TED Conversations

Aja B.
  • Aja B.
  • New York, NY
  • United States

Online Community Manager, TED


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Announcement: TED Conversation hiatus begins June 10th

As you know, we're in the process of redesigning TED.com and rebuilding the underlying infrastructure that keeps it all running. This process is happening in stages, starting with the Talk video page and site homepage, then user accounts and profiles, and so on until we have all of TED.com migrated to a modern, flexible, and easy-to-use platform.

TED Conversations remains one of the most technically complex pieces of this puzzle, and to really give this update the attention it needs, we've decided to place the current TED Conversations platform on a temporary hiatus.

What does this mean? Well, for starters, the existing conversations will remain online. Any links or bookmarks to existing topics will continue to function. Your accounts and profiles on TED will continue to exist. When the hiatus begins on June 10th, no new conversation topics will be added, and no further replies will be posted.

We're so delighted to have hosted such an impressive variety of discussions from this global and diverse community. Thank you for the part you've played in building TED Conversations, and we hope to see you again soon!


Aja B. | TED.com
Online Community Manager

PS: We need your help! We'd like to post a list of the absolute best conversations that have happened over the past 3 years: the most interesting ideas, questions, and debates. If you have any favorites, any really excellent interactions you've experienced or witnessed, please post them here!


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    May 31 2014: so is there any sure way to know when conversations has been restored, rather than just checking back randomly from time to time? Also, I noticed on the TED profiles now, there's no way to send someone a private email? Was that purposive on your part?
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      Jun 4 2014: Greg, did you get the group email telling us of the hiatus? Wouldn't you expect a similar dispatch when it is up and running again?

      Do you get the TED Blog delivered to your inbox? That is another good way of keeping abreast of things happening at TED, including launches of new initiatives.
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        Jun 4 2014: i guess it's possible, Fritzie. Do I appear stupid because I didn't think of that? Sometimes it's surprising how even very big orgs don't necessarily do things in a way that seems ultracompetent. I just established a facebook account, and I was surprised to see that the signup process wasn't as crystal clear as I would have thought it to be.

        I suppose I was also thinking that the new TED conversations might re-emerge in stages, although I suppose that's probably wrong on my part. I tend to be ultracareful, it often seems to me that it's better just to ask because one never knows what little kinks there might be that one didn't think of.

        I did get the group email. I wonder how it was generated, did it go out to every member of the TED community? But if someone comes along who hasn't joined the TED community, and they would like to know when TED conversations is back up and running, I wonder if they will be forced to just check back at random intervals? That doesn't seem user-friendly?
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          Jun 4 2014: No one appears stupid. It's reasonable to ask when you have a question.

          The larger TED Community has maybe a couple of million members. I don't know whether everyone got an email update on the new TED site, but I would have guessed that they did.

          Similarly, I would expect that the whole community would get an email announcing the new TED Conversations.

          Most mailing systems seem to have an option in which you can send a message to a list that basically is Everybody. It would make sense to me that TED is rebuilding not just to serve the really not very many people who participate in TED Conversations but also to try to engage a bigger share of the TED Community.
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        Jun 4 2014: do you see any flaws in TED conversations as it has been constituted up until the overhaul?
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          Jun 4 2014: People have always expressed lots of ideas for how the platform could be improved. Robert has suggested that the Terms of Use be reviewed and either changed or enforced. That is a suggestion that I think makes good sense.

          Many people have suggested that there be a way of replying beyond the fourth reply in a chain of comments.

          For myself personally, I miss the wider range of perspectives and collaborative working on problems that the site had maybe a couple of years ago.Many participants who once shared interesting and thoughtful points of view, who thought hard together, have left over time, making the community less diverse now in background and interests.

          My preferences in the flavor or culture of a discourse community are going to be different than someone else's and neither more nor less legitimate, I think. For example, I prefer exchanges in which people make meaning together, sharing information and entertaining different arguments, advancing the group's thinking on questions in which participants do not have entrenched points of view. Other people have a particular love of debate- even for formal debate. And some like most of all to chat and share about the events of their lives. Some prefer forums where they can practice promoting/marketing particular views of theirs to an audience or are searching for followers of a program they want to lead..

          Because people look for different things, if I were redesigning the forum, I would survey those who used to participate actively, other than the trolls, and ask why they left. I would also survey a random sample of TED Community members to ask what would draw them to participate in a forum about ideas.
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        Jun 4 2014: oh, maybe you answered or partially answered my question by saying that TED is rebuilding conversations to try to engage more members of the community. Although my perception is that a fair amount of new people do participate in conversations, it's just a fairly small number that stick around for a while (like myself and you.)

        Do you think the rebuilding that has been done so far has been an improvement, Fritzie? I really hardly use any part of TED except for conversations. I have nominated a few people for speakers, I nominated Mark McAfee, who owns the largest raw milk company in California and makes a good case for drinking raw milk; and Scott Slovic, who teaches "ecological literature" in Idaho. I've just had communication with a third person named Heidi Duckler, urging her to apply to be a speaker. She is a choreographer who works in Los Angeles who stages dance at unusual venues such as Laundromats and at the L.A. Police Academy. I'm afraid I can't get YouTube video for you as I'll lose what I've written here, but look for videos of her dances on YouTube, they're fun and interesting. I saw her piece "At the Oasis" at Cal State L.A.
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          Jun 4 2014: I did not actually say that TED is rebuilding in order to engage more members of the community but only that it would not surprise me, given TED's mission, if that were part of the organization's hope from the redesign.

          TED Conversations has not been rebuilt yet. I think mobile users are the ones who probably see the most benefit from the rebuilding to date. I don't think the rebuild has yet taken into account the functionality of the site for conversationalists and that the changes so far have had the side effect, rather than the intention, of reducing the serviceability to that group.

          The rebuild that is starting next week is planned to enhance those services.
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        Jun 4 2014: is there any particular reason why there would have been a wider range of perspectives and collaborative working of problems a couple of years ago? Or is it just random? I know TED conversations is only about three years old, perhaps it was fresher and more novel two years ago and attracted more interesting people. But I've only participated in the last year, Fritzie, and found it hugely positive and edifying.
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          Jun 4 2014: As I wrote, rather than speculating about why people have left, I would survey people who used to participate and do no longer. One hypothesis is that many people stay if they believe they are learning about things about which they want to learn or if they believe that people are learning from their contributions and leave if they believe they are not hearing any new or valuable ideas or that people are largely not interested in their perspectives.

          An idea or line of argument may seem new and fresh to one person while being something another person has known about and considered thoroughly thirty years ago.

          By the way, I have tried twice to link for you the place on the site that shows the improvements, but each time the reply seems to be deleted automatically. Try putting in hello dot ted dot com.
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        Jun 4 2014: would you mind explaining to me how the changes that have been made so far serve the mobile community, I suppose you mean things like smartphones and tablets, which I have never had and in fact don't have a cellphone or even a PC, I use PC's at public libraries or at my mom's house. As I'm asking you the question, I'm picturing the look of the TED talk videos now on the revamped site and I can kind of think that they might "size" better for a mobile screen than the prior sizings.

        This all means that mobile devices are becoming a more significant part of human life? That would be because people have simply gotten more comfortable with the devices?
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          Jun 4 2014: I too am judging by the shape of the screen and the fact that TED staff said the rebuild would be much more functional for mobile users. I also have neither smartphone nor tablet.
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        Jun 5 2014: sorry, Fritzie, you did say that. I guess because it was an unexpected idea for me, I didn't intake it very well. But since TED probably won't perform the survey you described, possibly all we can is speculate as to why it may have been better back then? For me, it seems I am still experiencing what you describe, diverse people thinking hard to try to solve problems.

        By the way, is there any particular kind of problem you consistently work on? You haven't been around much lately, but I always used to see you the most on education questions. Your goal is to improve education? To what end?
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          Jun 5 2014: I think TED very well might do user interviews of a random sample of people. They did user interviews as part of the general rebuild. This is one reason it takes time.

          Yes, I am passionately committed to building learning communities to foster and facilitate critical and creative thinking, ages about eleven through adult, both within conventional educational institutions and outside them. I tend to have about five such projects going at once. So I keep up on research and practice having to do with thinking and learning. I have not been involved professionally in programs for the very young, but I have been involved at the design and at the practitioner level in secondary and post-secondary.
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        Jun 6 2014: well, in my mind Fritzie, TED might not care why people leave TED conversations as long as they have new people, "new blood," coming in, which as far as I can see they do. I suppose it is an interesting question. I could maybe see some people only starting out with a moderate interest in TED conversations, and after a while they get their fill and move on. Some people I notice only post conversations of their own and never reply to other people's conversations, so once they finish with their conversation they may move on. Some people's practical situations may change where they have less time. Some people might find TED conversations daunting, I have noticed people who start a conversation but then don't reply to the people who reply back, possibly they don't have the intellectual resources to continue the conversation. Some people may be restless people who need to move on to new things after a while. Some people may find TED deflating, they may have thought they were brilliant, and then they get some astute critical thinking coming back at them and they find they're not as brilliant at handling it as they thought they were.

        I noticed you haven't been on TED convos much for the last few months. Why has that been?

        One thing that's been curious for me is recommending TED conversations to people who I really thought would be interested, but they did not get involved. I'll have to keep that in my mind to ask them why not. In one case the person is really busy with other things, in fact that may be the case with all of them.

        Well, I enjoy learning, in fact that's why I participate here. Is it a case where you're dissatisfied with learning systems as they stand presently? Or perhaps you don't think enough people are oriented towards learning or take advantage of educational opportunities?

        The best learning experience I had was my first year at Stanford...........
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        Jun 6 2014: i was in a program called structured liberal education https://undergrad.stanford.edu/programs/residential-programs/sle it was a much more intense western civ course than most students go through, consuming three-fourths of our credits each quarter. There were 60 of us in the program and we all lived in three freshman dorms in the same complex, in my dorm there were 20 of us in "SLE," and then 40 who weren't, and the same in the other two dorms. Basically we went to all our classes in a main meeting hall for those dorms, and our discussion sections were at different rooms in the complex, well, a couple of our professors had apartments in the complex so we had discussion sections at their apartments. Of course it was very exciting because the same people you were going to class with you were living with, so there were oodles of SLE conversations happening around the dorms, at meals, etc. Our first quarter we worked on the Greeks, second quarter the Renaissance, third quarter the modern period. But I got lucky because my best friend, also in SLE, happened to be a brilliant person, I learned so much from him, without him I think SLE and Stanford (and the rest of my life) would have been rather pedestrian. Here is his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/phil.ansell.50?fref=ts

        Have you seen me talking about deep springs college here on TED? This is a unique college in Death Valley, California, it's only about twenty students, all men, every student scored in the top 1% on the SAT, all are on full scholarship but must work at least 20 hours a week on the school farm, students have a lot of responsibility, one sits on the board of trustees. It was started by a man who thought people with potential should spend some time in the desert reflecting. I applied but didn't get in, but I'm sure I had a better experience with SLE and Phil.
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          Jun 6 2014: I have over the years known many people to apply to Deep Springs. Obviously with only twenty people and all on full scholarship, it is highly competitive.
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        Jun 6 2014: I suppose prior to the overhaul, if someone wondered why another person had ceased to participate in TED conversations, in most cases they could have sent them a behind-the-scenes email via their profile. But it looks like now that feature is gone? For myself, Fritzie, I sometimes wonder why people stop responding, yet somehow it would damage my "California cool" to ask, or it might feel critical and one wants to be supportive here. But it's certainly a good question. But I still wonder why you haven't participated much for the last few months, if we saw why you haven't we might get some insight into why others haven't.

        I don't know, I didn't feel that competitive with Deep Springs. I guess it's just a case of try your best, if they accept you, fine, if not, well, you tried. I think for me it worked out fabulously.

        Well, I'm somewhat working on another TED speaker recommendation, I was exposed at an art gallery to something called "artistic taxidermy," people are taxidemying animals but then arting them up with jewelry or posing them in interesting tableaus, I gather now that quite a few people are doing this in the world. I thought it was beautiful and interesting, thinking one of the artists would make a good TED speaker.
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          Jun 6 2014: I think you are right that it is nicer to ask people in private email, as people often have personal reasons. I predict email will return as a feature. The scholarly literature on building online communities definitely suggests that members should have a means of engaging in private exchanges.

          I don't think it's about California cool. People have emailed me with worries about the sudden disappearances of an older person. I know there is one person I miss very much who was taking care of an ailing spouse. I know others who left because they were fed up with a particular prolific troll or because they feel like the views that they see expressed on the subjects that interest them most have become predictable, so they don't see participation enhancing their thinking any further. Almost all of our scientists have left. Remember scholars and professionals in a field have lots of opportunity for discourse and collaboration with colleagues as well as access to interdisciplinary exchanges..So do many other people as well.

          It is true new people come! What I think would be important for someone designing a site to consider is whether there is something systematic in who chooses to leave, particularly if the environment doesn't seem welcoming or tolerate of people with their background, education, point of view, or whatever.

          This information is easier to gather if a person can answer privately rather than posting an answer on a forum.

          I am glad you know that anyone can suggest a TED speaker. There are so few spots and so many people worth hearing! Fortunately TEDx dramatically increases those opportunities.
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        Jun 7 2014: well, what I meant by California cool, fritz, is that kind of "laid-back," "mellow," "hey, whatever, man" attitude, "if you want to stay, it's cool, if you want to go, it's cool, whatever, man." Asking someone why they went might blow your mellow. But it's a good question.

        Speaking for myself, F, I believe TED conversations has constructed a wonderful site that is inviting to very learning and unlearned alike. If the very learned don't take advantage of it, well, to some degree, that's their problem. True, they can consult fellow scholars, but TED has a nice high profile and visibility that could be alluring. And you might meet people who take you out of your rut, as opposed to just going back to your same old network. But still your question is a good one, and it wouldn't be wasteful to survey people.

        I did send TED a suggestion that wherever they have video online of a TED speaker, they set that speaker up with a connection where they get notified any time someone comments on the video with them speaking, whether on TED, YouTube, or elsewhere. I was reading comments under TED talks and noticed the speakers in the video rarely respond to comments, but if they got a notification they might do it more often, and it might pull in more of the very learned. TED liked the idea and said they'd talk about it, but I don't know what they did with it. Do you have any suggestions as to direct changes that would pull more learned people into TED conversations? Part of the reason I don't care that strongly is I find I can approach any given TED conversation with rigor, and I can elicit rigor from a person I "converse" with on the conversation. In other words, even people who don't have a Ph.D. can often think very well, but you may have to pull it out of them.

        I know of another interesting edu approach you may not know about. Are you aware of the academy of achievement? They are based in Washington, D.C. .............................
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          Jun 7 2014: I think you are right that in their spare time people participate where they feel like participating. Some people mainly like to talk with people with whom they feel they can communicate fluently because of various points of similarity, and some enjoy communicating with a diversity of people and are quite adept at that. If you like diversity, you would want a wide range of people to feel their participation is valued.

          The most important basic principle for encouraging the participation of ANY group is not to push people away out of prejudice. For example, if people of whatever stripe feel targeted continually, they may choose to exit a particular setting. Religious people may not stay where they feel summariily dismissed, or atheists, or libertarians, or scientists or teachers... It could be anyone.

          This is one reason the terms of use ask for respectfulness of others, regardless of who they are.

          I might add that you cannot tell who is who unless they choose to divulge that about themselves and do so honestly.
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        Jun 7 2014: their whole thing is every year they hold a four-day conference somewhere in the world where they invite 50 or 60 superachievers, genuine household names, and about 300 young people who have demonstrated promise somehow. They get 'em together and the superachievers all give talks about their lives to try to inspire the youngsters. I got to be one of the 300 young people in '78 as a high school senior because I was a National Merit Scholar. You can play around on their site at achievement.org, watch many of the speeches on the "podcast center," and they have some sort of educational program for schools, in fact I haven't studied that section, if it does anything for you let me know what you get out of it?
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        Jun 7 2014: well, you've mentioned possible discrimination a couple of times, F. But I've almost never seen it here, have you? Once I flagged a conversation that mentioned "Jewish bankers" being a problem, and it was promptly removed. But I haven't seen discrimination that stays up that I think would cause someone to leave?
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          Jun 7 2014: I never mentioned discrimination. Beyond this, I cannot get into details here.
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        Jun 8 2014: well, you said it's important not to push people away because of prejudice, that's not the same as discrimination?
        "Cannot get into details," bit of a conversation killer, Fritzie. Hard for me to imagine you're hiding anything too controversial?
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          Jun 8 2014: To me prejudice is a set of assumptions about an individual based on the group he is in or assumptions about all people in that group. To me discrimination, in contrast, is something an institution does deliberately to disadvantage one group relative to others.

          You are right that I would not hide something controversial. Rather, I am respecting people's privacy.
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        Jun 9 2014: yes, that is the typical way the words are used. Well, I wouldn't want anyone to damage someone's privacy, I just thought in a generic way you would say whether you've seen much prejudice on TED conversations. I suppose it seems good as a way to educate me, to help me get an accurate picture of TED conversations.
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          Jun 9 2014: You have been here long enough, and intensively enough, to make your own observations, I would have thought? Examples: I have seen professional scientists kind of hounded out of here but I expect also made to feel out of place by continuous repetition of the popular belief that mainstream scientists are either ignorant, narrow-minded, or motivated only by money. So we miss an opportunity to learn about the real cutting edge in the fields of their work. Government employees would, I imagine, feel that there would be little interest in any sort of collaboration here involving them. Teachers or anyone involved in mainstream education are in many threads characterized as completely dead wood and incorrigible.

          I think one reason people maintain private profiles is so that they are not judged on the basis of these features. But they still notice popular attitudes toward their type.

          These are examples. Generally speaking, I think people who believe their observations and thoughts will be summarily dismissed because of the job, identity, political or religious disposition, nationality, or education they have, don't stay to share. Why share notes from the field if they feel there will be no consideration of what they have to say?

          Organizations develop a culture. When people have a choice, they stick with environments that have a culture that values them. Some organizations, therefore, bind together only people with a narrow range of accepted beliefs. Others retain the energy of a diversity of long, medium, and short term participants who really bring widely diverse information and perspectives to the table.

          In my observation TED Conversations two years ago had the sort of vitality that comes of a crossroads of very different thoughtful people hashing out important problems. But not so much of late.

          In contrast TED as an organization draws excitingly diverse people to the conferences, to the stage, and to the community who follow the talks.
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        Jun 10 2014: No, I haven't seen any professional scientists hounded out of here, nor any assertions that "mainstream scientists are either ignorant, narrow-minded, or motivated only by money," much less continuous repetition of same. No, from what I've seen, there are many respectful people who would be open to hearing what a scientist has to say. They might then disagree with the scientist, but it's hard for me to see them hounding them out of here. I have seen education criticized, generally the sentiment seems to be that education isn't done creatively, or doesn't foster creativity in the students. Well, in those cases, Fritzie, what I look for is whether the person making that statement appears to be sincere, if they sincerely believe it, then I don't think I could think of it as a prejudice, I believe you have to be at least thirteen years old to participate in TED conversations, by the time you're thirteen you have at least seven years of formal education so you have experienced formal education and had a chance to form some impressions of it, and you might reach a conclusion that education isn't creative or doesn't foster creativity in the students. I suppose you could call it a criticism, that education isn't creative or doesn't foster creativity, I guess the question then becomes whether it holds water or not, and if so, what you might do to remedy it. It would then fall to an educator whether they want to become involved in such a conversation, they might if they think the person is mistaken, or they might if they think the person is correct. But one thing, Fritzie, there are questions about education itself, but there are questions about many other topics, even if an educator didn't want to become involved in conversations about education, they might about the many other topics?
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          Jun 10 2014: There is universal agreement, I think, among those involved in education and those on the outside that there is plenty of room for improvement in education. Of course that near universally held view may constitute a philosophy but does not constitute a prejudice that we all have. Now a blanket assumption, supported only by selective anecdote, that teachers typically or universally deny that there is room for improvement or that they don't care I would say does constitutes a prejudice. An assumption that doctors do not typically care about their patients' health but only about their incomes would to me constitute a prejudice. An assumption that employees of government are typically corrupt constitutes a prejudice unless that is supported by data in the place at hand. Any of these is lumping together a group of people and making a negative assumption that anecdotes from ones experience cannot credibly support.

          Obviously anyone can choose to become involved in any topic, any open website, and so forth or to spend discretionary time elsewhere. People can and do these things.

          I don't think sincerity has much bearing on whether someone has a prejudice. History is full of sincerely held misconceptions and prejudices.
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        Jun 10 2014: oh, I'm seeing a little better where you're coming from, Fritzie. To me it's tough, because I generally read a criticism of education as a little more abstract, that it's not really a criticism of individual teachers or even the teaching profession, it's more like they're saying there's something "systemic" that discourages creativity in education, or discourages education that draws out creativity. Although I would have to think about that further, because after all a system is constructed by human beings, well, it might be an interesting question, when a teacher teaches, how much of their individual personality can they inject into the teaching, and how much is their teaching designed by someone other than them, possibly by someone who's not a teacher in the classroom, a "higher-up"?

        But you know, the criticisms of education I see don't assert that "teachers typically or universally deny that there is room for improvement or that they don't care." They just say that the education system isn't creative, or doesn't draw out creativity in the students, but I honestly don't see the person saying the teachers deny there is room for improvement, or don't care. You are seeing the person actually saying that, or you're taking it by implication? But even if someone said "Most or all teachers around the world don't care about their students," would that really be a prejudice? Because in my mind a prejudice would be flag-able, and TED would be duty-bound to remove it. If it is a prejudice, it's not as strong as saying, for example, "All black people are dumb," is it? Why is the latter a stronger or more offensive prejudice?
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          Jun 10 2014: I don't agree that broad brush assumptions are a violation of terms of use any more than faulty logic is Of course individual personality is a component of teaching, as it is a component of the delivery of any personal service- nursing, hairdressing, waitressing..

          If you review archived discussions about education, you will find some comments that place fault on administrators or the federal government, some on teachers, some on teachers unions, some on families, and so forth.

          A bientot then, Greg. See you when the forum starts up again.

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