Contact me

These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What is IT?

Using technology to teach



This appears to be an older video - I don't think I saw any stats more current than 2006. But on the one hand, I agree with the point. Technology has certainly changed, accelerated and made more retrievable, the things I learn. For instance, I ran across this video while searching online for various articles about the science of "attention." (This video is called "Pay Attention.") I particularly liked the focus on creation as an intrinsic part of learning.

On the other hand, it's easy to mistake process for product. The presence or absence of technology does not, in itself, add up to learning. Intelligent use of technology might, though.

Anyhow, now I know how to embed a video on my blog.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Relovilles in Douglas County

Click the entry title for the Forbes article about those towns that attract corporate movers -- literally. These are the highly educated, white collar workers who move around the country as they climb the corporate ladder.

Parker is #4 out of the top 25 relocation choices in the nation. Castle Rock is #5.

An interesting question is this: by definition short-timers, what kind of civic investment (emotional and financial) might these folks bring to their relovilles?

(Later: I expanded that provocative article into a column, called "Welcome to Reloville!)

Homeless book club

Click the entry title to see a wonderful testimony to the power of literature.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Health care reform: an EMOTIONAL issue

This popped up on my Facebook page: an exchange between Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, and Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009's "Morning Joe." You can read about it, and see it, here. A couple of salient quotes from that article:

"Weiner asked some simple, direct questions that no politician, much less Obama or HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, has managed to pose:

'What is an insurance company? They don't do a single check-up. They don't do a single exam, they don't perform an operation. Medicare has a 4 percent overhead rate. The real question is why do we have a private plan?'

"'It sounds like you're saying you think there is no need for us to have private insurance in health care,' Joe asked at one point.

"Weiner replied: 'I've asked you three times. What is their value? What are they bringing to the deal?'"

Later, Joe "even repeated Weiner's points clearly: The government would take over only the 'paying mechanism' of health care, not the doctors or their medical decisions themselves. His ears perked up every time Weiner mentioned that the nonprofit Medicare spends 4 percent on overhead, while private insurers spend 30 percent."

I wrote a column, available here, where I reported on the rising costs of health care in Douglas County -- and the likelihood that they will cost jobs in both the public and the private sectors. Because I knew this was timely, I had my tech staff turn on "comments" on our Drupal-based website. It quickly became apparent that mostly people were far more interested in attacking me, my sources, and any kind of federal government involvement, than they were in considering the underlying system.

One interesting comment was that one of the numbers I'd never seen disputed before -- the fact that our live birth rate is among the lowest in the developed world -- is now claimed to be because of our heroic efforts to rescue prematurely born infants, when the other countries don't. I find that one unlikely, but will keep an open mind till I can track down the actual incidence of premature births, and how many of them die. Could that number possibly be high enough to affect our international rankings? (See comment number 6 for the explanation!)

One of the comments to my column repeated the notion that health care costs are due to malpractice claims, which I've seen soundly refuted a number of times.

I'll be honest: health care reform isn't an emotional issue for me. There are a lot of nations out there who have tried a lot of different systems. When I last looked into this, it seemed pretty clear that the U.S. pays a larger percentage than other developed nations of our Gross Domestic Product on health care, has a larger percentage of people without any health coverage at all, has a higher infant mortality rate (subject to my investigation of this new counter-claim), and despite Sarah Palin's concern about death panels snuffing grandma, our life expectancy is actually shorter here than in, for instance, England, France, or Sweden -- all of whom do have national health care. Clearly, our current system isn't the best around, and I can't imagine why we wouldn't want to make it better.

Most recently, one reader of my column was so upset he wrote my bosses and urged my immediate termination for my "inappropriate political comments," and my "egregious and despicable breach of the public trust."

Clearly, this is a profoundly emotional issue for some. But when people talk about their medical "freedoms," which freedom do they mean: the freedom to pay more and get less? Because that's the way it is.

Colorado libraries on NPR

Click on the entry title to get to the NPR session for Sunday, August 23. Start it up. A pop-up window lets you choose "High-Tech Library Gleams in Colorado Town." Mostly, this piece by Teresa Schiavone is about the new library in Walsenberg. But she manages to do a great interview with Monica (library director), an 84 year old Trustee, Keith Lance and me, and the best of the batch: a nine year old patron.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Supersense

Just finished "Supersense: why we believe in the unbelievable," by Bruce Hood. The thesis is this: the design of our minds inclines us to "infer structures and patterns in the world and to make sense of it by generating intuitive theories." Later, these theories may be be reinforced by culture, especially religion. But not all "supersense" contructs are religious. People knock on wood, believe in UFOs or alien abductions, or hold other notions for which there is scant or contradictory evidence.

The book is riddled with a host of fascinating stories. My favorite is the one about the lady who is told by her doctors that she could not possible have been the mother of her children -- no DNA match. But it turns out that she was a "chimera" -- a person who absorbed the DNA of a fraternal twin in the womb, and thus was literally two people.

Here's another: "A recent survey of two thousand solitary travelers by a U.K. hotel chain revealed that one in five men slept with a teddy bear -- more than the female travelers."

The book also describes some fascinating experiments with children, and their changing sense of the world, particularly around the idea of "essentialism," or the idea that there is some ineradicable and unique quality, almost of sentience, in some objects (think Linus' blanket in the Peanuts comic strip).

The conclusion is a little surprising: our supersense, illogical as it may often be, is precisely what helps us identify what we call "sacred" -- powerful intuitions that capture the essence of the quest for human meaning. So we have even more evidence that we are not rational creatures - but we're not necessarily unreasonable, either.

A great read. Recommended.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Colorado's first straw bale library in Naturita

Click on the entry to hear Montrose Regional Library District director Paul Paladino, interviewed by KCFR. Paul is way ahead of the curve here in sustainable building -- and also, quite funny.