Education Evolutions #72

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Alright, two weeks in a row is a good way to restart this little pet project. I must admit I am trying to streamline things a bit more and I may have to use a new method of distribution in the near future. More on that later, perhaps.

Last week I did not include the “If you read only one article…” bit, but this week would have to be the last two pieces. We all need reminders from time to time about the young people we work with every day. Plus, many of us are parents and have a bit more instruction and care to give. Those articles are good medicine, I think.

As we close out September, have a great week.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Misreading the Reading Wars Again (and Again) – Radical Eyes for Equity –  PL Thomas (6-minute read)

I love a good takedown as much as anyone and this is a good one. There is a lot of pretty terrible education journalism out there. And here, Thomas exposes a National Public Radio story about lagging reading levels in children and why educators are failing, highlighting the flawed premise, poor sources, and biggest factor that is routinely taken as a given.

Like a lot of false claims about education, some lies never really go away. To suggest that schools do not teach reading well is comical if one takes a minute to consider that we are at a point where more students graduate from high school and attend college in this country than at any point in human history. As Thomas explains, beating the drum of poor reading instruction always opens the commercial door for a solution.

I deeply appreciate how Thomas unmasks the sources used to support this story. While journalists cannot know everything, they ought to at least know something about the veracity of their sources. What’s worse is that it would seem that neither the reporter for the original article nor anyone in an editorial capacity is capable of understanding some of the fundamental theoretical tensions in the field.

My favorite part is the section about the accountability era’s corruptive and corrosive impact. As tests have become more important than ever, they have reduced reading to a mechanistic operation, as well as the reductive issues that Thomas raises. Additionally, I would argue that his final section defending teacher preparation is actually connected to the accountability regime. The teaching profession has been under attack for decades as a result, which is one of many factors that drive top-down, purchase-a-program mentalities that compounds the problems rather than offering solutions.

What teens wish their parents knew about social media – The Washington Post –  Ana Homayoun (5-minute read)

I am not sure that this article raises any earth-shattering information but it serves as a good reminder of just how different things are for today’s teens. The proliferation of always-connected devices and permissive parenting practices has created some pretty challenging circumstances. Yet, what never changes is the tension teens feel between wanting to become independent and autonomous and occasionally recognizing that maybe they might need some help from adults.

While the secrets should not be terribly surprising to anyone paying close attention, the real value is the suggestions. The idea of not engaging a teenager about their social media habits and preferences as a parent seems to me to verge on neglect. Conversation over attempts to control seem like the only meaningful way to provide support without being completely ignorant – for both parents and their kids. Any parent that is willing to hand their kid a mobile phone with the ability to access nearly any kind of content in the world and not have some hard conversations is probably headed for some real trouble.

What Teens Think of the Kavanaugh Accusations – The Atlantic –  Joe Pinsker (6-minute read)

I don’t know about anyone else but the unfolding drama around the current Supreme Court nominee confirmation has been engrossing. Aside from the sheer melodrama of the political theater in Washington, it seems like we are in the midst of a profoundly historical moment as if a number of cultural tectonic plates are colliding simultaneously.

In the world of American politics, there seems to be no end of examples where we let down our young people. Ploys purely played for power that set dubious precedents in our national politics are not lost on the young people that are paying attention. Plus, is there a teen alive that does not have a heightened hypocrite sensor?

This article actually gives me some hope. The thoughtfulness and understanding displayed by young people is a powerful reminder that kids today have something going on. Working in education it is easier to see that on a daily basis but it is also easier to grow a bit jaded too. Adults in the wider world would do well to have a look at this article and the one above to get a clearer picture of where the next generation struggles and what they have to offer.

Education Evolutions #71

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

It definitely has taken some time but after some deliberation, I finally got enough together to try and put together another issue of this newsletter. Now that I am back in the classroom fulltime, it has taken a few weeks to get back into the swing of things. Doing this weekly may still prove harder than I think but I thought I would at least give things a go and see what happens.

Hopefully, I can still produce this regularly. I will do my best.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Like Moths to a Flame – K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center –  Doug Levin (10-minute read)

I saw this piece in recent weeks and thought it was fascinating and balanced look at some of the issues facing IT in public schools. The incident of the student could hardly be properly described as a hacker, at least at first. It reads more as if a better description would have been a trespasser. Yet, as the title suggests the temptation proved to be too much for an adolescent. And, really, is there any adolescent capable of resisting temptation when genuinely curious?

Still, this post provides a window into a complex situation that has no easy answers and is really just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, there are malicious actors that could have done serious damage. Yet, this district looks like they were barely capable of keeping the doors of the building closed, let alone locked. There might as well have been a welcome mat and a staff person inviting anyone inside. Of course, that comparison does not begin to address the real problem.

As we push toward increasingly digital realities data is shared across multiple networks with little to no understanding by those whose data is involved. Even worse, there are not enough qualified people that even understand that central premise working in public education to even begin making decisions about how to handle these kinds of problems. We have been so cavalier about all of this that we now live in a world where data is shared across so many networks and platforms it is difficult to even ascertain the level of vulnerability. Think of it as if a break-in at a neighbor’s house revealed an open door into your own house that you were not even aware existed. That is not as fantastic as it may seem, Plus, when is the last time a representative from any vendor was prosecuted for failing to secure your data?

Is Education a Fundamental Right? – The New Yorker –  Jill Lepore (16-minute read)

Given the recent Michigan case that denied the notion that education is a fundamental right, a case cited in this article, the legality of the question looks destined for greater consideration. It may not be a federal right guaranteed by the US Constitution. However, a number of states establish education as a right in their own constitutions, also generally referenced in the article. Yet, what that actually looks like and how it is interpreted is likely to repeatedly challenged over the next decade or so.

While this article focuses more specifically on the Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe and the connection to illegal immigrants, I suspect the education of children aspect of the law may be in for a serious revival. It is the kind of angle that could easily be used to advance charter schools, vouchers, and other more sinister attacks on the current institution of public education, which could see a court favorable to those interests.

Billionaires v teachers: the Koch brothers’ plan to starve public education – The Guardian –  Steven Greenhouse (6-minute read)

This is the kind of article public educators need to read. It shows how well-monied political advances are set on breaking the public school system. It is not even about “reform” anymore if it ever was. Instead, it is about siphoning even more money out of the public and into private hands. It just simply is not enough that the Koch brothers and others of their ilk have benefitted and continue to rig the system to their benefit and fortunes, further allowing them to influence politics at the federal level and across a number of states too. States are notoriously easier to push around than the federal government anyway.

Anyone advocating school choice is selling fool’s gold, whether they know it or not. There has always been school choice in this country, you can send your child to the publicly funded school or you can send your child to a private school. As far as I am concerned, it is indefensible that private schools should receive any public money of any kind. They are not governed by the kinds of oversight, legal requirements, or transparency that public schools are and there is no legal basis requiring that they even exist, like public schools. In fact, they exist, at least in part, because they reside outside the public system as an alternative.

Consequently, it should not be financed by tax money. There needs to be more grassroots awareness of the kinds of spin and efforts to find any legal loophole available to advance anti-public education efforts as profiled in this report. Without it, education will no longer be a prerequisite for the kind of informed citizenry needed in a democracy because any trace of a democracy will have completely vanished.

Education Evolutions #70

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Apologies for such a late delivery. The festive day left me with a lot less time than normal to put this all together. It was all for good reasons, mind you. Plus, I am also facing a major obstacle in that the World Cup is underway.

No single sporting event so captures my attention and imagination. I absolutely love the every-four-year international tournament, despite all its warts and dark side. I just cannot help it. World Cup summers are my favorite of all summers. Sadly, I reckon nothing will be even closely the same when Qatar hosts the event.

As usual, no real theme in this issue, although it is definitely a bit on the dour side. Sometimes it just works out that way. I guess we are just coming to some pretty hard reckonings with some over-exuberant decisionmaking regarding the unprecedented proliferation of technology in our lives. Perhaps reckoning is far too premature a characterization. Maybe we are beginning to experience some profound realizations. Counter-actions still seem a ways off.

There is no real choice for “If you read only one article…” again, which is not altogether uncommon. All are of similar length, actually. They all evoke a rising sense of frustration that a lot of people feel, I think, but have a hard time articulating. These are complicated times.

Still trying to decide whether I will keep the newsletter up over the summer. No conclusions. So, this could be the last one for awhile, not sure just yet.

Hope everyone had a nice Father’s Day. I did.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Ed-Tech That Makes Me Want to Scream – Inside Higher Ed –  John Warner (10-minute read)

I must confess I find myself feeling more and more like I could have written this. I have long said that edtech tends to solve a lot of old pedagogical problems that do not interest me as much anymore. For example, there is no shortage of tools that make grading multiple-choice items easier and faster than ever. I am just not interested in multiple-choice items all that much anymore, despite their prevalence on standardized tests. Yet, surveillance has been a growing concern for the last year or two, only heightened with all this Facebook nonsense of late.

Kids have already kind of been robbed of the ability to make stupid mistakes without public incident thanks to social media. Every misstep is potentially publicized and archived, never to be just be ignored or even better forgotten. Now, we are creating tools that they will be required to use that only double-down on the Kafkaesque before they are even capable of reading Kafka or understanding the concept. It is hard not to feel a profound dehumanizing effect.

How Pro-Eating Disorder Posts Evade Filters on Social Media – Wired –  Louise Matsakis (14-minute read)

This is a fascinating example of how algorithms can exacerbate already entrenched problems. I am glad that this piece opens with the concession that eating disorder sites have been around almost as long as the Internet. The same could be said about a lot of ethically suspect topics. Yet algorithms seemingly act as accelerants for these debased efforts on social media.

The key element in the article really revolves around just how savvy the users and participants have become to avoid detection. That is an insight that has a lot more far-reaching consequences. Certainly, groups of people with eating disorders are far from the only people employing the same kinds of strategies and tactics. More worrisome is just how quickly more surveillance will likely be part of the answer in addressing these kinds of problems. Algorithms cannot make complex ethical decisions and generally amplify biases inherent in their creation, leading to extremely brittle ethical contexts. This is just one example of a much greater and profound problem where we have yet to find very good solutions.

How to Fight Amazon (Before You Turn 29) – The Atlantic –  Robinson Meyer (14-minute read)

This article provides a good primer on the recent history of anti-trust activity in the United States. It also begins to make a case for Amazon’s growing monopoly status, while profiling a young attorney named Lina Khan. I wish that it went a lot further on the topic. I suppose that a read of the “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” paper referenced will have to do. Plus, this piece ends with some clever novelty.

Pinpointing the moment of perception change in an article like this is a really important as a way to provide some context. Like so many of our prevailing cultural attitudes, they are rooted in the Reagan administration. For me, that 1980 inauguration has looked more and more vividly like the trigger for a seismic shift in our nation’s history. One that continues to reverberate to this day. Since the break up of the Bell system in 1982, something that was a dozen years in the making, it seems like monopoly efforts have only seemed to accelerate since. The possible exception would be the Microsoft case but they settled. Facebook, Google, Amazon are all good contenders now.