In the past, I've learned some neat things in the PIE Conference, including how to fold oragami, the wonders of colored pencils and how to use notebooking (yet another chance to turn a noun into a verb) for student learning. This year, however, I left a day early. I boarded the train and headed back to my wife and daughter and realized that I will grow more as a teacher spending a day with a two year old than with a crowded lecture hall full of experts.
Here are my reasons:
1. Many presenters I've met are unapproachable. Yes, they give nice speeches, but I've been disappointed that some of the ones who claim to love all the social media tools are quick to shy away from using those tools for honest discussion and debate. "Hey, you should use a pen pal network. But don't try and send me messages. I'm much too important than that."
2. Many presenters are arrogant. I can't listen to you if you are automatically the expert. I can't listen to you if you won't ask questions. I can't listen to you if you are unable to share some of your difficulties. If you believe that your job is to change me as a teacher, I'll kindly ask you to eff off and I'll listen to someone else. News flash: just because you got yourself an Edison Projector and fancy new phonograph doesn't mean you are now the Pope of Paper.
3. Many presenters fail to grasp complexity, paradox and mystery. It has to be about "their" way and in doing so they engage in tribalism and provocation for the purpose of sounding different. It's like hanging out in a stuffy art house. Don't talk about why we need to move past the one-room school house unless you are able to recognize that the one-room school house had a few redeeming qualities (multi-age classrooms, for example)
4. Many presenters speak like addicts. Yes, paper is flat and smooth and ultra-portable. But save the addictive language for the opium dens. If I want to feel coked-up, I'll stop by the drug store for a soda.
5. Many of the New School folks won't admit that there are some great ideas from the past - whether the idea is ten or two thousand years old. That bothers me. Innovation for the sake of innovation is novelty and ultimately it will eventually lose their luster. Remember those Chester B. Arthur sideburns? Yep, your phonograph might just be headed that way.
This by no means makes up all of the Pencil Education community. I've found great people in plogs and on the pen pal networks. However, I've also ran into my fair share of prima donnas that convince me that the conference circuit can all too quickly become a cute, glossy version of show and tell. I don't mind show and tell, either. But I need to to show me reality and tell me more than simply what I need to do to "fix" my teaching career.