Education Evolutions #50

Celebration flickr photo by xdegarmox shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

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

Well, it is a kind of anniversary of sorts – Issue 50 of this newsletter that started out as a kind of experiment and has developed into a bit more than that. Given that I took the summer off, as well as some school vacations here and there, that means it clocks in at a little over a year-and-a-half but a nice looking number of installments.

This week is a bit of an eclectic mix of readings. It is too tricky to always identify a cool leitmotif for each issue, although I certainly like the challenge. Still, as long as I keep with the wider mission of curating articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching I feel pretty good. When beginning, I tried to find a focus that was neither too wide nor too narrow. As a result, this is week is a mix of new and old material that I have read and reflected on recently.

I am sort of torn about the idea of “If you read only one article…” this week. The first piece, “How Mindfulness Meditation Can Save America” deserves a serious shout, even if you are not taken with the whole mindfulness thing. It is long but is a fascinating intersection of psychology, politics, and of course mindfulness. Yet the second piece on personalized learning might be more immediately informative as states and districts line up to see all the new shiny buttons. Actually, read them all. it is worth it.

Enjoy the best weekend of American football, if you are so inclined. Semi-finals always surpass the final game, in my opinion anyway.

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

How Mindfulness Meditation Can Save America – Wired –  Robert Wright (15-minute read)

For last couple of years, I have been doing a pretty deep dive into mindfulness. My interest goes back decades but I would never have called myself a practitioner until more recently. In truth, I had probably been in an extended phase of preparation for a whole lot longer than that. Of course, now mindfulness is now riding probably the largest wave since the 1970s. It definitely has been making inroads into education, and for good reason. So, a headline like this was bound to find me as well as a whole lot of others.

Despite the headline’s grandiosity, Wright is definitely on to something. First, he provides one of the simplest and most elegant explanations of mindfulness I have encountered, “examining your feelings and deciding whether to buy into them, whether to let them carry you away.” That is pretty sound. Second, but perhaps more important, Wright unpacks a whole bunch of psychological errors and biases that we all make and then explains how mindfulness could provide a viable means for overcoming them, at least in part.

Lately, a lot has been made of the detrimental consequences of social media and the rise of legitimately fake news. Even I have been including articles that take a more critical view of how we humans, not technology, can often be the biggest problem (See this item from issue 39).  As Wright highlights, “We think what it feels good to think. And it feels good to think that our tribe makes sense and the other tribe doesn’t.”While I am not entirely sure that I believe what Wright posits is possible or even all that likely, I certainly appreciate his attempts to project hope.

Why I Left Silicon Valley, EdTech, and “Personalized” Learning – Inspired – Paul Emerich’s blog –  Paul Emerich (9-minute read)

Personalized learning is undoubtedly the next long-lasting trend that the edtech industry will be pushing for the foreseeable future. The idea of personalized is far from new, of course. However, the co-opted version that has been adopted by Silicon Valley, as well as the largest education publishers, is of a more recent vintage. It also should serve as a kind of archetypal lesson of just how fast commercial forces can pivot and reposition essentially the same mission, generating profit in the name of educating children. Pearson, Facebook, and more are all angling to back the trucks up at the superintendent’s and technology director’s door.

If you interested in what the edtech’s notion of personalized learning looks like, this sentence is the best place to start “it isolates children, it breeds competition, it assumes that children can learn entirely on their own, and it dehumanizes the learning environment, reducing the human experience of learning down to a mechanistic process, one where children become the objects of learning as opposed to the subjects of their own educational narrative”.

I have been saying for some time now that the biggest problem with edtech’s approach to personalized learning is that it is distinctly lacking in the persons. This testimonial makes the case even better than I could, as it comes from an insider. Emerich nails it with his comment about the personalized learning system, “it was disembodied and disconnected, with a computer constantly being a mediator between my students and me.” On some level, it is amazing to me that this has not been recognized more widely from the outset.

What’s more, I suspect there are a whole lot of teachers that would echo this sentiment more widely, particularly when feeling pressure to use technology just to use it or justify the cost of having it, even if those same teachers might not be able to articulate it. Plus, it is far easier to simply call those more cautious or critical Luddites or some derivation. Yet, here is a voice that is anything but sharpening the focus on the growing movement.

Looking at Wrong Outcomes, Missing the Lesson – Radical Eyes for Equity – P.L. Thomas’s blog –  P.L. Thomas (9-minute read)

P.L. Thomas is another writer that I have featured previously. I like him a lot. He challenges a lot of ideas about education, especially in the discipline of English. Here he takes on the College Board’s revamp of Advanced Placement, which I believe is ongoing. Like him, I am no fan of the College Board or AP for that matter. Even though this is an older post it remains more relevant than ever. On a side note, I was glad to see the profound conflict of interest posed by Common Core Standards architect David Coleman being President of the College Board. I still cannot fathom how five years have passed without any serious coverage or scrutiny on that one.

This post is definitely on the personal side, as Thomas recounts some of his early teaching experience. Still, some of the best bits are quotations he pulls from a talk educator and activist Brian Jones gave around the time of the post. Jones previews the failure of the Common Core prescience (Even now, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has declared the Common Core dead, but like a zombie it will no doubt continue stumbling forward in some undead fashion for years to come).

Better still, Thomas uses his experience anecdotally, teaching and advancing AP courses, to illustrate how flawed the whole approach is. He is most powerful when pointing out how focusing on test scores and outcomes, the kind of thing that AP programs and the general edreformy movement engender, is beyond misguided. Perhaps the most profound comment, “Test scores hide genuine academic success.” Read that sentence again. It echoes with truth.

Education Evolutions #49

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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

A little later than expected but before the holiday, this hopefully finds its way to you. I feel like I am still catching up from the holiday layoff, in a way. So the weekly practice of curation finds me wishing I could work a little quicker.

I still feel like there is no shortage of interesting reading out there worth highlighting. Yet, I also cannot help but be reminded while reading of just how important it is to get my nose out from in front of a screen and spend time with loved ones on the weekend. It is a challenge that I confront as much or more as anyone reading this. In fact, this labor of love is an effort to help people in that regard, serving as a kind of stopgap against the spillover.

As usual, I don’t know if there is an “If you read only one article…” this week. the last piece, “I Used to Be Human” is three-quarters of an excellent article, although extraordinarily long. If you have the time and inclination, it is definitely a piece with ambition, even if I am not sure that it is altogether successful. It is successful on enough fronts to give a go.

Enjoy the week and Martin Luther King Jr Day.

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

Getting Stuck on Self-Care: Why Community Care is Important for Educators – Teachers Going Gradeless –  Benjamin Doxtdator (6-minute read)

I like the thinking and writing of Benjamin Doxtdator a lot. I have never met him personally but I sense that we might get on quite well. I have featured his work in this newsletter on a number of occasions. This piece is as perceptive as it is provocative. There is no question that educators need to care for themselves. However, there is something even more powerful in the idea of a community exercising some care for itself too.

Schools can offer a ready-made community of care. In fact, I would humbly admit that I have recently given and received greatly from a community care based in a school. In his references to Noam Chomsky’s idea, “attacks on public education are really attacks on an ideal that we care for each other,” Doxtdator reminds us about the stakes. Despite demands on teachers being greater than ever, collectively there are greater possibilities to be potentially realized.

We Really Shouldn’t Let Silicon Valley into Our Schools – AlterNet – Sophie Linden (6-minute read)

This piece reads as a kind of executive summary on many of the challenges that are facing school’s brisk adoption rates of technology and the emerging consequences. There are a lot of links that reference a host of articles on the issues we are confronting. Linden rightly points out that there is conflicting research. For me, that fact only serves to strengthen why edtech should be regularly and rigorously interrogated.

Of course, the financial cost is one major factor, especially for public school systems that are inherently inequitably funded. There are also is the human cost, which we are only just beginning to really understand. Whether it is lost opportunities, attention, or even jobs, the field of education should be a place where ideas are constantly cross-examined. Unfortunately, it can all too often be a place where convenience replaces questioning. This article’s call for patience seems not only reasonable but increasingly required.

I Used to Be Human – New York Magazine – Andrew Sullivan (41-minute read)

As you may have already noticed, this piece is long. It might be the longest read I have ever selected for this newsletter. That being said, I suspect some of you will read it with a knowing resonance. Sullivan chronicles, in significant detail, his fall into the digital chasm of obsessive consumption of information and the virtual world. It is at times harrowing. I do think the piece runs a bit long and drifts from where it is most powerful. Yet, the first two-thirds to three quarters offer a pretty powerful testimony of the costs of “living-in-the-web.”

Even if you don’t finish this piece, it touches on some items that are more than worth considering. There is a kind of desperation being articulated here that should serve as a cautionary tale. As educators in schools, there is a growing sense of inevitability about technology that should be a cause for a serious pause. While it may seem alarmist, reading through Sullivan’s experience, albeit online (irony acknowledged) may serve as just that kind of pause, especially if you push through to the end.

Education Evolutions #48

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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

Well, this tiny newsletter returns. I hope everyone had nice holidays. It was nice to take a slightly low-tech approach to the festive season. I certainly spent more time away from a computer than normal. It wasn’t a complete drought but it was refreshing.

Having taken a week off from producing this publication means that there is no shortage of choices to be included. It was difficult to choose, honestly. Plus there is a whole lot going on in the world at the moment, I cannot be the only one who feels as though it is impossible to keep up. Nevertheless, here are some of the most interesting things I read in the last couple of weeks.

I don’t know if there is an “If you read only one article…” this week. With the time lapse, I already picked four articles. However, I think there is a whole lot of wisdom in the ‘The difficulty is the point’: teaching spoon-fed students how to really read. It does include some strong language as a fair warning to everyone. Even though it is ground in a foreign university setting, there is no shortage of observations that will ring true for almost any teacher. There is simply more to it than an exploration in teaching literature, although that focus offers plenty of value as well even if you are not that fussed with the topic of literature.

Enjoy the week and if you are in northern climes stay as warm as you can.

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

It’s Time We Hold Accountability Accountable – Teachers Going Gradeless – Arthur Chiaravalli (11-minute read)

I have to confess that part of the allure of this blog post was the title, which is kind of awesome. As teachers are constantly reminded of accountability, I often wonder exactly who is accountable and for what in the educational field, not to mention what exactly is lost in the fixation on what can be measured. The fact that this post uses writing as a mechanism to discuss the topic also appealed to me greatly. Chiarvalli’s quick exploration of “what exactly it means to be accountable” is thoughtful and highlights the transactional nature at its etymological roots.

The key notion that this bargain that has been handed to educators from policymakers known as accountability is profoundly limiting in damaging ways for especially for students is not something that gets enough attention. The idea that “accountability has caused the focus of administrators, teachers, and students to solidify around the narrow prescriptions and algorithmic thinking found on most tests” is growing harder and harder to rebuke. What’s more introducing Goodhart’s Law (“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”) to the mix should help most reasonable educators see the folly of all of this.

For Chiaravalli, teachers have to be the start of resisting the dehumanizing impacts so often associated with accountability. The simplest way to begin is fostering meaningful relationships with students and avoid using grades as motivational carrots and sticks. No doubt engaging in genuine conversations about accountability resisting its baser consequences is a bit harder than that but it is a pretty good start.

‘The difficulty is the point’: teaching spoon-fed students how to really read – The Guardian – Reading Australia – Tegan Bennett Daylight (16-minute read)

There are a lot elements in this article that may be more appealing to humanities teachers given that it is written by an Australian literature professor. However, it is much more wide-reaching and relevant than that narrow audience. What is described is very much afoot here in the United States. bennett Daylight explains succinctly, “Universities are businesses. Students are customers. The more customers, the better the business does.” I would even humbly submit that elements of this worldview are encroaching across our K12 system apace.

As insightful as the “logic of capitalism overrides everything” observation is there are quite a few other gems in this piece that will resonate with any teacher. One aspect I found most interesting is the recognition of something as simple as an attendance requirement and the powerful consequences it can have. Recognizing the importance of place and what live in-person experiences have to offer is increasingly important in a world where there are so many things to enable us to retreat from it. As Bennett Daylight explains the English One requirement forces a kind of confrontation for students that can be uncomfortable but nevertheless powerful one – “that difficulty is the point,” as the title suggests.

Reading and writing are difficult, at least they certainly can be for many. It is one of many the reasons so many students eschew studying literature longer than is required of them. Yet, perhaps the most powerful lesson of literature or even deep and broad literacy remains, “Language is power, and when we find the right way to frame our experience, we’re not being crushed by it.” It is so much harder for anyone to ignore, dismiss or even hate when they are face-to-face with another human being, especially so when that fellow human being can offer support, guidance, or even inspiration.

The Other Tech Bubble – Wired – Erin Griffith (13-minute read)

Given how the volume of tech-related articles have taken a slightly critical turn in recent months, this is a fascinating insider view of the tech industry and how it may or actually may not be adapting to the cultural and societal shifts that are occurring. In my mind, we have rarely been critical enough and I include myself in that assessment. Aside from the allure of shiny and new, Griffith offers a sharp explanation of the context that may have accelerated tech’s most recent everything-is-rosy rise. As usual, it is a probably a whole lot more complicated. However, where this article offers insight is how Silicon Valley is reacting.

The subtitle “Silicon Valley Techies Still Think They are the Good Guys” sadly is only readable in the tab title as a theme it resonates through the whole piece. There is no end to the mentality that drives the “quest to move fast and break things—regardless of what broken objects are left in their wake,” sadly. It is this disruption ethos that has also taken root in education, which is creating some profoundly dangerous and potentially long-lasting consequences.

No one should be surprised when the public looks at the field of education with the feelings expressed by an investor in this piece, “It’s the exact same story of too many people with too much money. That breeds arrogance, bad behavior, and jealousy, and society just loves to take it down.” It has already begun at the higher ed level, as university presidents salaries are now being scrutinized with more attention and Republican have begun taking an anti-college agenda. While these issues might not be entirely related, the sentiment is attractive and can spread rapidly.

Why Logan Paul Should Really Worry Us – Vanity Fair – Richard Lawson (8-minute read)

I would not be surprised if nobody that reads this newsletter had ever heard of Logan Paul prior to last week. I confess I only discovered who he was a couple weeks prior to his recent notoriety because he made a recent appearance on a Top Chef episode that I watched with my wife. Yet, I am very aware of just how much of a tectonic force YouTube has become in the last few years. I think it is difficult for many to comprehend that a number of people are able to make pretty substantial livings and amass mammoth followings of celebrity status by regularly posting videos to YouTube.

This is one of many pieces I read this week about Logan Paul’s appalling episode but it is probably the shrewdest and perceptive one. Observations on the lack of guidance or parenting, the compelling nature of online content, and the insularity that can be created via online communities are all legitimate issues that we have not collectively addressed with a lot of critical thought or deep understanding.

Still, as novel as some of this might seem, there is a distinct recognition that we have seen this phenomenon before, albeit maybe in less virulent packages. “The idiot machine will still keep churning,” as Lawson remarks. It always has and always will. The only real difference now is that more of them can gain greater followings faster before the wider public is even aware that they exist.