Are Pencils Making Us Narcissistic?

"Tom, I'm not comfortable with students using pen pal networks," my principal warns me.

"It's not about comfort," Mr. Brown shoots back.

"Good point.  Let me rephrase this.  I am concerned about the pen pal networks and the plogs and the class newspaper you have created.  I recently read a study about how pencils are making society more narcissistic," he warns.

"Pencils? Really?" I ask.

"Yes, see, people are becoming addicted to them and it's turning people self-centered," he warns.

"Addicts?  They're communicating, not drinking Coke.  Let's be honest.  Kids write short texts to one another, because they like to communicate.  It has nothing to do with a fancy yellow Ebherhard," I respond.

"Perhaps, but you can't deny that the medium is making children self-centered," he adds.

"I'm pretty sure self-centeredness is a social and psychological rather than a technological issue.  Blame humanity on that one," Mr. Brown adds.

"What about mirrors?  Those seem to make people far more self-centered than pencils.  Are we going to shatter all school mirrors?"

"That would mean bad luck," the principal says with an awkward chuckle.  He's a dry man trying his best to use humor to deflate the escalating tension.

"Look, I see your point.  Maybe we have that conversation with kids.  Maybe we ask them if they feel the pressure to perform when they have a larger audience.  And maybe that's the issue.  Maybe we keep saying 'audience' rather than 'community,' and so our words are framing our mindset," Mr. Brown adds.

Narcissists aren't always the loudest ones out there and loud people aren't always narcissists.  My father had a strong voice.  He spoke up loudly in defense of the one-room schoolhouse when the town considered closing it down and letting students walk a few more mile to go the opposite direction.  When we moved to the city, he wrote letters to the editor regarding worker's rights and factory conditions.  He wrote letters to friends throughout his informal social network, sharing stories about our family. But his voice was humble.  It was earthy.

The issue isn't the technology we use, but the tone of voice that matters.

7 Reasons Why I Quit Reading Your Plog

Hey readers, I quit writing for awhile, not because I don't like to write, but because I had nothing relevant to say.  I decided it would be best to take some time off rather than write a plog for the sake of a plog. 

1. You quit pencil-logging and have replaced it with recommendations for information sites I should visit.  If I want a list of where to find information, I'll talk to a librarian (or anyone else well-acquainted with the Dewey Decimal System) or I'll visit a museum.
2. You sold the plog to the highest bidder.  In other words, you've replaced your voice with the voice of a corporate marketer trying to sell something. Look, I'm sure Edison makes some badass film strips, but there's more to the teaching than technology.  
3. You have found one specific trick and play it on repeat.  Maybe it's one particular strategy or one specific issue and you keep going back to it on a daily or weekly basis.  Look, I know we have a niche.  That's fine.  I know I probably write about pencils too often.  My buddy John writes about his kids too often. However, I can only take so much repetition. 
4. You're using it only to promote an item. Your blog becomes a showcase of what book you're writing and what you're going to say at the PIE (Pencil Integrated Education) Conference.  I'll pay for your content if it's good.  However, you need to write some original things every once in awhile.  Which leads me to . . . 
5. You got stingy with content and you forgot why your readers began reading your plog in the first place.  Maybe you ran out of ideas.  Maybe you got too busy.  But you forgot that I didn't fall in love with your voice.  I fell in love with your ideas, your stories, your sharp prose and your humorous language.  
6. You started getting mean toward students or staff and used your plog as a means of attacking people rather than ideas.  I've done this before with a lady named Gertrude.  She read my plog and cried.  I realized the pain that my venting had caused. 
7. You forgot that plogs were supposed to be interactive.  You never commented back.  You never asked thought-provoking questions.  I read the paper.  What I hope for in a plog is a chance for a dialogue. 

Note: I have only abandoned a small handful of plogs that fit this criteria.  Truth is that I'll follow you if you're honest, if you're thought-provoking and if you have something to say - which happens to be most teacher plogs I read. 

Capturing Reality

"Daddy, what are you doing?" my daughter asks me. 

"I'm setting up the camera," I tell her. 


"So I can take a picture of you guys in front of the waterfall," I respond. 

"Why?" she asks. 

"So I can capture this moment and keep it forever," I tell her.  

"Why do you have to capture it?  Can't this moment run free?" she asks. 
Paul the Preindustrial Poet refuses to use cameras at all.  "I took one picture of my wife and kids," he explains. "But the picture was of me.  It was me, detached, looking through a lens, hiding behind a cloud of smoke." 

"So you never take pictures?" I ask. 

"Never," he says. 

"A hard line," I tell him. 

"I don't want to miss a minute of life." 

"Tell me, do you ever let your mind wander?" 

"Yeah," he says.  "I see where you're trying to lead me.  The issue of detachment isn't about technology. And it's not as if we can carry cameras in our pockets, either.  But technology makes it that much easier to capture reality in a way that we miss it.  We become recorders rather than participants," he says. 

"But we've been recording since the dawn of man.  Camp fires and cave walls.  It's deeply human to capture it.  I'd argue that reality is an act of imagination.  What we see as real, how we tell our stories . . . I don't know, those are an act of memory, but more an act of what we imagine to be real.  We're constantly filling in the details." 

"So, why not reflect later and participate now? Why not allow your memory to be the recorder?" 

"Because photos are more accurate." 

"Depends on how you define accuracy," Paul explains.  "The camera is always black and white and always framing the story.  How is that any different from memory?" 

"True, but in the moment, you gather evidence.  You find tokens.  You hold onto letters or images or you remember conversations.  We're always reinterpreting our story at every moment.  This notion that somehow we 'live now' and 'interpret later' is crazy.  We're always doing both.  Always." 

"But for me, I'd rather be present with my family than allow a medium to get in the way.  See, the scary thing for me is that the lens looks transparent, but it makes me opaque.  My son and daughter can't see me when they see the camera and it's just not healthy for me." 

"Really?  There's no nuance there." 

"For some, yeah, but for me, none. And that's the thing.  There aren't any hard and fast rules for using and rejecting technology.   You set a rigid time limit on the pen pal networks and I don't take pictures." 

It has me thinking that maybe we're doing a disservice to students when we teach tech criticism as good versus bad rather than asking, "What is best?"  And perhaps we're doing a disservice to students when we teach, "What is best?" rather than "What is best for me in this current context?'