Bronx Student Discuss Obama, Politics, Race and Their Future

Regardless of your political views, I think that most caring, thoughtful humans should find something wonderful in the conversations by young, Bronx high school students.

This is a wonderful example of a teacher taking on the topic of race in his classroom. The students seem engaged and speak intelligently and thoughtfully on issues of race and politics.

Now, since this appears on the Obama08 Youtube channel, I am wondering about the behind-the-scenes editing, production, and whether or not this production was directly funded. In any case, the production is well done, and leaves the viewer with hope for the future.

Yet another reason not to watch television. is a new place for sharing material that deals with or is relevant to issues of social justice, progressive and radical politics, independent media, ecology. We run a local bittorrent tracker (which we encourage uploaders to use), and we also host torrents from other trackers, as well as ed2K and Magnet links.

Looking through the front page of OneBigTorrent, I immediately saw many videos that interest me. It is nice to have this flavour of content available in one place.

Low-Cost Laptops and Industry Change

From CNet News

… if mainstream PC buyers start to find their needs met by a lightweight, simply featured, inexpensive portable, it’s likely to impel all of the major players in the industry to pile on by lowering their prices. And that’s in an industry with already low margins for retailers and manufacturers.

If the Eee PC just catches on with Linux developers, enthusiasts, and the tech-savvy early adopter crowd, that’s fine by him. “But if mainstream buyers buy it, then, whoa,” Abary said.

This is becoming a win for Gnu/Linux and for consumers. As for OLPC and the benefits to Africa? I still need to be convinced.

Teachers Caught Cheating

I remember reading about this problem in the book Freakonomics by Steven Levitt. Teachers have been accused of rigging the results of standardized tests so that schools are not penalized for low performance, as legislated by the No Child Left Behind Act

Cheating among teachers has become epidemic in America’s schools, with cases from New York to California, Florida to South Dakota, Tennessee to Maryland. “It’s more prevalent than anyone wants to admit,” says UNC-Chapel Hill professor Gregory Cizek, an expert on cheating in schools. “Teachers are paid to be role models. It sends a really destructive message to kids.”

Many experts say this disgraceful behavior has surged due to the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, which annually tests academic performance and can punish struggling schools that don’t show improvement. Feeling this heat, some teachers resort to showing students test questions in advance or—if you can believe it—changing their answers after the fact.


Digital Citizenship – Criticisms & Conversations

My post “Understanding Digital Citizenship” seems to have received some favourable attention and some criticism. Here’s a short response to points in the conversation.

1) Stephen and Tom don’t seem to like the term “digital citizenship”. Stephen wrote an important article “The Digital Nation” almost exactly 10 years ago, I remember reading it, and it’s still relevant today. Tom states that he doesn’t believe what we are talking about (literacy, safety, etiquette, networking, learning strategies) equates to digital citizenship.

a) Stephen, I never said I particularly like the term either. I am using the framework I have been given through the conversation of others. Ironically, had I not used the term, I doubt if the post would have received the same attention. People have an idea of what to expect when they hear the term, it is useful in that way.

And maybe this is an error of bias on my behalf, but when I hear the term citizenship, “nation-state” citizenship is the last thing on my mind. You yourself argue for the post-national nature of digital citizens.

I think, digital citizens are post-national. Increasingly they view the restrictions imposed by nationhood and nationality as fetters inherited from an archaic age, when borders were constructed to keep both people and ideas apart from each other.

There are other unified forces that can help define citizenship in the non-traditional sense. Isin & Wood (1999) identify a number of alternate citizenship types that extend beyond nation state identities.

b) Tom writes,

I’ve probably said this before, but “literacy” + “safety ” + “etiquette” + “learning strategies” + “networking” does not equal “citizenship.” It may equal something, but “citizenship” isn’t a good word for it.

I agree. In fact, if you read my post carefully, I was saying much of the same thing, In my argument, I was advocating especially for social responsibility, social and individual action and learning.

2) Tom writes, “Citizenship is a Political Role“. I agree, but I don’t agree with his analysis of citizenship defined by the limits of political (esp. American) political history. And I will repeat the quote from my first post re: the polis and the very origin of the term political.

The obligations of citizenship were deeply connected into one’s everyday life in the polis. To be truly human, one had to be an active citizen to the community, which Aristotle famously expressed: “To take no part in the running of the community’s affairs is to be either a beast or a god!” This form of citizenship was based on obligations of citizens towards the community, rather than rights given to the citizens of the community. This was not a problem because they all had a strong affinity with the polis; their own destiny and the destiny of the community were strongly linked. Also, citizens of the polis saw obligations to the community as an opportunity to be virtuous, it was a source of honour and respect.

This is what it means to be political to me. To be engaged, active, concerned, critical, ethical and influential in the affairs of the community, whether the community is temporal or online, at the hockey rink or on Youtube.

3) Will Richardson writes,

Alec Couros’ post on digital citizenship makes some valid points, but I’m not convinced that a few examples of really vile content and lazy practice are reasons to think that the concept of citizenship is in some way fundamentally shifting.

I never said it was fundamentally shifting or changing. I just don’t think it has ever been defined in way that really expresses the idea of citizenship. Thus, as it has been defined, the term is ripe for attack.

But I also believe that citizenship suggests more than critical thinking. It requires participation and action. It requires contribution. And the ways in which even our kids can contribute in this environment and the global scale those contributions now have do change the equation.

And this is really what I stressed in the original post. After each of my “bad examples” I posed the question “what are our responsibilities?”, “What should we do about it?” This is the type of response I was looking for.

I doesn’t matter whether you define all of this digital citizenship, critical media literacy or something totally different. What does matter is that this conversation is happening. It matters that there are passionate educators out there who will inspire their students to think critically about the messages and content they receive. It matters that those educators will empower youth to becomes socially responsible by encouraging, creating and sustaining all that is good in the world.

Canada’s New Copyright Act May Be Most Restrictive Yet

On his recent speech to the Canadian Federation of Students, Michael Geist writes,

After highlighting the remarkable array of new developments for content creation, content sharing, and knowledge sharing, I have emphasized the need for copyright laws that look ahead, rather than behind. In particular, I have pointed to the dangers associated with anti-circumvention legislation, to the need for more flexible fair dealing, to the desirability of eliminating crown copyright, and to the benefits of open access and open licensing. I typically conclude by stating that this can be Canada’s choice and that we must choose wisely.

In case you are unaware, anti-circumvention legislation would mean that a if the manufacturer has implemented a copy protection scheme, any attempt to bypass such a copy prevention scheme may be actionable. This could mean just about anything, simply creating backups for your music (ripping to .mp3) or making your purchased music playable on other devices, could be against the law. If you missed Lessig’s “How Creativity is Strangled By The Law“, this would be a good time to review this important message.

Then Geist warns,

Sometime over the next two or three weeks, Industry Minister Jim Prentice will rise in the House of Commons and introduce copyright reform legislation. We can no longer speak of choices because those choices have already been made. There is every indication (see the Globe’s latest coverage) this legislation will be a complete sell-out to U.S. government and lobbyist demands. The industry may be abandoning DRM, the evidence may show a correlation between file sharing and music purchasing, Statistics Canada may say that music industry profits are doing fine, Canadian musicians, filmmakers, and artists may warn against this copyright approach, and the reality may be that Canadian copyright law is stronger in some areas than U.S. law, yet none of that seems to matter. In the current environment and with the current Ministers, politics trumps policy.

I just noticed Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing is also covering this story. He warns,

If this law passes, it will mean that as soon as a device has any anti-copying stuff in it (say, a Vista PC, a set-top cable box, a console, an iPod, a Kindle, etc), it will be illegal for Canadians to modify it, improve it, or make products that interact with it unless they have permission from the (almost always US-based) manufacturer. This puts the whole Canadian tech industry at the mercy of the US industry, unable to innovate or start new businesses that interact with the existing pool of devices and media without getting a license from the States.

If this law passes, it will render all of the made-in-Canada exceptions to copyright for education, archiving, free speech and personal use will be irrelevant: if a technology has a lock that prohibits a use, your right to make that use falls by the wayside. Nevermind that you’ve got the right to record a show to watch later — or to record a politician’s speech so you can hold him to account later — the policeman in the device can take that right away with no appeal.

If this law passes, it will make Canada into a backwards nation, lagging behind the UK, Israel and other countries that are passing new copyright laws that dismantle the idea of maximum copyright forever and in all things.

What can you do about this? Last year Geist wrote a letter listing 30 things you could do to stop the former bil from passing. The specifics may be a bit different now, but the strategies are the same. Geist stresses that the most important of these is to write a letter (not an email) to your Member of Parliament, the Ministers of Industry and Canadian Heritage, and the Prime Minister. I know I will be.

Fight for these freedoms while we still have them.

Amnesty International’s Powerful “Unsubscribe” Campaign

Amnesty International have just released a truly powerful film to coincide with the official launch of the unsubscribe campaign.

Waiting For The Guards is the first of 3 films commissioned by Amnesty to highlight the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA in the “War on Terror”.

The Directors approached the making of the film in a way that has never been done before, choosing to show the reality of Stress Positions in as authentic a way as possible. They filmed a person being put into Stress Positions over a 6 hour period. There is no acting on the part of the “prisoner” – his pain and anguish is for real.

This powerful film shows without doubt that what the US administrations say is interrogation is in reality, torture and must be stopped.

We’ve released the film on the Internet before going to theatrical release in independent cinemas in early 2008. We believe this film is a great introduction to what the unsubscribe movement is all about, so we ask you to get the movie out there, in any way you can.

The more people see it. The more people will be compelled to unsubscribe.

See full quality video here.

Tech Colonization?

This disturbs me.

Nicholas Negroponte, in speaking about the successes of the OLPC project in Rwanda, recently commented:

“Many of the young kids in Rwanda using the laptop – their first word is Google.

I like the idea of the OLPC, I believe that access to information technology and media is essential. Yet, as responsible global citizens, we need to constantly critique and reevaluate the impact of our efforts and influences in the “Third World“.