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Really smart?

I kind of feel sorry for Dawson Orr.

He's the superintendent of schools in Highland Park, the exclusive, for-the-rich-only city within Dallas.

Dawson is a thoroughly decent and capable man who's managed to get himself into a place that seems to be as crazy as it is wealthy. Dawson was superintendent of schools for a while when I was editor of the newspaper in Wichit Falls.

What Highland Parkers are doing is systematically dumbing down their high school curriculum by insisting on approving each and every book their children are asked to read. In the process, they have managed to challenge the use of classics such as Brave New World, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye, The Scarlet Letter and A Farewell to Arms.

These are all books that the parents probably read in high school, but they -- what? -- fear their children aren't mature enough to handle such strong stuff. There's more outrageous material in the ether today than existed 10 to 15 years ago.

One supposes these same parents decline to let their children sleep over with friends for fear of what they might watch on TV or snag from the book shelf. Surely they don't let the kids go through the line at the grocery store. There are magazine covers out there that are more stimulating than anything in A Farewell to Arms. Going to the movies must be taboo, as well. And the kids must not be allowed to use the internet or to watch their on TV sets unsupervised.

So, I really don't understand what's going on unless it's mere politics, part of the overal effort to dismantle Texas public schools.

Oh, I do well understand one of the selections the parents resent. It's called Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler, a Pulitzer-Prize winner. Poor people don't exist in Highland Park, so they must be figments of someone's imagination everywhere else, too.

The digital divide

For 20 years there's been talk of the so-called "digital divide."

For most of that time, the divide has been thought to have been both racial and in terms of income.

Higher income folks and white folks were thought to be more likely to own computers and to have high-speed internet access.

Now comes the U.S. Census Bureau with results from its latest American Community Survey, and those findings confirm the conventional wisdom.

People who live in large metro areas are more likely by a high number to own computers and to have high-speed access than people in rural areas. Metro areas have high-speed access; rural areas don't.

No mystery there.

But, it's interesting to look at use. In Boulder, 97 percent of the population uses high-speed internet; in Laredo, Texas, that number is 70 percent. Guess which town has the highest povery rate.

So, we have to continue to talk as libraries about having computers with high-speed access because that digital divide isn't going away.

To MOOC or not

It turns out that those massive online-only courses that made headlines a couple of years ago aren't as effective as you might think.

Jeffrey J. Selingo, writing in Sunday's education supplement to The New York Times, examines these kinds of courses and concludes that they have not been dismal failures, but they have hardly changed our national educational system.

Professors may attract hundreds or even thousands of students to online courses, but few participants actually complete them.

My experience may be typical. I have signed up for three MOOCs. I have completed only one of them. The two I did not complete were music-related, and they were too elementary. The course I completed was a general overview of physics presented by a professor of physics at the University of Virginia. It was hard, but very interesting.

I would imagine that, given the poor completion rate for MOOCs, most professors will not feel motivated to put in the time and work necessary to build these courses.

So, they may not die off because of lack of interest on the part of the dedicated few students but because universities and profs won't provide them.


What is Nanowrimo?

Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writers Month. It is a movement that started in the San Francisco Bay area in 1999 with 21 participants. Since then it has grown into a national movement with hundreds of thousands of participants trying to write a novel in 30 days. The challenge is write 50,000 words in 30 days, from November 1st to November 30th.

Why, you ask? Because of the challenge, because everyone has a story, because without a deadline some will never sit down and write. With Nanowrimo, there is no editing. You just write. It’s like the great first draft. But that’s okay. Out of first drafts have come some great books; such as “WaterforElephants,” “NightCircus,” “and “LookingGlass.”

Yes, we are already half way through November, but it’s never too late to start. Check out the books we carry that are Nanowrimo books in the Library. You never know. Even if you miss the date, it’s never too late to start writing.

From medium to cold

Billions of people world-wide are on Facebook.

Millions use Facebook's news feeds as their sole source for information.

And there's nothing out there that might slow those trends.

Here's what Facebook does, according to a Sunday article in The New York Times: It uses algorithms to figure out what you like to read/see/experience when you go to Facebook news sites. Then it finds more of the same and feeds that to you. You don't need to browse. You don't need to bother picking through things you might not want to see. Nothing uncomfortable or disturbing will pass your eyes.

And, so, all your biases, prejudices and preconcieved ideas will be underscored and amplified and reinforced, and it will be the same for everyone else on Facebook.

How is democracy going to work when all you access is, say, National Enquirer?

I see this kind of thing as insidious and harmful. Not to mention what it means for the future of newspapers, which is already pretty dismal.

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