Education Evolutions #121

Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Semester one is done. It seems as though it was a particularly speedy semester in retrospect. Reflecting on it, I cannot help but feel like summer was only a few weeks ago, just before the holidays. Unfortunately, at the secondary level, there is no break to set apart the terms like there is in higher education. So the new semester begins as most of us are trying to wrap up the previous one and get everything in the books, as they say.

This week a small theme emerged in the selections. It is pretty well focused on the humanities in some way or another in each article. It just kind of happened organically which for me is always the best way. It would be awfully difficult to produce a weekly newsletter with a new related theme every week, beyond the overarching of focus of education, technology, and teaching.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. The intersection of the old and the new, modern technology and history is always fascinating to me. Plus, as I read it it seemed like it was an article that had been written for inclusion in this newsletter.

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

Why I’m optimistic about the future of the humanities – CNN – David M. Perry (4-minute read)

This might not be the most accurately titled opinion piece, despite the fact the author may indeed feel more optimistic. His reasons for optimism are fine but more of a reach as far as I am concerned. However, his reasoning for the decline in humanities study is a lot more insightful. Perry’s open anecdotal experiences are revealing and I suspect far from uncommon for professors in the humanities.

The decline of the humanities has been a topic for most of my lifetime. That time frame also coincides with the most precipitous rise of university costs. With the cultural rise of market-think, as well as tuition increases, families increasingly look at college through the lens of return on investment. A university education has become less about learning how to be a better, educated, and well-rounded human being and more about serving as a kind of professional finishing school. Consequently, majors like business, marketing, and finance look a lot more alluring than the dusty halls of the humanities. This doesn’t even begin to address how so many colleges and universities have essentially evolved into banks. Yet, if the humanities are to make a viable comeback the cost of attending college has to become cheaper, full stop. Also, I would humbly submit that failing to reduce college costs and revive the humanities has a consequence and cost that far surpasses what be immediately comprehensible.

Economists Ate My School – Why Defining Teaching as a Transaction is Destroying Our Society – Radical Eyes for Equity – Steve Singer (5-minute read)

Steve Singer is a teacher and prolific blogger with a definite agenda to defend the public school system. The volume that he produces is impressive and many of the points that he makes overlap with a lot of my thinking. This post definitely does. Singer articulates how flawed looking at teaching as a transaction can be. It is harmful to both teachers and students, otherwise known as children in a whole lot of cases. Yet, there is a kind of propaganda that never seems to go away.

Human beings are not products and teaching is not a service, no matter how popular that notion might become. Looking at education as a transaction is beyond reductive. Moreover, the prevalence of looking at life through an economic lens is ultimately dehumanizing. Of course, there are plenty of people in power that benefit from positioning everything in economic terms. It firmly keeps who is winning and losing in stark relief. As Singer suggests buyer beware becomes the rule, although I am not sure it becomes the only one. There are a few other oppressive edicts that help keep people in there place too. In fact, one of many things that the humanities are really good at revealing is that if money is the only metric a whole lot of other things simply don’t matter all that much.

The Way We Write History Has Changed – The Atlantic – Alexis C. Madrigal (7-minute read)

Sticking with the humanities trend, this article is a fascinating look at the intersection of the ubiquity of the smartphone and the practice of doing history. It is a fascinating angle because of just how much the smartphone as a technology has influenced everyday life and the wider effects in areas not necessarily recognized. It is impossible to deny how a pocket-sized camera and computer could completely change the archive experience for a historian.

What is more interesting about this piece, however, is Madrigal’s interrogation of what is gained by the digitizing of artifacts but also what might be lost. Aside from greater efficiency, the idea that digitization might invite more diverse people to get involved in doing history is a more than encouraging development. Also, the idea that historians believe that they can do a better more thorough job is exciting. Yet, recognizing that the process of digitization dislocates the artifact from its context was a particularly insightful thing to include. There is a lot more to that idea and Douglas Rushkoff has written about what kinds of affordances and privileges, as well as consequences come with the digital world in the excellent book Program or Be Programmed. Being conscious of these factors can be crucial, especially in the field of history.

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