Education Evolutions #92

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

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all and may the luck of the Irish be with you on this day and every day. There are definitely glimmers of spring in New England as the snow is melting by the day. Hopefully, the temperature has turned a corner and the bitter cold is behind us.

This week is one of those mixed bags that runs across a number of topics. While I like it when there are themes that might run through the week, most weeks do not quite work like that. So from the college scandal to taking our reading public to the invasion of smart devices into everyday life, this issue runs the gamut.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. Do not be put off by the reading time. If you have not seen or read this piece, you are missing some penetrating analysis about the rise of smart devices and the surveillance state that rides in their wake. Legal efforts to protect privacy cannot catch up quickly enough but informed consumers must begin to martial some kind of defense. What we often forget is just how much collective actions can inspire change with regards to companies, laws, culture, and more.

Spring seems just around the corner now in New England. After all the snow, we may well be in the soup before we know it.

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

What I want high school seniors to hear loud and clear… – Chicago Tribune – Heidi Stevens (4-minute read)

It would be nigh impossible to write this newsletter and not address the college admissions scandal story that broke this week. While there was no shortage of interesting articles on the subject. Some were better than others, providing a bit more insight or criticism. However, this one was probably the one with the most impact. At least, it was the one that stayed with me the longest.

There is no question that Stevens and I are of the same mind when it comes to this topic. For all those fortunate enough to have gone to college or university, and especially those that finished, there are elements of this should have great resonance. Surely, anyone with a college-age child who comes home during their first year has to take a breath and remember what a feast college truly is, as their kid lectures them on all the new topics, subjects, and discoveries that they are sure you were unaware of.

Also, as someone who took a slightly different path, spending years at a large community college before transferring to small liberal arts university, prestige and name-brand nonsense never meant a whole lot to me. I knew I couldn’t afford that game anyway. What I did know, courtesy of a lot of really great teachers along the way, is that the key ingredient was always going to be me, as Stevens highlights. When it comes to learning at any level, it is never really about anyone else.

For the Love of Reading: Developing a Teacher Reader Identity – NCTE Blog – Shelby M. Boehm (3-minute read)

I saw this post a few weeks back and nearly added it at the time. While I know that I am an English teacher reading and writing are central to all academia. What’s more, all teachers are reading and writing teachers whether they like it or not. Given that fact, even if it creates a little discomfort in some of us developing a reading identity that we can publicly share with our students is the kind of thing that can have resonance far beyond what we might recognize.

For me, it is about sharing something about yourself with your students. It reveals your interests, curiosities, and taste. That kind of information is what helps build relationships. Above and beyond that, it models that reading is important and a regular practice. If we expect our students to be interested, even excited, about learning, we had best show them the way. Certainly, reading is one of the simplest and easiest ways to continue learning independently. Then there is pleasure reading, which might need even more representation if we have any hope of encouraging it in students.

This post also reminded me of so many of my colleagues that I know who are readers. It is the French teacher that I always see with a book. Novels, non-fiction, it doesn’t matter, her reading is wide and deep and inspires some fantastic conversations. It is the math teacher I know who has a distinct love of young adult literature. She too reads widely and deeply with all sorts of other fascinating books on her hand or on her desk. There are others too. I am not sure if their students recognize this about them but it is no secret. Even a fellow English teacher recently encouraged our department to post what we are reading and what is up next outside our doors. It has been great.

The House That Spied on Me – Gizmodo – Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu (20-minute read)

Even if you think, “This article seems too long,” at least watch the embedded video for the gist of the story in a quarter the time. The video is good but the read is decidedly better but it does include some really insightful commentary from a cybersecurity expert. Even the construction of this article is great, the way that incorporates the two writers and weaves together a monitor and the monitored. I’ll just say this is not the Jetsons home we may have envisioned.

I am not even sure how anyone that reads this would not have a moment of pause. The degree of intimacy in our personal lives that is being violated here should be illegal if you ask me. I know that a major selling point of “smart” devices is this faux ease and convenience that is promised but this article certainly pokes holes in that premise. For one, there are very few standards in this space that companies even abide. Consequently, as is highlighted in this article, just getting the various items to work with another immediately eliminates any convenience.

All of those headaches are what the convinced have to deal with but what about those that want no part of any of this. It is getting harder and harder to avoid this level or kind of surveillance. We are rapidly normalizing it. Products that don’t come with a chip that connects to the Internet are becoming increasingly hard to find in certain spaces. Televisions are mentioned specifically in this piece but it by no means stops there. As Ian Bogost put it so clearly in a piece that made it in past issue of this newsletter, “You Are Already Living Inside a Computer.

The most telling line is “When you buy a smart device, it doesn’t just belong to you; you share custody with the company that made it.” Even worse, people are readily paying to have companies spy on them, whether they fully appreciate it or not, and the prospects of opting out are diminishing without disengaging from mainstream modern life completely. Perhaps worst of all, even if you are able to stave off this slouching toward total surveillance in your own life, you may not be able to avoid it in the public sphere or when entering someone else’s home.

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