5 Reasons for Leaving the Pencil Conference

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.


  1. would love to know of a conference that exceeds someone's expectation. usually experience them as being overly simple.

  2. I have to say that the advice about "making sure you save your documents and don't leave them on your desktops" had to be among the most trite advice I got at a pencil conference. Seriously, do you think I just stuff everything in the trash?

  3. Thank you for writing this. What a joy to read. You can tell a good story!

    I think conference organizers often provide ZERO support and training for presenters. Pointers like this can be quite helpful.

    TED, for example, provides a lot of support, and I think it shows. Edubloggercon provides support in the form of formats that promote collaboration and openness, as well as networking.

  4. It might be a sad comment on me but conferences keynotes in general, almost without exception, fail to excite me. The information presented can be communicated in far better ways. Your comment on speaker inaccessibility is correct. The book, if it has been written, has the advantage of allowing you to absorb ideas at your own pace. The author is no more accessible on a stage.

  5. I like your reasons for leaving the conference early. If I had to attend something like that, I would probably want to get out of there as fast as possible. I wouldn’t want to sit and listen to someone lecture about how they know everything. This was another great post!

  6. I really enjoyed your post and i think by being a critic you provided them with problems they should work on before the next pencil conference. I think it was appropriate to leave the conference early because why should you stay if the presenters are unapproachable and know everything, there has to be some learning still left to do. I really enjoyed your post. I am a student in Dr. Stranges EDM 310 class you can find my other comments at http://pittmanbrittanyedm310.blogspot.com/2011/03/project-10-progress.html

  7. It's always so much fun for me to read your stories. They are always so amazing. I really enjoy how you are the critic. I believe that you are telling them what the problem is so they can fix/work on it for the next pencil conference. I see nothing wrong with you leaving the conference before it was over. I believe that everyone can learn something. No one knows it all.

  8. I don't blame you for leaving the conference. No one person knows it all. Nobody wants to sit through a conference and listen to someone who is arrogant. If someone is going to encourage using social media,he should also be using it himself. I think you should always practice what you preach.

  9. Hey!

    My name is Brittni Sasser and I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class. I, also, enjoy reading your blog posts! Leaving the conference early sounds like the right choice if you are not happy with what is going on there. No one knows everything and especially does not want to listen to someone who thinks they do. We can never learn to much. It is part of growing and learning!

    Thanks for your post.

  10. Hello, my name is Kathleen Lemoine and I am a student in Dr. Srange's EDM310 class. I am sorry that the conference was a disappointment, it seems like you made the right choice to leave. It can be very frustrating to deal with people that you are supposed to learn from, yet they stay distant and will not take their own advice. Hope the next conference goes better for you!