Innocents in Blogland

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By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 2, 2007; 1:24 PM

I was not sure what to expect when I announced in the Nov. 14 column an education blog judging contest. May I call them edblogs? I feel like a freshman pledging a raucous fraternity (I was way too nerdy to join one in college) and wanting to be very careful not to say the wrong thing.

I leapt into this without looking, although for safety's sake dragged along champion letter-to-the-editor writer and retired teacher Walt Gardner. I realized I knew far too little about education blogs, the most vibrant and fastest growing part of the national conversation on education. Asking readers to nominate their favorite blogs would, I thought, give me a good excuse to read them -- while making a pretense of superiority by saying that I (and Gardner) would be judging them.

I suspect many bloggers were laughing at that one. Or, lol, right? One of the first things I learned was that some of the best bloggers have been judging me for some time, and finding me wanting in talent, perspective and depth. They are right, of course. The nastier they were, the higher I put them on my list.

I picked 10 favorites, and so did Gardner. It was so much fun that I am determined to make this an annual Class Struggle event, with a different and hopefully provocative approach to the blogosphere in the first column of every year. That way I can mention more blogs, since I was clearly incapable of including all that deserve notice in this first feeble attempt.

Next year, through bribery or trickery, I hope to persuade Ken Bernstein, teacher and blogger par excellence, to select his favorite blogs and then let me dump on his choices, or something like that. There is a pugnacious quality to many of these blogs that connects with that 98-pound-weakling in my soul. I always stayed out of fights in school but dreamed about pounding the big guys.

Here are my favorites, and Gardner's. Our choices overlapped in four cases, so I put them all together in one alphabetized list. I have labeled our individual comments, so you will know whom to credit or blame for each. I am at mathewsj@washpost.com and Walt is at walt.gard@verizon.net. (Notice how Gardner, the master newspaper letter writer, says so much with so few words.)

1. The Chalkboard

Gardner: Comprehensive approach to "keeping an eye on public education." A watchdog on constant duty.

2. Critical Mass

Gardner: Combines newspaper articles on education from around the globe with personal entries. A nice balance.

3. D-Ed Reckoning

Mathews: The contributors -- apparently the accepted term for people who run and write blogs -- are Ken DeRosa, a lawyer, and Catherine Johnson, who does not reveal what she does for a living. I did not realize that some of these bloggers remain anonymous, particularly the teachers, who want to be frank without being fired. D-Ed Reckoning includes very wise, inside-the-classroom postings, sophisticated discussions of topics as difficult as reading instruction and dissections of pompous columnists, like me. I found one error in the blog's critique of my Dec. 19 column on KIPP teacher Lisa Suben: DeRosa said she had no prior teaching experience, but I said she did two years in an Louisiana eighth grade. That is a minor flaw. These are smart people.


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