@lessig: unfollow?

One way I keep up with interesting stuff and learning more about important issues is through the microblogging services Identi.ca and Twitter. I subscribe to feeds from people who can keep me up to date on what’s happening in the world.

Lawrence Lessig is an Internet luminary. He’s a legendary copyfighter, one of the founders of Creative Commons as well as founding Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society . He’s on the board of The Software Freedom Law Center as well as a former Electronic Frontier Foundation board member.

Having blogged a bit about Mr. Lessig’s LIVE! Wireside Chat on Twitter in February I am aware of his advocacy for government reform. So naturally when I found @lessig on Twitter and Identi.ca I subscribed to his feeds.

But today on Identi.ca I was surprised to see @lessig posting this:

Totally seriously: don't follow me if you've not taken the pledge @lessig on Identi.ca today

So I thought I’d check into it. After all, if it’s something Lawrence Lessig thinks is important it’s probably worth checking out, right?

So what is this “pledge”?

When I looked, what read like four different links in @lessig’s Identi.ca posts all take you to the same place which is actually a movie promotion website.

The site’s opening screen gives you a multiple choice question, most commonly one like this:

What percentage of students in Alaska will not graduate in four years?

  • a. 30%
  • b. 34%
  • c. 12%
  • d. 25%

And the answer is:

In Alaska, 34% of students will not graduate
from high school with a regular diploma in
4 years. Dropouts from the class of 2008
alone will cost Alaska almost $1 billion in
lost wages over their lifetimes.”

Every pledge counts and together we can save our schools.

Waiting For Superman

If you refresh the screen, you’ll usually get the same question about another state. Once in a while it is some other appalling statistic, like:

Since 1983 over 10 million Americans have reached 12th grade without learning to read at a basic level”

Waiting For Superman


Each School Day 7000 students in the US drop out ”

Waiting For Superman

It wasn’t difficult to figure out that the multiple choice question with the highest percentage is always the correct answer.

I refreshed it a bunch of times and came up with this partial list:

In Virginia 31% of students will not graduate from high school with a regular diploma….
22% of students in Pennsylvania
in Texas
in New Mexico
in West Virginia
in South Dakota
in Utah
in Delaware
in Massachusetts
in Indiana
in Louisiana
in Arkansas
in Maine
in Colorado
in Idaho
in South Carolina
in North Carolina
in Ohio
in Tennessee
in Hawaii
in Kentucky
in California
in Nebraska
in New York
in Georgia
in New Jersey
from Nevada
in Florida
in North Dakota
in Connecticut
in Maryland
in Iowa
in Washington
in Kentucky
in Missouri

Puzzle Map of the USA

If I was an American parent, I’d be seriously looking at moving to New Jersey. Their 18 percent looks especially good coming right before Nevada’s 53%

Clearly the American education system needs some help. It’s in pretty bad shape if these statistics are to be believed.

Waiting for Superman is a feature length documentary, apparently an exposeé of the American public education system made by Oscar Winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim, most famous for his 2006 film made An Inconvenient Truth.

In Canada…

Red Maple Leaf graphic
Education is managed provincially. In my early years of PTA membership fundraising and all authority over education was wrested from individual school boards by the provincial government, supposedly to ensure all schools got the same funding. In spite of tremendous protest against this sweeping change the law passed because we had a majority government.

The Government did tell the truth: all Ontario schools now get the same funding. Of course they didn’t increase funding for poorer schools, but rather decreased funding for richer schools, who are still ahead of the game thanks to fund raising.

Before that, education used to be funded according to the need, now it’s funded according to the funding formula. All the tax dollars, which used to be kept separate, now disappear into the provincial coffers. Poorer schools are probably worse off since the introduction of province wide testing gives bonus funding to the schools that do well on the tests. I’ve spent many years in the education trenches as a parent volunteer, a PTA member, and a fundraiser. I do understand how important education is for our kids.


The point of this website is to convince people to:

Make a Difference: Pledge to see the Film

When you go to the pledge page, you discover that the pledge is to see the movie.

exterior movie theatre

This is where they lost me.

And I can certainly understand the power of a good documentary, especially if the message can receive wide release. It’s a wonderful way to get a message out.

If 50,000 people make the pledge, the website promises 250,000 books will go to programs across the U.S.

From my fund raising days, I can tell you schools don’t just want any old books, they want the specific books needed to fill the holes in their curriculum that exist because of funding cuts. In fact, schools and school libraries get rid of books they don’t need or that are inappropriate or factually out of date.

So my question here is:

What books?

250,000 inappropriate books isn’t going to help anybody’s kids.

What programs?
It doesn’t specify public school programs. Maybe Private school programs? Literacy programs? YMCA programs? Weght loss programs? What? This is an incredibly vague promise.

The books might be great, or they might be useless. Certainly their value will be far less than the income Paramount makes from ticket sales.

The lowest rung on the pledge scale is for Paramount Pictures to get 50,000 bums in theatre seats for this movie.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to the movies, but lets say ten bucks a ticket, that could be $500,000 in ticket sales. The scale goes up to 1,000,000 pledges… $100,000,000 gross? Even if Paramount has to spend a few million on school books, that is still a heck of a return on a documentary. So we can see what Paramount is getting out of it.

But that’s not all.

Personally Identifiable

To make the pledge, you must surrender your email address, your zip code and your Date of Birth…. Hmmm… Isn’t it the EFF that cautions people about giving out personal identifiers, because it only takes three identifiers and it’s hasta la vista privacy?

Law Degree Necessary

The personal Information submitted there will be shared by Paramount Pictures, Participant Media, TakePart and Walden Media

You agree to the TakePart website’s terms of use and TakePart Privacy Policy , and if you have any stamina left you can see the Paramount Pictures Privacy Policy and the Walden Media Privacy Policy to know what you are agreeing to.

There are three, count them THREE privacy policies as well as a website “Terms of Use” agreement that you are committing to if you make the pledge. You pretty much need a lawyer to protect yourself before signing this thing. What is this? Data mining?

Has Lawrence Lessig’s Identi.ca account been hacked?

Lawrence Lessig has worked long and hard fighting for sane copyright reform. Creative Commons is an awesome accomplishment. He has helped many of us to understand some of the problems facing the future. He has worked long and hard to try to safeguard the Internet.

If the account hasn’t been hacked, if this is really Lawrence Lessig, why would he be making such a dubious suggestion.

Although I guess it wasn’t really a suggestion. It sounded more like an order actually.

@lessig said:
“totally seriously: don’t follow me if you’ve not taken the pledge”

If Lawrence Lessig wants the kind of “follower” that will blindly do whatever he says that lets me out since I’m in the habit of thinking for myself. I suspect “the pledge” wouldn’t work for me because I’m a Canadian, but of I was an American I wouldn’t sign it either.

But maybe I’ve interpreted this wrong.

So I haven’t clicked “unsubscribe” just yet. Perhaps I’m missing something. Perhaps it was a hack, or an error in judgement. Maybe he’ll respond to my identi.ca question, or this.

education funding?

Fund raising for Paramount Pictures is a backward way of funding education.

Paramount Gate

Particularly at a time when the MPAA, which certainly includes Paramount in its membership, is spending vast amounts of industry funding lobbying for A.C.T.A. around the world. In fact, right now many Canadians are anxiously waiting to find out of our government is going to try to foist a Canadian DMCA on our legislature.

If the only a fraction of what the MPAA spends lobbying for A.C.T.A. was spent on schools, every American public school could be a charter school.

I’m not sure how it works in the United States, but a lot of the erosion in Canadian public services– like education– over the past few decades seems a direct result of the fact that these days big business pays little or no tax.

Maybe we should be challenging the way education is financed rather than fund raising for the MPAA.
Side view of Yellow Laidlaw school bus

Forward to @lessig postscriptForward Navigational Arrow

[Photo Credits:
Flickr Photo by Marxchivist/Tom: A.M. Walzer Co. United States Inlay Puzzle

Laidlaw School bus (released into the public domain by Dori

Paramount Pictures photo by Smart Destinations


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