Education Evolutions #124

So, this is a day late as I am still shaking off whatever bug took hold of me at the end of last week. It pretty well wrecked the weekend and slowed me down. Still, here are a handful of readings that are not quite as dark as recent issues have seemed. I do like to find a little balance if possible and given the breadth of topics I try to cover with this newsletter is not completely impossible.

Given that this a vacation week for me, there will not be an issue next week. That has been pretty standard practice since I started this little experiment. So, issue #125 will arrive in nary a couple of weeks. Every time I see a milestone number I am a little surprised still. I never thought it would last as long as it has but I still like doing it and I have gotten some very kind feedback of late too.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one, of course. Anyone that reads this newsletter and cares about data privacy will have encountered the new California law before now. However, this piece walks everyone through the way that you can take advantage of the new protections, in some cases, whether or not you reside in California. We have so much further to go but this provides a great place to get started and begin to really take stock of all the services you currently use. it is a good prompt for a digital spring cleaning.

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

The Soft Bigotry of Hard Grading – Teacher in a Strange Land blog – Nancy Flanagan (7-minute read)

There are so many good thoughts in this post it is hard to highlight them all. The title alone drew me, then I read it and was hooked. Ironically, I saw the Fordham Great Expectations report prior to reading this, spent a few seconds and moved on. I have long passed the point of taking anything seriously that comes from that institution or its cadre. Yet, it is good to stay aware of those with other points of view are espousing, I suppose even if they are little more than a shill front for edreformy, anti-teacher, and high-stakes testing industry interests. That is part of what makes this takedown so good, as a matter of fact.

Pulling a line from the Bush-era that ushered in the madness of NCLB, giving a greater voice to the likes of Fordham charlatans, and using it to highlight the ridiculousness was a creative masterstroke. Flanagan takes that blame-the-victim frame job and turns it on its head. Even better, she cuts through a lot of mythic silliness associated with grades. Grades are a kind of fiction. They might be realistic, maybe even historical fiction but fiction nonetheless. They are crude approximations at best. Plus, Flanagan is dead right when she writes, “Bad grades don’t motivate kids to try harder.” This is one of the most pernicious myths many teachers learn the hard way if they learn it at all. Of course, there is always an example of a student that perpetuates this myth, but how often does every conversation with that student revolve around grades rather than learning or the course?

I am also fascinated by those who bang on about standards or any holding-the-line mentality gibberish and then make arguments about grading. In a true standards-based system there really is no need for grades, at least as we familiar. A student meets the standard or does not. Anything beyond that has the whiff of the kind of elitism that is only interested in ranking and sorting. Then again, that is pretty much the stock and trade of most material that comes from outfits like Fordham. I am glad someone took aim and helped clarify some of these points.

‘Schools are killing curiosity’: why we need to stop telling children to shut up and learn – The Guardian – Wendy Berliner (5-minute read)

While this article is mostly recycled from a book by the columnist, cultivating curiosity and crafting questions has been an area that has fascinated me for a number of years in my teaching career. Getting past the somewhat sensationalist headline, anyone that teaches at the secondary level knows that to some degree school can do a great job of teaching the curiosity right out of students. Of course, it never is really quite as simple as all that, however.

What is interesting is the longitudinal study used to suggest how critical curiosity might be in academic achievement. While there is a certain, “Obviously” quality to this finding, it is a healthy reminder of how compliance can be prized over curiosity, especially with large groups of students. Yet, the more school becomes a transaction game, the less room there is for things like curiosity. As the findings of Williams College professor Susan Engle suggest, “The questions they asked were aimed at improving their results, whereas the questions asked by more curious students were aimed at understanding a topic more deeply.” Again, teaching in a high school provides plenty of evidence this is a pretty accurate assessment.

There are not necessarily a lot of suggestions on how to combat the kind of curiosity killing that can occur in school. Perhaps those answers are left out to encourage buying the book. For a number of years now, I have tried to use student questions to drive most of our work in class. If they do not derive the kind of questions specifically suggested in any curricular planning, it is not too difficult to add some related questions into the mix. However, part of building a relationship with any student can involve encouraging questions and curiosity. It may only be a small step but it can set a tone and help cultivate a place where questions are encouraged and rewarded. Any teacher can find time for this if it is important to them.

Don’t sell my data! We finally have a law for that – The Washington Post – Geoffrey Fowler (9-minute read)

This is a kind of feel-good article. Now that the California Consumer Privacy Act has passed the ramifications are starting to ripple through the system. It is mildly encouraging that there are a number of companies that have opted to extend the rights to all Americans rather than simply Californians. For the largest companies that probably makes the most sense actually. Maybe if more states gathered together to adopt similar laws and possibly adopt the California standard, at least in the early going, it might force everyone’s hands.

Best of all Fowler has already started the process and provides a pretty interesting tale of his experience, highlighting the oddest or most dramatic requests from companies wanting confirmation. Reading some of them strike me as potentially even more invasive than what is being collected. Still, the other really excellent element in this article is the list of links provided at the end for readers to start the process for themselves.

I am not sure that the California Consumer Privacy Act goes far enough, to be honest, but agree with Fowler that it is an important first step. I also tend to be pretty dubious about any next legislative steps at the minute, especially since political campaigns specifically are benefitting from some of these kinds of data collection and sales practices. However, I also wonder how many companies will actually become worse everywhere they can outside of the Golden State, as a result of the new law. I have not seen anything to suggest that is happening but I would not be surprised at all if it did. Anyway, this is a good start if nothing else.

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