Day 22: A Mall and the Night Visitor.

Tuesday, 23. December 2014 6:37 | Author:

imageIn my efforts to complete Christmas shopping today, I went to the Main Place Mall, and I ran face to face into a changing reality. Through my college years I worked in Brentano’s bookstore in South Coast Plaza, the west coast Mecca of the shopping mall. I remember the utter chaos of shopping in the days before Christmas, a full parking lot, lines from one end of the store to the other, store workers besieged by customers.

Today I faced some traffic getting in, but there were empty parking spaces on both sides of my car. The mall was crowded, but many stores were empty. When I went to ask a question of a store employee, I found three talking together. Perhaps most emblematic of the quieter atmosphere was Santa sitting quietly in his chair with no line of children waiting.

Even the mall was a very differnt place from what I remembered. Of course we no longer have the long gone anchor stores of Buffums, Bullocks, May Company, and Broadway, but even the structure is different, with more and more small stands in the middle of the aisles. These tiny boutiques give the entire mall a feeling of a swap meet.

Finally, there was me. As I marveled at how different everything looked, I realized that it had been over a year since I had visited this mall…or any mall. From someone who would go regularly to do regular shopping in malls, I’ve become as unfamiliar as the out of towner marvelling at the big city. There was I time I went to a mall just to go…now I virtually never have a reason to go.

To anyone who doubts that significant change is coming, I offer up the shopping mall. In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, no one could ever picture that the mall wouldn’t be the center of the shopping universe. Today, however, most malls have long since lost this favored status as they struggle to remain relevant. Things can (and do) change.

Oh, and to quickly conclude my story, I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I took out my phone to order it on Amazon. 1 click and it should be at my house by Christmas Eve.

As always, I welcome your comments.


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Day 21: Winter

Monday, 22. December 2014 4:47 | Author:

I'm sorry about this one. It came out far more dark than I intended. You might want to skip.

Today is the first day of winter, or at least that's what the calendar says. It seems that we make mental changes of seasons long before the earth is suitably aligned. No matter, somehow we got here.

Where I live, the chief characteristic of winter obviously isn't snow, or (unfortunately) rain, or even significant cold (according to my phone, it will be 79 degrees tomorrow). The chief way to know its winter is darkness. No matter the weather, come 4:00 it's well toward dark outside. Although these short days are frustrating for biking, no time after work and just too cold in the morning, I love the early dark and couldn't celebrate the season any other way. Clearly I could never live in Austrailia.

Christmas is a season of darkness. So much of what defines the season are lights whether on my house, on the tree or the four candles on my Advent wreath (which I successfully lit for the first time in ages). Without darkness, these lights have no power or beauty. Even the pre-Christian roots of this celebration were about the day conquering the darkness of night.

But I think there is more than this, I think in many ways during this time of year we confront darknesses in our lives. Fears, loneliness, loss, all feel more intense at this time of year. Even more than New Year we feel the quick passage of time, where we are relative to where we were a year ago, who's no longer at the table. Along with comfort and joy, Christmas is a time that can reveal glimpses of the fundamental sadness of life (oh my goodness, clearly the season is not the only thing in a dark place tonight).

I've yet to write about A Christmas Carol this year. Last week I watched four different versions, focusing this time on the Christmas yet to come segment. This is always the darkest portion of the story with most scenes at night in low light. The takeaway is always that it is the darkness of Scrooge's life that caused this dark future. “Are these the shadows of things that will be, or may be,” he bargains with the spirit. As we all know the story, Scrooge does make the change and rewrite the future…somewhat.

The funny thing is that many things do not change. “Tell me I may sponge the writing from that stone,” he begs. Though the stone disappears, transforms into his pillow, the writing waits there for him just the same. We are happy to discover that Tiny Tim did not die…immediately, but unless the cure he received was that of immortality, even he will succumb with time. Though the universal joy at Scrooge's death might be transformed into fond sadness, eventually the world will go on nonetheless. The yet to come segment is truly facing the darkness that is at the heart of all of our lives.

The victory for Scrooge is his willingness to bring light into the darkness. Though not changing the fundamentals, with love and generosity, he lights a lamp.

In winter we look at the darkness, and if we are lucky we can see (or light) the lights.

As always, I welcome your comments.



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Day 20: A Good, Old-Fashioned Christmas Miracle

Sunday, 21. December 2014 8:45 | Author:

…and then there was the time that he got so engaged with other things that he forgot to post. And when he finally did remember, he looked at the clock to see that it was PAST MIDNIGHT.

At first he was very disturbed by this terrible break of the Christmas chronology, wondering if his lapse might throw off everything. Would there be turtle doves on day four or (more disturbing) would something displace the rings and destroy everyone's enjoyment of the song forever? Would Christmas Eve be the true celebration, and most people feel that Christmas was over at the stroke of twelve (wait, that already happens)? Would anyone ever bring him some figgy pudding?

And what happened next? Well in Whoville they say…. Christmas is a time of miracles, and after being visited by ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, he wrote a brief entry, nothing too deep, more a gimmick actually. Sometimes when you have no gift to bring, you just have to pound your drum (pa-pum-pum). As he pushed the send button at 12:45, something truly amazing happened!

During the next day, and on all days after that, anyone who read that particular post, never noticed the date and time of the posting! Now, whether this was because virtually no one ever looks at posting times, or because they were overwhelmed with visions of sugar plums, no one ever knew.

And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, “as always, I welcome your comments).





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Day 19: It’s the Most Wonderful Day of the Year

Saturday, 20. December 2014 0:33 | Author:

Today is the last formal work day of 2014. Though no one is really off any more with email, cell phones, and texts, after today I won't be coming in to the office or keeping a regular routine until January 5.

I've worked in education all of my adult life, so with the exception of a couple years when I had jobs outside of school, I've never worked in an environment that didn't have Christmas vacation. I am very aware of the fact that many don't have this privilege. I was talking to someone at a party and asked whether they had time off for Christmas. “Yes,” she said, “I get Christmas Day and I'm taking Christmas Eve and Friday as vacation days.” I had no response to that, as I quietly hope she would not ask about my two full weeks.

I'm not saying that I deserve this or that education is somehow so much more difficult than other professions that additional time is merited. In reality, it's just the way things work out. I do know that it is wonderful having this time, that it enhances the celebration and makes everything easier. Even before my wife began teaching and she worked at a secular job with no Christmas vacation, I was able to get things done on the days she was at work. So our life has been blessed by this schedule.

And for today, as I leave work, I'm just going to be happy for that.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Image: Self on the Shelf



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Day 18: Zeno’s Paradox

Friday, 19. December 2014 0:21 | Author:

Technology (when used properly) can and should make life easier and tasks faster. However, getting to this point can take forever.

We are currently trying to create a master calendar for the entire campus. For years departments have made individual calendars, but there has been little to no way to compare information, communicate to others, and to detect conflicts. When I used to do this at the high school, everything was paper based. I sent out a paper form for people to fill out with their events, and I sorted through these to enter information. As I sat down today to start working on a new procedure, I figured with the power of technological tools available to me now, this antique process should be a piece of digital cake.

Until I started to work on the form. I used Google Forms as tool, and almost immediately I started to hit roadblocks. How do I ask the questions, so they are understandable to anyone? How do I use the limited response formats to collect the differnt types of data that I need. Will the resulting form be so difficult that people won't use it? Will the collected data be in a useable form in the end?

I worked on this (ultimately) 10 question form for over two hours. Once I was satisfied, I picked a few knowledgeable people to try it and give me feedback. Only one of three very intelligent people filled out the form in the way that I expected, and all three had questions. The clarity that I saw was based on the entire thought process that brought me to the question…not necessarily the question itself. I could not rid myself of ultimately knowing what I wanted.

So back to the drawing board, and I've made some progress. The second pass had far fewer confusions and errors, but it still wasn't there yet. I keep saying to myself, “This will be so simple once it's done that everyone will appreciate it.” However, I suspect that there will still be some who find it confusing and many who would much rather just put the information on a piece of paper. Such is the reality of living in changing times.

As I was working, I remembered one of the paradoxes of Zeno, the Greek philosopher. He stated that in order to get across a room, one would first have to get half way across, and to get halfway across, one would first have to cross half of that, and half of that, and so on. Since units can be divided infinitely, and a person cannot cross an infinite number of units, movement is essentially impossible.

Everything that is easy today was made possible by someone who worked and worked to figure out how to make it easy. My hat is off to those people today. OK, here comes the next feedback…let's see where we go from here.

As always, I welcome your comments.




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Day 17: Nested

Thursday, 18. December 2014 4:38 | Author:

Last night my limping thermostat finally gave up the ghost. Unfortunately it chose to do so in the middle of the night, so there was not heat for us this morning. Luckily, there was quite a bit of cloud cover after a storm, so it wasn't as cold as it could have been.

My old thermostat was ancient, and though it lasted us for twelve years in this house (and goodness knows how many before that) it has never been very accurate or very dependable. Heat and cool went on and off at unpredictable times, and there was never any good way to program temperatures for our changing lives.

So today I decided to bite the bullet and buy a Nest Thermostat. Though about five times as much as a conventional one, this device has amazing ability to learn and anticipate changes, and best of all, it can better control temps when we aren't in the house.

After an installation that was far easier than I anticipated, I turned the device on. The first thing the program did was allow me to attach the device to the home wifi network. Through this connection the device is able to collect weather reports and to adjust to the outside temperature. Most exciting, I have an app on my iPhone that shows me the current temperature in the house and allows me to change the current temperature and the overall program. The device has built in energy saving settings, so I am hopeful that some of the additional cost will be defrayed by better energy use.

I suppose some will point out (hearing my father's voice here) that now that my thermostat is online, I am vulnerable to hackers who will attempt to burn or freeze us…only time will tell.

The connected home is an interesting new concept. I'm not going in whole hog with cameras, motion detectors, and light controls, but I'm interested to see how the nest will change the climate of our lives.

As always, I welcome your comments.


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Day 16: With Only Two Reindeer

Wednesday, 17. December 2014 1:25 | Author:

This week I heard a Christmas song for the first time, and it is quickly climbing the charts in my mind for best secular Christmas song (no, it won't beat out “Christmas, Baby, Please Come Home” but it's a contender).

The song is “Donna and Blitzen,” (I love the title!) it isn't a particularly new song. Apparently it was released in 2001 and was part of the Sountrack for the movie About a Boy in 2002, but I had never heard it before sitting in a Starbucks last week. Luckily I had Shazam on my phone so I could find the title and artist (Badly Drawn Boy) and add it to my Rdio Christmas playlist. Since that time I've been playing (or humming) it regularly.

At the risk of readers losing what little respect they still have for me, you can find it on YouTube here. I don't like the video, so you can turn that off and just listen to the music (someone in my office looked pityingly at me after seeing the sappy video).

Why do I like it? Well, it's not the lyrics, I can't really understand them, and when I looked them up, I still didn't really understand them. I won't argue with anyone that it's a great piece of music.

But every time I listen to it, I feel happy. The swooping repetitive phrases make me feel good.

Maybe that's enough





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Day 15: It Worked for Me

Tuesday, 16. December 2014 5:22 | Author:

One of the voices I often hear (no, not in my head, these are real voices…this time) when I speculate about changes to the educational process is the “good enough for me” preservationist. This voice reasons that what has been done for generations has worked well, and therefore changes risk every good thing that has ever happened. This voice is often associated with the curmudgeon (“kids these days”), but it is actually in all parts of the education establishment and it is a voice that is alive in each of us. There is something inherent in human nature to perceive the next generation as inferior to the last. The briefest scan of quotations through the years show the human race on a long journey to hell in a hand basket.

For today I'm going to leave the part of the argument that a changing world requires changing skills (and maybe doing 50 algebra problems for homework isn't the best preparation for this…or any…world). I believe this, but I want to examine this complaint from another angle.

It seems that this argument is similar to the spanking argument (now, I know there are readers who feel different things about this, so please take this not as criticism, but examination). Often when we hear about high-profile child abuse cases, the voices come forward, “I don't know, my dad used the belt, and I turned out just fine.” Now, I am not suggesting that there are not sometimes outrageous claims about things that in no way resemble physical abuse, but let's stick to the argument. It seems to me that the “I turned out just fine,” argument is based on two huge assumptions.

The first assumption is that the speaker did turn out just fine. What does “just fine” look like? I agree that most of these speakers live relatively conventional lives and have not committed any detectable crimes. However, the majority of people from all backgrounds do this, and to connect the dots to show direct causality seems tenuous. Most times this means, I don't carry any scars from the experience, and I don't know about this either. This is based on the assumption that we can know what we would be like without this (or any) experience in our lives. Perhaps there is a different (or perhaps even) better self that would have developed in a differnt set of circumstances. In either case, the line is blurry at best.

The second, and I think more dangerous, assumption is that if this were OK for me, it worked the same for everyone. Let's change our speaker to an inmate of prison, held for a violent crime (frankly, I'm certain that statistics would show a greater incident of corporal punishment among prison populations than the general). I'm not suggesting that the spanking caused this behavior any more than the proper behavior, but it does show that there are many incidents that turned out differently. It didn't work for some.

Similarly with education, clinging to past techniques often makes the same two assumptions. We were taught that way, and we turned out fine. This both assumes that we are the best, most educated we could be, and that it was this model that made us this way. The reality may well be that we would have benefitted from some non-traditional techniques, or that it would not really have mattered.

Second, this statement also implies that if it worked for me, it must be right. Plenty of children didn't learn through these methods. Many of those who did became teachers, thus perpetuating the cycle and the echo chamber of knowing and working around those who learned best with the techniques of their childhood. By drawing primarily from those best adapted to the system, the educational establishment protects and perpetuates itself.

It is dangerous (and lazy) thinking to cling too tightly to “what has always worked.” Techniques, skills, and content must stand on their own merit, not be a mere reiteration of what came before.

As always, I welcome your comments.




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Day 14: Flow

Monday, 15. December 2014 5:18 | Author:

In my entryway there is a banner. It has hung there every Christmas season that we have lived here, and at other houses before this. The text is from the Canticle of Zachariah, and it is dated 1981, 33 years ago. If you turn it over and look on the back of the lower pole pocket, you will find the signature GDhuyvetter, because among the many odd diversions of my life, for a period in my late teens and twenties, I made banners. This Christmas banner is one of the artistic and personal accomplishments of my life of which I am most proud.

I made banners for my church. For a couple of years, all of the seasons had my banners hanging. These were huge jobs, over 30 feet tall. Most of them were colors and designs, little or no symbols or words. As holidays approach, I can still connect to the stress of having a room full of fabric and hoping for Rumplestiltskin to come and spin the straw into gold. I remember the thrill of having a massive banners “flying” as we raised them up into place. But these are not the banners that I most remember.

One year I was taking a calligraphy course, and I wondered whether I could paint calligraphic sayings on fabric. After experimenting with many paints and fabrics I finally developed an approach where I wrote large words like “Peace” or “Noel” which I (still living at home) hung at my parents' house. After a couple of years I started to shrink the text and add appliqué shapes and symbols. My mom had taught me to do simple needlework, so I experimented with differnt ways to make pictures in fabric. Most of the time I copied pictures I found on cards or in books, but through interpretation, I made them my own.

Finally, after a few other projects, I decided to try something more ambitious for my yearly Christmas banner. I had always loved the text of the Canticle of Zachariah, which was part of morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, and the words spoke better than anything else to the meaning of advent and Christmas, so I decided to use the opening. In order to do something a bit special, I created an illuminated opening letter, and added two angels (which were actually a variation of a figure I had used on a banner earlier that year). I still remember the “reveal” when I showed the competed banner for the first time, as it represented a huge leap in difficulty and in quality.

What I most remember about this banner were the hours and hours I spent working on it. However, I remember not the drudgery, but the way that time stopped whenever I was working. When I started working on this or other banners I completely lost myself in the work, getting things done and solving problems, and I would look up to discover that 6, 8, 12 hours had passed. I hadn't eaten (though I drank coffee steadily through the time) or done anything else (in these pre-iphone days). I was in such a focused zone, and I was enjoying the work so much that I felt I could have kept going forever.

I've read about many artists who have similar experiences. They refer to this as flow, a focus on work that pushes everything else out and distorts time. I have never had a similar experience with anything since. Occasioanlly I lost track of time working on tech projects, but generally none of the aspects of my work have ever brought me into a state of flow.

After the Zachariah banner, I did a few more. One still hangs in the Huntington Beach Children's Library. One was given to a friend whom I have long lost touch. But very soon this hobby was replaced by realities of work, marriage, and life. Every so often I pull out my pens and do a little calligraphy, but I just don't have the time (and maybe the focus) to work on such a large project. At this time of year, I miss the excitement of creation, the satisfaction of solving problems, and the beautiful mindless focus of flow.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Image: Canticle of Zachariah Banner, Dhuyvetter entryway 12/14/2014


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Day 13: Cheating

Sunday, 14. December 2014 2:55 | Author:

I knew that I would need this for one day, and being the midway point, I think this makes sense.

This is an article I wrote last summer for publication in the National Catholic Education Association magazine Momentum. Enjoy!

Life on the Other Side of a Tipping Point

Nothing is more stimulating to a cause than significant opposition. We in Catholic education gravitate by nature to the underdog position, fighting against overwhelming forces of intractability and ignorance, armed only with our idealism and passion. We are fueled by a vision of a better world of education, energized to challenge all who believe otherwise. However, occasionally a time comes, in education and in life, when the challenging idea prevails over the opposition and becomes the new establishment. Ironically, this is the time when we are most challenged as educators and reformers as our vision becomes reality.


Such a time faces us now in the field of educational technology. Gone are the heady days of predicting radical transition of classroom instruction to educators convinced that what was always would be. There is nothing shocking about a presenter who urges schools toward 1:1 instruction, blended learning, or flipped classrooms, as many of these are the current reality of large percentages of the audience. Phrases like “21st Century Skills,” “Digital Immigrants,” or “Sage on the Sage vs Guide on the Side” are beginning to sound trite, old banners of a past campaign. While we know that schools and teachers are in all stages of digital evolution, there is a strong collective agreement on direction toward digital tools and resources. A few skirmishes still take place on the periphery, but even these feel like the dying moans of a bygone time.


The term tipping point has existed long before educational technology, but it was brought into popular understanding mainly through Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. In this book, Gladwell explored how a variety of forces work together to create substantial change. All of these forces push against an existing reality or perception and over time reach a boiling point, irrevocably overturning the old and introducing a new dominant reality.


In the past few years there has been a tipping point in attitudes and approaches to technology in education. The belief that technology will have no effect or limited effect is no longer dominant. The point has tipped, and it is not tipping backward again. Even the most traditional of instructors grudgingly accept that technology is here to stay.


It is a exciting experience to have envisioned change and see the idea catch on. Conversations can start with assumptions that were once a point of argument. Ideas that were once dreams start appearing in classrooms. Things don't work, and then they do work.


However, in the midst of these successes, another voice is present. It stirs in the hearts of the most fervent advocates.


What now?


It was easier before, when it was impossible. A hypothetical wifi network doesn't experience outages. Hypothetical apps work smoothly and intuitively. Most importantly, hypothetical students are engaged with the lesson, don't drift off task, and never look at things they shouldn't. A real technological classroom is a messy place, a jungle of unintended consequences. Even an educational technology zealot can feel adrift in a sea of “success.”


For a Catholic educator these challenges are even more profound. Digital citizenship isn't enough to serve our mission. We are called to bring children to Christ though all means at our disposal. Writing the roadmap to holiness with new tools, tools that have potential for good and evil, is not an easy task. However, this is why the leadership of Catholic educators has never been more vital, as we model and teach not just appropriate use, but good use (and uses for good) of digital and social tools.


So how do we navigate in these uncharted waters on the other side of the digital tipping point? While there are no simple answers (if there were someone would publish them and the discussion would be over), but there are three major keys to guide planning, implementing and growing digital schools.


1. Move from equipment goals to performance goals.

A large part of the pursuit of the world of digital education has been an equipment arms race. School programs (and schools) have been defined more by the stuff in classrooms than by what is going on in the classrooms. This has led to an aggressive technological arms race as schools advertise their projectors, document cameras, Smartboards, student response clickers, and 1×4/1×2/1×1/2×1 device ratios. “We’re a Smartboard school,” an administrator brags (which at least verifies that the boards are smart there). While the pursuit of equipment was a vital stage as we pushed toward the tipping point (and remains important still), there needs to be an intentional movement away from devices being the end goal to a greater focus on student performance. Schools need to return to the most basic and vital question of education, “What will our students know or be able to do at the end of the day/month/school year?”


While there will be a tendency to reduce these goals to improvement in test scores (particularly on standardized tests), this should not be the only criteria. Students do not primarily need to be better test takers, they need to be better learners, independently and collaboratively. While these skills can be harder to quantify than multiple choice tests (often a good example of testing what we can instead of what we should), schools can set goals for clear indicators of critical thought, of problem solving, of cooperative investigation. On the other side of the tipping point, devices only have validity in connection to student achievement.


2. Make friends with failure

One of the unfortunate by-products of a crusade is the reluctance and inability to admit weakness or failure. While understandable, this can lead to wrong decisions perpetuated out of stubbornness and fear of criticism. If a digital future for education is now generally accepted, then the best decisions must be made, and mistakes must be admitted and corrected. The constant growth and change in the digital world virtually guarantees that schools will make honest misjudgments. Rather than fight this, school administrators need to develop a more failure-friendly voice with faculty, parents, and students, recognizing that things will go wrong and that all will work together to fix them.


This is not to encourage skittishness, abandoning a solid plan at the first sign of trouble or the introduction of a new “hot” device. Rather it is an acknowledgement that technology planning is a highly complex process with many moving parts in a field of constant change. An educator who makes only correct decisions in this area is either a divinely inspired genius, or delusional (more likely the second). On the other side of the tipping point, we are no longer fighting for a cause, we are fighting for the best approaches.


3. Plant good wheat

One does not have to look far to find articles decrying the “bad stuff” available on the Internet (one does not have to look far to find bad stuff on the Internet). This is an undeniable reality, but it is also undeniable that our children will inhabit this world whether we provide direction to them or not. Faithful to our mission as Catholic educators, we cannot ignore this evil, and teaching safety is a vital life skill. However, we can be true change agents in the digital world by teaching students skills of positive participation.


In the parable of the Sower and the Seed, Jesus talked about wheat seed that landed among thorns, which stifled its growth. As Catholic educators, we need to turn this parable around, encouraging students to sow appropriate Internet venues with so much good wheat that over time it will be the weeds that are choked out. On the other side of the tipping point, the solution to evil on the Internet is good on the Internet,


For those who have struggled to make the case for digital integration into our Catholic schools, finding the wheels of history turning in their favor can be a challenging transition. However, this is not the beginning of the end. Rather, it is the end of the beginning, as new, more exciting chapters await on the other side of the tipping point.


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