Location: Augusta Civic Center
When: January 24, 2005, 8:30 am
Present: just me
Mood: dazed and dazzled
Maybe I was a gunslinger in a past life. Whenever I'm in a crowded room I always try to find a corner seat where walls are at my back and there are no doors out of my line of sight. I grab coffee, fruit and a danish from the "complimentary continental breakfast" and grab a corner table where I can see the whole room.
Something seems very wrong here, like maybe I'm at the wrong conference. I don't see any of the usual suspects. Having been involved in learning & technology for a while now, I start to know everyone, if by face alone, who is in the field. Maine is a mighty small state in some ways. At a conference called "Education, Technology and the Future of Maine's Economy," I expect to see lots of familiar faces, but I am surrounded by strangers. The coffee is familiar, though. It tastes the same at every conference I've ever been to, anywhere in America. I think it is the big plastic bins the caterers use to teleport the coffee in from a giant coffee vat somewhere in the midwest. In this case it was very comforting to have that familiar hot brown water because as I looked around the room, not only am I seeing nobody familiar, but the name tags have subtitles like, "Department of Education," "Department of Labor," "House of Representatives," and so on. So many bigwigs, movers and shakers!
The conference was an incredible thing, and for the first time in, well, ever I'm feeling a little hope for my poor state. Maine's entire economy has been based on four things: fishing, lumbering, textiles and tourism. The first three are dead or dying, and there is no hope that they will ever return. The fourth is totally dependent on how well the rest of the country is doing. The first keynote speaker announced, "Manufacturing is dead. Get over it!" and nobody contradicted him. The conference went on to explore how Maine might survive the death of 80% of its economy, and the best answer that anyone can come up with seems to be to create a workforce that can compete internationally in the 21st century through education. It made me proud. Mainers are fiercely independent, and try to solve every problem through "Yankee ingenuity," which is to say they have to figure things out on their own, without asking anybody else. So hearing Maine's political and economic leaders say, "We should look at other countries who've solved similar problems and see what we can learn from them," gives me hope. I think Abbie Hoffman said something like, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn professional." So it is both pleasing and unsettling when you hear legislators saying the kinds of things you've been saying all along, like 1:1 computing for all, getting rid of textbooks, learner centered teaching and so on. I've never heard so many "radical" ideas coming from such high-level people before. Maybe all our hard work won't be in vain for nothing.