Blogger of the Week: I Want Kids to Own Their Education


Progressive educator and blogger Shelly Blake-Plock of TeachPaperless reflects on his passion and motivation to challenge traditional schooling methods and teach paperless. To learn more about Blake-Plock’s efforts, click here.

What drives and motivates your passion about education, your love of learning?

I’ve got three kids. And the three of them are wildly different in terms of attitude, likes/dislikes, and means of understanding the world. And yet time and again, I see the education system trying to pigeon-hole these kids by means of xeroxed busywork, Scantrons, and standardized tests. And it drives me insane. And it breaks my heart just to think about how many really bright kids are getting screwed over by the system just because they don’t fit into the boxes the system has created for itself. And so I’m driven to change things.

The three most important things I think I might have the capacity to nudge forward a bit both as an educator and a parent are:

1) the love of improvisation and the ability to adapt, change, and jazz it up on-the-fly taking full advantage of the resources available via both the new global networks as well as through the time-honored practice of sincere and humane face-to-face jamming;

2) the love of social learning and an understanding of the power of social networks to break down traditional top-down hierarchies and foster meaningful, involved, and community-building conversations about the things that really matter;

3) the love of active participation and experiential engagement in the learning process — I want kids to own their education.

I guess what motivates me is that we — as educators — literally have the capacity to change the future course of human civilization — for the better or for the worse. We don’t often think about it in those terms, but when it comes down to the brass tacks, that’s the job description. If that doesn’t motivate you, then maybe you need to re-evaluate things.

Do you have any role models or bloggers you follow?  

As for role models, I’ve always tended to shy away from that term only because it seems to suggest a hierarchy that really doesn’t have to be there. Instead, I like to think of us all as having the opportunity to engage in more of a conversation with both those who have gone before us as well as those who will succeed us.

And as an educator who’s also an artist and an artist who’s also an educator, I tend to like to have those conversations with folks who have in various ways merged the two. Among those passed on yet known to most folks who kick around in libraries and art museums, I would consider my best ongoing conversations to be those with the spirits of Rudolf Steiner (especially on the spiritual dimension of intellect and the intellectual dimension of spirit), Joseph Beuys (on conversation and discussion as a form of art), and Allen Ginsberg (on freedom and the ecstatic experience of all life).

Among those currently working, though I greatly enjoy the work of several bloggers and thinkers in the educational realm, if I had to pick two for whom the nature of the thinking is always fresh and the arguments are always scheduled to keep you on your toes, I’d say that Ira Socol and Dean Groom are at the top of their game; true revolutionaries, each in his own respect.

My mentor in grad school at Hopkins was a teacher named Carl Herbert; an enormous influence on me, he taught the value of not explaining everything, but letting folks figure things out on their own — and extending that into the realm of questions and problems that none of us have an answer for — and thriving there in the unknown.

Lastly, I would be amiss not to mention Sue Costello; she was the woman who hired me and got me started in teaching. She showed me that teachers are not defined by the discipline in which they teach, but by the capacity of their compassion to embrace humility. Though she’d probably kick my butt if she heard me say something like that about her.

I know you are a big fan of using social media tools such as Twitter in the classroom, but what are your favorite web 2.0 tools to use in the classroom?

Twitter (and more precisely, Hootsuite) and Google Apps are standard in my class, as are Blogger, Jing, TodaysMeet, Google Earth, Wikipedia, YouTube, Pixton, and Animoto. I consider those apps the “paper and pencils” of my world.

That said, I don’t think that “Web 2.0” can be limited to specifics apps. Rather, it’s a state-of-mind. It’s user-driven, customizable, non-monolithic, and open. And it works perfectly when integrated with the sheer volumes of primary sources available online.

As for those primary sources sites that aid in my personal crusade against the traditional textbook industry, the Library of Congress “Teaching with Primary Sources” project as well as the Internet Ancient/Medieval/Modern History Sourcebook, the Internet Archive, the Internet Sacred Texts Archive, the Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, the Latin Library,, the Perseus Project, and the MIT Internet Classics Archive are all sturdy allies in my Latin, Social Studies, and Art History classes.

The ability to create and share with the world merged with the ability to access the whole of the history of human thought — that’s empowering.

I know you say that the future is now. So I am curious to know, in your opinion, what will education/learning look like in 10 years?

Actually wrote a post on that very question this last December. The name of the post was: 21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020. In the last four months, I’ve seen some of my predictions already start to come true; so I may need to update that list before long ; )

-Shelly Blake-Plock




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