Larry Lessig – Law, Leadership and Aaron Swartz

This is Larry Lessig, speaking at Harvard Law School as he accepts the Chair as Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership. As Dean Martha Minnow says at the end of Larry’s speech, this is a Chair in Law AND LEADERSHIP, and she can think of no better person to be sitting in it. If you take the time to watch this speech, and you should, then I’m sure you will have no doubt that Martha’s words are true.

I knew nothing of Aaron Swartz until after his death. I wish I’d known of him before. He took his life on January 11th, at the age of 26, after being indicted for 13 counts by the United States Government after writing a script to download files from Jstor and store them on his computer hard drive after accessing an open cupboard serving as a server room at MIT and hardwiring his computer to it. He presumably had the intent of making them accessible to all, instead of being trapped behind a paywall system. A paywall system that means for the bulk of the population, these academic articles, funded by taxpayer money,  are inaccessible to most of us, and accessible only to those who frequent institutions who pay the licensing fees guaranteeing you access. A recent article in the New Republic, provides speculation as to why Aaron may have decided to take this course.

In the last 20 minutes of this speech, Larry questions the state of things in the United States and asks “Is the United States America anymore?” An America where people who think differently, as Aaron did, are challenged by the Government instead of being supported for their divergent thinking. Divergent thinking that might actually make our world a better place for those who are not the monied elite and don’t have the financial means to advance themselves. My empathy qoutient is raised in this regard; I benefited from a free Higher Education model the Australian Government used to endorse and I’m convinced it provided me with a pathway to further education that may not have been realised without it.

Larry Lessig is obviously deeply impacted by Aaron’s death. There are moments in this speech where I wondered how he could continue, but continue he did, and his words are a more than fitting tribute to a young man who had ideals way beyond those who write code to power  networks that provide people with opportunities for connection, but make them millions of dollars in the process. I saw Tim Berners Lee speak in Melbourne earlier this month and a large portion of his speech was dedicated to Aaron. Like Larry, he had known Aaron since his teenage years and like Larry, it was apparent that his untimely death had deeply affected him.

You may not be able to find a way to share the full contents of this speech with the students you teach, but if a moment presents itself, try and find a way to share Aaron’s story, and use the last 20 minutes of the speech with them. What Larry is positing it that we need more people like Aaron, and more people (and lawyers) willing to step up and do what is right. Larry shares with the audience that he was often seen as Aaron’s mentor, but in fact he saw himself as Aaron’s mentee. Aaron once questioned him on one of their many subjects of interest and Larry’s reply was met with, “yes, as an academic, but what as a citizen?” It’s a question that Larry says will help him to continue to fight what seem impossible fights. Fights like ‘dumb copyright’ that deny people the right to the benefits of academic research funded by taxpayer dollars.

It’s the moral compasses we set for ourselves that make our world a better place to live in. Aaron’s death will hopefully leave a legacy where those who think different, those who think for the good of the whole, will become champions and not pilloried for their actions. I have in no way here paid justice to the story of Aaron Swartz. If you know nothing of this remarkable young man, then do what you can to find out more. A recent piece of longform writing in Slate is a good place to start.

Aaron’s is a story that needs telling. And remembering.

English: Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event.
English: Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

School’s out Friday

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Grand Central Station in New York and marvel at its beautiful architecture. The Improv everywhere team staged this light show to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of its construction. The images I like best are those of the peoples’ faces as their day is made that much more enjoyable because of the team’s efforts.

We need more of this in our world. People doing something for the pleasure of others and making them smile. Just think how much more enjoyable our days would be if we set about with purpose to make others feel good and smile. I ran a meeting today at work where we laughed, ate chocolate biscuits, shared some things we’re doing in our classrooms and enjoyed one another’s company. One of my colleagues stayed back to say it was the best meeting she’d been in all year – she felt connected to others and was energised about what we were talking about. Work needs to be like this more often. Let’s face it, sometimes the greater part of our waking day is spent there.

There’s a challenge. Set about with purpose to make someone’s life more enjoyable this weekend. I bet you’ll feel better for it too. 🙂

The little things…


I believe that’s the word you’d use to describe this blog of late. Aside from the regular School’s out Friday posts (my saving grace, really), it’s been a barren wasteland for the last month or so. I shouldn’t beat myself up, because starting in a new position, even when it’s at the school you’ve taught at for years, is fraught with finding your feet and trying to establish credibility for yourself amongst your peers.

Me, I’m my own greatest critic. If I’m not moving mountains then I think I’m falling short. I’d love to say I’ve single handedly transformed peoples’ approaches to using technology in their classrooms within weeks, but you’d know I was lying. I’m trying hard not to beat myself up or place undue pressure on myself, but it’s proving difficult. What I have to do is tackle things in a systemised way, make some things a priority, and take heart from the fact that I’m doing what I can with the hours there are in a day.

A little thing I’ve done that I think might be a good start to building a learning community is to create a hashtag for our school and start curating Tweets in a (it’s like a online newspaper). The hashtag is #tcplc (Toorak College Professional Learning Community) and the created I send out in an email daily to staff. To help them determine if there’s anything there of import, I provide a brief summary of some of the posts/articles that have been curated. I’m very lucky to have a couple of other teachers at my school who are Twitter users, and they are helping with the curation. Hopefully we’ll start to see more teachers become aware of the wonderful professional learning opportunities available from the Twitter community and maybe, just maybe, some will sign up and become part of the curation process to benefit all of us.

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 10.20.55 PM

It’s a little thing, but it does take time and effort to curate those links. I’m an avid Twitter user (all my best learning happens or begins from there)  so it’s a great way to make that learning transfer to others who aren’t Twitter users.

Little things go on to become big things. I’ll try and keep this Chinese proverb in mind as the year unfolds,

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.”

School’s out Friday

I don’t know about you, but if I was driving while a meteorite broke through the atmosphere and caused an enormous flash in the sky accompanied by a booming sound, then I’d be stopping the car and surveying my surroundings. Well, in Russia it seems, you just keep driving, maybe fast enough to get home and upload the dashboard camera footage to Youtube to share it with the world! According to a post in ‘The New York Times‘, dashboard cameras “are commonplace in Russia partly because of the dangerous driving conditions that lead to so many accidents, and with an unreliable police force such cameras can provide valuable evidence following a crash.”

This happened a few hours ago in Chelyabinsk, 930 miles (1,500 km) east of Moscow, in Russia’s Ural Mountains. Here’s another dashboard camera video.

And here’s the view taken by traffic cameras at a busy intersection. Again, no-one stops their cars!!

Considering there was no indication that something like this was going to happen, I’m feeling less comfortable about the close call with the 45-meter-wide asteroid 2012 DA14 that’s going to pass Earth at a distance of 27,000km tomorrow. Apparently, Australia will have a grandstand view according to this article. You need  to be up at 4.30am, so guess who’s setting the alarm? Binoculars or a telescope are necessary, but I’ll take a chance with the naked eye.

This is my fourth* School’s out Friday in a row with no intervening posts. Busy? You bet I am. But some good things are happening, so I’ll try and find time over the weekend to write about them. Hopefully we’ll all still be here!!

*correction – fifth. Not feeling good about that at all.

School’s out Friday

OK, I’m a sucker for a story that tugs at the heartstrings. And Landslide, the soundtrack, is my favourite song. Given that, this has to be my favourite Superbowl ad of the season.

It featured in one of my lessons this week for a new subject called ‘The Language of our Times’. The start to this year has been kind of manic, but walking into that class was just wonderful. I love teaching – I love the connections you make with young people and the thrill of sharing ideas. This class is something I’m heavily invested in because it’s something I believe in – I want our students to understand new methods of communication and the power of making connections via the Internet. I want to make it work and I feel like the young people I’m teaching want to explore what is possible. I’ve got an exciting year ahead.

I hope you have too. We have a tough gig. Teaching is becoming more accountable, and sometimes it seems like the focus is on measurement and data all the time. It’s when we walk into those classrooms and have the privilege of being a part of the lives of young people that we realise it’s so much more than numbers on a page. It’s about connecting with people and hopefully having a positive impact on their thinking. It’s the best part of my job and it’s what gives me the energy to do the work I do.

Just right now, I need to replenish those energy levels with a good night’s sleep. Night all, and best wishes for a restful weekend ahead. 🙂

School’s out Friday

Is John Green making sense to you here? Because he’s making a lot of sense to me.

Copyright laws are vexed, but so is creating work and sharing it, only to receive no compensation other than the satisfaction that comes from helping others. That works for awhile, but the reality of most people’s existence is that they need to earn money to feed themselves and their family.  What John Green is doing for his nerdfighters is truly admirable. We need more people with attitudes like this – people prepared to make the effort to seek out creators and share profits from work they have remixed or modified from an original source.

My son showed me the Sweet Brown video last night, and it got me thinking. Take a look here.

Sweet Brown has been the subject of Internet memes, and the catchy remix is now available for purchase on iTunes. Who is benefiting from remixing content like this? Sweet Brown, or the owners of the YouTube channels who are hosting advertisements while they rack up 16 million views poking fun at someone’s speech inflections? I note that she seems to have a website (if it is run by people associated with her) and you can buy tshirts and book her for appearances. I certainly hope she’s making some money out of this, because you can bet other people are making money from her.

One day, I will write something other than a School’s out Friday post. Cameron Paterson sent me this tweet tonight:

“You are too busy. Come back to us, please…Hope the new job is fun and challenging.”

My new job is fun and challenging. I’ve been learning a lot about managing a school network, and am indebted to the wonderful IT team at my school who have worked so hard these last few weeks rolling out a new printing solution for our school and getting everything ready for the start of the year. I’ve got a heck of a lot to do, but haven’t we all?

Right now, what I’m looking forward to is sleeping in tomorrow. I hope you get to enjoy the same luxury. Have a relaxing weekend – find some time for you. 🙂