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.

Education Evolutions #69

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

Keeping with the hodge-podge selection of articles this week. As we enter the final stretch of the second semester here in New England, I deliberately tried to keep these selections short. It forced me to forsake a couple of longer items that may make it in as the summer begins. I have not continued this newsletter in the summer in the past and have been mulling that possibility over of late. Feel free to send me any thoughts on that, if you are so moved.

If there were some kind of theme it might involve the questioning of what and how we know what we think we do, which I start to scratch a bit in response to the first item. It is an itch that has been absorbing a lot of my peripheral thinking recently. It is one of those things that I think as an educator should be a little more central to our everyday work than it probably is, actually.

The choice for “If you read only one article…” is up for grabs again this week. All of them are interesting and easily read in a short sitting. The facial recognition piece is probably the most important. The school design piece is probably the most fascinating. Meanwhile, the medieval teenager piece is probably the most offbeat. So, give them all a look if you get a chance.

Have a good week as the summer is nearly upon us.

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

Unproven facial-recognition companies target schools, promising an end to shootings – The Washington Post –  Drew Harwell (12-minute read)

This is the next wave of privacy destruction by opaque companies selling unproven vaporware products under the guise of greater security. As facial recognition becomes more sophisticated I see this only getting far worse unless it is strictly regulated. The other issue in play here which rarely gets addressed is how the proprietary nature of practically all technology companies perpetuate their opaqueness. Worse still, when public institutions employ this kind of surveillance technology and endorse these proprietaries, they violate almost all sense of the open, transparent, and public values that underlie our democratic government.

To his credit, Harwell captures a lot of the concerns, problems, and potential consequences associated with mass surveillance systems marketing themselves to schools. This is an insidious kind of fleecing of public money on promises of effectiveness by private companies with virtually no accountability. Perhaps most frustrating of all, the almost belligerent willingness to surrender privacy in the name of safety actually posses a far greater threat to security. In a surveillance state, everyone is at risk and only the overlords are safe.

Century-Old Decisions That Impact Children Every Day – National Public Radio –  Anya Kamenetz (8-minute read)

Architecture is a such a fascinating way to examine schools, especially given how often schools are being designed and built a the moment. Quite simply spaces are not neutral and they can have pretty profound impacts on learning. Aside from the sheer physical layout of the space, so many other environmental factors can affect students, like noise levels, air quality, even lighting. There are plenty of interesting studies in this area to back those claims.

This article and accompanying radio package provide a nice introduction to looking at schools with an architectural and interior design lens. Alexandra Lange’s book The Design of Childhood just made my summer reading list, if I can find it at a public library. School design is a topic that has interested me more ever since I saw British professor Stephen Heppell speak. He has even developed something he calls the Learnometer, a device to measures a handful of environmental factors which I would love to get my hands on at some point. Regardless, the design of the physical spaces remains compelling stuff.

This Is What It Was Like to Be a Teenager in the Middle Ages – Time –  Rachel Moss (10-minute read)

Working with teenagers makes this kind of history particularly interesting. I was immediately reminded of how many conversations I have had about how old Romeo and Juliet are and how troubled students are when they realize that they are probably not both high schooler age. Here is some proof courtesy of a historian.

Pieces like this are great reminders of the old adage, “The more things change the more they stay the same.” It also confirms just how fuzzy the edges of adolescence can be. I suspect a fair number of people know someone nigh on 30 years-old that probably still qualifies as one. This article also reminded me of Jon Savage’s book Teenage, a look at the pre-history of the teenager and youth culture. Still, this is a wonderful window into the perceptions of young people in days of yore. Students tend to be particularly interested in this kind of peculiar history when relevant. So this may have longer usefulness than the title might have suggested.