Tuesday, March 6, 2012

LeVar Burton - Keynote Speaker #SXSWedu 2012

We are at an interesting intersection of opportunity between education and technology.

As we move forward into the new era of the intersection of technology and education, there are a couple of fundamental tenets he would like to see us to not leave behind.

It is fundamental as we move forward with technology to not forget the importance of storytelling.

We all as human beings are an aggregate of the experiences that we have. LeVar has been incredibly blessed in his life. All of his experiences have helped shape the person he is today, and that is true for all of us. Every single soul comes here to this experience with an agenda - a purpose - a contribution to make.

In a room like this LeVar feels like he is in the company of his people. His mother was an English teacher. In her home, you were either going to read a book or get hit in the head with one. Literature was not only promoted, it was expected. Expectations are the engine that drives the train of our children's education. We are lost - not functioning - if we do not have expectations for our children.

LeVar's mother read to him and his two sisters when he was a kid. They are grateful that they have the mother they do. Se not only read to them, she read in front of them, and read with them when they were children.

To get children to read, discover what they are passionate about and find reading material on that subject matter. It's not rocket science. The human is predisposed to be open to storytelling. It's been a part of our common journey for as long as we've been here, going back to gathering around the fire and telling stories of the day's hunt. Movies and television created a "cold fire" of moving pictures and sound that we gather around. In large measure, movie theaters replicate a womb experience - going into a dark place and being exposed to the elements around us.

Today we have anxiety and nervousness over the transition to storytelling in the digital age. Similar to the anxiety that occurred in Hollywood when TV came out. We are predisposed to storytelling with moving pictures and sound.

Reading is about the moving pictures and sound we make up in our head. It's a large part of the magic of reading. It is active, not passive like TV and film are. You are actively engaged in the creative process every moment - which taps into what it means to be human.

LeVar has been fortunate to be exposed over the years to master storytellers. May 1976 - Sophomore at UCLA studying theater after spending four years in Catholic seminary. He saw an ad on a bulletin board for young Black actors to audition for a novel for television - a leap in our ability to capture our own attention through the medium of storytelling with moving pictures and sound. Roots was a revolutionary nexus of moving pictures and sound with literature. Making great literature accessible and available to the masses. A high idea.

No one knew who Alex Haley or what Roots was before this time. LeVar was in a small way familiar with Haley before this through previous studies of MalcomX. (Haley co-wrote MalcomX's autobiography,)

Growing up, LeVar wanted desperately to be anyone except who he was. It was uncomfortable - no fun- being a person of color in the early 1960's. He wished himself into another state of being because he could not imagine why his life was being made as difficult as it was simply because of the color of his skin.

LeVar loved scifi literature growing up because it consistently asked "What if?" He is convinced one of the reasons we have a technology today is because some child watched the original Star Trek series and saw Captain Kirk use a communicator. That which we focus our imaginations on is what we tend to create. Human beings are manifesting monsters - and we do it unconsciously. When we focus our attention and consciously create what it is we want, there are no limits to what we can do as human beings.

Alex Haley and Gene Roddenberry were huge influences in his life. Star Trek was one of the first places where he saw himself represented. Seeing Nichelle Nichols on the bridge of the Enterprise meant there was a place for him in the future. Roddenberry's vision as a storyteller was important to him because of the vision of a future where race and class did not matter. We would explore the galaxy  with an open mind and heart and have fundamental respect for all life.

Haley and Roddenberry were both committed to telling the truth in a basic and fundamental way. They wanted us to experience this opportunity with as much info as we could possibly get about the nature of the power of who we are. Haley - the family as a societal structure is elemental to our experience as a human being. Roddenberry - we have unlimited potential.

Fred Rogers was the bridge for LeVar between the Haley and Roddenberry philosophy. He showed by example how powerful the medium of TV could be in the service of educated our children. Rogers saw TV as his pulpit.

In one week, LeVar saw the nation become transformed by Roots. Race, racism, and the legacy of slavery goes to the heart of almost everything that happens in this culture. Roots created a cultural evolution that was nonviolent. Roddenberry's vision was also about nonviolent change.

Remember, every single one of us is here to make a contribution. To present ourselves and our gifts as a way of demonstrating the strength and power of the human experience. It's our responsibility to discover and demonstrate those gifts and come hard after it.

There are challenges today. There are policies in place, NCLB, that are leaving behind hundreds of thousands of our children. We have created a culture in education where we are teaching the test instead of teaching the subject matter. We have depended too much on government to set the course for education of our children.

We are at a juncture of opportunity here through technology and public/private partnerships. We have to commit ourselves to not shooting ourselves in the foot and preparing our children. We have spent far too much money on war and not enough on our most valuable resource - our kids.

Here are LeVar's intentions around this idea. It is adddn opportunity that comes around in a great while.

They are on the verge of relaunching Reading Rainbow. He will use technology to steer children back to the written word. Reading Rainbow will be relaunched as an app.

LeVar implores us to trust that the help of heaven and human beings is coming at a rush to our side to bring value to what we have committed our lives to.

Questions from the Audience

What is LeVar reading right now? Answer: A lot of children's book in prep for the launch of the Reading Rainbow app. He also loves his iPad. He thinks the ability to digitize text is the greatest revolution in education since chalk!

How do we transform the old stories into new stories with technology? Answer: Our job is to inspire children to rise to their fullest potential and see themselves as worthy of learning and foster in them a passion of exploration of the old stories.

Will the new app effort include plans to help lower income children access the learning? Answer: Absolutely! Srtategic alliances are being created to help with access. It is a battle for the minds of our kids.

Any advice for adult educators? Answer: Keep fighting, be creative, and don't take no for an answer.