Sages and Lunatics: Blogs as the New EduText

This is the third post in a series reflecting on John Spencer’s Sages and Lunatics.

Most of the books are practical manuals on how to run a classroom. They offer quick, handy, time-saving ideas.

The time of the textbook has come and gone. Schools aren’t renewing subscriptions, moving instead to things like 1:1 programs or supplemental materials. Teachers are creating and sharing their own content on the Internet for anyone – including students – to find and use in their learning. Print isn’t dead, but its nature is changing.

At the beginning of Sages, John is lamenting the “Five Tips for [X]” nature of education materials in a bookstore. I remember purchasing my classroom management book, which was full of little tips and tricks on how to wrangle a classroom full of unruly teenagers. There was some theory in there, but it was lacking any recognition of the relationships that are also required.

I’m worried that popular blog posts have become our new “Five Tips for [X].”

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by ebayink

Is there value in the quick list (I believe the new term is listicle) approach? Sure there is. It can be helpful to see some quick ideas when you’re in a pinch. The problem comes when every resource decides to take that angle. Nowadays, our culture has become so obsessed with the hyperbolic-headline listicle that it’s started to happen in education blogs. We’re a culture with a fixitnow! mindset…we want to try things out, and if they don’t work immediately, we move on. Call it perseverance or tenacity, but have we lost something in the resources we look to use?

On the other hand, perhaps it is in the content, not necessarily the format. There can be significant wisdom in brevity. Perhaps the quick look is what we need in order to feel inspired to dive in a little deeper. I think the danger in bashing educational print is that much of it is reproduced online in blogs, and we praise the best “Top 5” or “Top 10” posts when they come from photons.

Whatever the case may be, let’s focus on sharing wisdom, sharing background, and sharing depth as we all work to improve.

Sages and Lunatics: Danger in the Classroom

This is the second post in a series reflecting on John Spencer’s Sages and Lunatics

The machete was dangerous that day.

There is power that comes with learning. Ideas are born; worldviews are constructed. As we learn, we are forced to fit that new information into our existing perceptions and biases. As teachers, we have the ability to guide students and help them navigate and wield the power they gain. John uses the metaphor of a education being a machete: it can be a powerful tool as we explore and discover, but it can also be used to manipulate and destroy.

How often do we avoid the machete in our classrooms? Is it the role of the teacher to protect students from the danger that comes from learning?

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Nina Matthews Photography

I wonder how dangerous my classroom was. Mine may have been doubly dangerous because of chemicals and pointy tools, but physical danger is easier to deal with than emotional. I had safeguards and policies in place to protect students.

I fear that my classroom may not have been intellectually dangerous.

Did I avoid the machete because I was protecting my students? Or because I was protecting myself?

It has become easier to avoid the tough questions because they “aren’t within the scope of the course.” Standardization has fooled us into thinking that we don’t have time to cover eugenics, genetic modification of crops, and the commercialization of our diets. Why talk about abortion or birth defects? Topic avoidance in the interest of covering the standards is accepted when it should be reviled.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and is an educator’s curse. I try not to think about missed opportunities with students, but they stay fresh. I’ve learnt to be aware of danger and more receptive to the idea of running straight in. Rather than fearing the gray areas, I want to embrace them.

Sages and Lunatics: Teacher as Identity

This is the first post in a series reflecting on John Spencer’s Sages and Lunatics.

A report came out in early May with data showing college students saw teaching as one of the easiest majors to follow and said that teaching was the top profession for “average” people. In the wake of the report, there have been calls for more stringent teacher preparation, making certification tests harder, and encouraging alternative, more “rigorous” methods of teacher certification from the private sector.

Teachers are a strange breed. Heading into the job, we know that there will be long hours, little pay, and unfair expectations put on us and our students. Yet, we walk into the building every day, excited about the possibilities. I never considered teaching a “job.” It wasn’t just something I did to pay the bills.


John brings up an interesting idea in Sages: Perhaps we aren’t paid to teach. Perhaps we are paid so we can teach. (Actually, Brad the Philosopher brings it up, but John wrote it down).

I’ve written on this before, but even being out of the classroom for more than a year, I still jump to say I’m a teacher when asked what I do. It’s in my heart. I think about schools, curriculum, students, and instruction all. The. Time.

Is it possible that you are paid so that you can teach? In other words, you are a teacher. It’s who you are. You can’t avoid it.

I got to thinking, would you still teach if you didn’t get paid? In other words, if you could do nothing but teach while not worrying about bills or other financial constraints, would you commit your life to doing so?

Teachers – whether you know it or not – you are some of the most trusted people in society. Parents send their children to you every day for instruction, for nurturing, for support, and they do so often without ever meeting you face to face. Aside from the obvious problems with the reality of parent engagement, this is an incredible burden. I’m also left wondering how schools, how communities, would change if we look at teaching from the point of view of the trust they’ve put into us.

Yet we take this burden without question. We welcome the happy, the sad, the hungry, and the lonely without question. In our rooms, we see the children and we pour our hearts into them. The time we invest with each child every year is second only to their parents…how are you spending that time? Teaching isn’t a job. Teaching is a lifestyle.

My name is Brian E. Bennett, and I’m a teacher.

Fingerprint icon by Yaroslav Samoilov on The Noun Project CC BY 3.0

Let’s Go to Mars

No, not that Mars.

FlipCon14 is coming up June 23-25. This is the 7th annual event, and I’ve had the privilege of watching it grow from 35 people in Woodland Park (FlipCon10) to nearly 450 last year in Minnesota. This year, we’re in Mars, PA (near Pittsburgh) and we’ve got a fantastic lineup planned. Along with Jon and Aaron’s keynote, Molly Schroeder will be opening the conference with her Living in Beta keynote.

If you’re on the fence about coming, we have the full schedule – including all concurrent sessions – posted online for review. Hopefully, that will help tip you over the edge.

I can honestly say that this conference kicked off my interest in improving digital teaching and learning. Each year, I learn more about what teachers are doing to help students and how I can adapt some of the things they do to my own practice. I’m excited to see old friends, and meet new ones. If you’re also planning on heading to Pittsburgh, leave a shout out in the comments.

Talk, talk, talk

Twitter mailase has set in big time. Twitter is dying! No, it’s just beginning!

    • *I’m not sure I can really explain my own confusion or mixed feelings. The power in any network is in how it allows you to connect with people. Part of the reason I’ve started to migrate away from Facebook is because of the backend filtering of which posts you see based on “engagement.” I have no control over that filtering, and it doesn’t sit well with me that I can’t change the way it works.

Twitter, on the other hand, shows everything. I can choose what to work with and what to ignore. I’ve gone through the stages, but now I’m trying to figure out what’s next.

Deep discussions happen. Off-the-cuff questions are answered rapidly. But I’m feeling a lack of connection. I feel a lack of purpose. I’m afraid that Twitter is become one of two things: A) A place teachers go because Twitter. B) A place where people talk all the time but don’t do anything different. Ideas stop when they hit your eyeballs. But, you can justify the time as “idea-searching.”

Maybe I’m following the wrong people, but it seems like a lot is put out by the bigfolk. I want to see new people, but how do we discover the new thinkers and leaders? I feel like there’s a lot of echo without much growth. And if that’s the case, it may be time to move on.

But where do we go?

Asking the Questions

Short post tonight. For the final assignment this semester, we were asked to read Thomas Friedman’s OpEd on Passion Quotient and Curiosity Quotient as the big need moving forward in the world (the previous need being IQ – intelligence quotient).

I have to admit, this particular assignment really stumped me. I wasn’t sure about what I thought or how to best communicate those ideas. In the end, I thought about a world without passion or curiosity, and when I landed myself in that spot. Rather than telling here, on the blog, I used my absolute favorite iPad app: Storehouse. The preview below will jump you to the story.


Freidman, T. (2013). It’s P.Q. and C.Q. as much as I.Q. New York Times: The Opinion Pages. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from