On Friday my husband, Tobey, asked me if I'd every heard of the Perry County Project. I had not. Apparently, Tobey had read a tweet about it from an educator in New Bedford, MA. No big deal, right? Well the Perry County referred to in the Perry County Project is in Alabama. And the project of the Perry County Project? It's a week long event held at Judson College where "25 students and 9 teachers in Perry County, AL will focus on togetherness, thinking big, getting creative, and creating a lasting and positive presence on the web" and it held its first ever conference this past week. Below is a video "letter" created by the Perry County Project's directors Beth Sanders and Daniel Whitt, two Alabama public educators which gives a little background about how this project got underway:
Now what amazes me is not that there are educators out there trying to use technology as a means to empower students, although I am certainly impressed by the scope of their vision, but rather that by Friday of last week I, a semi-tech literate Massachusetts educator, knew about it. That by Monday night, I'd explored their website (Youth Converts Culture), watched their videos, blogged about it for class, and "liked" their Facebook page. The power of digital media to reach and inform/inspire a broad audience is flippin' amazing!
I've been looking for ways to give my students a voice. The population of students that I deal with have a difficult time finding relevance in what they are learning. This disconnect between what they care about and what we try to teach them has caused many of them to totally disengage from their education. Now before you get the wrong impression of me, I am not advocating some touchy-feely-let's-sit-around-the-campfire-and-sing-"Lesbian Seagull"-together-instead-of -learning-about-the Industrial-Revolution-or-reading-Othello attempt at relevance. What I want is to bridge the gap between say the Industrial Revolution, which seems ancient and irrelevant to my kids, and their everyday lives. I want them to take a critical look at capitalism and how it affects them negatively/positively, how they benefit/suffer under this system, how the people the world wide are affected by such systems and then. . . and this is the new part. . . I want them to take that information and do something with it, to share it with as many people as possible. I want to empower them, not depress them. So I need to do more than just expose them to new information/knowledge, I give them an outlet for their anger, frustration, confusion, wonderment, et. al.
I think we underestimate what kids are truly capable of when we give them the guidance, time, and resources they need to express themselves. I was exploring the internet looking for some examples of youth in action when, lo and behold, I came across Youth in Action, a Providence, RI based organization that believes that "young people are at the forefront of creating postive social change." What's really impressive about this organization is that they have their own media team called Next Generation Media that produces videos "on issues related to social justice and equality and feeds the community and their peers with knowledge about situations that they would not normally be informed about in their schools or on the news." In the video below, Youth in Action members went out and interviewed not just their peers but members of the community about racial profiling in Providence:
This is what kids are capable of--this piece of serious cultural criticism. Yet we ask them to fill out worksheets, write canned essays that will score a 8/10 or higher on the MCAS, and bubble in answers to standardized tests. It is time to rethink everything we are doing in the classroom, to have the difficult conversations about the relevance of our curriculum, the effectiveness of our assessments. If a group of Alabama students and educators can produce a video that inspires a teacher in Massachusetts to redesign her curriculum to incorporate new technology in order to empower her students, what might my own students be capable of doing; who might they reach and inspire?
I'll leave you with The Perry County Projects slogan: "It's never about technology. It's about empowerment."