Student voice robot

#StudentVoice is NOT the Same as #EdTech

Technology in education is not student voice. Using tech in schools is not student voice. In no way, shape or form does student voice require tech. When it comes to student voice, BYOD, 1:1, tablets, smartphones, labs, carts, texting, social media are OPTIONS, not requirements.

There’s a myth being sold by some ed tech companies today that using their specific kind of tech, their unique product, or their proprietary program. That’s simply not true.

Student voice does not belong to any one company, nonprofit, approach or activity. This is as true for ed tech as it is for curriculum writers, test writers, policymakers, or anyone else. Just like there can’t be a student voice robot that speaks for students, there can’t be a single technology, innovation or activity that wholesales student expression.

This is true for many reasons, but perhaps the elemental reason is the very definition of student voice. Student voice is any expression of any student about anything related to education and learning. People don’t like that definition because it doesn’t meet their particular desire for students.

From my own experience working with a variety of partners in ed tech, I have found a few who are earnestly committed to engaging student voice throughout education.

However, a large number of ed tech professionals are more committed to selling product and making schools do what they want them to than they are to student voice. VERY few people today are earnestly committed to student voice.

I am not a Luddite or anti-tech, largely because I’m committed to authentic student engagement. Tech can authentically engage students. However, tech is not student voice; there’s a difference.

 


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I Train No More

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My friends, colleagues and students, I train no more. Today, I was reading the book How to Worry Less About Money by John Armstrong when I came across this quote:

Training teaches how to carry out a specific task more efficiently and reliably. Education, on the other hand, opens and enriches a person’s mind. To train a person, you need know nothing about who they really are, or what they love, or why. Education reaches out to embrace the whole person. Historically, we have treated money as a matter of training, rather than education in its wider and more dignified sense.

From now on, I educate. Join me in this venture by visiting my website at http://adamfletcher.net

Adults Ignoring Reality

One of the most powerful experiences in my career has been to be part of the emerging Student Voice movement. After rattling around the US and Canada promoting student voice for a decade, in 2012 I heard from several different young people and adults that they were starting campaigns to promote Student Voice. Some of them burnt out quick, but a few have kept going. Joining the ranks of the long-timers, these campaigns have had tremendous impacts on K-12 schools across the nation, and its been exciting to be part of.

One of the greatest concerns that I’ve developed, though, has been the homogenization of Student Voice. It was something I feared when I wrote the Meaningful Student Involvement Idea Guide back in 2002. When adults start listening to students, they routinely and almost inevitably whitewash those voices and gloms them into one convenient, predictable and easy script. Suddenly, all Student Voice is the same, with adults hearing students saying the same thing in the same ways, no matter what their backgrounds, experiences, or ideas actually all.

There are a lot of problems with that, not the least of which being that its inauthentic and dishonest. Maybe the worst thing to happen is that it robs students of their diversity, which no other place in society does.

With adults ignoring reality, it becomes vital for a counternarrative to emerge. Something has to balance out the stereotyping and invalidity this Student Voice represents.

 

10 Questions for Authentic Student Voice

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see whether you’re ignoring reality:

  1. Do your Student Voice activities engage students who are not traditional student leaders?
  2. Are some of the responses you receive about Student Voice surprising or upsetting to you?
  3. Have any of your Student Voice activity participants ever failed a class? Gotten in-school suspension? Been suspended from school?
  4. Are there more ways to listen to Student Voice than simply talking and listening?
  5. Do the adult allies in your Student Voice activities reflect the diversity of your school’s student body?
  6. Are students’ hesitant to talk in your Student Voice activities?
  7. Do Student Voice activities routinely discuss diversity, difference, stereotypes, or other daily realities of students?
  8. Can students share things that adults might not agree with?
  9. Do students actually share things adults do not agree with or appreciate?
  10. Can students do things, or are their actual voices all that should be heard?

 

Resources

If your school genuinely values Student Voice, it is essential to make space for all students to be heard no matter what they have to say. Its also important to understand that Student Voice is any expression of Any Student about Anything related to School. You can find more information about how to engage diverse students at SoundOut.org.

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Supporting Adult Allies of Youth

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The other week I heard from Jose*, an innercity high school teacher. He wrote this:

For seven years I taught in a pleasant rural school where students were receptive to me and how I teach. I engage students, and work very hard to get them working authentically on projects that matter, empowering them in my classroom and in the school community. For the last five years I have worked in an urban middle school. No matter how how hard I work to make the curriculum interesting and relevant, no matter how kind and fair I am to my students in an effort to build goodwill and positive working relationships/partnerships, they do not listen and are not receptive.

 

They have their own agenda and it does not involve respecting adults or the school — I can not speak without being interrupted. We have backtalk, rude behavior, students starting arguments with students constantly — they are only interested in their own social agenda. As a result we end up having security remove students from the classroom on a daily basis. Most days I have to toss at least one student out within the first five minutes — they do not even give teachers a chance. I am ready to leave the profession because of the stress.

I thought hard about Jose’s writing, because a lot of it sounded familiar. Then, after meditating on it for a while, I remembered another teacher who I’d heard struggling in a similar way. I analyzed their situation and assessed their circumstance. I answered in earnest, and when I finally heard back it was because they were disappointed with my conclusions. So rather than respond directly to Jose, I’m going to ask him to help himself.

Staying committed to supporting young people can be challenging. Often spending too many hours and earning too few rewards, its important for people who support young people to be honest about how its going. If you’re a parent, youth worker, educator, counselor, or anyone else who strives to be an adult ally, you need to learn to work through the struggle. We all need to learn to work through the struggle, if we’re going to stay committed.

13 Essential Questions for Adult Allies

We each need to know how to work through the struggle of supporting young people every day. The following questions are intended to help adult allies to young people ask themselves whether they need to consider something different. They’re aren’t finished, and if you have any suggestions please leave them in the comments section. Also, let me know if they’re useful for you.

So, if you’re a struggling teacher, counselor, parent, youth worker, or other adult ally to young people, take a moment and answer the following questions:

  • Have you ever decided to have a good day with the young people you’re around, only to have it last for just a few hours? Most of us in who support young people make all kinds of promises to ourselves. We cannot keep them. Then we come to understand that engaging young people requires being honest, and we start to tell the truth to ourselves and young people.
  • Do you ever wish children and youth would just grow up sometimes, and stop being so childish? Adult allies to young people do not project their demands on youth; instead, we accept them as they are, for who they are. We see potential, but do not demand certain outcomes. Instead, we work with who we are.
  • Have you ever switched from supporting one type of young people to another in the hope that this would keep you from burning out? Adult allies to young people support young people in many ways. We spend time with them everyday. Or we donate money. Or we advocate for them. Or we volunteer for boards. You name it, we do it. Anything we do we see through the lenses of supporting young people, because that is who we are.
  • Have you had to quit a job supporting young people during the past year in order to stay or become mentally healthy? This is a pretty sure sign you’re not sustainable in your role as an adult ally to young people.
  • Do you need to be around young people to feel “alive”? At one time or another, most adult allies to youth have wondered why we were not like most people, who really can be around anyone and be healthy and alive.
  • Do you envy people who do not work with young people? Be honest! Eventually, you have to find something else to do if you’re an educator or youth worker, because it will only get worse for you, not better. Eventually, you will not like young people at all, and will quit in anger or dire necessity. Your only hope may be to quit now before radical emotions take over.
  • Have you had problems connected with being an adult ally to young people during the past year? Most well-meaning adults will say it is the people they work with or the program they deliver that frustrates them. Many times, we can not see that trying to support young people is making our lives worse. At that point, we stop solving problems and start becoming the problem.
  • Is it easier for you to support young people in your job or larger community than it is to support the children and youth in your own home or program? Most of us started our jobs thinking it was grand. If young people aren’t cooperative though, or if the program isn’t just right, we get frustrated and have to leave or quit.
  • Do you ever try to get “extra” time with young people because you didn’t get enough at work, home, church or otherwise? Many adult allies trick ourselves into thinking that we can’t do enough at work, and when we’re done getting paid we have to keep going. However, we come to realize that it is not self-sustainable to keep going, and that at the end of our day, we have to stop, for our own good and the good of the young people we work with. Same with parents.
  • Do you tell yourself you can get a job doing anything, or be any kind of parent you want to, but you keep supporting young people as an adult ally even when you don’t want to? Many of us know that we have boundaries, but we don’t acknowledge them or work within them. Instead, we soldier through hoping to make a difference. We are not though.
  • Have you missed days of work or taken a sick day at home because you didn’t want to support the young people you’re around every day? When we don’t allow ourselves time off, many adult allies “call in sick” despite the truth that we need time to recuperate our hearts and minds more than our bodies.
  • Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not support young people? Many adult allies start off well-intentioned, hoping to make a difference in the lives of someone younger than ourselves. Once we do the work though, whether parenting or counseling or teaching or coaching or whatever, we discover that we have limits. Then we feel trapped. Eventually it takes a toll on us, and we have to admit that we shouldn’t be doing the work we’re doing anymore. If we’re a parent, we know we have to get support, either from a spouse or friend or extended family.

If we are authentic adult allies to young people, we all struggle with our roles supporting them. You are likely to be more aware of the effects of adults on youth throughout society, and more empathetic with youth in general. I say this because I’ve worked with thousands of teachers, parents, counselors, and other adult allies to youth, and they all say so and show me as much. Many of them found out their truths the hard ways though: Burn out, getting fired, or physical injuries resulting from sloppy self-care.

But again, only you can decide whether you think you should keep being an active, engaged ally to young people. Try to keep an open mind on the subject. If the answer is YES, I offer a lot of materials to help support you, and the world does too. Just contact me.

I will not promise to solve your life’s problems. But together, we can see you how you can continue to support young people without sacrificing yourself.

*I changed the name of the teacher who shared this story at his request

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

 

I have seen three primary ways adults relate to youth, no matter whether the relationship is parenting, teaching, or policing. The first way is over-permissiveness; the second is responsible; and over-restrictive. Before I explain these, its important to remind you that I’m an adult and these are my opinions; a young person and other adults surely will see things differently.

Over-permissive relationships between children, youth and adults allow young people to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever and however they want. Disregarding the longer term effects of how young people relate to adults, over-permissiveness can incapacitate young peoples’ ability to successfully relate to the broader society around them. By allowing too much freedom, these relationships give children and youth “just enough rope to hang themselves” by extinguishing their inherent away their sense of purpose and belonging throughout the larger society in which we all belong. Based in a well-meaning notion of equality between young people and adults, these relationships conveniently relieve adults of the burden of responsibility in parts or all throughout the lives of young people. They often happen to encourage freedom.

Over-restrictive relationships between young people and adults override the decision-making capabilities of children and youth and disable their inherent creativity in order to assure adults’ sense of authority, protection, and ultimately, ownership over young people. By discouraging young people from experiencing the freedom and ability they need in their natural learning process as well as throughout their social and familial worlds, these relationships can take away enthusiasm and unfettered joy, only to replace it with rigidity and structure. Over-restrictive relationships enforce inequality between children and youth, and occur by adults enforcing their power with heavy-handed education, tight schedules and severe rules, and harsh punishment. They often happen to encourage safety.

Responsible relationships between children, youth and adults are based on trust, mutual respect, communication, and meaningful interactions. Positioning each person as an evolving member of a broader society, they identify roles, opportunities and outcomes that benefit every person in uniquely appropriate ways while holding the greater good ahead of individualism. These relationships occur when adults consciously decide to foster equity throughout the lives of young people by intentionally acknowledging each others’ according abilities, fostering deliberate opportunities and continually embracing the evolving capacities of children and youth throughout their lives, starting when they are infants. Responsible relationships nurture appropriate attachment and encourage interdependence between young people and adults. They often happen to foster democratic sensibilities.

I have not met one adult who is constantly and consistently one of these ways with all young people all of the time. This isn’t meant to provide a puzzle for people to fit together the individual pieces, either. Instead, by showing a spectrum I meant to show that each of us can be any of these at many points throughout our lives.

Share your thoughts in the comments section!

23 Phrases to Encourage Youth Voice

23 phrases

 

After working directly with youth for more than two decades, its easy for me to admit that I’ve said some poor things to youth. Either on purpose or by accident, I have said things that made young people feel hurt, confused, or angry. Anyone who works with youth—teachers, social workers, or program leaders—is going to make those mistakes whether we intend to or not. But its just as important to say the right things.

Since youth voice is any expression of any young people anywhere at any time about anything, its important to recognize there are ways adults can encourage it, rather than stifle it. Here are some things you can say to encourage youth voice.

 

23 Phrases to Encourage Youth Voice

  1. What do you think? Encourage young people to form their own opinions and share them with you. This improves critical thinking skills and reassures them that it’s right to have their own opinion, and that its even okay that it’s different from yours. When adults do young peoples’ thinking for them, children and youth stop taking responsibility for themselves and can’t handle greater responsibility as they grow. 
  2. I know you. Reaffirm for young people that you know them without telling them you know all about them. This reassures them in times of low confidence and encourages them to feel a part of something else, instead of being alone.
  3. I believe you. Let young people know you trust their judgment.
  4. I disagree with youInstead of simply saying no, validate what young people think, believe, or say in an open and honest manner. Don’t make it into a battle of wills or otherwise compete. Instead, open up an honest dialogue and be willing to go where the conversation takes you.
  5. How did you do? Don’t tell young people how they did before you let them tell you. Ask them and listen to what they have to say.
  6. Please and thank you. Young people are people first, and they deserve your manners just because they are people.
  7. I believe in you. Support and encourage children and youths’ self-judgment and abilities by affirming their capabilities and self-esteem.
  8. Can you help me understand? This let’s young people know that you honor their perceptions, even if you disagree with them. Allowing children and youth to explain things from their perspectives empowers their voices.
  9. You worked so hard. Instead of constantly telling young people how smart or special they are, this phrase acknowledges their hard work and effort.
  10. I’m sorry. Show young people that you are a fallible human who makes mistakes, and that you’re big enough to apologize to them.
  11. I’m available to you. Instead of constantly telling young people how busy you are, remind them that you’re available to them to talk to, hang out with, play with, and be around.
  12. What are the consequences? It’s tempting to make decisions for young people, but they learn more when they make their own choices. Remind them to think about the positive and negative consequences of any choice they make.
  13. I trust you. Reaffirm that you believe in the ability, ideas, plans, and suggestions of children and youth by letting them know directly that you trust them.
  14. I’ve got your back. Young people feel safest when they know they have your support, no matter what. When they’re facing especially challenging things, remind them you’re behind them.
  15. I’m so proud of you because… Young people want to know that you see the work, effort, and energy they put into their jobs, activities, and selves. Acknowledge them with specific, concrete feedback that helps them grow.
  16. You did a great job. Without over-doing it, its important to acknowledge a job well-done. Praise often, but don’t overdo it or your words will seem insincere.
  17. How does it feel to get that done? When children and youth get things done, it should be about making themselves happy instead of making adults happy. Self-esteem needs a boost? Reaffirm they can make themselves feel better.
  18. Turn it up! Without hamming it up or trying to hard, let children and youth know they can create the environment you co-occupy with them. Ask them to share their music, shows, or other media and creations in the spaces you are with them.
  19. You are worth it. Be intentional in supporting young peoples’ self-worth without being condescending.
  20. You are good, inside and out. Young people need to be engaged within themselves as well as in the world around them.
  21. How would you do it? Encourage children and youth to think about doing things differently, and then go further by helping them implement their ideas. Their conclusions could help them and you do things even better.
  22. Are you willing to do what it takes? Accept young peoples’ answers to this question without criticism or correction. This will help young people open up to you and answer honestly, rather than simply the way you want them to.
  23. What do YOU think we can do? Activate young peoples’ senses of ability and possibility by actively engaging them as co-conspirators, co-actors, and co-learners. Foster equity between you, and consciously build their sense of ability to make a difference.

 

A lot of people are tempted to make youth voice into a special or exclusive thing that only well-behaving young people who do what adults want them to should be able to share. What would you add to this list to encourage authentic youth voice?

 

Adult-Driven Student Voice

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Student Voice is any expression of any learner anywhere, all the time, about anything related to learning, schools, and education. It doesn’t depend on adult approval, it doesn’t need specific spaces or energies, and is always present wherever students are. The question generally is whether adults in education want to hear what’s being said.

If a student is talking in front of a group sharing their beliefs or experience, ideas or knowledge, they’re sharing student voice. The same can be true of leadership, community service, and teambuilding activities, as well as many other formal school activities. However, students who cut themselves are sharing student voice, just like student graffiti artists, students who text answers during tests, and gang members. The question isn’t whether they’re sharing student voice, because they always are – the question is whether adults in education want to hear what’s being said.

This leads to the phenomenon of adult-driven student voice.

Characteristics of Adult-Driven Student Voice

Adult-Driven Student Voice is when adults motivate, inspire, inform, encapsulate, and generally make student voice become convenient for adults. Here are five characteristics of adult-driven student voice.

  • WHO: Students who adults want to hear from are selected to share their voices. All students are equal members of the schools they attend, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. However, adult-driven student voice selects specific students who may not jostle adults’ opinions or ideas to share student voice.
  • WHAT: Students say what adults want. They usually echoing or parroting adult beliefs, ideas, knowledge, and/or experience. If they share their own, adults largely agree with what students have said.
  • WHEN: The calendar is determined by adults for students. Students are listened to when adults have the interest or ability to hear them, and not necessarily when students want to be heard.
  • WHERE: Student voice happens in places adults want it to be shared. Whether on a graffiti wall in a forgotten alley downtown, in a boxing gym for teenagers, in debate class, or at a city-run forum for students to share their opinions about something, student voice happens where adults approve of.
  • WHY: Adults solicit student voice about specific issues. Students have a variety of perspectives about all kinds of subjects. However, adult-driven youth voice allows only perspectives on issues that are important to adults or that adults pick for students. If students move outside adult-driven boundaries, they are either re-directed or expected to stop sharing their voices.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the above characteristics. However, this article isn’t meant to share those judgments; instead, I want to encourage you to think for yourself about what matters and why it matters. After you’ve done that, visit SoundOut to find tools, examples, and other resources to help you with student voice.

Denying Student Voice

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Since I began researching roles for students throughout education and society more than a decade ago, I’ve found a plethora of student voice haters. These folks are most frequently adults who are longtimers in education before they are “brave” enough to speak out against students.

Their basic belief is always the same: Students don’t know what’s best for them; Educators do. That is, adults in general, educators at large, the academy specifically, and/or the teachers who teach students directly. Their argument is always the same: As the unknowledgable, inept, and incapable recipients of Education’s largess, students have nothing of value to contribute to their learning, to teaching, or to leadership in schools.

Recent articles reflect these positions. In a new piece on Slate, a college professor named Rebecca Schuman wrote a scathing deconstruction of the value of student evaluations of professors. Basically denying the value of their contributions as humans towards society, Schuman emphasized that students are basically flies on horse poop, ranting in a really hipster-ish fashion that, “Ostensibly, [student evaluations of teachers] give us valuable feedback on our teaching effectiveness, factor importantly into our career trajectories, and provide accountability to the institution that employs us. None of this, however, is true.” She goes on to degrade everything of value in any student evaluation ever, insisting that professorial knowledge trumps student input every single time no matter what.

Schuman’s narrow thinking is indicative of many educators today. Seeing students as tabula rasa, many teachers and professors inside traditional education systems frequently dismiss the value of student voice, juxtaposing their perspectives against students in an A/B dichotomy of Us vs. Them.

A few weeks ago, a reporter for The Atlantic magazine named Jacoba Urist contacted me for an article she was writing about the ongoing Los Angeles student protests led by the powerhouse Innercity Struggle. We talked for 45 minutes about a range of issues, and I sent her a copy of my Guide to Students on School Boards

Jacoba wrote a piece called “Should Students Sit on School Boards?,” essentially propping up the idea with several professors’ opinions, along with my perspective as an advocate. With few opposition perspectives in the article, it was essentially a cheerleading piece. However, it was in the comments (which, btw, are not the same as SETs) that things got ugly—as they often do.

From basic adultism through advanced antipathy towards youth, commenters on the article reflected the blatant disdain that is obvious in so many student voice deniers’ words. They routinely doubt the maturity, effectiveness, and value of student voice. They question the authenticity of student knowledge, the potential of student learning, and the perspectives of students as the recipients of adult-driven education systems. They also rally to the power of adults, calling for increased adult control over students amid smackdowns on student voice.

These denials of student voice represent the narrow self-interest of so many Educators today. Unfortunately, their closed-mindedness is undermining the American education system. Students who grow up in oppressive educational environments grow up to become adults who are disaffected voters, routinely voting down education levies, pro-democracy elected officials, and other bastions of the once indefatigable American Democracy.

I can hear the haters right now, dismissing these brash future voters for expressing their wills against the wills and whims of educators today. Oligarchy be damned: Educators love meritocracy!

Congrats, student voice deniers, for destroying education and democracy for everyone. Surely you have to feel good about that when you go to bed at night, or head off to school in the morning. Good job.

Praising Student Voice

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There should never, ever be a grade, score, or test for student voice.

Reading over a recent report, the researchers suggested a measurement for student voice that accounted for participation and engagement, as well as depth and awareness. I was appalled, if only because of the asinine assumption that there is any student ever who hasn’t shared their voice about schools. That is simply not true.

ANY and EVERY expression of a student about school, learning, or education is student voice. That includes:

  • Students who speak up in class and verbally express their responses to teachers’ questions. They are no more valid than students who never speak up. They are different, but they’re not better than other students at sharing student voice.
  • Students who get into fights, pass notes, or text answers to tests under their desks. They are no less valid than students who wear suits and ties to share grandiose visions for education reform with adults. They are different, but they’re not worse at sharing student voice.

The reason for both of these is that both of them are examples of student voice. So are emails sent anonymously to schools, student government, research conducted, gossip, art murals, students presenting at school board meetings, graffiti on lockers, student leadership programs, student/teacher designed curriculum, students skipping class, and any other expression of students focused on schools, learning, or education.

The Problem with Praise

Adults tend to fetishize students who answer the right questions in the right ways at the right times. We put them on pedestals, place them in positions of authority over other students, and subject them to the utmost pressure to stay on the “right track” in adult-pleasing ways.

The problem with praising student voice is that it reinforces for students that there is a right way and a wrong way for students to express themselves about schools. There isn’t. Instead, there are alternative ways, each of which has a consequence. Currently, we don’t act that way because of adults’ fetishizing “good” student voice.

We do this for familiarity and consistency, because developmentally in the minds and hearts of adults, we yearn for consistency. Unfortunately, this goes against the grain of young peoples’ development, because, while they yearn for the acceptance of adults, they are seeking freedom and independence more.

Alternatives to Praising Student Voice

There is a different way.

The best position for student voice is to be unfettered and actively engaged throughout the school environment. This means that students should have a voice in how curriculum is developed; where schools are built; how teachers are evaluated; where education is evolving towards; when classes happen; why education is relevant; when they graduate; why teachers fail; where they learn most effectively; and so forth. There are so many places on the highest level of education.

However, there are more opportunities, chances for every student voice to be actively engaged throughout their days in school and throughout their lives outside of school, too. Students can share their experiences and ideas throughout classroom curriculum as a matter of good teaching practice, and student voice can be infused throughout classroom management activities, processes, and outcomes too. Building leaders can create particular opportunities for students to teach teachers about technology and culture in ways that position student voice as especially vital for teachers. Teacher coaches can help teachers understand the frameworks for meaningful student involvement that I’ve developed, and parents can engage their children in critical conversations about learning, teaching, and leading education, as well as voting and politics. Youth leaders can teach students about the importance of learning while learning from students themselves, while politicians can actually engage young people about education.

The opportunities for student voice are limitless because student voice itself is limitless. Are we ready to stop praising student voice, and to start engaging student voice in genuine and authentic ways instead?

 

32 Resources on Meaningful Student Involvement

SoundOut provides these resources for you to use in your own school.

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Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!