Education Evolutions #63

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

This week is a mix of big ideas floating around the larger education and technology fields at the minute. They are not entirely connected in any explicit way. Yet, they are definitely connected, when considering how many edreform agendas advance edtech with the convenient bonus of broader and deeper surveillance. The sheep’s clothing fashion of the moment is personalized learning which I will probably devote more time to in future.

The one drag about this selection is that only after writing the comments below and looking at it with a bit more detachment, this group might seem a bit dystopian – again. Apologies for that. Still, I firmly believe that the more we know about the world in which we are living the more we might do about it. This newsletter is my small effort in service that idea.

As for the “If you read only one article…” selection this week, it is kind of a pick ’em. Apart from the first one, the other two are some pretty long reads. Both interesting and worth it but they certainly require some time and focus. Yet, “Palantir Knows Everything About You” might be the most informative about that which lies just out of view. Plus, it is an introduction to Peter Thiel who is someone definitely worth knowing a bit more about. Think what a Koch brother might look like if they were from Silicon Valley. If you are short on time, everyone that works in education should probably know a lot more about A Nation at Risk.

Maybe, just maybe spring has finally sprung. If only we could dry out just a little in New England.

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

‘A Nation at Risk’ demanded education reform 35 years ago. Here’s how it’s been bungled ever since – The Washington Post –  James Harvey and David Berliner (8-minute read)

This week marked the inauspicious introduction of A Nation at Risk, possibly the most damaging document ever written about American education. Not only was it politically motivated, it was just plain wrong. This NPR piece is reasonably evenhanded as a refresher on the history of the document (However, Anya Kamentz trots out all the usual suspects in support of this nonsense. Mainstream media typically gives voice to the Fordham Institute or other foundations pretending to be anything other than propagandists of an anti-public education agenda. I mean at least Diane Ravitch actually worked in Education at the highest levels of government.). Nevertheless, the rhetoric and lies populated by A Nation at Risk continue to persist unabated and generally form the foundational warrants for nearly every education reform that we have seen in the intervening years. Facts tend to be inconvenient for making policy at all kinds of levels (Read a decent primer about the Sandia Report.).

While I can appreciate their call for making adjustments to NAEP and how it is reported, even submitting that it is a valid metric contributes to the problem. Apart from cynically wanting to say, “Good luck getting those new benchmark labels adopted,” acknowledging the flawed assessment only serves as an endorsement. It undercuts their far more sensible call for the end of “policy-making grounded in testing and tax cuts.” Still their emphatic support for the idea that the richest nation in the history of the world can and should be able to ensure equity for its infant, adequate health care, living wages, and affordable day-care sound great but lack resonance after the recent passage of Congressional “tax reform.”

Palantir Knows Everything About You – Bloomberg –  Peter Waldman, Lizette Chapman, and Jordan Robertson (25-minute read)

I am guessing that most people reading this have never heard of Palantir, the company. Some certainly would have quickly jumped to the Lord of the Rings reference. Some people may have heard of Peter Thiel but I am not even sure about that. Regardless, it will be hard to forget any of these names once you have read this piece. It does about as good a job as any of beginning to hang some labels on the vast digital web that is hoovering up information about everyone and selling it for profit.

The entire time I read this, all I could do is remember watching the television show Person of Interest and thinking if the dramatization between humans, “The Machine,” and “Samaritan” was this well developed I can only wonder how far along it must be in the real world. This piece provides a window into that question. It also means that it is increasingly important to understand how much algorithms are supplanting human judgment in all walks of life. I think I am now wholly committed to reading Weapons of Math Destruction over the summer now. I wanted to read it when it was first published but now… Anyone want to start a book club with me?

The Internet Apologizes … – New York Magazine –  Noah Kulwin (25-minute read)

Admittedly another long read but a fascinating one. As part of the rising tide of Internet and technology scrutiny, this reflective confessional of sorts is both revealing and insightful. With a cavalcade of technology insiders that have had a chance to witness to see what they have wrought this is a whole lot of deep thinking about many of the issues that are currently coming to a head and highlighted by the Facebook fallout.

The rise of Silicon Valley strikes me as very similar to the rise of the auto industry with ridiculous claims like, “What is good for Ford is good for America.” We collectively continue to double-down on technology with dreamy hopes of some kind of strange techtopia when perhaps a more circumspect approach might actually serve us better. Avoiding or dismissing technology entirely does not seem like much of an answer but blind faith, no matter where or how it starts may be worse. At least the individuals quoted here have taken some degree of responsibility and acknowledged the damage that may have helped unleashed. I am not sure what good it will do but I always remain hopeful in that aphorism, “When we know better, we do better.” It is kind of one of my mantras as an educator.

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