Monday, September 22, 2008

An Un-Technology Post (Courtesy of Hurricane Ike)

I am sitting in a well lit air conditioned room in front of a functioning computer connected to the internet.

I could not have made any of those statements a week ago.

On late Friday September 12, Hurricane Ike hit Houston Texas. Over 90% of the fourth largest city in the United States was left without potable water, electricity, or phone service. As we emerged from in our safe rooms Shabbat morning after a terrifying night, we gave thanks to the Almighty for sparing our lives while we surveyed the carnage to our homes and neighborhoods. As the last storm bands moved off to the north, the level of destruction to the city’s infrastructure began to sink in. Over 2 million homes and businesses were without power. Due to a power outage at the principle municipal pumping station the city’s water supply was not considered safe to drink for several days. Thousands of power lines, phone lines and cell phone towers were downed by the storm. Several major TV and radio broadcast facilities were taken out as well. This had the collective effect of severely limiting almost all forms of communications (ironically the most reliable form of communication following the storm was text messaging). We were in the dark both literally and figuratively. Gas was in short supply since most gas stations didn’t have the power needed to pump the fuel out of their underground tanks and the stations that did, quickly ran dry. Most stores were closed not having lights or refrigeration. Virtually all traffic lights and signals are still out, making every intersection a 4-way-stop assuming you can navigate around the massive piles of storm debris and fallen trees.

This is not to forum to describe living a week without electricity (A/C) for a week in Houston, Texas, nor is it the place to recount the details of the incredibly inspirational ways neighbors and communities forged together to offer support and aid to all who needed.

This is a forum to discuss education and technology.

Monday after the storm, we, (our school, the Robert M. Beren Academy) started giving informal Limmudai Kodesh (Judaic Studies) classes for students at one of the local synagogues that had regained power early.

Learning goes on.

These classes continued and as the week wore on, we began to add AP classes for the high school students so they wouldn’t fall behind in those content intensive courses.

Learning goes on.

At the time I am writing this, our school is still without power and our lower, middle and high schools are spread over three temporary satellite campuses that have electricity, but with virtually none of the tools one would expect in even the most rudimentary classroom.

Learning goes on.

Around one third of our students’ homes are still without power. They are staying with friends who have regained power or who have purchased generators. Some are wearing borrowed clothes since they have not been able to get to their homes or don’t have the power to do laundry.

Learning goes on.

Are we inconvenienced? Yes
Are we letting it stop us? No
(Most) Students (begrudgingly) realize they WANT to learn.
We teachers realize that we NEED to teach.

Learning goes on.

This “return to basics” has reminded me of something so fundamental that it often goes without saying.

And since it often goes without saying, it probably needs to be said a lot more often.

Ultimately, education is about an educator communicating with, and teaching a student. It has been done for millennia before there were Smartboards, wikis, and computers. And it can and does go on without them.

It is a human process, not a technical one.

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