscious. But if it were a true revolution, why is he wasting his time on a nomination? He doesn’t play well with others, is a real independent and not really a Democrat. Sure, the 2-party system is another thing that needs drastic overhaul, superdelegates and about 30 other quirks that help inside-the-beltway candidates. But this is the system we have to work with.

But for the first time in a long time, I understand why people vote on their convictions, even without a real chance of electing a winner. Those that vote against their own economic self-interest because they believe in something one candidate has done or said. A moral stand. Pure and simple.

When I found out Bernie Sanders was a Conscientious Objector to the Vietnam war, my opinion of him jumped a couple of notches. I have done the same thing, albeit during the last year of the draft (thank you, Jimmy Carter, for canceling that.) CIMG2923But it was the latest exchange in the debate between Sanders and Clinton that has swayed me completely. It involves Henry Kissinger, who I have long considered a war criminal. This has only grown stronger over the years, this feeling that a corrupt man in a corrupt administration has been let off in the eyes of history. My visit to the killing fields in Cambodia last year sharpened this feeling as I learned the role the US had in the catastrophe.

So when Hillary embraced Kissinger and Bernie clearly rejected him, it left me with no choice. I am a pacifist. It is one of the reasons I came to Japan to live. I can no longer support Hillary Clinton for President. Looking back after my decision, I now see how many other areas Hillary has compromised on so much that she reminds me of a character out of Macbeth.

Now comes the hard part. How to ensure that Mr. Sanders becomes Mr. President. He is not very electable. He doesn’t compromise. Sometimes that strength can become a weakness. But I am now looking for the best way to contribute to the campaign.

bernie-sandersIn the last couple of days, I have discovered that there are signs Bernie could get nominated (the most difficult step), and then go on to get elected (easier, considering the field he is running against). Most promising is the amount of funds from small donors. Beating Obama’s record. Most difficult for him is getting the media onboard. You need a dirty fight for that.

But here’s to hoping that conscience and strategy can work together. Feel the Bern.

 

Going to Myanmar this summer

Tingles. Frank emails me back with a short message, and it is so good to have someone on the ground teaching classes in Yangon to communicate with, to get solid information so early.

For those here the first time, I went to Myanmar as a volunteer teacher trainer twice in 2014. The first time through Friendship Force with family and friends. I invited good friend Frank along and we spent 10 wonderful days teaching in a monastery. Frank and I returned in August (supported by JALT this time) and spent a whole month teacher training, and expanded our network of connections.

140802PGardenTeachers3

Frank returned in the fall of 2015 and has been working there since, not just volunteering. He works most closely with Ko Wunna, a businessman who sponsors some of the free schools in the NLD network, the political party that won a landslide victory last fall, and is now in power. Opening up the country.

That is why we have a larger need than before. Growth is accelerating.

The plan is for a group of 3-10 volunteer EFL teachers to do a short 3-5 day intensive course in Communicative Language Teaching, repeated four times, in four different cities in Myanmar. This will happen either in August or September, or maybe both, depending on arrangements.

As details get consolidated by our hosts, the NLD Education Network, I will be working to consolidate a list of committed volunteers.

Myanmar is a developing country, and while Yangon is relatively cosmopolitan, expect rougher conditions outside. Myanmar is warm all year round, 30 degrees (about 90) and the summer is rainy. Food is basic, mostly fried, but can be spicy. Hard to find wifi and air conditioning.

But the people are exciting and wonderful, full of expectation and a real feeling of hope. This was even before the election. I can’t wait to get back to see how it is.

If you are interested, please contact me. You will need to pay for hotels ($40 a night, minimum) and meals during the month, and maybe even transportation between the cities. Food is cheap unless you want foreign stuff. And of course, your flight in. For me, from Tokyo, I plan to spend about $2,000 for the month.

We will be looking for places to get support first for buying and shipping teaching materials, then to defray some of those costs above.

Lots of work, but well worth it. I plan to fold in some research on using the Internet for audio delivery and compare that with students in Japan, see who benefits the most. See a slide show of what we did in 2014.

 

Teachers: Now a Working Class Profession

magister“From the Sage on the Stage to the Guide on the Side” is now about 20 years old. A little shopworn, but still a…how shall I put it….goal, of some teachers and how they adapt to technology. It is the gist of an Atlantic article by Michael Godsey, a K-12 teacher witnessing the “progress” right before his eyes. Another (and earlier!) way to look at it is John Higgins’ differentiation of teacher as Magister, the German cloak-clad lecturer, and the pedagogue, a poor wise man following around the son of a rich client to explain things to him. Find this in articles from 1983 and 1984, but also in his book from 1988.

pedagogueI have been in meetings all day, discussing the curriculum for next year. One area of contention is control of the part-time teachers (adjunct staff). I felt a palpable want, almost a need, to put restraints on behavior to standardize content among students and classes. And I think that is just because we can. Some adjunct staff even prefer to come in, teach the text, and leave. Labor rules here in Japan now promote this system of itinerant labor by capping any part-time contract at 5 years, requiring the university to make them full time, or let them go. So now we have churn.

But the attitude toward teachers (no, not adjunct staff), even though most are highly qualified to deliver a quality course, even when asked to provide their own materials. And yet…that desire to make sure they are doing not just anything they want is still there.

Which brings me to an article at one of my favorite websites, Hybrid Pedagogy. John Rees asks How long will your class remain yours? Here is the first paragraph.

The late labor historian David Montgomery wrote famously about workers’ control in America during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. “At times the story involved little more than silent and opaque resistance to the demands and innovations of employers,” he suggested in 1979. “At other times, workers in skilled crafts adopted and fought to enforce collective work rules through which they regulated human relations on the job and wrestled with the chronic menace of unemployment.” When I first read those words, I was in graduate school. I never thought they’d actually apply to me. Now, I believe that the working class in academia at all levels of employment are beginning to move from the first set of times that Montgomery described to the second.

He goes on to paint a very dark picture, but does leave the doorway open a crack with the following: “However, the key takeaway here should be that every professor should adopt only those tools that best fit their style of teaching (perhaps including parts of the LMS if they meet a particular need).”

The problem is, that most teachers today don’t know how to use many tech tools for teaching and thus will be at the mercy of those who do, the programmers and instructional designers. So if you don’t start putting some online tools in your toolbox, and learn how to use them in a class, or even outside a class, online, you will have to learn tools assigned to you.

I had my last graduate school class of the academic year (we start in April, end in February), and my student was worried after we went through the Atlantic article (link above). She was worried that she would be out of a job. I told her first, not in Japan. The horizon of change you can see in the US, but here, not even a hint. She is still trying to get a projector and laptop for her high school classroom, all she has now is a blackboard. Second, language learning is like learning a sport, or a musical instrument. Really difficult to put online. So we are safe, as long as we learn how to adapt the tech to us, before the admins try to make us adapt to the tech.

New Science Fiction with an old twist

Kurt Vonnegut

I am having a ball. Reading fiction again. Short stories nonetheless. Science Fiction. All because of Neal Stephenson.

It was mostly detective novels in junior high, but when I got to high school, Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Heinlein got me hooked on science fiction. I wanted to be a chemist and felt science was the best thing man had created. We had just walked on the moon, and I was ready to follow. I told my 6th-grade teacher I would be on the moon before the new millennium. I only got to Japan, but that is pretty close.

Asimov, the Foundation Trilogy. The Dune Trilogy by Frank Herbert, with the extra couple tacked on. Cycle back to the new Vonnegut, less science, more fiction. I credit him as much as my church for the decision to be a Conscientious Objector, refusing to go to Vietnam.

Mid-career took me away to Tom Clancy and Stephen King, still fiction, but light. Oh so light. I was busy raising a family. Then on to non-fiction. I have drifted into almost exclusive non-fiction until about a year ago. Not sure what happened. Maybe I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Retirement. I can see all the non-fiction was good, but not so sure it helped a lot. I know a lot of things.

So some Thomas Pynchon last year, and I did a course in poetry. I am starting to “get” poetry. Just have to keep at it.

31KQ4hL96SL._UX250_Don’t get me wrong, but there has been one big exception, the James Joyce of our day, Neal Stephenson. Cryptonomicon is my favorite. The Baroque Cycle the most rewarding. I read everything he writes, down to branching fiction about sword-fighting on a website (Mongoliad). Last year, Seveneves came out and it was more science than in a long time. Some great new concepts about the world too.

Best of all, he has been involved in the Project Heiroglyph, based at Arizona State University. The goal of the project is to bring back science fiction from its current state of common dystopia to something that works closer with scientists, to stimulate and be stimulated, to advance the human race. The first book came out over the summer, and I bought it, but only started reading yesterday. Can’t put it down, except to write this. Good thing my classes are all prepared.

The first story is by Stephenson, about building a skyscraper…..actually a skypuncturer. Twenty kilometers high, this building goes right up into space. A crazy billionaire starts the project and has his ashes taken up to the top to get sprinkled, just as an unforeseen event occurs. Typical Stephenson, but with a tack that feels good.

Kathleen-Ann-Goonan-Credit-Joseph-Mansy3-206x300The second story is by Kathleen Ann Goonan and it blows me away. Illiteracy is a disease. It gets cured. The guinea pigs are the dyslexics, and a little girl is the hero. Eventually, the treatment to improve brain function no longer needs drugs, but just mental stimulation from one to another. When everyone can read, it changes how people interact. Fear falls away. Education goes away, learning triumphs. I don’t want to spoil it, but I just bought her other books, and both volumes of Arc Magazine. See you in April.