Dáil na nÓg Fairsay campaign

The Youth, Media and Democracy conference concluded yesterday at Dublin Institute of Technology. There was an excellent program, with presentations from youth groups using a variety of media–film (documentaries, personal stories, what-ifs), comics, hip hop, remix (VJ-ing, web video mashups), object animation, radio, and more. There were also interesting talks about the Fresh Film Festival, media policy, the 5th World Summit on Media for Children held in Johannesburg, the Story of Movies, Digital Hub FM, and much more.

I was also impressed with the Dáil na nÓg campaign to encourage mainstream media to provide more balanced coverage of youth, especially to show the diversity of youth activities and not just negative images. A small group of Dáil na nÓg representatives has conducted this campaign, called Fairsay. They’ve had multiple meetings with media and policy makers, assisted by Anne O’Donnell from the Office of the Minister for Children.

Dáil na nÓg means “youth parliament”. Young people come as representatives of their local area to tell decision makers in Government what they think of issues that affect their daily lives.

The young Dáil na nÓg representatives gave excellent presentations and participated fully in panel discussions, demonstrating by their presence how young people can learn social responsibility, communication skills, and connected understanding through active civic participation.

So, it’s ironic that the Fairsay work is only partly sanctioned by the schools. For example, when they were waiting for a media callback they had to have their mobile phones on vibrate during class. When a call came it had to be taken down the hall in the study room. The classroom might be a place to teach about government or media, but not to actively engage with it.

Any teacher knows the many distractions available today for young people, mobile phones being near the top of the list. Still, it’s unfortunate that we can’t find better ways (this applies to US schools even more) to make actually participating in democracy take precedence over just talking about it. The young people at the conference showed how they could use media in diverse ways to move beyond the spectator role to become active participants.

Youth Media Democracy, April 18-19

Youth Media and Democracy conference[See followup after the event at Dáil na nÓg Fairsay campaign.]

What appears to be an exciting conference on youth, media and democracy is coming up on April 18-19, 2008 at Dublin Institute of Technology and the Digital Hub. It’s called Youth Media Democr&cy, “an inaugural conference exploring the effects and opportunities of new media on children and youth.”

The conference explores the ways that media and ICT’s affect the activities, roles, and relationships of youth, through topics such as new media, emerging literacies, digital divide, representations of youth in media, and new media as a platform for democracy in the lives of young people. It also examines how youth can express themselves through new media and will showcase youth-created media.

Digital storytelling

Through the Digital Literacy in Irish Primary Schools (DLIPS) project, I’ve been visiting primary schools in the Liberties area of Dublin. I’m also visiting 24 infant, primary, and post-primary schools in the Docklands area through Technology in Docklands Education project. This has given me a wonderful opportunity to see a wide variety of learning technologies and ways of organizing classroom learning. Many of the most successful classroom projects have involved some version if digital storytelling (see the photo story entries).

You can get a flavor of these projects from an RTE video at the Francis St CBS (primary level), one of the schools I’ve worked in:


The Digital Hub Learning Initiative has supported this classroom and a variety of others in the area, as well as community groups. One overarching project is Digital Hub FM, a community radio station. Community members of all ages receive training in radio production and then carry out the research, broadcasting, and station management themselves. The broadcasts include music, entertainment, discussion, local history, and youth programs.

There’s a large set of videos posted on YouTube describing the Learning Initiative’s work, including this good introduction:

Earth Hour, Dublin

Custom HouseIn about an hour, it will be Dublin’s turn to participate in Earth Hour. The event started last year in Sydney when residents and businesses turned off their lights for one hour as a statement about global warming. This year, 28 cities will participate, each at their 8 pm on March 29. The event is described as a way to highlight “simple changes that will collectively make a difference.”

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Dublin at nightI thought this was a good opportunity to post some Dublin at night photos before we have to turn off the lights here. They’re beautiful scenes, but also remind us of the energy demands of modern cities.

I hope that Earth Hour will live up to its expectations, but fear that it may turn out to be no more than another fun event and a way for all of us to feel good, without addressing the fundamental changes needed to treat our planet and our children more kindly.

O’Connell Street SpireThe photos are not my own, but are used under Creative Commons licenses. On the upper right is the Custom House by Jimmy Harris. It’s near to where I work. The O’Connell Street bridge at the left is by Hans-Peter Bock. And on the bottom right is the Spire of Dublin, further up on O’Connell Street, by Peter Guthrie.

St. Andrew’s Resource Centre

muralWe went to the organic market at the St. Andrews Resource Centre today, to get some healthy, fresh produce. We also enjoyed a hearty lunch of lentil soup and samosas.

After several visits, I can say that the Centre is one of the best-run and most beneficial community centres that I’ve seen. In addition to the market, there are employment services, tutoring for secondary school students (grinds), adult education, computer training, parenting and young mothers programmes, and welfare rights counseling. There’s a Heritage project to record the history of the Pearse St. community and many others projects (see below).

buildingThe elegant building was opened as the St. Andrew’s School in 1895 and operated as such until 1976 due to the decline of the working docklands. A renovation began in 1985, which led to the social centre opening on Bloomsday, 1989. The structure is well-preserved and there are colorful murals in the hallways and the back courtyard.

Staff are drawn from the community, so that the centre’s work tends to directly reflect community needs. Concurrently, community members develop skills that help their own careers. The latest count is 224 staff on full or part-time status.

The Centre has learned several lessons that might be useful elsewhere:

  • Issues and programs develop out of needs identified by the community. There’s bottom-up planning rather than solutions from on high.
  • There’s a concerted effort to build capacity in the community. For individuals, there’s an advancement path through community work.
  • There’s a flat organizational structure, which allows quick and flexible response to needs. A corollary is an openness to the process. Staff learn to find workarounds to barriers.
  • cybercafeThere’s a self-sustaining budgetary model. There’s no one paymaster and staff grows in response to funding.
  • The Centre provides integrated services, a “one-stop shop.” This applies across the life cycle from the childcare center through Day Centre with meals for the elderly. Activities such as the Cyber-Links centre coordinate with others, such as the theatre project to present drama written and acted by community members.
  • figuresStaff and community members care about the Centre. Pride in the Centre is evident: There’s no grafitti and there appear to be limited security concerns. The display of figures brought in by children in the Childcare programme is just one tangible piece of evidence for this.
  • There’s a forward thinking, needs-directed process, which identifies opportunities for funding consistent with community needs, capabilities, and processes.

Feminist Walking Tour of Dublin

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. Among the many events worldwide was the Feminist Walking Tour of Dublin. It sounded interesting when I heard about it just the day before, but I was hesitant to go: It had been an exhausting week between my mom’s recovery from a hip fracture and my preparing a lecture on education and community for Wednesday evening. The weather forecast promised rain; there was a Six Nations rugby match (best not discussed after yesterday); and I wasn’t certain I’d be welcome on the tour, not knowing anyone else there.

Feminist Walking Tour of Dublin posterFortunately, and without any doubt in the end, I made the right decision. It turned out that there was not only an enlightening and enjoyable tour, but soup and sandwiches afterwards at the Teachers Club, short movies, a distro (books, zines, and other publications), music, and lots of good discussion.

I had the impression that the organizers expected 20-30 people to show up. But there were at least 120, maybe up to 150, not counting various people who joined in for brief times along the way. What was planned as one group turned into two with an impressing display of organization on the part of Choice Ireland and the RAG collective. One organizer pointed out that their non-hierarchical structure made it easier to respond to unexpected events.

My group was led by Carol Hunt, a history postgraduate student at Trinity and writer for the Irish Independent. She was an excellent guide, leading us from St Stephen’s Green, to the Mansion House, Trinity College, O’Connell St, the Garden of Remembrance, and other spots, each being important sites for women’s history in Ireland. At various stops, others presented on issues such as immigrant rights or women’s centers masquerading as offering full reproductive counseling while in fact proselytizing. I learned far too much to try to convey here, but you can see the tour map and background information in a beautiful and very well-designed booklet, which should still be available in hard copy or pdf.

The tour was bracketed by two precipitations. In the beginning, we were standing next to the seat honoring Louie Bennett and Helen Chenevix. Bennett, a novelist, pacisit, and labor organzer, helped found the Irish Women’s Suffrage Federation, played an active role in the Dublin lockout, helped found the Irish Women’s Reform League, and was active for years in the Irish Women Workers’ Union. As Carol began talking, we had a brief burst of hail. Someone called out that God was a male and He was not pleased!

Then, at our last stop, someone threw potatoes from an upper story window, injuring one of the people on the tour. It’s amazing how cowardly some people can be and how afraid they are of others simply trying to learn.

After the tour, there was a social event in the Teacher’s Club at Parnell Sq. We saw two short films, including The Future of Feminism, by Cara Holmes and Breaking the Silence, by Katie Gillum. There was good music from Heathers, some of which you can hear on their Myspace site. I’m still working to complete all of the exercises in the activity booklet for children designed by Aileen Curtin!

I include the video below only because it gives a taste of the time of Countess Constance Markievicz. I learned on the tour that of all the great women in Irish history, and of all the many statues in Dublin, she is the only woman to have one. All of the other statues of women are of fictional characters or the Virgin Mary.

Markievicz was second in command of the St Stephen’s Green Citizen Army force during the Easter Rising of 1916. Court-martialed afterwards, her potential execution was commuted to life imprisonment because of her gender. She famously replied: “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.”

See more, with photos.

Aughavannagh and Glenmalure

Aughavannagh cottageOur Ballsbridge apartment lease ran out at the end of January and the new apartment wasn’t available until 3 February. That meant that aside from badly needing a break, we were also homeless for three days. It became clear that this was a time to turn crisis into opportunity. We chose to make a long weekend of it, going to stay in a cottage in Aughavannagh in the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin. You can see the cottage behind the shed, in the first photo.

Glenmalure mtnsBeing in a valley, there was no mobile phone access, much less internet. As our rental car was not designed for the snow in the mountains, so we were about as isolated as one could be just 50 kilometers or so by air south of Dublin.

Glenmalure waterfallThe weekend was cold, with light snows, rain, and ferocious winds at times. But we had a fireplace and plenty of fuel. At times the weather cleared enough for walks. One very delightful one was at Glenmalure, the longest glacial valley in Ireland and UK. It’s just east of Luqnaquilla, Wicklow’s highest mountain at 925m. There’s also an impressive cascade down to the Avonbeg River (see left).

Glenmalure is not far south from Glendalough, an equally beautiful spot, but one that’s more heavily traveled. At the end of the walk we had an excellent pub lunch at the Glenmalure Lodge, where we had parked our car. That allowed us time to get back to watch Ireland v. Italy (rugby) on the telly. (We weren’t totally out of touch with the modern world!) Glenmalure Lodge

Bridge to College

While living in Dublin, I often walk past the Suas Foundation’s Bridge to College (B2C) space on Fenian Road. But I find it hard not to pause to see what’s happening inside. There’s always activity there.

Brendan TangneyI first became aware of B2C when Brendan Tangney of Trinity College took me there to see the construction last fall. Even then, I could see it was special. It might be characterized as a computer access centre, but most of those that I’ve seen have computers in utilitarian rows, plain tables, and some bland color on bare walls. In contrast, I saw here the beginning of pods for small groups to work together on projects. There were low curved walls defining the pods, which promised just the right balance of privacy for the groups and the possibility of communication across groups. When Maxine Greene talks about transformation of public spaces to promote democratic engagement, I know she means far more than furniture, but I nevertheless felt that this was a tangible expression of making spaces work for people and for more inclusive learning.

treeSoon, I saw a primeval forest emerging. A thick, green carpet suggesting grass, or maybe pond vegetatio, grew on the floor, while a Lord of the Rings forest appeared on the walls, with ancient trees and mist rising from the swamp. That was just the room in the front. Through a doorway and a time-warp window I could see a nightclub or cafe in the second room. It had black walls with a cityscape, and rising above that, surrealistic images. The whole thing made me want to explore and to be a part of whatever was going to happen there. It’s an attractive space with computers organized into pods, projectors, digital cameras, printers, and other tools, as well as a physical space with meeting areas, movable furniture, room to move about, and a small stage.

cityscapeOn later visits, I met with developers Claire Conneely and John Lawlor. I learned that this wasn’t just a pretty space. I saw Transition Year students engaged in serious, challenging, collaborative, multimedia projects. For example, they would take a video camera in to the neighboring community (between Trinity and the Liffey River). They’d film objects, the neighborhood, and themselves, then edit the video. The next day, they would take on a social action multimedia campaign–visit your elderly relatives over the holidays, stop using drugs, give aid to Africa, and so on. The project involved web-based research, then the creation of a poster, with text, images, and graphics. Later they would produce a radio spot for the same campaign. At the end of the week, they would make a web page integrating all of their work.

Claire ConneelyOver three and a half days, students, some of whom might have been on the verge of quitting school, would demonstrate facility with digital video, video and audio editing, web search, graphics, design, web page construction, all in the service of and as an aid to learning about living responsibly in the world. In so doing, they also learned about working together and completing complex tasks. Rather than being monitored or guided every step of the way, they relied on just a mentor, who was just a few years older. The mentor was also a student, but at third level, and was typically learning along with the younger students. There are plans now for a second tier of mentoring, in which the Transition Year students would mentor 11-year-olds.

John LawlorI could point about many good things about the space and the programme. There is a good mix of using diverse technologies effectively, collaboration within and across groups, project-based work, inquiry, reflection, and problem-solving. I’ve seen the value of those aspects in some other projects. But three other things stand out for me with B2C:

studentFirst, although the technologies are used in intensive and complex ways, their use is not the end. All of the activities fit together into a unified whole, which extends beyond the technological fluency. In the cases I’ve seen there, students are addressing questions that go beyond B2C or their normal schooling to seek positive transformation of their social lives. Of course, I’d love to hear that the radio spots are actually aired and the poster distributed and read, or that the campaigns extend beyond the week. But even so, there’s a clear realization here of John Dewey’s idea of connecting school and society.

more studentsSecond, as I said above, there is a remarkable approach to seeing space and physical facilities as something to be constructed to serve human ends, rather than as a given that constrains what we can do. Many community technology centres or computer labs in schools do a good of managing the digital technologies effectively, but they rarely have the resources, or perhaps the vision, to see that the physical space can be something that is inviting, reinforcing, and conducive to productive social interaction. Here, the physical space is treated as seriously as the choice of software or projectors.

mentors, Chloe, JonellaThird, B2C is a useful facility, but far more than that, it is an artistic creation, and here, I speak of the totality–the painted walls, the furniture, the window to see from city to forest or forest to city. It reminds us of Jane Addams’s call that the first furniture for Hull House should be art on the walls, or the view prevalent in Chinese schools that the aesthetic side of learning is as important as the cognitive.

The radio museum in Howth

This could have been a post about a walk on the Cliffs of Howth, a small seaside town north of Dublin. Yesterday was a beautiful day, with a brisk wind and light cirrus clouds–a great day for a cliff walk if you don’t stand too close to the edge and if you watch your footing on the muddy track and wet rocks.

Pat and EmilyBut before we began the walk, we happened upon a wonderful small museum about the development of radio: Ye Olde Hurdy-Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio. It’s in the Martelo Tower above the harbor, at one end of the cliff walk. Pat Herbert, the founder, is passionate about what he’s learned about radio, and communications in general, drawing everyone else into it. Susan adds:

Pat played a tape on which a group of amateur radio enthusiasts had recorded a conversation with the Space Shuttle Columbia during the few minutes it was over Ireland in 1983, 20 years prior to its tragic crash over Texas. One of the astronauts at the time was an amateur radio enthusiast, and Irish amateur radio people had spent hours trying to contact him. A visitor to the museum gave Pat the tape, which he owned only because his brother had been one of the 1983 radio buffs. The entire visit was like that, just one story after another… He had many stories, mostly directed at Emily. And, typically, at about 1:00, announced that it was about time for a cup of tea and biscuits. So we sat around and talked for a good while.

Howth cliffPat said that not many school groups come to the museum. That’s a shame, because the exhibits could be fascinating to young people as well as to those who lived through some of the times presented there. I think especially of young people in transition year programs (age ~15), who are doing new media projects, such as at the Suas Foundation’s excellent Bridge to College (B2C) programme . The museum would introduce interesting technologies as well as add an historical perspective.

Susan and EmilyWhen we did manage to set off on the hike we had a wonderful windy time, circling a good part of the Howth peninsula with grand views of the Ireland’s Eye and the Dublin harbor, and then making it up to the Ben of Howth. Eventually returned to the port in time for early dinner at The Oar House.