Education Evolutions #130

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Person looking at smartphone in the dark flickr photo by
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This week is a bit of a coronavirus cornucopia, at least indirectly. This group is a mix of current articles that deal with different elements of the present moment in all its challenges. They are not all specifically about the virus as much as they are about living in the time of a pandemic and the challenges that are presented as a result.

Thematically that might be a bit much for people but each presents a way of thinking through some of the challenges that have been amplified right now. Yet, some of the wisest advice I have ever heard is to react to the new or uncomfortable with curiosity. Easier said than done, I know. Still, only through approaching our responses with curiosity can we hope to navigate them with any sense of genuine success. We may ultimately judge something to be good, bad, or something far more complex but we can learn much more through inquiry than snap reactions.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the second one. I feature the thinking and writing of PL Thomas often in this newsletter. In this blogpost, he takes on some zombie-like beliefs that keep returning despite mounting evidence that they are built on lies. It is an ambitious post that comes full circle and offers a kind of hope despite its subject matter.

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

Are Teachers Ok? No, and Toxic Positivity Isn’t Helping – We Are Teachers – Julie Mason (10-minute read)

The notion of toxic positivity has been knocking around in my head for years, although I never would have come to that label, to be sure. While I don’t want to diminish the role self-efficacy can play in framing an experience. Still, it is a thing. In fact, it can be a significant thing in education or any helping profession for that matter.

Belief matters but so does being realistic. WIshing a way out of difficulties is not a secret to success. There also is a difference between not accepting negative framing and not accepting any negatives at all. Failing to acknowledge the full spectrum of emotions is not just toxic it is foolhardy. Extremes of any kind tend to be unhealthy for people, but they can be markers worth noting. Yet, while the first half of this article stakes out a justification for its headline the second half presents more practical advice for teachers.

The five-point list might be a bit too tidy, as so much media content can be, they are all also worth noting. They are the kinds of things that often take teachers years to fully grasp if they haven’t run them out of the profession before they fully wrestle with them. The core idea of wearing stress as a badge of honor is not peculiar to the teaching profession but seems to be acutely American. All five points mentioned can be distilled down to a simple message – stop working all the time. Teaching is an expansive and challenging job with no shortage of demands before the pandemic arrived. The onset of the pandemic has only increased the demands for everyone in nearly every aspect of life. At the least, acknowledging that is a major step toward overall health that is neither bound by limitations of positive or negative.

You’re on Your Own (But You Don’t Have to Be) – Radical Eyes for Equity blog – PL Thomas (10-minute read)

This is a wide-ranging blogpost, which uses the recent South Carolina Senate debate as the starting point for a skilled take-down of America’s obsession with bootstrapping, rugged individualism. It makes a fascinating followup to the previous addition above. Some myths never die but live undead among us, constantly adapting to any efforts to kill them. What Thomas points out so effectively is this particular myth, woven into the broader myth of the American Dream, is rooted in a lie.

While he may only cite one particular source in this blogpost, there is no shortage of evidence and research to support the notion that “cooperation, collaboration, and community are far more productive than competition.” Ultimately, competition as a prized value only truly serves capitalism and consumerism, not necessarily humans more broadly. Still, the idea of “slack and scarcity” Thomas pulls from the work of Mullainathan and Shafir does provide a great way to frame the argument he is making against the flawed cultural belief in individualism above all.

My favorite part of this piece, however, is when he questions why we have not collectively committed to a true effort to give all individuals the authentic “possibility to the American promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” One, I always respond to efforts that explore figures sanitized by history, as Thomas does with Martin Luther King Jr. Also, I find the kind of call to action implicit in this post profoundly encouraging. We do not need to be on our own. In fact, almost none of really are. Again, we all benefit from recognizing broader truths even if they may not be comfortable.

We Need to Think Critically About How the Pandemic is Impacting Our Schools – Human Restoration Project – Dan Kearney (5-minute read)

The pandemic has brought so many areas of life into stark relief. Once again, schools serve as a battleground for a range of competing and contrasting ideas. This piece from the Human Restoration Project, which is a fantastic group of educators asking all kinds of serious questions about education, takes on issues of command and control that existed long before the challenges of the moment but are nevertheless proliferating as a result.

While Kearney anecdotally references a student’s concern of everything being under teacher control. I would extend that idea to a far broader top-down approach that has been creeping into schools for some time. Prior to any decisions about whether schools would reopen or not, I could not believe how many people’s desire to just-get-kids-back-into-schools seemed remarkably oblivious to the fact that measures required to address the pandemic would render many familiar aspects of schools almost unrecognizable. Students and teachers who find themselves back in buildings can testify to that fact. What’s more, top-down controls have grown considerably for both. What changes will endure is precisely the kind of questions we all should be asking.

Some of the changes we are seeing are merely direct ways to properly address the safety of everyone involved and some are not. Efforts to impose greater command and control should always be questioned, even if they under the guise of safety which can offer a convenient cloak. because some changes will endure long after the pandemic. The main issue is that these changes are all the product of decisions, be they informed and conscious or ignorant and unaware, and they all come with consequences.

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