Education Evolutions #62

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

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

I was not entirely sure I would get this issue out. The last day of a vacation tends to be a bit of a helter-skelter sprint to finish all those things I hoped to do over the break but maybe fell short. That’s probably still the case but I yielded to this particular compulsion.

This week features an almost entirely education-wide focus. Sure there is some tech and teaching mixed in there but, for the most part, these selections are about the big systems that shape education for better or worse. I have often been accused of being negative about these kinds of things. I disagree. Actually, I really am an optimist with the greatest of hopes. I just happen to be frequently disappointed. Even these articles, as much as they might stir me up, still fill me with hope in spite of any disappointment.

As for the “If you read only one article…” selection this week, it has to go to the third selection “How Education Reform Ate the Democratic Party.” If you have ever wondered about terms like neoliberalism, wondered how the political party that used to support educators and the working class changed, or why we seem so bereft of alternative ideas about education, that has to be considered a must read. It is part history lesson and primer on how the field of public education finds itself in its present state.

Well, I return to school tomorrow, as many fellow New Englanders do after spring break, and it is only just yesterday started to actually feel like spring.

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

25-Year-Old Textbooks and Holes in the Ceiling: Inside America’s Public Schools – The New York Times –  Josephine Sedgwick (8-minute read)

This article got a lot of play on the Internets after it was published. It seemed almost irresponsible not to include it on that chance that some might not have seen it yet. It is pretty sobering. It is not as balanced it probably could have been, although I am not certain how balanced the story can be. It is heavy on states that are in the midst of strikes and walkouts. It may not represent schools everywhere but it certainly represents a whole lot. I wish that they were far more transparent about the difference between true public schools and charters because it is not entirely clear.

It is pretty inarguable that states have been shortchanging education spending now for decades. Considering just how many unfounded demands have been placed on schools in the NCLB era alone, there is almost no possible evidence to contrary, even if the net spend has increased. As increases in demand and desire for more technology grow there is no end in sight to a need for more funding. However, how the money is spent might require a bit more oversight. We educators should never forget that part of the push for more technology buttresses the standardized testing regime and student surveillance. I am not sure how they can be divorced but I wish that more time and energy was spent on that problem.

Pearson Tested ‘Social-Psychological’ Messages in Learning Software, With Mixed Results – Education Week –  Benjamin Herold (8-minute read)

The fact that this report is not presented almost without making the acknowledgment of serious ethical problems the most front and central focus might be the most alarming thing of all. The fact that Pearson conducted this kind of research effort using children without any parental consent is serious enough. Let me be clear, without consent or knowledge, children were subjects. That they were brazen enough to publish their work more so. However, why there has not been a backlash of outrage is shameful. We should be demanding state-level departments of education to take action against the company.

However, an even graver concern should be that this kind of massive, widescale “research” experimentation will be done with impunity by technology companies on children in educational settings under the guise of product development. That is almost without question. What Pearson has done is essentially confirm that fact with the publication of this paper. Moreover, it simply doesn’t matter how well-intentioned or positive the results might be. This is the kind of thing that should be illegal and subject to major financial and legal penalties, especially after the insights gained from the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.

How Education Reform Ate the Democratic Party – The Baffler –  Jennifer C. Berkshire (12-minute read)

This is not really a new story as one that just goes underreported. This story reads like a rewrite of how the Democratic party essentially sold out to big money in the 1970s. Here Berkshire details how big money neoliberalism finances advancing charter schools and attacking teacher unions. Even better this article is essentially a history lesson on how America’s attack on teachers began and it is a fascinating one.

Something I observed long ago and stated for years without the forcefulness of Berkshire is how little attention has been paid to how much Clinton-era Democrats essentially won elections by co-opting the Republican platform. I still cannot for the life of me fathom just how many people buy into “logic of the market” nonsense for education, let alone a host of other aspects of society. I just keep hoping that the power teachers unions have been flexing in some of the hardest hit states will spark a broader and more intelligent conversation.

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