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Friday, August 14, 2009

Dr. Strangeblog, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Scott McLeod

Scott McLeod used to piss me off.

For example, stuff like this gets a strong response out of me.

I'm not alone - just look at the comments on that post. My impulse is to write all kinds of snotty retorts.

"This is the time of calculators; any educator who spends public money on paper and pencil should be fired!"

"Of course! Clearly the best way to teach a child about a sphere is with a flat computer monitor! I have been such an idiot!"

"Take out your laptops, kids! Oh wait, you're not allowed to bring your laptop to school! Now what?! I guess I should quit, and do a different job until conditions are perfect for 21st century learning!"

I have had a knee-jerk reaction to his rhetoric and apparent ignorance of the realities of day to day classroom teaching. I've unsubscribed and subscribed to his feed more times than I can remember. His tendency to call teachers stupid and declare they should be fired and their work sucks demonstrates a prickliness that doesn't make me want to snuggle up to him, either.

But while chatting with this guy (and, props, some of what follows are his words, not mine), I experienced a moment of clarity about Scott McLeod. All along, I have been reading him through the wrong lens. I wouldn't call him Dangerously Irrelevant, I'd call him Necessarily Irrelevant. (Although he claims the title refers to institutions' response to new technology. I think he is just playing with us.)

Because the thing is...his writing is a fantasy. Like big architectural fantasies that will never be built. Like concept cars that will never be driven. Like high-concept fashion that headlines a show but is never seen off the runway. Imaginative, visionary, blue-sky plans that are put on paper but never happen.

But! High fashion provides the raw material that gets processed by a collective sensibility and eventually becomes pret-a-porter. Concept cars test the limits and feasibility of bizarre ideas and drive innovation in mass market automobiles. Crazy architectural renderings show us how awesome our surroundings could be and their innovations show up in increments.

So that's how I choose to read Scott Mcleod. He sees the world as it could be, disconnected from on-the-ground realities, but influencing the direction of thought. His aforementioned prickliness, I speculate, derives from frustration that big, slow, school institutions have too much inertia to snap to his vision of what schools could be. But one day we will look around, and our schools will be delivering aspects of that vision, and we will have people like him to thank. And with that attitude shift in this reader, I'll follow his feed for a while longer.


  1. I haven't read this person's blog, but I agree that we often need to take a step back and set an almost unrealistic goal and then try to get there. As a graduate of Rice (where the speech was given), I use Kennedy's "We're Going to the Moon" speech as an example (although it was well before my time). On the other hand, I totally understand that someone's tossing aside anyone who is not pushing the line to get to that idea can be really annoying.

    [off topic]

    Ok, I think it may be time I come out of the closet here...

    About you/this blog and Dan Meyer and a few others...

    I have a teacher-crush.

    Whenever I go to faculty meetings and they are like, "Well, Gardner says we should do X" (or whomever is the famous education expert relevant to their current agenda), that I roll my eyes a bit and think, "Who cares what Gardner says?" But now I'm catching myself all the time talking to other teacher about, "Wow! I just read this awesome idea in a blog last night..." and I hope they don't roll their eyes a little.

    Anyways, thought you should know. =)

  2. Yer walkin' a fine line between cute and creepy there, Dave.


    I hear you. My colleagues are sick to death of me yommering away about things I find on the Internet.

  3. I actually have the same visceral reaction to his blog also - and I too always give it a second thought when I aperiodically purge my reader.

    In fact, it's funny, because that picture and post turned me off A LOT. More than others, because it was there for people to take the bait. I too was going to post about it and take the bait.

    Sometimes I think we might just be sharing the same mind.

  4. I'm with you there, Dave. If I have to hear in my school one more time about what Marzano says to do, I'm going to have a nice bonfire in my backyard. Guess whose name is going to be on my kindling?

  5. I love this post! I've been the president of the Scott McLeod Pisses Me Off club for the past few weeks and it's time to pass that title on to someone else. Your wise words are just what I needed to hear.

    So, will I need a prescription for that lens you're using?

  6. @Sam I also struggled with whether to take the bait or just ignore it. Because it was bait. But I think that still fits with my wild-eyed visionary hypothesis. Part of his function is to tick people off and get them talking.

    @Colleen Your lenses have already come in! You can pick them up any time you like. :)

  7. Thanks, Kate, for what may be the most thoughtful commentary ever posted about my blog. I sincerely don't try to tick people off. I do admittedly try to get people to think. Sometimes the latter leads to the former because of the phrasing that I use or because of folks' own predispositions.

    FYI, I just posted a more general response to you here:

    Thanks for being a reader of my blog.

    All my best,


  8. Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do. - Steve Jobs

  9. Hi Kate
    Scott getting a reaction means people are reading what he is saying and actually have an opinion. Just as you are writing in your blog. YAY, I say!
    Too often we live in a professional and intellectual echo chamber ... all we ever hear is our own beliefs (biases, misconceptions, falsehoods and all) mirrored back at us. How many peoples blogrolls are simply what they already say and believe.
    I for one subscribe to his and other blogs BECAUSE I don't always agree with what they say. That's the point. Makes me think about what I have always assumed, challenges me to be better and explore possibilities for the kids in our school. That's my role as a principal!
    Professional learning is not simply about confirming what I already know, it is about challenging myself with the new.
    People should be thanking Scott and the others who challenge our beliefs. The edu-blogosphere is full enough of intellectual lemmings already.

  10. Greg, this is a good point, but there are limits. You have to ask why you disagree. Is it because the speaker is just stupid or crazy? Is it because they're bent on a goal you fundamentally disagree with? Is it because they're headed in the same direction as you, but have a different idea of how to get there?

    Or is it because they have a different point altogether from the apparent one? Maybe they're not making policy suggestions so much as engaging in "policy theater". That seems to be the case with Mr. McLeod.

    And it's Kate's point in this post to explore exactly that question: why does Mr. McLeod say so many things that make her recoil? It's only after that question is answered that one can make an informed decision about whether to keep listening or not.

  11. I read both of your blogs. I don't have enough experience to get aggravated but I think it's a bit like research vs. implementation. I'm a scientist who often reads about stuff that happens in a lab but will take years to reach the general public. Perhaps Scott McLeod's blog is like that for education - new stuff, pushing the boundaries.

    I just finished my masters in education. I was being pushed to use technology to the max in my program. I was student teaching in an urban classroom with just three computers. My program involved advanced labware and probes that interfaced to computers - my classroom had only pH paper and I had to buy that with my own money. The disconnect was staggering.

    Your blog is one of my favorites. Thank you!

  12. I love that you are thinking about your own filters. This is something that is applicable to so many of our everyday experiences, not just the ones that tick us off online. Thanks for the reminder that I, too, can reprogram my filters and see pieces of the world in a different light. :)

  13. I received a Google Forms blog post in my feed but it isn't on your actual blog.

    In Google Reader, the "submit" button doesn't work but the rest appears to be fine.

  14. Your post makes me think of Dangerously Irrelevant as the edtech equivalent of a Paris fashion show. The designs are outrageous - designs I would/could never wear nor afford. However, the runway design give us a glimpse of where the trends are headed. Runway shows allow us to identify a few tweaks we'd like to make to our own wardrobes.

    Perhaps Dangerously Irrelevant is the edtech runway show and the rest of us do what we can do.

    Janet |

  15. Got to this blog from a twitter post. I usually don't have time to go to most of the tweets, glad I took time for this one. I like to be challenged and have my thoughts challenged and that is why I am still following Scott McLeod. When I am reading posts I do seperate them into categories...
    1.Challenges my thinking
    2.Challenges my thinking and pisses me off
    3. Just pisses me off.
    4. Not worth reading any further.
    I will say I have read more from the top two categories than the bottom two. 3 out of 4 is not bad...


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