• Can we talk?

    Posted by Dave Shepherd on 12/2/2008 12:00:00 PM
    When is the last time you had a face-to-face conversation with somebody? I don't mean asking for directions or doing a report in class or giving homework. I mean talking with someone in person. How do you do it?
    In 2008, a great deal of human communication takes place in text form: text messages, emails, Tweets, instant messages, even blog comments. Less and less real conversation takes place.
    (I realize that it's ironic to open a discussion of face-to-face conversation on a blog. But let's start thinking about it here, and then we can talk about it further face-to-face.)
    Here are a few questions to think about:
    • How do you start a face-to-face conversation with somebody?
    • How do you keep a conversation going?
    • How do you talk to somebody outside of your own clique? (This goes not only for students, but also for teachers and other non-students.)
    • When you are in a conversation, how do you listen to the person you are conversing with?
    • What do you think about when you are listening?
    • What is an appropriate way to interrupt a conversation? Is there, in fact, any appropriate way to interrupt a conversation?

    Please post your thoughts in the comments.


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  • Freedom, Inexperience, and Limits

    Posted by Dave Shepherd on 10/24/2008 5:00:00 PM
    This morning's Washington Post contained a story about the installation of web cams in cars driven by teenage drivers. The concept is this: cars driven by teenage drivers have video cameras built into them that can record unsafe driving events and return the video evidence to parents. Only unsafe driving events are reported, not non-driving-related behavior that might be embarrassing to the teenager.
    It is easy to see why nervous parents of 16- or 17-year-old drivers would want to install such devices. As Daniel McGehee of the University of Iowa said in the Post article, "Really, the single most dangerous thing we let our children do is drive a car."
    It is also easy to understand why young drivers might deeply resent being watched as they drive. Being observed every minute smacks of Big Brother. If I think unreflectingly about this technological development, I can be reminded of being watched by video cameras on the streets of East Berlin back in the 1980s.
    This morning's Post also had a story on the aftermath of a fatal crash in Maryland that killed a passenger. The teenage driver of the car was in violation of a restriction on his driver's license. He was not supposed to have had other teenagers in the car with him, but he did. One of the boys in the car, Ryan Didone, was killed. Another girl is in critical condition.
    Just this morning our principal, Mrs. Forester, told us about a fatal crash after last weekend's homecoming events at Potomac Falls High School, just a few miles away from us.
    What are appropriate limits on the freedom to drive? Is driving a car at the age of 16 a right that should be automatically granted to anybody who can pass driver's ed?
    In my German classes, I tell my students about the German attitude toward driving. Although Germans like to emulate Americans in many ways, and although some people fear the conversion of Germany to a car culture, teenagers there don't assume that a driver's license is to be expected as a 16-year-old birthday gift. Instead, getting a driver's license in Germany is a really big deal. Just to take the driving course costs as much as ten times what our behind-the-wheel "driving class" costs. Gasoline costs about $9.00-$10.00 a gallon. And the driving age is 18. Not every German teenager is itching to get behind the wheel of a car. That's a basic difference between students here and students there, in my observation.
    Perhaps the real question to our community is this: is car ownership a tool of unfettered freedom, a means of escape to all-American open road? Or is it perhaps also a danger, a burden, an expensive necessity to be grudgingly accepted in our country that has so little public transportation?
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  • What is this blog? How does this work?

    Posted by Dave Shepherd on 10/21/2008 3:00:00 PM
    Thanks to Steve Norman, our Freedom Symposium web space is up and running. Glenn Fidler and I have had several chats in which Glenn convinced me that we ought to start this whole symposium through an online discussion. Online is, after all, where students live in 2008.
    Just today in class, my students told me about a "viral" communication among FHS students to attempt to change the focus of one of our Spirit Week days. October 23 is slated to be "Age Day," but a lot of students don't seem to get that concept. (And I must say that having "Age Day" the day after my 55th birthday is not exactly a treat for me, personally!) This grassroots communication took place via text messages. At least four of my students told me today that they had received 20 copies of the text message already.
    So, online it is. As soon as I complete the paperwork to get student participation in this blog, we will open it up to student access.
    One resource we should keep in mind as we proceed with this project is the Freedom Forum. Their headquarters are in Arlington, and their website features many different topics related to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. A visit to the FF website might give us some inspiration for a place to start.
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Last Modified on December 12, 2008