Education Evolutions #74

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

Here is hoping that people enjoy the holiday weekend, even if it is a questionable commemoration. This week has been a pretty eventful one news-wise to be sure. In fact, nothing really could match the drama in the capital. However, I still managed to follow some education-related stories that are interesting and perhaps offer a little reprieve from the news fatigue of the last few weeks.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is a toss up between the first and the last. The first one is certainly a lot shorter than the last. So if you are pinched for time, the choice is made. However, the last one might offer a much deeper dive into how the world is changing when it comes to media. For many people, a major change like the one featured in that article may even pass a whole lot of people by without much notice.

Autumn is upon us and the leaves are definitely a changing.

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

How I Know You Wrote Your Kid’s College Essay – The New York Times –  JM Farkas (8-minute read)

There is so much about this piece that I love and a small part not so much, which surprised me given how short it actually is. I could do without the less clever bit about “hidden spaces,” which is a decent attempt at metaphor that falls flat and potentially undermines the message, for me. Still, having spent a fair amount of time with students and assisting them in writing of college essays, there is no question a lot of what is claimed here is inarguable truth. In fact, working with students on this task has often revealed some of my favorite moments as an educator. However, the idea that the college essay is the “purest form of the process” is a bit of a push, I think. It is, no doubt, the part hoping to be the purest form. Yet, it remains part of what is generally considered a sales job.

As much as I like a lot of this, I am not sure that Farkas goes far enough. The college essay is supposed to be about the student revealing some authentic self, agreed. At least it aspires to offer that opportunity. Therein is the actual paradox. To me, it happens to be a bit grander and more insidious than the one that Farkas suggests. Colleges and universities pride themselves on being “selective,” cultivating a notion that the application process is a whole lot of individual marketing on the student’s part, which is exactly what tempts some parents to move in and help.

Consequently, the message parents send is actually much worse than “it’s O.K. to be unethical and possibly a plagiarist,” as horrible as that prospect is. The real message is “Sorry kid, your authentic self probably isn’t really good enough.” Honestly, convincing any student that who they truly are is good enough, while honestly acknowledging the sales aspect, is half the challenge when coaching them in writing their college essay. The rest is helping them get out of their own way as a writer, having spent most of their schooling being told what writing decisions to make by well-meaning teachers and parents. Being brave enough to reveal an authentic self and committing it in writing is not something we ask of young people all that often either.

Problems with Evidence-based Education: Side Effects in Education – Zhao Learning blog –  Yong Zhao (5-minute read)

The idea of riffing on the maxim “first do no harm” approach has been on my mind a lot as I prepared to re-enter the classroom full-time. An act or effort to teach anything involves a certain degree of risk. It is difficult to know exactly what students enter the room knowing, have been told, or misconceive. Plus, there is no shortage of pressure to prepare students for multiple high-stakes tests. Here, Yong Zhao highlights just how wrongheaded a lot of American edreform has been in avoiding harm in the first place.

Zhao’s explanation of how term “evidence-based” has been co-opted and twisted a narrow notion of only proving the effectiveness of interventions without considering the “secondary adverse effects” should serve as an introduction to anyone considering these issues. While I have not read the book from which this post comes, I now want to. Considering that the post comes from the introduction, I am hoping he addresses even more than what he outlines. I would argue that part of the obsession with the use of “evidence-based” has to do with sales, which yields numbers that are pretty easy to track and hold up as “evidence.” It is at the core of an ethos that chases “education solutions that scale” and almost every edtech product on the market. Yet, data used for sales tends to be a lot more selective and self-serving than science or medicine for that matter.

Raised by YouTube – The Atlantic –  Alexis C. Madrigal (16-minute read)

This is a long but absolutely fascinating look into YouTube’s impact on children and children’s media consumption. It is really well written and provides some genuine depth. Even if you are not someone that has small children the kinds of questions and issues raised in this piece should be considered by everyone. In fact, something tells me that the work conducted in writing this piece may well produce a book in the not too distant future.

What is great is the look at the history of children’s television, even though it is limited mainly to America. Anyone between the ages of 40 and 55, likely benefitted enormously from the period that created the PBS hallmarks of children’s television, like Sesame Street and Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s children’s shows inhabited a space that emphasized educational aspirations more than the commercial ones that arrived with Star Wars toys and every toyline with a cartoon thereafter.

In the new media landscape, all bets are off and any rules that we once thought existed, even a little, are nowhere to be seen. The colonization of children’s media by commercial enterprises is long completed, but it now is morphing into a landscape shaped by even more commercial forces than ever. It is hard to see how ruleless, globalization in children’s media yields terribly different results than it has in any of the other areas where far less vulnerable populations have benefitted so much. At least the people running Chu Chu, based on this article, don’t seem half bad.

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