We are such stuff as dreams are made on, with apologies to the infinite monkey theorem and ChatGPT

by Bernie McCormick

Bernie McCormick is the Chief Technology Officer of Mary McDowell Friends School. The views in this blog post are his own, and not necessarily reflective of the views, opinions or position of Mary McDowell Friends School.

Bernie is part of the team running the NYSAIS Roundtable for Information Professionals and Educational Technologists: Education in an AI World, to be held on Thursday, January 26th, 2023.

When I set out to write about AI and how it will impact not just K-12 Education, but humanity at large, I thought to start out with an excerpt from Phaedrus, and make some connections to externalized knowledge, the nature of thought and being, and tie in the Socratic argument as a model of instruction and learning.  Turns out, Matt Bluemink did a way better job than I ever will in his 2017 article in Philosophy Now (and again more recently in the New York Times  by Zeynep Tufekci). 

This is going to be tougher than I thought.  I have a good span of dark tunnel to run through before I get to the light at the end. I was really depending on Plato and Socrates to help out here, particularly the part that passed the room where everyone was strapped to their chairs watching shadow puppets…

Using this worldly philosopher trope is clearly popular when grappling with the power of technological change, particularly virtual intelligence (VI for short – I refuse to use AI as applicable nomenclature to current algorithmic interfaces – that is reserved for something modeling sapience, rather than modeling a purposefully hobbled intelligent-seeming interface). This exploration presumes you have some exposure or understanding of what a chat VI is, and what it can do.  If you haven’t yet played with the freely available (for now)offering by OpenAI, go try it for ten minutes before you continue on.  Feed it some writing prompts for lesson plans you want to flesh out, or some starting lines of a sub-pack lesson you’ve been meaning to get around to, but haven’t yet. It will surprise you, if this is your first time using the tool.  Even the passing familiarity will make a big difference in what is discussed below the fold.

I’m going to ask ChatGPT to do my writing homework for me.  It took about 17 seconds:

That generated content is actually not too shabby as an outline to build out for deeper introspection. There are a couple of good ideas in there, and while it lacks primary sources, differentiation nuances for audiences, and depth of field commentary on larger issues, on its face, the writing is not misguided (as it sometimes can be when using VI).  The essay fell far short of the desired word count, and is not as good as the analysis provided by The Atlantic, Inside Higher Ed, or The New York Times, nor is it as compelling as the thought-provoking infographic ideology of John Spencer, the poignant musings of Collete Coleman, or the optimism of A.J Juliani, but it is at least as good as whatever passes on CNET, Sage SEO, or Scientific Journal Abstracts

The jinn has definitely left the bottle, and everyone who loathes change wants the recently emancipated “intelligent spirit” to go right back to where it belongs.  The NYC DOE decided that stuffing the cork back in the bottle was good enough for now. Many schools, public and not, have followed suit, and it has been a hot topic of debate on the slacks and listservs of ISED, ATLIS, NYCIST and NAIS (among countless others).  While there is some credence to blocking access to students too young to use the tool, per the terms of use, a teacher of younger students may find great resources in the endless font of writing prompts and ideas.  

Have a headache yet? Breathe. It’s not all hopeless. A computer can just catch AI work, right?

For those who recognize the futility of trying to entrap free-range jinn, they want to buy subscription models to jinn-seeking silver bullets.  For years, schools have paid to have plagiarism bots and services check homework and papers to try and catch students in moments of judicious copy-and-paste.  Surely the same can be done here, right?  There are a number of softwares and proof-of-concepts out there already (writer.com or GPTZero), merely weeks after the gas hit the fire, from the public’s eye. 

When has the cat-and-mouse ever done anything more than line the pockets of the detectors and detector dodgers? The bill for one paid for by repurposed tuition/tax dollars, the other paid for by students with means.  What happens when ChatGPT starts charging?  Can only the students of means get access to the good cheat platforms? One of the most profitable ventures OpenAI could launch right now would be a subscription service that flagged the output of their own algorithms, but long term, consider where the false positives will lead, when considering student/faculty integrity and information management!

The answer does not lie in corks or bullets, but rather pedagogical pillars that both Educational Technologists and Library and Information Science professionals have been honing for decades.  While many schools, independent or not, love to talk about how they teach “21st century skills” the reality is a very retrofuturist implementation – the vast majority of educational institutions still rely on the same subject/department/grade level/progression model that they have been in vogue for centuries.  Most private schools are scared to mess with it, for fear of what it will mean for the college admissions process, or universally accepted means of evaluating students in a standards-based model.  Worse, if you break down that system in K-12 (which was designed over a century ago as a means of conditioning students for a 40 hour work-week), everyone has to throw out their lesson plans, and re-evaluate effective methods of instruction, and what it means to be a teacher in the wake of this rapidly evolving chain of paradigm shifts.

Good. Iterative change is less scary, but sometimes it takes a revolution to really get things moving.

For more than 80% of the time the aforementioned instructional model has been predominant, one of the mantras of math teachers was “you have to learn this, because one day you will find yourself in a store and you won’t have a calculator in your pocket to help you solve this”.  Except now everyone carries a calculator in their pocket, as well as a link to an unfathomably deep well of human knowledge available fast and free.  There are at least two (some argue three) generations that have only known a world where this is the case.  That shift in experience doesn’t appear to have changed much in the content or format of my son’s sixth grade math homework worksheets. That is a failing, not a pedagogical point of pride. Everyone has been talking about change coming, but change is HERE, and we are still teaching math like the common parlance of the word “computer” is someone really exceptional at doing algebra in their heads.

ChatGPT is just the tip of the iceberg.  Used effectively, VI-powered tools offer the possibility for incredible strides in human development and knowledge.  Used poorly, they can bring the worst of humanity right to our front door. OpenAI’s offerings are the first to hit the mainstream’s mass-consumption consciousness, but Microsoft has something that can learn your voice in seconds, and we are only moments away from a DALL-E/Deepfakes mashup (rand.org, infosysbpm.com) that will make any video published anywhere a matter of unending doubt of authenticity.

What do we do in the face of that? You already know, and have for some time. Enough tunnel, let’s get to some light.

Teach skepticism, logic, research skills, educate yourself in the possibilities, and guide students in how best to navigate the new currents in those possibilities. Use Socratic methodologies, and force students into discomfort. Meet the worst of VI with a curriculum focused on the best of what makes us human – ethics, civics, empathy, sympathy, community, and the ability to accomplish more than the sum of our parts as groups of individuals. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on a fallible software solution to catch kids cheating, spend thoughtful time building trust and understanding, and educate young minds in the fundamental pillars of civilization – with a focus on ethics, integrity,  and civics sufficiently so that students will be left sleepless and uneasy about the idea of turning in digitally produced and/or copied work as original work.  

Focus on project-based, passion-inspired curricula, with a focus on developing Design Thinking, not having everyone in the class following the same proscribed steps to get a hand-stencil turkey, or the same answers on the worksheet that has been photocopied 17 times since the mimeograph machine was retired in 1989.  Cite sources.  Check the citations.  Model peer review, and get students to cross check each others’ references, and deepen authentic learning opportunities. Make sure facts are independently verifiable, and question the motivations of fake news.

All technological advance means change, and most humans disdain change.  Educators are supposed to embrace it, to meet students where they are (which is always changing), but teachers are human.  VI (in its myriad forms) are manifestations of change that librarians, technologists, STEM/STEAM educators, and design thinkers have been preparing for over the past several decades. This is not science fiction, but rather hard science in learning, in effective teaching, in media literacy, digital citizenship, and student engagement in the face of overwhelming amounts of information and misinformation.

We can support educators, administrators, and pedagogical models as they learn to adapt to these new paradigms, and provide resources to evolve curricula to make students aware of the digital bear traps and pitfalls the future keeps throwing in everyone’s paths.  We have the tools, talent, experience, and methodologies to weather these changes, which are just going to become more tumultuous, and the impact of the waves bigger with time.  This barrage of technological tsunamis will require everyone to stretch, change, learn, and grow to maintain safe harbors. The jinn can’t be put back in the bottle, but we can learn from it, and use it to help students and teachers develop the skills and mindset they need to master futures we can’t even comprehend.

Cozy Up with a Book: Winter Break Recommendations from the Board!

As we head into winter break, the HVLA Board is here to help you fill your days with our favorite recent reads! Read on for a handful of titles for all ages and our thoughts on why they deserve a spot in your TBR pile. Wishing the entire HVLA community some restful and joyful time away from school.

Picture Books

“I can’t be the only person who pre-ordered this months in advance. Like the others in this series, Creepy Crayon really invites the reader to break out their best suspenseful, creepy voices. In addition, this one invites some discussion about academic integrity…. but in a fun way.”

– Gwen

Gibberish had me at every page turn!  I admire everything about this picture book, from the plot, to the illustrations rendered in pencil sketches and watercolor, to the overall book’s design—this title is a gem!  Vo masterfully uses the illustrations, nontext imagery and eventually the printed word, to depict the experience of a young immigrant child named Dat, who is learning English for the first time. Gibberish works on so many levels, and I’m most excited to share it with the pre-readers, whom I suspect will be able to relate with Dat, when he says, “Gibberish was in the books and in the air.” (Recommended for Ages 5-10)”

– Angela

“Though a few years old now, this beautiful poem/biography/love letter to A Snowy Day delights me each time I revisit it, whether with children or on my own! “Snow is nature’s we-all blanket.” Read this and feel all the feelings about the power of stories, representation, and poetry.”

– Megan

Chapter Books

“Surprising no one, Kate DiCamillo has done it again! While I will admit I was not impressed by the description, DiCamillo had me hooked from the very first page.”

– Christine

“This book is a couple of years old now, but I’ve already read it several times this fall. It makes a great class read aloud for K-1 (especially if one is willing to make up tunes for the crocodile’s silly songs), and is a favorite bedtime story in my household (read in a couple installments).”

– Gwen

Graphic Novels

“A graphic novel so wild and beloved it has its own merch! Dynamic duo Mac Barnett and Shawn Harriss have created such a silly fun story that will have readers of any age laughing out loud. Also includes tons of supplemental material online, like “live cartoons” complete with animation and sound effects by the authors themselves.”

– Christine

“I really enjoyed this feel-good fantasy graphic novel, and quickly found each of the characters appealing. As much as any character, though, I am fascinated by the witches’ basement, and wish I could spend a few afternoons there.”

– Gwen

Young Adult

“This is a sweet, fast-paced novel told from the perspective of high school Junior Yamilet. Yami and her brother Cesar are starting over at Slayton, the local Catholic school, to get away from the drama in their (former) friend groups. At Slayton, Yami and Cesar are bonded by their experience as the new, Brown kids. Over the course of the school year, they’ll find out that they share a closely guarded secret, too. This is a sensitive story told with compassion and empathy for misfits and the systems they live in, full of funny social media and pop culture references that bring the characters to life. ”

– Elaine

“Probably my favorite new realistic young adult read in years, We Deserve Monuments is a story of love and community packed with so much heart. The story navigates generational trauma, coming out, and the weighted history of small town life in the south. I read the ARC way back in March and have talked about it at least once a week since!”

– Megan


“This is a book about mothers. Maybe yours or theirs, maybe you know one— maybe it’s about you. Amid the chaos of modern life, the characters in the stories of Look How Happy I’m Making You are observant and empathetic, offering a knowing glance to the reader when one might be feeling a little less than stellar about one’s life choices. The stories feature people mothering each other, mothers of infants, motherless adults, and those who poet and scholar Maggie Nelson might call “the many gendered mothers of [their] heart.” Each one imperfect, complex, and reflective.”

– Elaine

“This speculative wonder of an adult debut reimagines US history in the wake of the Mass Dragoning of 1955 – an event in which thousands of women spontaneously turned into dragons and flew away from their lives. It is weird, smart, and all about freedom of information and freedom of identity. It also features some very, very good librarians. <3”

– Megan

Small Press Preview & Fall Meeting 2022

On Thursday, November 10th, HVLA librarians gathered for our fall meeting and Small Press Publisher Preview at the Nightingale-Bamford School – our first in-person, indoors gathering in nearly two years! Librarians enjoyed refreshments, mingling, book displays, and a warm welcome from HVLA President Christine Nassar before hearing from an exciting roster of small press publishers about new and soon-to-be-published titles.

Librarians heard from representatives from the following small presses:

  • Astra Books for Young Readers
  • Elsewhere Editions
  • Enchanted Lion Books
  • Greystone Kids & JY Press
  • Lee & Low
  • Little Bee Books
  • Nobrow Press
  • Pow Kids
  • Tapioca Stories

The evening closed with raffling off the many books generously donated by the small presses and, as a result, many happy school librarians with new titles to add to their collections.

Many thanks to all of our visiting publishers, the Nightingale-Bamford School librarians and facilities team, and Angela Perna (HVLA VP) for coordinating to host a wonderful in-person gathering. Please find helpful links to resources below!

Introducing the 2022-2023 HVLA Board!

As we embark on another year of programming for our Hudson Valley Library Association community, we’re here to reintroduce ourselves as your Board of Directors. We can’t wait to get to know you at our soon-to-be-announced fall meeting. Learn a little about us now and stay tuned for more information soon!

Christine Nassar, President

Christine Nassar is a librarian at The Dalton School, working with grades K-3. She obtained her Master’s of Information from Rutgers University, with a concentration in Library and Information Sciences, and a specialization in School Media. She is a lover of graphic novels and picture books. Some of Christine’s favorites are Journey by Aaron Becker, Stuck by Oliver Jeffers, and Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell. Christine speaks English, French, Arabic, and some rather rusty Italian, which she is always happy to practice.

Angela Perna, Co-Vice President

Angela Perna is a K-8 librarian at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s. Born in Montréal, Québec, she attended McGill University where she obtained her MSLIS.  Angela worked at NYPL for three years as a YA librarian and, at various junctures, in specialized libraries including medical, art and research.  She finally found her professional niche as a school librarian, now celebrating her twentieth year. A picture book aficionado, she enjoys discussing the role illustrations play in telling a story, reflecting her love of art and undergraduate background in art history.  She lives in The Bronx with her husband and, hopefully one day, a yellow Lab to be named after one of her many favorite literary characters.

Sarah Kresberg, Co-Vice President

Sarah Kresberg is the Upper Division Librarian and Director of the Library Tech Commons at The Allen-Stevenson School. A native of the UK, she was a third grade teacher in London and, after moving to the U.S., a fourth grade teacher in Vermont. It was in Vermont that she first encountered a school library in an elementary school and grew hugely envious of the librarian. Sarah completed her MSLIS at Kent State University and moved to NYC after seeing an advertisement for the job at Allen-Stevenson in the NY Times. Sarah can often be found walking or running along the waterfront near her apartment in Long Island City, which she shares with her husband, her fluffy cat Lola, and, during college vacations, her children. In her free time she tries new recipes, studies Korean and watches quite a few K-dramas.

Elaine Levia, Secretary

Elaine Levia is a High School Librarian and House Advisor at The Dalton School. A native Californian, Elaine majored in Feminist Studies at UC Santa Cruz and completed her MSLIS at UCLA. While interning at the Windward School, she became enamored with ~*the teens*~ in all their joyful, determined glory and decided to pursue a career in progressive education. Out of the stacks and classroom, Elaine enjoys biking, baking, Pilates, and keeps up a sporadic writing practice. She’s getting into hiking and backpacking, and will most likely take a memoir, chapbook, and novel out with her wherever she ventures.

Gwen Kaplan, Membership & Financial Coordinator

Gwen Kaplan is a Lower Division Librarian at the Horace Mann School. As an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, she was interested in so many different topics that she realized the library was the place to be! Since completing her MSLIS and School Library Certification at Drexel University, she has served as a librarian at Abington Friends School and Saint David’s School. She loves it when children ask “why?” and she is usually reading at least a couple of nonfiction books and mystery novels. A graduate school repeat offender, she is currently indulging her curiosity by working on a M.A. in American History, which means she has deep empathy for every student up against a deadline. In between parenting, teaching, and studying, she uses a time turner to make opportunities for quilting and baking.

Megan Westman, Communications Coordinator

Megan Westman (she/her) is the Lower School Librarian and Lower School Equity Coordinator at the Nightingale-Bamford School. She holds an MSLIS from Pratt Institute’s School of Information and has a background in storytelling via BAs in Musical Theatre and History from the American University. As a librarian and human being, Megan is passionate about antibias & antiracist education, sustainability, community building, and everyone reading whatever they want to read. When she’s not at school, Megan can be found baking, writing, playing the ukulele, and tending to her many houseplants. She lives in Brooklyn with a grumpy senior chihuahua named Beignet.

Welcome to the 2022-2023 School Year!

And just like that, we’re back! Inspired by my third grader students, who are currently writing “hopes and dreams” poems, I’d like to share my hopes and dreams for HVLA this year.

I hope for a great year of reconnection,
Of being together, to celebrate and to learn.

I dream of reviving clubs that have lost touch–
the HVLA book club, field trips and craft nights, our retiree and solo librarian groups.

I hope for more valuable time together,
With a return to in-person meetings, both professionally and socially.

I dream of an organization that is by its members, for its members;
Not a dream, but a reality.

I hope we can move forward,
To evaluate what serves us, and what we’d like to leave behind.

I dream of all this and more in the wonderful year to come.

In the spirit of these hopes, look out for the HVLA membership survey towards the end of September, once we have (hopefully) settled back into our school routines. We’d love to hear how best to serve you.

If you have not renewed your membership yet, you can do so here.

Let’s have a great year together.

Christine Nassar
HVLA President