Don’t read while you’re driving! What’s the matter with you?

Now then… For more than seven years, “From the publisher” appeared in this space. It was originally intended to be a review of the content of the current issue, the sort of thing presented by most professional and trade publications–often featuring a gauzy photo of the writer in a moony pose meant to convey erudition or gravitas. Such columns usually have one common characteristic: Nobody reads them.

On the other hand, my “From the publisher” column was quite different. I had a terrifically loyal following. My mother says she used to read those columns… every once in a while. And I know my wife reads every single one. That might not count all that heavily, though, because she’s a terrifically good proofreader and so reads every single thing in every single issue.

So, except for Mother and Pookie, I apparently could have been sending instructions for building MX missiles for all the attention this column was getting. Nobody would have been the wiser–at least, that’s the indication from our latest readership study. In fact, that study showed “From the publisher” to be well down the list among all the columns, departments, and stories in eSchool News. Bringing up the rear among the first rate is not that awful, I can almost hear you saying, but still…

Believe me, we take what our readers tell us very seriously around here. So upon reviewing that readership poll, I puzzled and pondered about what on earth the problem might be. I’ll tell you: It was baffling.

Almost from the start, you see, I stopped doing that “roundup of the issue’s contents” thing. I figured we have a nice big Table of Contents for those who want to plan their reading before just plunging in, so we don’t need that twice. Therefore, I ruled out redundancy.

Then I considered the actual writing itself and the merit of what I had to say. But Mother says she thinks my columns are charming–the ones she reads, anyway.

What a poser. The editors and I thought and thought about this peculiar situation. Then several staff members took me aside and told me as bluntly as they knew how–that my column wasn’t nearly as bad as the poll numbers suggest. That was pretty reassuring, as you might imagine, but just the slightest twinge of doubt did remain about whether–try as they might–my colleagues could be entirely objective.

Oh, it wasn’t as though those staff members were entirely alone, you know. I had confirmation from a completely independent source, too. A sales rep for a competitive publication actually stopped me during a conference not long ago and urged me to please, please –whatever I do–please keep writing this column. He seemed completely sincere, but I suppose he might have been thinking about those readers who canceled their subscriptions a while ago after they took umbrage with what I had to say about one thing or another … evolution, I think–or maybe it was the Bush ed-tech budget cuts. Well, in any case, I think it’s possible his encouragement might have been animated by some motive other than my best interests. You get jaded in this business.

All right, then. Having ruled out redundancy, topic selection, writing quality, insight, and innate talent as possible explanations for the low readership numbers, I focused like a laser beam on the only remaining possibilities. Graphics and title! Of course, why didn’t I think of those sooner?

Who wants to read something called “From the publisher”? I could barely read it myself. And that layout! Ugh.

Of course, a brand-new graphic treatment would do wonders to rejuvenate this creaky, old column. And an intriguing new title … Yeah, that’s the ticket!

As I often do in times requiring serious introspection, I fell back on the literature of my youth as I tried to think of a column title that would slip the surly bonds of “From the publisher.”

What was my problem? Who was to blame for the low readership? Shakespeare’s wise counsel leaped to mind, of course: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Well, OK, that wasn’t quite right. Still, it had a nice ring to it. You know that Bard of Avon.

But shouldn’t it have something to do with technology? Yes, I suppose it should. Hmm. The fault, the fault … default. Yes! Default Lines.

So there you have it. A shiny new title. An arresting new graphic presentation. No chance that people any longer will mistake this space for a stodgy, self-serving message from management about the contents of the month’s issue.

Next month, when summer’s over, I’ll get back to writing this column on the square. After all, what could hold it back now?

Just keep one thing in mind, please. As I told you at the top, “Values are set by the system unless changed by you.” That goes for this column, as much as it does for your life as a practicing educator.

So if you want systemic change–and I know that you do–I’ll expect readership for this column to soar. Because if you continue NOT reading it (and this applies to you, too, Mom), I just cannot be responsible for what happens.

Let your conscience be your guide, and remember my motto:

Don’t blame me. It’s not my default.

Gregg W. Downey can be reached via eMail at gdowney@eschoolnews.com