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New book by Steven Brill describes how schools do not work


Posted on 20th August 2011 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, SEO and Schools We Have Now

Schools simply do not work as a way of teaching many individual children up to their potential. Schools do not work in teaching groups of children so that every child in a group has equal knowledge. Schools do not work so that a student in a failing inner city school has the same opportunity to learn as a student in affluent districts.

I have been reading Steven Brill’s new book Class Warfare. After a few chapters it hits you in the face: schools cannot be fixed. Brill describes a variety of wonderful people who have realized how schools are failing kids, thrown themselves at the problem, and failed. This has been going on for decades. Why? Because of unions, bad teachers, poverty, race, wrong theories, not caring about children. Well, no. They fail because it is impossible to put a couple of dozen same-age children in a room all day, and day after day, and thereby produce 24 youngsters who know the same thing at the same time. Think about how just plain silly trying to do that is.

Schools we have now in the United States were created in the 19th and 20th centuries. Back then, building schools gave children a place to go to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, and subjects such as history, science, and languages. Except for rich kids whose parents hired tutors to teach them at home, school was about the only place a child could get this knowledge.

By the time we arrived in the closing decades of the 20th century, schools were dominating the lives of youngsters from late toddling until late teens. [Then, convention demands, on to college for more of the same.] Brill does a great job of describing the true disasters schools have become. He quotes Joel Klein, who attempted reform as New York City schools chancellor, as frequently observing: “You just can’t make this s**t up.” Having coordinated a major Mentor project in the New York City schools (1982-1992), and coached and judged high school debaters in the New York city schools (1993-2009), I can tell you Mr. Klein is correct. Schools are seldom much of a place to go to learn very much reading, writing, arithmetic, and subjects such as history, science, and languages.

But lo, in the 21st century there is another place a student can go to learn those things: the web.

The student can now have the web in his pocket or under her arm on a mobile smart phone or tablet. Every kid who has a mobile browser has access to what is known that is equal to the access of every other kid that has such a device. And the device has no idea how rich its owner is, whether it is a boy or girl, and what the kid’s age, nationality, or race are. The device has no expectation of what the kid can learn and it offers equal knowledge to all.

The primary location of knowledge is now the web — certainly much more than the dribs and drabs in textbooks that weigh down school backpacks. Why the heck are we expecting to teach knowledge to our children by dumbing subjects down and filtering them through places where “You just can’t make this s**t up” — in places called schools, where so many incredibly talented and determined people have failed to make things better?

If we make sure all the kids have their own web access to knowledge, schools can be made to work as places to meet with teachers, do discourse, arts, and sports. They will be community centers and socialization places, and of course babysitters for working parents.

Suggestion: Let’s take a break from throwing gifted people, billions of dollars, and yet another generation of children into schools, expecting somehow the kids will learn, and learn equally. Let’s get back to that after we take these steps:

  • See to it every kid has his or her own web browser with wireless access.
  • Make sure the kids know how to find knowledge to learn on the web.
  • Put some real effort into optimizing online knowledge for search engines and natural vetting.

Every child will not emerge from this new approach with the same cookie cutter education. But each child will experience equal access, opportunity, and expectations from the bountiful new virtual knowledge online commons offered freely to all on the web.

BTW: I recommend Class Warfare, based on Brill’s forthright portrayal of the New York City public schools, Teach for America, and other aspects of the education debacle with which I have personal experience. For one thing, it is hard to read this book and continue to think we can “fix the schools.” The great blessing is that the internet and individual access devices have arrived, giving us a new way to put knowledge that is untethered to schools into the hands of any and every child.

Untether student knowledge access from curricula, grades, tests

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Posted on 11th August 2011 by Judy Breck in Biology, Language, Literature, Mobile Learning, Schools We Have Now and Testing


Yesterday I watched and listened to a recording of Lynda Weinman interviewing Will Richardson. The title of this free Webinar: Personal Learning Networks Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education — which is the title of a new book by Richardson.

The webinar is an hour long. Richardson describes his work aimed at making schools better. The discussion between these two at the end of the hour is frank. They agree and agonized over this reality: The system for conveying knowledge to students in the schools we now have is not working and it is changing very little if at all.

I know, from having been her student in several contexts, that Lynda is a great teacher. I feel sure Richardson is as well. Lynda is a major leader of digital education — essentially the supra-teacher of digital arts. Richardson has been immersed in the school mess for 20+ years — and is a father of young teenagers, and proposes ways for teachers to improve their classes against the system. These two hands-on experts do not have answers for how really to change the schools methodologies so that the kids can get a decent education at school.

From their discussion in the webinar I picked up this new word for how education could change: untethered. It implies for me the concept of handschooling: an individual student engaging knowledge by using a mobile that she owns and controls, providing her with a 24/7 web browser.

I suggest that untethering a student’s access to what is known — cutting access loose from standardized curricula, grades, and tests — is a specific, simple step. Connect a kid: let him engage is mind on his own with algebra, history, ecology and the rest of the subjects that are now for him tethered to the academic (school) brick and mortar world.

With individual wireless access on a tablet or smartphone, a student can while away boring times in school:

The best that schools offer is never for everybody, mobile fixes that


Posted on 31st July 2011 by Judy Breck in Biology, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning and Schools We Have Now

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Until mobile browsers existed, there has NEVER been a way to proved equal schooling to all children. The usual situation is for elite kids to have better schools. The effect of that is for the highest achieving kids in worse schools often to get a worse education than the low end achievers in the best schools.

For decades in the United States there has been hue and cry to give equal opportunity to minority kids by providing them with equal education. Today a high percentage of minority kids are in relatively bad schools, where the top students are learning at a level far below that of their elite contemporaries in schools across town.

Across the world there are many places where children receive rudimentary education, or none at all. There is simply no realistic hope that each of the world’s kids will ever attend an excellent school. At best only some will; those who do will tend to be the children of the powerful and wealthy. Intelligent individual students from poverty and upwardly ambitious environments will mostly attend poor schools or none at all.

For a student to own a mobile with a web browser changes everything by making each child’s access to online knowledge equal with all mobile-equipped students. Take for example this website:

Life on Earth – Gorongosa

Led by E.O. Wilson, a team of scientists, educators, science writers, and wildlife biology students is working in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique until the second week in August to document a story of transformation in this “Lost Eden” of Africa. The expedition is gathering the lessons to be learned from Gorongosa about ecology and evolution, and will present Gorongosa as model biosystem in the upcoming online text book “E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth.”

Granted, students would need to read English to use this website, but the translations to many languages are coming. The fundamental point is this: Because it is on the web, this exploration of Gorongosa is exactly the same for everyone who learns from it. Every student who looks at it is on literally the same page as all the others who do so. This is true for:

The valedictorian of a top Seattle high school
A sophomore at a poor South Chicago high school
A college freshman in Kenya
A sixth-grader in Mongolia
A young teenager an India slum
…  you get the idea ….

In the mid-20th century the USA tried busing kids from their home neighborhoods to balance school equality. Affirmative action attempts to create more opportunity by admitting students who do not qualify for supposedly better schools. Civil rights have been advanced little by these kinds of measures.

Providing individual mobile access to the web to every student makes real the right of each to equality.

Golden Swamp goes big picture with


Posted on 28th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile Learning, Networks, Open Content and Schools We Have Now

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A new website has been spun off of Click this line to go there to see what is a big picture of exciting new serendipitously, wonderful brand new way to learn in the 21st century.

Here is why I created, from the About section of the new website:

Handschooling will — at last — break each individual child’s learning free to go beyond the control of education establishments. Sound scary? Nothing scares me more about the future than limiting yet another young generation to the analog, tradition-dominated, doling out of a bit of this knowledge and a bit of that knowledge by some remote priesthood (pedagogical, secular, ideological, political, — yes and/or religious too).

We should all be very afraid of education policy reigning from far away. The range of control and chaos these distant pedagogues cause is wide. There is the sort that pumps gushes of money into celebrating mediocrity which perpetuates an underclass the nanny standard setters can count on to keep them in power. There are tyrannies that nurture hatred and spawn fanaticism in the young, even to the horror of blowing people up. Settling for inferior, and even destructive, education for other people’s children is all too easy when those children are in other people’s neighborhoods and towns and beyond.

While we nurture our children up close, we should strive for equal opportunity to learn for each child. Serendipitously, wonderfully — in the 21st century there is a brand new way to do just that! Handschooling has almost suddenly opened the way for every youngster across the world to learn from a global commons of that is known by humankind.

Go to

Mobile access to school standards testing creates equality


Posted on 19th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning, Open Content, Politics in the swamp and Schools We Have Now

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Let any child anywhere use his or her mobile to take the school standards tests. All the time now the corporate training world, people learn, are tested, and are certified using their internet connection. Take a look, for example, at the Adobe Certification center.

The Washington Post reports this morning that the “Race to the Top” competition for federal grants to states for education is to increase to more than $6 billion. The core goal here is to measure how students achieve according to standards set for them. As the article reports: “Also, 48 states and the District have joined in an effort to develop a common core of rigorous educational standards to replace the current system in which states have wildly different benchmarks for what should be taught in school.”

Wow: one envisions layers and layers before the kids somehow learn — and prove their teachers have taught and they have the test answers — for whatever this common core is. Why not just put it all out there and let everybody develop and work on what students learn in the transparency of the open internet?

Why not just spend a few million dollars and put everyone’s idea of standard stuff we want kids to learn online, and test them there? Everything could be online: material that is rigorous, material that meets various benchmarks — Texas history for the kids there, and how to farm cranberries for the kids in Vermont. Very soon, tests that won respect of admissions departments and employers would emerge.

The reason this will work is that the individual mobile internet browser will belong to a single student. This ownership makes the opportunity equal for each kid who has a mobile because the nature (good, bad, or not there at all) of a classroom is taken out of the equation.

Each learner can come to the trough of online knowledge, and each can partake according to his or her own appetite. For sure, there are some youngsters in failing urban schools who could ace math tests at the college level. I have met them, I know this is true. There are struggling students in excellent schools who would benefit from studying, on the privacy of their mobile, subjects they “didn’t get” in earlier grades. Being able to get certified online gives them a way to catch up. There are young people in slums and poverty across the world for whom learning basics and more on a mobile browser is a key to their country’s future development. With a mobile browser in her had, a girl interested in astronomy, whose cultures forbids her to attend school, joins her global generation with access equal to every other student who is, for example, browsing images from the Hubble telescope.

A challenge for educators: Put online centers like the Adobe Certification webpages that teach, test, and certify school standards for math, science, technology, languages, humanities — and be sure to make those pages mobile friendly.

Learning basic history, science, math in kids’ hands

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Posted on 17th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning, Open Content and Schools We Have Now

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Every boy in the picture above (by Griff Witte/the Washington Post) can learn basic history, science, math and more — in spite of what is reported today in a front page Washington Post story:

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — With a curriculum that glorifies violence in the name of Islam and ignores basic history, science and math, Pakistan’s public education system has become a major barrier to U.S. efforts to defeat extremist groups here, U.S. and Pakistani officials say. . . .

. . . according to education reform advocates here, any effort to improve the system faces the reality of intense institutional pressure to keep the schools exactly the way they are.

How widespread is this intransigence toward changing schooling? This kind of stubbornness is not just found in Islamabad. Intense pressure to keep schools as they are ranges in different places and cultures from orthodoxy to tradition to profit issues by vested interests and control demands by unions and, most sadly, a panoply of corruption.

While we deal across the planet with the inertia and intransigence that promises to perpetuate failing schools for at least another generation or two of kids, why not let the kids trapped in these schools learn the basics with handschooling? To do that, we need to get a mobile that browses the internet to each kid, and focus more on sharpening the findability online of basic subjects. Every boy in the picture above could learn his algebra from a mobile friendly tutorial in Urdu, Punjabi – and one day the full range of local languages. My guess is that many Pakistanis of their generation are already doing some handschooling beyond their school walls — or when they have no school to attend.

Texas is busy today setting standards for history to be taught for 10 years


Posted on 13th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Open Content and Schools We Have Now


For the next ten years, what kids across America will be taught about history is being set out right now by the Texas State Board of Education. Yahoo!News describes what is happening in a news story today: Texas braces for fight over social studies lessons. We learn from this report that: “Much of the conversation ahead of the hearing has turned to how much emphasis will be given to the religious beliefs of the nation’s founding fathers . . . .”

Note in the quotation below from the Yahoo! article in the sentence I have emphasized that national tests will follow these standards. So, for the next 10 years if you are a student in Ohio taking a test that will qualify you for promotion, a diploma, or college admission, you will have to know what some Texas political appointees want you to know about the religion of American’s founding fathers.

Perhaps there were some shreds of sense to this when textbooks were the basic knowledge delivery vehicle to schools. But now, the Internet provides not only a full range of views on knowledge. In the example of the religious views of the founding fathers, the Colonial Williamsburg podcast collection includes views on religion by both Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, in their own words.

How much longer are we going to let this happen, as described by Yahoo! today? :

The State Board of Education begins hearing testimony, before a tentative vote this week on new social studies curriculum standards that will serve as the framework in Texas classrooms. But, as usual in votes before the conservative-led board, the wide-reaching guidelines are full of potential ideological flashpoints. . .  .

The curriculum it chooses will be the guideposts for teaching history and social studies to some 4.8 million K-12 students for 10 years. The standards will be used to develop state tests and by textbook publishers who develop material for the nation based on Texas, one of the largest markets. . . .

Internet home access to low-income families de-fangs savage inequalities


Posted on 13th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning and Schools We Have Now

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Home Access scheme to provide internet access to low-income families has gone live in England. reports:“PC giveaway for school kids is go: 270,000 low-income families getting internet access at home courtesy of the government…”  It is hopeful to think about the possibilities here in contrast to my post yesterday about the persistent and deepening savage inequalities for children in failing American schools.

In the piloting for the program in England, the article reports: “A recent Institute of Fiscal Studies report cited by the government also states that having a computer at home could lead to a two-grade improvement in one subject at GCSE.”

The Detroit Free Press laments that: “Most Detroit Public Schools’ fourth- and eighth-graders were unable to score at a basic math level on a national test this year — marking the lowest performance in the history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.” A two-grade improvement would be huge in Detroit.

Handschooling is a new weapon against Savage Inequalities


Posted on 11th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning and Schools We Have Now

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At the end of 2009 we read this headline: Detroit students’ scores a record low on national test. This is once again the sad echo of what, in his 1991 best seller, Jonathan Kozol called Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools. A quotation on the cover of Savage Inequalities from New York Times book reviewer Andrew Hacker says: “An impassioned book, laced with anger and indignation, about how our public education system scorns so many of our children.” Kozol’s powerful depiction of this national tragedy is still a best-seller, ranking today at #1343 on

Wave after wave of “school reform” has failed. We have not ended our scorn of many of our children. Detroit’s record low last year tells us, in fact, that the inequalities have only gotten deeper. Change does not happen. More of the same does not make anything different.

Different, though, has actually become possible. There is something new: let’s do it!

whoDaddyIn 1991 when Kozol’s book was published, the possibility of each child holding everything known in his or her hand was still Star Trek stuff. Today it is real and is happening. The hands in the image above belong to a fourth-grader who is the daughter of one of my nephews. Making each of our children equal to her in knowledge access is just one smartphone away. [Sure, I know homes and teachers vary -- but the equality is profound for the individual child using a mobile internet browser. The reading, writing, arithmetic, history, science, technology are just out there waiting to display on the mobile, and to be learned by whoever is peering at its screen. The device does not ask or care who your daddy is or what sort of school you attend.]

It is a savage inequality of the 21st century for any child in Detroit — anywhere — who does not own an individual mobile internet browser. Making certain that children have handschooling is a new weapon against the scorn of  inequality.

The arriving choice for poor kids in inferior schools


Posted on 20th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile Learning, Open Content and Schools We Have Now


This week, Congress voted to end a proven program that was sending achieving District of Columbia students to private schools where they were successful students. The Washington Post headline called it ‘Duplicitous and Shameful’ in a report that begins:

The waiting is finally over for some of the District of Columbia’s most ambitious school children and their parents. Democrats in Congress voted to kill the District’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides 1,700 disadvantaged kids with vouchers worth up to $7,500 per year to attend a private school. . . .

In terrible schools across America, students are supposed to learn subject standards that keep going lower, and little help is usually available in learning even the less and less of government controlled expectations.

The illustration I have made and posted above indicates a new choice.

On the left, government — state and federal — decide what kids learn.

On the right, a student uses a mobile internet browser to engage unlimited knowledge.

As more and more kids put a smartphone in their pockets, they each can connect to the global knowledge commons. Students like those who were dismissed from good schools this week by the politicians have a choice to go where knowledge is selected in the open internet.

As to the knowledge available online, we should no longer let the education establishment hold the internet judgmentally at arms length. Every education energy should work to optimize the full range of study subjects online knowledge to be findable for those who teach and learn.

Expensive college degrees vs. job-qualifying online training


Posted on 10th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now


Yahoo! News is running an article today from TIME titled College Degrees More Expensive, Worth Less in Job Market. It begins:

Employers and career experts see a growing problem in American society – an abundance of college graduates, many burdened with tuition-loan debt, heading into the work world with a degree that doesn’t mean much anymore.

The problem isn’t just a soft job market – it’s an oversupply of graduates. In 1973, a bachelor’s degree was more of a rarity, since just 47% of high school graduates went on to college. By October 2008, that number had risen to nearly 70%. . . .

Compare these heavily indebted diploma carriers with people their age qualifying for future looking jobs by taking corporate online tutorials and certification, at for example Apple or Microsoft or for careers like selling real estate. The “college graduate” ideal needs badly to be readjusted to and integrated with the practicalities and economies of learning and getting certified online.

And someday text vooks


Posted on 1st October 2009 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning and Schools We Have Now

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The inertia of established education is stark to see in a New York Times article today: Curling Up With Hybrid Books, Videos Included. Here are some excerpts:

For more than 500 years the book has been a remarkably stable entity: a coherent string of connected words, printed on paper and bound between covers.

But in the age of the iPhone, Kindle and YouTube, the notion of the book is becoming increasingly elastic as publishers mash together text, video and Web features in a scramble to keep readers interested in an archaic form of entertainment . . . .

The new hybrids add much more. In one of the Simon & Schuster vooks, a fitness and diet title, readers can click on videos that show them how to perform the exercises. A beauty book contains videos that demonstrate how to make homemade skin-care potions.

Not just how-tos are getting the cinematic work-up. Simon & Schuster is also releasing two digital novels combining text with videos a minute or 90 seconds long that supplement — and in some cases advance — the story line.

So, what about the obvious “vook” approach to school books? A word search shows neither “school” nor “textbook” is mentioned in this hybrid book round-up article.

School vooks can — and I feel certain — will soon be a mainstay of the new handschooling that will emerge around mobiles. We are in the age of the iPhone, Kindle and YouTube. Here is an opportunity for the mobile industry to tap into the billions spent every year on textbooks — an archaic form of curricula.

The kids will love text vooks and learn from them. If vooks teach homemade skin-care potions, why not physics? What are educators waiting for?

A new basic equality better than choice


Posted on 30th September 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden swamp defined, Mobile Learning, Schools We Have Now and Uncategorized

The school choice battle is about choosing between schools, or among schools. The anger-filled video from Reason TV embedded above demonstrates the stress this choice enflames. There is another choice unfolding that is to go to the commons of what is known by humankind online as a source for learning.

childChoicesThe new choice does not settle the arguments about schools. Instead it offers every student another — additional — choice for finding knowledge to learn. By combining two surprise serendipities we can open literacy and learning for the young global generation:

1. Handschooling: Getting an individual mobile device with wireless broadband browsing to every youngster, so that each of them can connect to:

2. The golden swamp: where what is known by humankind has nestled into the open online network forming a self-vetting ecosystem that allows everyone to learn from the same virtual page.

There are many complexities to creating 21st century education, but there is a new, simple, increasingly doable step: connecting each student to what is known online. Doing that for a student does not make a choice, it provides equality.

Smartphones will become textbooks as well as game consoles


Posted on 26th September 2009 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning, Schools We Have Now and games

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The image above is’s display of iPodtouch features — most of which would be superb features for the sort of educational products that will soon replace paper and ink bound textbooks. The textbooks have the same fatal digital age flaws that game consoles are revealing, as reported in a New York Times story today titled, “Apple’s Shadow Hangs Over Game Console Makers.” From the article, reporting the Tokyo Game Show:

Among the questions voiced by video game executives: How can Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft keep consumers hooked on game-only consoles, like the Wii or even the PlayStation Portable, when Apple offers games on popular, everyday devices that double as cellphones and music players?

And how can game developers and the makers of big consoles persuade consumers to buy the latest shoot’em-ups for $30 or more, when Apple’s App store is full of games, created by developers around the world and approved by Apple, that cost as little as 99 cents — or even are free?

The everyday devices that now offer games can not only bring the stuff of traditional textbooks — text and printing images — into the hands of students. These devices can offer later versions of constantly updated text, moving and interactive images, live cams for subjects studied, capture of images and locations being studied, and games that teach.

In fact, it is so obvious that individual mobile devices are at least as effective a replacement for textbooks as they are for game consoles that one wonders why the changeover has not been made long ago. My guess is that schools make decisions for large groups of students instead of one individual at a time. When it comes to buying a game console, a single player or family does the shopping and decides how they want to play the game. Also, billions of dollars spent annually on textbooks are at stake. Surely we can find a better way to spend those billions than on paper (remember the trees), ink, and delivering (making a big carbon footprint) millions of heavy books for kids’ heavy (spine stressing) backpacks.

What a kid off to college needs tech-wise


Posted on 12th September 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning and Schools We Have Now

Seasoned Silicon Valley tech pioneer and writer Michael S. Malone describes in an edgelings column what his family equipped his son Tad with, as they sent him off to college for the his freshman year this fall. The first half of what Malone writes is about things that have not changed, like the need to include rolls of quarters and some laundry detergent. The second half of Malone’s account describes the technology he, his wife, and Tad chose for this first time freshman. Along with the details of what they chose, he makes these observations:

Twenty years ago, the cost of technology — as a percentage of total educational fees — probably peaked with the desktop computer and programmable calculator, clock radio and stereo-TV. . . .  thanks to a couple decades of technological innovation, what would have been about $5K in today’s dollars for a crate full of electronic hardware and books, had now been reduced to two small devices, one the size of a pad of paper, the other a deck of cards – and all for half that price.  God bless Silicon Valley. . . .

In the end, will this combination of hardware, software and serves in our brave new digital world of education prove more or less expensive than a few years ago?  Hard to tell yet, but my gut suggests that it will all turn out about the same.  But, that said, it is also important to note that Tad will enjoy infinitely more access to information and the ability connect to others . . . including his parents . . . than I did thirty years ago going to college just a few miles from home.  As to whether that last is a welcome improvement, you’ll have to ask Tad.