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On Transparency

I read a lot of educator blogs. Most teachers and administrators who blog are thoughtful men and women with great insight and I always learn from them. Via Stephen Downes tonight comes a post from teacher Clarence Fisher on a recent experience he had with a class project:

As part of the International Teen Life project (or ITL as we are now calling it, see the trendy new logoJamie Hide of Colombia) one of the groups was working on a project about terrorism. A balanced perspective on a complex issue created by teenagers from three nations, their research was fairly in - depth and detailed. designed by

As part of the creative work surrounding this topic, one of the students from Kuala Lumpur wrote a powerful, moving piece of poetry from a terrorist's point of view. It was about a person who has given up hope, who has tried to become something with his life, but in the end, feels he has no choice except to become a suicide bomber. The students debated on the wiki regarding the appropriateness of this poem and it was decided to let it stand. My personal feeling is that it is a powerful piece written from an original viewpoint. While I don't condone the action, I think it is a valuable piece of fiction.

When the students in my class began putting their creative video together, they quickly found videos on YouTube of the World Trade Centre tragedy and wanted to use pieces of it. They also found a voice over of George Bush calling terrorists "faceless." Wanting to segue into the poem from the Trade Centre tragedy, they found a picture of Mr. Bush in front of a cloud from a nuclear explosion and placed the words "But if you look at it from their (people in oppressed nations) point of view, who really is the faceless one?"

Clarence goes on to write how he wrestled with whether or not to let his students leave in the offending picture. Ultimately he decided to have his students remove it (like Stephen, I would have left it in), but that's not the point of this story. What strikes me here is the learning that's occurring through Clarence's willingness to be transparent about the process. Transparent not only to his class (he writes on Anne Davis' blog that this sparked a great conversation with his students on censorship), but also transparent to the world of his peers. In many ways, this is harder than anything for most people.

Because of both the nature of new technologies and changing expectations, most organizations are dealing with the dilemma of whether or not to "air dirty laundry." There are questions about what to share, how to share, and when to share it. Should we let people see our moments of confusion? Should they know that although we made a decision, we're still questioning whether or not we did the right thing? If we look uncertain does this mean we're incompetent? What will they think if they see how things REALLY work?

For me, transparency is a struggle. I know that I learn more through the process of questioning. At the same time, I want to seem as though I have all the answers. Having teenagers is teaching me to let go of some of this. So does time spent on the Internet which makes it clear that I'll NEVER have all the answers. I find it helpful and refreshing, though, when someone else models what it is to show when you're uncertain. We need more of that kind of bravery in the world. And I want to acknowledge it when I see it.

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