All posts by kdr

Hell Is Other #Peeple

Capriciously labeling, ranking, and categorizing people is a nightmare for adults and for children. The powerful negative feelings, thoughts, and psychosocial phenomena associated with being told who you are, being told what you are (or are not) worth, and being publicly branded can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Doing such a thing once is bad enough, but doing it all the time is downright despicable. I am disgusted as both a person and as a professional educator by ideology that idolizes concrete judgment, self-centered importance without regard for others, regards inductive reasoning as supreme, and fervently believes in the worth of some people and the worthlessness of others. Broadly, this embodies Objectivism, a philosophy madly embraced by the far right and rejected by serious academics and scholars of philosophy, and in short, I find it unhealthy, inhumane, and dangerous, and wherever I detect situations in my work with children and with teachers that involves painting with broad brushes, corralling children into predefined pens, and otherwise treating human beings like statistics or objects, I fight it.

Consequently, you can imagine my wrath and scorn when my colleague Rachel forwarded me Caitlin Dewey’s article from the Post describing Peeple, a new app that lets anyone in the world rank you. As she describes it, it’s basically “Yelp for people”

This is, in short, one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard in my time in education and educational technology.

Firstly, let’s get the big one out of the way: It is not your place to judge me. You might in fact judge me, and you have a right to form private internal judgments me, but it is not your role in society, and certainly it is not your place to publicly proclaim your assessment of me as a person from a throne of authority, and Peeple seeks to coronate any idiot who registers.

Has Peeple learned nothing from Lulu (as Caitlin points out) or RateMyTeacher or other platforms that spike briefly for prurient Mean Girls social terrorism, and then fade to rant-fests and mud-slinging?

From the educator’s perspective, I’m alarmed and infuriated by the brazen ignorance of the founders. One of them as quoted in the article called herself “empathetic” and indicated she wanted to “spread love and positivity” and “operate with thoughtfulness.” There is nothing prosocial, empathetic, loving, or positive about providing a nearly-unfettered platform for shame.

Shaming is a neuropsychologically-destructive act, and Peeple creates a condition for slander and vengeance and meanness as well as unfounded aggrandizement and egoism, by allowing individuals to utilize an oversimplified integer-based evaluation method, rooted in nothing more than baseless evidence-free opinion, to judge others. And yes, I indict it for the same reasons I indict grading in schools that is rooted in similar garbage data.

An example: I know a person who says that person respects me tremendously as an educator. I also know that person loathes me as a person because of our deep disagreement on sociology and politics. In Peeple, that person can claim to know me professionally, and then excoriate me for something that 1. has nothing to do with my work as an educator insofar as my duties are concerned, 2. does in fact have everything to do with my work as an educator insofar as those who agree with me on matters of children, individualism, and pedagogy are concerned, and 3. is absolutely, positively none of anyone else’s business. The conversations I’ve had with that person were had with that person, not in a public forum. Public debate and chatting are different things, with different standards of decorum and format. Peeple does not make any effort to distinguish these phenomena, and rightly so: It’s not for anyone else to say who I am, what I do, or how I do it, based on anything but their own perspective, and that perspective is ONLY valid for that person.

Sycophants and egoists, predators and shamers, scapegoaters and sociopaths, you’ve found yet another pile of grist to grind in Peeple, but I’ll thank you all to leave my grainy goodness out of your mill. I will not be participating in such psychopathy.

Praxis in Practice: Unblock (Nearly) Everything

Adult control is the enemy of a child’s learning.

Unnecessary mechanisms of control forge shackles that chain children together into groups, and herd them into corrals we presuppose for them. This is not empowering children, but is adult control, and adult control is not a desirable characteristic when it comes to authentic child learning. We must, wherever we identify it, seize adult control, drag it kicking and screaming out back, and put it down. We should proactively identify restriction that is not absolutely necessary to protect kids and destroy those constraints.

Blocking an internet-based resource writ large – YouTube is the most common example I hear about from lamenting teachers – in order to prevent access to potentially-troubling material is not an educational technology best practice and it is not mandated under law. To say that such large-scale blocking is “a legal requirement” as I sometimes hear is to fundamentally misunderstand not only ed law and case studies on the subject, but to ignore and indict in the same breath the progressive and thoughtful school systems that have paved the way to empower students who have a keen interest in learning from audiovisual illustrations as they may need.

The Children’s Internet Protection Act is extraordinarily simple: No porn. No bloody gory murder. Nothing that is defined as “obscene” under state statute. Those are three very clear definitions, and the vast majority of content that students are trying to access does not fall into any of those three categories. We should have basic internet filtering to ensure that students cannot access pornography, abject violence, and depictions of obscenity as defined locally, as is our legal charge, and then ensure that pretty much everything else under the sun is available to any kid, anytime, anywhere. Yes, some of this content will be low-quality. Yes, some of this content may be inaccurate, outdated, or incomplete. Yes, some of it may be inflammatory or controversial or downright stupid. That’s YouTube.

That’s also life. I believe we have an ethical responsibility to teach children about the world and to live in the world as it is and may be, not as if we would have it be in a sanitized petri dish. Such sanitizing strikes me not only as disingenuous and perilously close to lying to children, but miseducative.

How on earth are we to teach our cubs what rapids are too fast for them or are simply swift waters they can race upon? How are we to teach our cubs the difference between an empty hive full of yummy honey and an active yellowjacket nest? How are we to teach our cubs the difference between a friendly clawless spotted cat and a deadly leopard, if we do not occasionally aid them in interacting at least at a distance with our basic “mama bear” safeties in place? And how do we scaffold the transition from students who need more support (often earlier in development) to savvy users of complex information systems, if we keep things just as locked down for the 18 year old as the 8 year old?

When we focus on building fences and emergency lights and hazard signs along the sides of runways, we aren’t focusing on teaching kids to fly and empowering them to safely and thoughtfully choose their own flight paths and soar independently. This is not to say that we ought to abandon safety, scaffolding, or care. I recognize clearly that it is important sometimes for adults to act to protect children. It is in the mama bear’s nature to sometimes pull back her cub to prevent catastrophic harm. However, “I will protect you when I must” is very different from “I will control you all the time.”

These kinds of policies reflect non-educator thinking.

There are those that disagree with me, but so rarely are those people teachers, so I find. They are more often than not, in my not-insignificant professional experience in this field, voices of dissent from Luddites, anti-technology naysayers, or people that don’t believe that some resources have a place in learning because they don’t personally benefit from those resources. These attitudes are not rooted in empiricism, research, or experience, but are rather (often unlettered) opinions that have nothing to with setting the best policy we can, to ensure students and teachers are as free as possible and to ensure that they both have the fullest access to the fullest possible range of resources, tools, and techniques for learning, anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

The days of the pre-ordered lesson plan with pre-arranged everyone-together-now technology use for basic substitution and common productivity tasks are behind us. That was a 20th century relic of 19th century pedagogy, and every educational technologist worth a shake of salt knows that.

Individually blacklisting offensive sites is a far more precise and far more liberating way of approaching keeping kids safe than to carte blanche block a resource that has helped children around the world. I do not advocate that we force children to be autodidactic, but we ought not restrict autodidacticism when a child desires it, should not assume that these resources have no value and place in a meaningful teacher-child learning partnership, or restrict autogenic impulsive learning opportunities both within the school and without.

I often speak about love, because as I write in my upcoming book, I believe love to be at the center of learning and teaching. Love desires freedom and empowerment, and rallies against forces that deny these things to those we love. Teachers must love children, actively and meaningfully, in order to teach. Disabling access to information is an intrinsically-unloving act. It is, in my estimation, a terrible and totalitarian form of adult control to keep children in the dark, to shut off access to information, and deny them writ large resources from which they may benefit. Organizations around the country have striven tirelessly to provide connectivity and access to children because we know that knowledge really is power. Empowering students to access information at a moment’s notice for whatever reason, whenever and wherever, can only be helpful, if we truly believe that the way a child learns is more important than the way we teach.

Again: Those that disagree with me on these points usually believe at best that teaching is more important than learning, and at worst that neither really matters, so long as the institution’s control is maintained. This lattermost point is underscored notably in overly-restrictive hardware environments. The Albemarle (Virginia) schools have made their students full administrators of their 1:1 devices. Is it more work for their IT people? Sure thing. One of their higher-ups recently told me that they need to, in a given year, re-image about 50% of their elementary level devices, and about 10% of their high school devices.

So what? We exist to work for kids, not the other way around, and if the devices really are for their benefit… why not empower them? Given that most of the time there’s a problem with a device, we re-image it anyway, what’s the real net loss here, as compared to the massive potential gain?

Again, to love: It is unloving not to trust someone. Love does not assume wrongdoing or incapability.

When I go into a classroom, and students are typing on any device, my presumption is that they are individuals and thinkers who are innately deserving of my respect. I value their brains, I love their minds, I uphold their freedoms, I believe they have a right to learn as they naturally learn, to manage information as they choose, to annotate as the choose… I do not compel them to learn a particular way; I want to empower them to learn how their minds work and to get what they need, which may (and statistically, nearly certainly will) differ greatly from the other students in that learning space.

There are times when it’s best for me as a learner not to take notes at all. There are times when meticulous notes or illustrations of some kind are critical. There are times when simply videotaping is just better for me, and there are certainly times when accessing related information that is relevant and of interest that is helpful to my learning in that moment and enriches my comprehension and skill mastery and passion for the subject at hand, in realtime, in situ, is what’s best for me. And it is no one’s right to tell me I may not learn that way or that my brain must conform to anyone else’s command.

And yes, let’s be honest: Frankly, there are times when what the teacher or instructor or administrator is doing is irrelevant to me. Sometimes I already know the subject or skill cold, sometimes better than xe does. Sometimes I know it’s completely irrelevant for me to know bean one about what’s being discussed, and I find more often than not, so do most of the people in that room. I know how my brain works and in those moments I am absolutely pleased to extend into other things and subjects and interests during that otherwise-wasted time, because I am a thinking person.

I find it incredibly disrespectful to think that I as an adult must be told “put your phones away.” I hate it when this happens in meetings. “Everybody put your devices away. Everybody close your computers.” I shall not, and how dare you ask me to do so in the 21st century. It is arrogant presumption to assume that I am unable to “pay attention” with my device in front of me, let alone that what you are about to do is so flawless that it will completely meet the needs of every person in the room. Get over yourself. I am perfectly capable of running my life and learning what I need in the way that I learn, and rising to the challenges at hand, in the ways that work for me.

Why, then, do we insist upon doing this to children? Are adults by default “smarter” or “wiser” because they’re older? I think serious educators everywhere cannot help but chuckle at the idea, it is so absurd. Children are developing human beings, yes, neuroplastic and constantly changing, but they are human beings nevertheless, and I believe it is as sovereign a right to use any tool at hand to learn as it is to access unfettered resources using that tool.

Do I believe that all children have as full an understanding of their own learning modalities and brain functions as compared to a career professional well versed in the subject? No, certainly not, not the least of which is because I don’t “believe” that “All Children” are or do any one thing. But I do think that I owe it to the child to give them the benefit of the doubt to do what they need to do.

How do I know if they need help? Good assessment, of course. But creating sound assessment methods is not the same as “Johnny put that away” and “Sally close your laptop.” The latter is making a massive assumption about what that individual child needs at that individual moment.

If the child has mastery, it should not – and indeed, I purport that it does not – matter if the child did everything with a pencil and paper or with a smartphone or with a tablet or a computer or an abacus or a barrel of monkeys.

I refuse to presuppose the homogeneity of children’s minds and I have no desire to restrict them from using anything and everything they can to learn. I love them too much to do that to them.

Countdown to Publication

I just received word from my publisher, George Johnson at IAP, that “Insurrection: A Teacher Revolution in Defense of Children,” should be in distribution channels within two weeks. After years of work and nearly a year of editing and reading and proofing, the project is nearly done.

But the work? The work is just beginning. We have much ahead of us, brothers and sisters, my beloved revolutionaries. Get ready! Reload this page and click the splash graphic to sign up for the mailing list, and I’ll send you the links the moment the book is available. Get ready!

Praxis in Practice: Trust But Verify

With the ubiquity of technology, we educational technologists have learned that monitoring everything every kid does all the time is not only impractical, it’s also unnecessary. You don’t need to know that every single kid is doing the same thing in class, because that doesn’t matter for learning. What matters for learning is what matters for that child’s learning. Consequently, don’t worry about it if a kid is what in the old days one might call “off task.” Instead, focus on meeting the individual needs of every child, as much as you can and with every resource you have, all the time. Then, ensure that the assessment mechanism demonstrates very clearly to all parties involved exactly what skill mastery the child has and in what way. This isn’t a “gotcha;” it’s allowing for all ways of learning and doing – true ontological and pedagogical liberty – while ensuring skill mastery, which is our charge. Trust the kids to do what they need to do, but verify that they’ve done it through effective omnimodal assessment.

Omnimodal assessment allows for any valid skill mastery. (I write about this in my upcoming book, Insurrection.) If a child can satisfactorily demonstrate that the kid has the skill at hand, it really doesn’t matter what the kid is doing while you’re lecturing. The fact of the matter is that even if we accept the most grossly-oversimplified descriptions of neurodiversity – like VAK learning styles – we can roughly estimate that if you’re lecturing, about half of your class (Kinesthestics and hybrids that are non-Auditory) aren’t getting diddly squat out of what you’re doing. Forcing students to conform to your teaching style or thinking modality is damaging to those learners. (Jung described this as the “falsification of type.”) Consequently, who cares if a kid isn’t doing what you would be or want them to be doing, so long a they’re doing what they need to be doing?

This is my focus for my staff, and for my professional speaking and professional development, this fall: Shifting from “how I teach” to “how they learn.”

While the public school has certain legal requirements, those requirements are actually really simple: prevent kids from accessing “obscene” (under Miller) pornographic, or “harmful” (under the Neighborhood Act) content. Tracking what kids are doing online is not an explicit requirement of the Children’s Internet Protection Act. So disenthrall yourself from “pay attention” and “do what you’re supposed to do,” and instead shift to “do what you need to do to learn,” and use effective assessment to determine what works and what doesn’t.

If a kid isn’t learning, what can you do to help that child change xyr behavior and strategy to do so? That, my friends, is progressive pedagogy.

Praxis in Practice: Designing an All-Student Space

If we’re serious about student-centered practices, then we need student-centered learning environments. That, by definition, means eliminating teacher-centered structures. This year, I tackled the computer lab at my school, transforming it from a bolted-down traditional 30-machine computer lab to a space designed for kids to bring their 1:1 laptops into a space with students controlling their own learning in mind. I eliminated the teacher workstation, eliminated the “front of the classroom,” and installed furniture and technology designed for kids of all sized and intended to be moved, used, and abused.

Most computer labs, like most classrooms, put the teacher “up front” and get everybody facing the same way. To heck with that! This design reinforces “teacher gives, kids passively and quietly accept” banking pedagogy. Power in a teacher’s hands is useless, so as Red Hot Chili Peppers riffs, “give it away give it away give it away now!” My new lab has tables and chairs of all heights and sizes, beanbag chairs, tall tables, short tables, modular desks, white boards of all shapes and sizes, screens “scattered” around the room, and I’m going to pile every piece of technology that isn’t bolted down into this room.

How will I control the technology in this room? I won’t.

See, that’s part of the idiotic traditional ideology in schools: It inherently mistrusts kids, because it misperceives kids as “bad” in some way. This year, at my school, I’m putting my money where my mouth is: not teacher-centered, but child-centered, and that means child-empowered and child-empowering. Technology in a closet does no good, so I’m “turning them loose.” I believe fervently that as students see the efforts to put them in charge of their learning, and see us making strides to eliminate intellectual and age-based discrimination against them, they’ll thrive. This is their school, not ours, and they should have a right to use absolutely anything they want.

Revolutionize your group learning spaces by tearing down teacher structures – which requires teachers to shift pedagogically from being “in charge” or “responsible” to being meaningful partners with each kid for that kid’s learning – and build up structures made for kids, to be used by kids, in a variety of ways.

About Praxis in Practice: 

My new blog series “Praxis in Practice” will detail hit-the-ground-running right-now applications of the philosophy and pedagogy I espouse in “Insurrection.”

In the legendary “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” Freire described praxis as “reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.” 

Educational Technology: The Job versus The Field

For those for whom educational technology is a job, they show up to work every day, do what is necessary for the necessary amount of time, and go home. They’ll plug things in and clean things up and cable things together, format and configure and image. People on the edtech job will show teachers that they can change the color of their SmartBoard pens and give them mice when they want them and answer questions about what a document camera can do, and in every other way help give teachers what teachers think they want, what administrators believe they want, and generally help to support the teacher in pursuing teaching the way they want to with the maximum possible ease. That is the definition of facilitation: Educational technologists who are doing the job are facilitators. They facilitate teaching and learning, in the context of the school, which by definition concerned with ensuring that teachers are comfortable.

I often hear “job” contrasted with “calling.” Usually I object to the idea that teaching or things like it are “callings,” because it implies invocation, but in the case of this post, I genuinely was invoked to become an educational technologist. Dr. Jan Streich (a rockstar transformation agent in Virginian edtech circles) once saw my work teaching adaptive instruments for use in elementary special education settings to teachers at an inservice day, and suggested I would be a good professional developer. It is not absurd, then, to suggest that I became a music educator because of my desire, but I was “called” to become an educational technologist, just as I was later “called” to become an teacher leader. (It seems many of my music teacher-turned-educational technologist friends, of which there are many, experienced similar situations, lending further counterpoint to my original language objection.) However, in this case, I think I’ll simply state that for people who think their work is broader than “a job,” educational technology is “a field” of education.

For those for whom educational technology is a field, it is change agency incarnate.

It is disruptive by nature. It is futuristic by nature. That is to say, we are futurists: We have a responsibility not to see things as they are or to pursue only that which is immediate possible – though we do do those things, as we encompass “the job” as well – but primarily we are change agents tasked with a macroanalysis of the condition and nature of teaching and learning using every conceivable and, this most critically, yet-to-be-conceived resources. We are holistic by nature, we in the field, and believe that our daily responsibilities extend not only beyond the walls of our schools and into our neighboring schools and the schools of our neighbors, but our school districts, our states, the nation, the world, and the future endeavors of our species on this planet when it comes to learning about ourselves, about the world, how both of those things work, and how we interact.

In that pursuit, we will constantly question absolutely everything, not just including the things over which we have the most influence that is the local, but especially those things. The things that are right in front of us are the easy things because we do have influence. The things that make us uncomfortable, that challenge us, that run contrary to our expectations and experiences, are the things that lie at the event horizon of positive transformation and growth. We have an ethical imperative to question our leaders, our institutions, and the way things have been done. This is not to say we require all things to change, but we do require that all things be eligible for change. We have a professional duty, a professional responsibility to children, to teachers, to education, but to learning and epistemology writ large to question if there is a better way to do everything that we do in schools. Administratively, organizationally, materially, in terms of communication, organization, structure, from furnishings and seating to wall color and lighting, from imaging and communications to storage and expression, from creation of sound to editing of video, to the three dimensional immersive replication of virtual environments using technology we have not yet invented.

That is our charge. We are the embodiment of change agency and futurism in the public schools, and it is an extraordinary field that is not fanciful even though it embraces fantasy. It is not farcical even though it  embraces absurdity. And it is not unrealistic even though it ponders exactly that.

We are qualified, degreed, credentialed, certified school administrators and teachers who are rooted n the classroom with a deep and abiding love of children and learning, and who have a professional and moral calling to find ways that we can and should do better, as people charged with doing what’s best for children using absolutely everything at our disposal.

I don’t expect everyone in educational technology or educational leadership to be as passionate about this as I am, but I have seen first-hand, over and over again, the tremendous good for children and learning that can be achieved through broadening the scope of potential change. Instead of educational technology serving as a single beaker of “technology oil” that is left on the shelf and taken up when convenient or expected, let educational technology be upended and poured over and into every part of teaching and learning, infusing and transforming elements we may never have known could benefit from the futurist’s analysis, the dreamer’s visions, and the child advocate’s optics.

The field of educational technology is, to me, much broader than a job. It is a way of seeing education with the broadest possibility.

MegaMan: My Zef ’89 YJ, from Pickup to Painted

In mid-March 2015, I bought a 1989 Jeep YJ (“Wrangler”) from a great guy named Ken. Built in Canada, the vehicle spent the first twenty years of its life taking on only 23,000 miles, mildly used on the island of Nantucket. In 2009, sold to its second-ever owner, Ken, the YJ lived another 32K in Georgia. When this vehicle came to my attention – or more accurately my brother’s attention, who brought it to mine – it had 55,000 original miles on it, and was up for auction on eBay.

A shot from Ken’s eBay listing

I put in my bid at my “no higher” rate, and was having dinner in Pittsburgh when the moment rolled around, and amid some nervousness and a feeling of panic, I was amazed: I bought a Jeep.

I was on a plane not long after that, a one-way ticket down to Atlanta.

Arlington National Cemetery just after takeoff from DCA
A lot of alone time to think

I was nervous on the flight. I kept thinking, “am I mad? What have I done… There are so many reasons why should be obviously stupid to me…” I’d never done anything like this, and I certainly didn’t know what to expect.

We landed in driving rain. Atlanta looked bleak, and it was surprisingly cold.

Touchdown, but is it a score?

I had Ken’s number, and texted to locate him. We had had a couple of conversations, and it all seemed to be going just fine. I followed his instructions, and there, off at the end of the pickup area… I saw it.

The first moment I saw the Jeep. I had to snap it. It was going to be the beginning of a great thing or a major disaster, I knew.

I got in, and Ken and I circled around and chatted for several minutes, trying to find a place to inspect the vehicle. We couldn’t find the cell phone waiting area (because it was closed), and so we kept hopping out, taking a peek, and getting chased off by the police. I got a glance under the hood. I kept looking around on the interior, smelling unfamiliar fuel fumes, and it was really setting in that this was an old vehicle. I mean, this was a 27-year-old workhorse of a sport utility vehicle that put the utility first. I was frightened, apprehensive, and uncomfortable, but there was something really special about this thing. I don’t know why, but getting the hood up, and seeing the bones chugging away, looking at the gray primer and bleak sky hardly reflected in the windshield, I just felt like I had to take him home. Not out of pressure: I was prepared to say “I’ll eat the deposit and take the one-star buyer rating, but I can’t do this.” I knew I could walk away if I had to, but I’ve been around cars for a long time, growing up in an automotive family, and I’d done my homework. I was prepared, knew what to look for, and was at least confident enough to know this was what I’d paid for.

Although the oil cap was missing. Ken was obviously mortified; he’d just checked the oil back at home before coming out, and had left the cap in his garage. Well, at least I knew my first order of business in the project!

A handshake, a check handed over, Ken left at the airport to be picked up… and off I went. I GPSed to the nearest AutoZone… Miles and miles away. Far too far. So I GPSed to the nearest Advanced Auto. Right around the corner! This, more than anything else, began a string of very positive experiences with Advance; it’s nothing against AutoZone. It’s just that Advance always seems to be where I need ’em, and to have what I need. I spend $2.99 on a new oil cap, my first Jeep part, buttoned him up, and off I went.

In all rainy glory, ready to get on the road

Quirky didn’t begin to describe this thing as I got on the road. Firstly, what is up with the plastic nautical flag placards? Those aren’t stickers; they’re big honking plastic things adhered to the left side of the cowl. For the record, they spell “VYM.” Perhaps having been on Nantucket for 20 years, it’s “(Something) Yacht Marina?” Iono, but quirky quirk quirk.

No paint on the hood, showing body work on the sides, a caved in back right corner, I started to learn the quirks right away. The left turn signal didn’t work. The horn didn’t work. The engine had vacuum leaks for days, giving a very loud “TUK TUK TUK” chugging sound as you accelerated, and the big old 4.2L inline six dogged something awful. 55 MPH was a stretch, and that made the drive home from Atlanta to Arlington quite a journey.

And yes it poured rain the ENTIRE way home

The hard top was badly secured, with the windshield rail screws dropping out into my lap ever few miles unless I reached up and manually tightened them. The gauge clusters were almost entirely useless, including the non-functional fuel gauge. Fortunately from my motorcycle days, I could track mileage with an odometer, and I low-balled the fuel consumption rate (with the engine inefficiency I banked on 12 MPG to be super-safe)  and estimated accordingly, stopping for fuel every 120 miles, not being able to determine visually if the tank was the 10 or 15 gallon, as I’d researched that they looked the same.

My first order of business was to get the major mechanical work done, or so I thought. I did a little tinkering, but didn’t want to get too invested until I’d had a professional look at the beast down to the bones. I found who I thought was “my guy” as a mechanic, who did a new cap, rotor, and plugs, and did a complete fluid swap. It was apparent that the transfer cases and transmission had never been serviced. However, between geographic inconvenience, a lack of communication, and portents pointing toward a less-than-ideal match, I really needed somebody more on my page. I resolved to look for a new mechanic, but first, it was time to hit the beach.

Corolla Beach, North Carolina, in the Outer Banks

I had resolved to do a significant amount of work while at the beach. My brother was supportive; I suppose it showed that I was pretty apprehensive about diving into something so new. I was terrified I was going to screw this thing up, but I kept reminding myself of a phrase a colleague shared: “Jeeps are like big kid Legos. Don’t worry about it.”

And so, I dove in.



While at the beach, I tore down the entire windshield and dashboard. I did my own electrical work, and rewired the entire dashboard, including the tachometer and speedometer (including a new mechanical cable I had overnighted so I could finish the project), water temp gauge, fuel gauge (yay!), replacement clock to match the original cluster pattern, oil pressure gauge, and voltmeter, and replaced the headlamp and dimmer switch assemblies, along with LED replacement lights for all dash indicators (though I couldn’t get two of them to work; I later fixed those), a new steering wheel, new front dash speakers, repaired the courtesy lights, completely rewired and rebuilt the stereo and wiring harness, cleaned up the antenna connection, cleaned up the heat/air hardware, and got some of the work started on the new seatbelts, though the more I got into the tub, the more I realized how significantly-frozen some of the nuts and bolts had become from Georgia sweltering.

Dash: Done

There was a significant pause in my work on what my nephew had deemed “KeefaJeepa,” but who I called MegaMan. (MegaMan blue is my favorite color, because it’s my inner 12 year old’s favorite color. It was my favorite video game when I was a kid.) I’d really turned a corner at the beach, feeling very strong affinity toward this beast I was getting to know inside and out, but the drive home was an adventure.

I experienced, for the first time, what I now know is called “Death Wobble,” or DW. DW is the result of misalignment of the drivetrain and steering apparatus, and the Jeep “Wranglers” are especially prone to this phenomenon, so much so that this “shake the teeth out of your head” shimmying has its own name. I limped home from North Carolina at about 45 MPH, terrified of shaking Mega to pieces. It was time to find that new mechanic I’d dreamed of, someone trustworthy, someone responsive someone who knew carbureted machines, someone who would honestly tell me “no way, dude” if there was no hope, someone who would estimate honestly and not take advantage of me.

Someone like Mr. Kim.

Research, reference, and ridiculously shadily driving by the shop a couple of times led me to go in for an estimate over at Skyline in Arlington. Wow. I felt listened-to, I felt informed, and I felt I’d gotten an honest estimate of what it’d take. I told him I wanted it done right, not quickly and to keep it for as long as it took.

Almost three weeks later, the phone rang.

MegaMan was powered up! It had taken a massive amount of effort to drill out the engine bolts to get the exhaust manifold out, but once resolved, a new gasket, new lines, full brakes front and back, fixed the broken sway bar link, replaced the sway bar itself, got the failing pieces of suspension swapped out (getting parts took a little while, adding to the time), got the brake line leak resolved, buttoned up the distribution valve that I hadn’t been able to fix myself at the beach… Like a new machine! Finally, this hefty, torquey, strong-willed 4.2L was sounding, acting, and driving like the machine it was built to be.

What a transformation!

With the major mechanicals done, I turned to my friend George, who has rapidly become my “shadetree mechanic,” a phrase I’d never heard before this year, but as apt a coinage as ever there was! George, an engineer by trade, has automotive skill and mechanical expertise that just blows my mind. He knows tools and how to use them like nobody I’ve ever seen. (Just the other day, he had the entire front of his wife’s car apart in the driveway in a way that looked to me like it’d never go back together, but in 20 minutes, he had the thing back together and purring. Amazing.)

George has helped me immeasurably; there’s just no way to describe how far away from “done” I’d be without him. Our first major project together was helping to get the old hardware for the tumble-forward flip-up back seat out. There was no back seat when I bought it, and I knew I wanted to be able to take my nieces and nephew out on the beach the next time we were there together, so properly, safely securing the kiddos was a must-do.

I learned more about how to deal with screwed up bolts than I ever thought I would!

Take that, bolt! The Shadetree Angle Grinder of Doom has +3 to decapitation.

I went with Corbeau for the back seat, and I anticipate swapping the front ones out someday for matching stuff. I also went with black vinyl, to match the current interior. I really want a classic, OEM-for-the-most-part look, without sacrificing modern conveniences or logical upgrades.

You’ll notice the outdoor speakers just sort of sitting there. Yeah, as a former professional musician, that isn’t gonna work. But don’t you fret, sports fans.

After George helped me with a few more things, it was time to bite the bullet and get MegaMan repainted. I’d done as much as I felt comfortable doing before paint, but to get the big stuff done next, including swapping the hard top for a soft top, I needed to have the paint done.

I went with Colm out at Maaco-Fairfax, and this guy is awesome. He was fun, conversational, straight forward, and heck, he even helps local schools by painting their electric cars and such! He gave me a totally fair estimate, did spectacular work, and even let me use his garage to re-trim and re-outfit the vehicle, as I did a bunch of the prep work myself. His garage guys were kind as well.

I wanted the paint back to OEM, keeping that Spinnaker Blue Metallic HQ6/BJ it came in, and Colm came through with flying… well, color!

It is at this point that MegaMan really came to life, I think.



With fresh paint and enthusiasm in my heart, I tackled the rest of the major project work, including the soft top. Again, without Shadetree George, no way would I have been able to get the windshield brackets un-messed-up or the mirrors installed. He made remarkably quick work of it, and helped me correct some geometry problems with the top mounting hardware with skill I totally lack, as well as helping me get the speaker bar installed.

An actual shadetree!

The windshield is a LOT easier to take down once you’ve already fought the bolts in the Battle of the Beach.
I really hope never to take this dashboard apart again.
Mirror relocation brackets, in place, and looking spectacular. OEM chrome mirrors from the half doors with aftermarket relocation brackets to put them on the windshield frame allow me to take the full doors off, and still have legal mirrors, a function I really wanted from the start of my dream experience.

Ho! Ho! and up she rises! (MegaMan is Spinnaker Blue. He lived on Nantucket. C’mon, no nautical theme humor?)

I give Rampage a lot of credit: this is a very well designed full door soft top kit.
Six speaker sound bar, OEM style but with modern electronics and hardware, will see those outdoor speaker pods forever banished from the back seat.

And that, my friends, brings us to today. From pickup to paintjob to peachy person, I’m ecstatic to be “done” with the major parts of this project.

I’ve added 1/4″ plastic cap plugs to the OEM interior holes, and am leaving the upper part of the door exposed and Spinnaker Blue lovely, having replaced the interior latch and lock, adding a custom-fit interior sweep to the inside of the door panel, completely restoring the original interior panel, adding an OEM replacement crank, and a brand new pull handle. The other side matches exactly.
You’ve come a long way, MegaMan, and I love that we can communicate now using top-notch gauges. You feel responsive and happy!
Original unrestored eBay listing on the left, finished on the right.
Beach work week on the left, Shadetree restored on the right.

This morning, I celebrated by adding the vinyl Jeep emblem, commemorating the end of the major part of this journey. MegaMan has his namesaske on the side, what my mother called “a touch of whimsy,” and a very happy inner 12 year old’s bearhug of happiness.

All things told, the list of work to date roughly includes:

  • replaced oil cap
  • all new dash panels
  • tachometer
  • speedometer
  • oil gauge
  • fuel gauge
  • clock
  • water temp gauge
  • voltmeter
  • all leds in dash indicator
  • completely repaired and rewired stereo
  • replaced courtesy lights with leds
  • repaired parking brake indicator
  • restored shift boot
  • restored shifter knobs, transfer case knobs to OEM
  • pulled down windshield, cleaned out
  • replaced hard top connection hardware with modern screw-on fasteners
  • replaced lift glass pistons
  • replaced lift glass T-handle and spring mechanisms
  • removed and replaced all original weatherstripping
  • removed original steel door mounted mirrors
  • installed chrome mirror relocation brackets on windshield hinges
  • installed OEM chrome tall mirrors
  • replaced interior door locks / latches
  • restored interior door panels
  • replaced interior door pulls
  • added custom-fit quadratec floor mats
  • drilled out and replaced flip-forward seat hardware
  • installed new Corbeau flip-forward seat
  • replaced 3/8” vacuum hoses
  • drilled out engine bolts for exhaust manifold
  • new manifold gasket
  • complete tune up include plugs, rotor, cap
  • replaced all fluids including trans, both transfer cases, etc with top-of-the-line stuff
  • full brake job front and back
  • pulled dash and replaced front dash speakers in original locations with modern hardware
  • installed overhead sound bar
  • all led signals, indicators, brake and backup with load resistors
  • complete repaint to OEM spinnaker blue metallic
  • replaced OEM standard hardware with OEM chrome hardware on hood
  • replaced chrome headlight bezels
  • replaced OEM antenna mast and antenna cable
  • replaced OEM trim (“Wrangler,” “Jeep,” “4.2L”)
  • added OEM AMC 258 air cleaner decal
  • replaced windshield brackets with chrome upgrade, hex bolts instead of torx
  • new complete soft top replacement kit
  • spare tire cover

But by “done,” I guess I don’t mean “done,” because there are a few things left to do, not the least of which is get quicker at putting the soft top down… and back up in case of rain! But my to-do list still includes:

  • Wire up the overhead sound bar, which I’ll probably do soon
  • Finish the tail tonneau cover install to achieve a full rear window seal on lift gate
  • Finish swapping out the old seatbelts with the new replacement, which will probably involve drilling out the old bolts and adding new reinforcement steel to the tub
  • Getting a professional to get the body bolts off (and probably replaced as I expect them to break) so I can add sturdy and permanent  nerf bars
  • Swap the lower T50 bolts for hex bolts on windshield brackets so I don’t have to screw around with a Torx-50 bit
  • Swap out or repaint the glove box gloss black to match the angled gauge cluster panels
  • Restore the sun visors, which I have, reinstall with non-Torx hardware (I swear, I hate those things)
  • Replace the windshield (bullseye crack)

Down the line, I can see driving lights, the headlight relay hack to get max power to the lamps and an HID conversion kit. I’d also like to get OEM style wheels, put a 2″ lift on it, and get up to 32 or 33 inch tires for a little more capability. I’m not going to rock climb the thing, and once inspected and properly licensed, he’ll be my daily driver, but I do like the idea of having just a bit more height and footing.

All in all, for a now-56,000 original mile 1989 YJ 4.2L as pretty as he is, I’m really, really happy, and have done it all under budget. I cannot thank enough the loved ones, friends, and service providers who have helped me through so far.

Welcome back, MegaMan. You’re better than ever.

Add Your Gender Pronouns to Twitter

“Cisgender” is a term that refers to individuals who identify with the gender to which they were assigned at birth. For example, I am a cisgender male. My experiences as a person are consistent with that of a male: I feel male, I identify as male, I generally express my gender in a male(-ish) way, and have XY genetics, not that any of that is any of your business.

Because of my biology – and for no other reason, which is the issue – I have been called by male pronouns my entire life. I was called a “boy” as a child, and have always been referred to as “he” or “him,” with the possessive pronoun “his” applied to things that someone thinks are mine. However, this is a gross assumption about who I am. I had no choice in that matter. Individuals decide how they should be identified and referred to, not an obstetrician. Transgender, genderqueer, agender, genderfluid, and other non-cisgendered individuals are victims of the English language’s lack of gender neutral pronouns. Other societies have taken this issue far more seriously than ours. For example, in 2013, Sweden officially changed its language to include a gender-neutral pronoun, which facilitates eliminating gender assumptions in language. As PracticalAndrogyny blogger Nat Titman points out, alternative forms of address have been around for some-odd four decades, but English is not a rapidly-evolving language.

English speakers have several options for referring to people in non-binary ways. As a writer, I often attempt to pluralize, despite it being somewhat inconsistent with my ferociously-individualist approach to teaching and learning. Because “they” is gender-neutral, many individuals prefer to be referred to by “they/them” pronouns, even singularly. (This often tweaks some of my English teacher friends, who say it is “incorrect,” but which is worse? Nontraditional pluralization, or forcing a person into a box for your convenience?)

Still others prefer invented pronouns, such as “xe.” I actually use this quite frequently now because I find it inoffensive in practice. Pronounced “zee,” it is a compromise between “he” and “she.” If you speak it out loud, it’s actually quite facile in practice across its declensions: “I think xe is very nice. Did you meet xem? That’s xyr jacket over there.” However, because it can call attention, there are those who eschew such inventions.

So which pronoun should you use to refer to an individual? The pronouns they choose for themselves, of course, and you should not assume what those pronouns may be… which brings us to my point:

I concur absolutely, wholeheartedly, and passionately with Twitter user Em (@heartIines, who I follow enthusiastically, because they’re brilliant) who recently tweeted that cisgender people ought to be as forthcoming with their pronouns as other relevant personal facts. (I am, for the record, a Sagittarius, though I do not post that in my Twitter profile.)

I believe that all educators should include their gender pronouns in their Twitter profiles. If you are a cisgender person, posting your pronouns in your profile helps reinforce that nobody should assume anything about anyone, and we have a responsibility as role models for children to ensure we do not confound gender any more than it naturally is for the  psychosocially-developing child mind.

In typical educational technologist fashion, here’s a tutorial!

First, log in to Twitter, and click on your name to go to your own profile page. Find the “Edit Profile” button on the right, beneath your header, marked here with the green arrow:

1. Click “Edit Profile”

Next, on the left, find the “Location” field. This has rapidly become the proper place to put your pronouns. (Nobody cares where you live, and if it’s really important, put it in your profile description above it.)

2. Type the pronoun(s) you prefer, separated by slashes, without spaces.

When you’re done, click the blue “Save Changes” button over on the right where you found the “Edit Profile” button, and you’re done.

If you are a cisgender male, like me, you might type “he/him,” indicating you prefer to be addressed thusly: “He is a nice person. That belongs to him.” I am unoffended by pluralization, so I have no problem with someone referring to me thusly: “They are a nice person. That belongs to them.”

I haven’t included “xe/xem” not because I’m offended by it – I’m perfectly fine with that! – but because I’m just fine with the traditionally-male nomenclature, and so I think that’ll be easiest for people.

This is not an insignificant issue for many of our students. I know  students at my own school who have strong feelings about their pronouns, students who are trying on pronouns at any given time (and including that in the Location field helps us honor the references chosen by children, even as they grow), and students who have pronoun combinations and preferences that I would not know they prefer unless they’d told me.

Consequently, I encourage all educators and those who are involved with children to model good online citizenship and to honor the individual’s right to be who they choose to be, and include their pronouns in their profiles.

And if anybody asks who told you this is important, you can point at me and say “Xe did!”