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C'est la Z

What I learned from Pete Seeger

This past Monday I, like may woke to hear about the passing of Pete Seeger. Ten days earlier we were up at Symphony Space for the “Woody’s Children” 45th Anniversary Concert. Pete was supposed to perform but was ill. At 94 years of age, I wondered if the end was near. I was at the concert with my family as well as with my buddy Ben. Fitting since Ben and I grew up on Pete’s music while many of our peers did not.

If you’re not familiar with Pete Seeger, his life and his work, I really encourage you to check out the 2007 documentary The Power of Song. He was truly a remarkable man. One of the most influential singer, songwriter, activists of our times yet remarkably humble and approachable.

I remember seeing Pete when I was a schoolboy. He would have been in his fifties at the time. Thirty years later, he was singing for my son’s second grade class in the same public school in New York City.

Pete’s been eulogized by far better writers than I so let me just share some of Pete’s influences on me.

Something that Pete said, highlighted in the PBS documentary - “Think global, act local.” Peter attributed it to Rene Dubos. As a teacher and someone trying to make a difference through education, I think about this a lot.

As teachers, we have to act locally. We work with our kids every day and can make a difference in individual lives. While we’re doing this, the global picture is a mess. Teachers are vilified, schools are closed, and policy is set by people who have never been in the classroom.

There is hope, however. Just like Pete and the Clearwater movement local action, spearheaded by the likes of Diane Ravitch seems to be taking hold. We’re starting to see common core exposed and the types of evaluation systems pushed by the Gates foundation debunked. Think global, act local.

Now, as you know, I’m a computer science educator and there are many similarities between CS education and general education. Most of the noise you hear is from non educators, or at least non K-12 educators with actual real experience and a real track record.

These voices range from well informed, to well meaning, to misdirected.

Last year the CSTA held a twitter conversation with K12 CS Education thought leaders and there wasn’t a k-12 teacher amongst the listed participants., a well meaning organization that has done a great job exciting people abotu CS Ed has a quotes page. The closest thing to a teacher there is Randi Weingarten and she was just in the classroom for a cup of coffee. The only other person on the list with “teach” in their title is Wendy Kopp who believes that poorly trained temps make better teachers than experienced pros.

So, how will the conversation turn? Will groups and individuals with influence engage those of us on the ground with actual results, or will will receive dictates from on high? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, all I can do is continue to act local. I can’t say what will happen in the greater CS education landscape but I know that every day I will see 150 kids and 20 more every Saturday. My kids, who will be part of the Stuy CS and now CSTUY family. They might not know now what they’re getting, but I do and I know I’ve made a difference.

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