Education Evolutions #98

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

This week’s newsletter arrives a little late as Mother’s Day prevented any time to sit down on Sunday. Hopefully, this finds everyone well.

This is another collection of short reads that run a wider gamut of topics. From the need for poetry to how technology is amplifying the fracturing of public life to the foolishness of standardized testing, a lot of ground is covered. The nice thing is when all the articles are this short it is easy to give them all a look.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the middle one. It is not the first time that I have highlighted something by danah boyd. She is an excellent thinker and writer on the technology front and it was her particular expertise in youth culture and tech that first led me to her work. If you have not read anything by her you should do some quick searching and start. However, this keynote speech is as good a place to start as any.

More showers in May in New England. What else is new?

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

Who needs poetry? We all do – and we need it now – The Guardian – Kenan Malik (1-minute read)

This is a very brief but beautiful commentary about the importance of poetry. While some people might be quick to dismiss poetry, I agree with Malik. We have never needed it more. There is poetry even in this column itself.

As I have been trying to convince students of late, poetry is not necessarily as scary as we might like it to be. There can be a remoteness to poetry that makes it hard for some to find a way in. However, there is so much poetry is not accessible, inviting, and even amusing that it need not be that way for anyone, especially with only a bit of interest.

The reasons used to support the need for poetry are eloquent and elegant. Few if any uses of language has the power and concentration of poetry. It is both artistic and understandable. In fact, the Meena Alexander quote that poetry “is a work that exists as an object in the world but also… allows the world entry” might be one of the most beautiful insights I have read recently. Consider clicking the links for the poems they are pretty good too.

Agnotology and Epistemological Fragmentation – Data & Society: Points – danah boyd (8-minute read)

Anyone unfamiliar with danah boyd should take a moment and look her up. She is an academic researcher with some deep roots and serious chops. She wrote her dissertation on the rise of social networks, when MySpace was bigger than Facebook – Ah, those halcyon days. She speaks and writes a lot about technology and society and definitely knows her stuff.

In this keynote speech, she breaks down a couple of major problems that are plaguing our modern lives at the minute, the use of media in a deliberately manipulative way to undermine “the social fabric of public life.” It is something that has been going on for some time but has been supercharged through the use of technology, especially social media.

Agnotology was not a term familiar to me but it is an awfully good one to label part of the problem. The idea of purposefully seeding doubt and forcing everyday people to question what is fact versus fiction has become a major thread in contemporary life and we are feeling the cost it daily. “Many people who are steeped in history and committed to evidence-based decision-making are experiencing a collective sense of being gaslit,” might be the single best line in this presentation. It is good but boyd is always good.

We Must Teach for ‘Range’ and ‘Depth’ – EdWeek – James Nehring (4-minute read)

While this piece is a few years older, I came across it again more recently and felt an instant recognition. As the testing season enters full flight, this kind of sentiment should get read with greater regularity. Nehring nails the paradox that we find ourselves in regularly as educators, “The problem is this: Human judgment is poison to accountability, but it is the basic ingredient for assessment of learning.” As we have drifted increasingly toward accountability measures, human judgment has been maligned. Now, we are even hearing the whispered promises of artificial intelligence taking care of the assessment.

Yet, it only seems to get sillier. New tests are forcing curricular changes across the nation but for what. They are not being driven by educational goals as much as they are driven by the desire for accountability. Decades after the failure of foolish policies like No Child Left Behind, policymakers continue to consort with test makers in an ever-increasingly costly enterprise that does very little to serve students. Even a little human judgment surely has born that fact out as truth.

This whole piece reminded me of the research by masters of human error Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who discovered all kinds of things about the flaws in human intuition. We cannot take human judgment out of any context with humans. Just like removing emotion from rational thought does not work out so well. They are intertwined. A really intelligent principal once reminded me education is the human resources business, literally and figuratively. When it comes to educating our young, human judgment should be tempered but always present.

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