Education Evolutions #89

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

As February break has just started in New England, it is a time for me to catch my breath after wrapping one semester and beginning another. Given that fact, I will be taking the next week off and not putting out an issue.

There is a lot going on this week, in addition to a pile of grading that I already incurred which needs some addressing, as well as all the other things that crop up during a vacation. Plus, I am hoping to revel in the break by the week’s end, to be honest.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. As a high school teacher, I see a pretty healthy share of stressed-out students that think every misstep may result in their inability to get into [insert elite university]. It is a good thing to be reminded of just how distorted some communities’ notions of normal can become. There is no shortage of universities ready to take students and brand names are highly overrated. The real trick for all but the most elite is finishing the degree and paying for it all.

Hope everyone who has it enjoys the vacation.

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

The internet is sowing mass confusion. We must rethink how we teach kids every subject – USA Today – Sam Wineburg (3-minute read)

The headline may be a bit sensationalistic but there are some sound points in this opinion piece. A critical takeaway is that the problem of mass confusion linked to the Internet is not a student issue it is a human one. This article is reminiscent of the one I recently shared, making the comparison to pollution, although it takes a completely different tack. Rethinking the way that we teach all subjects is not the worst notion. However, this piece presents things as if that is not happening. It is, just not nearly fast enough.

Where Wineburg is on point is that we all need to re-educate ourselves. It should be a massive, fully funded, comprehensive effort that reaches far beyond the schoolhouse doors. Instead of starting with kids, however, we should seriously start with some policy that takes the power away from corporations that have exploited the Internet. That would be a good place to start.

Of course, there should be a stronger, deeper curricular effort made to educate kids but it needs to expand into the adult world too. While Wineburg ends with for “public education in the deepest sense,” he cannot help himself in going to the old well of assessments and teacher professional development, as if education is the problem. That outlook is just another flavor of edreformy nonsense. The issue is so much deeper and insidious than that and there does not seem to be enough will to address it.

We need an information diet – Equal Times – María José Carmona (7-minute read)

I admit that the headline of this article caught my attention. Then it opens with a quote from the instant classic Nicholas Carr piece “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” My interest was piqued further. Then Maryanne Wolf was referenced and it was pretty obvious that this piece was worht sharing. While claims made by Carr have been countered, albeit less convincingly, Wolf’s claims seem to hold even more weight. How we read is at least as important as what we read, maybe more so.

What I like about this particular piece is that it widens the discussion, including neuroscientists and European professors as well as American sources. I was not familiar with Equal Times as a source but it is an outlet with a clear, declared perspective, focusing on progressive global perspectives in three languages. I always like to look at broader perspectives than those found in North America.

The metaphor of a media diet makes a lot of sense. Regardless of what anyone says consciously working to balance our information consumption and constantly assess our network are practices that must become common in order to achieve those aims. While we are now all content curators perforce, a topic I began to approach with some of my students recently. As Mike Caulfield, author of Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, puts it “The truth is in the network.” Yet professional curators have been continuously present for some time, even in the Internet age. In fact, I am trying to perform part of that function with this newsletter.

Shut Up About Harvard – FiveThirtyEight – Ben Casselman (6-minute read)

A fellow journalism teacher tipped me off to this piece recently and I was immediately intrigued. There are so many good points in this piece that still holds up, despite it being a couple years old already. Even as some of the internal workings of Harvard were opened up in the recent scandal, schools of similar stature still account for around 1% of all undergraduates.

The media manufactured myopia that Casselman points out has not ceased at all and the consequences have only accelerated. What is even more amazing to me is that barely half of undergraduates finish within six years is a statistic that has not really moved in decades. Yet, more and more students are going to university than ever before. That means that half has grown in terms of overall numbers with degrees but the costs associated have outpaced many other costs of contemporary life.

Not included in this article but also another factor is that, even with declines in international enrollments, elite private universities are global brands and students from around the world compete to attend. We would all do well in education to keep a lot of the information in this article in mind when working with young people and their parents. They need a clearer picture of higher education and they are not going to get it from mass media.