Education Evolutions #122

Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Given that this is Super Bowl Sunday, I imagine that most people will not read any of this until later this week. As a result, this week’s selections are in the quick-read style with everything coming in around 10 minutes or less. It is a mixed bag of works with a loose theme of reading if you extend the definition to beyond simply printed text, which is a much more modern notion anyway. So, in a very meta way, enjoy reading about reading.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. It may be because I have been engaged in a deeper dive into the topics raised in the piece, but it also serves as great reminder that the way we things are might not necessarily be the way they always were or will be. It also resonates with me because I have been deeply suspicious of the concept of social Darwinism ever since I encountered it as a high schooler. It has just never sat well with me.

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

Inside the Podcast Brain: Why Do Audio Stories Captivate? – The Atlantic – Tiffanie Wen (5-minute read)

I have been hooked on the podcast thing almost as long as they have been around and it did kind of accelerate in the last few years with the podcast proliferation that really kicked off as mobile phones became pervasive. I listen to a handful of podcasts regularly but follow far more than I can possibly listen to in any given week, especially as I still like terrestrial radio quite a bit too. What is neat about this article is that it gets at some of why audio is so appealing. As a lot of radio people say ironically, “Radio is a very visual medium.”

I love the description of “transporting into a story as a ‘neuro ballet.'” As someone who has always enjoyed old-time radio serials, I have always wondered why there has not been much interest in radio dramas in the States, like the kind that the BBC regularly produces. Podcasts can certainly cater to those interests. However, non-fiction storytelling seems to be where podcasts have really taken off. There are so many good ones in that spae too. I also love the idea that audiobooks might soon be given more dramatic treatments.

For the Love of Books – CNN – Carol Jago (10-minute read)

Chances are if you are reading this newsletter, you are an avid reader in some way or another. Whether it is reading analog or digital media may not make much a difference to you. Given that nearly everyone reading this is of an age that grew up prior to the real digital reading divide that we find ourselves in since the leaps in mobile device development, chances are books still hold some genuine power over us. I know it certainly is the case for me and I have no shortage of digital devices on which I read too.

Yet, I found this piece by Carol Jago really inspiring. There are so many things I appreciate from the Maryanne Wolf references to the recognition that devices are never going to disappear. It is a smart piece, taking a look at what matters more when it comes to reading and what teachers can do to help cultivate some of our students into life-long readers. Some of the ideas are great and I fully expect I will try some of them in the near future. It has already given me some motivation to take a long look at my classroom library and tidy it up to make it a bit more inviting. Plus, the tips here any teacher in any subject could potentially do to some extent.

Also, I am curious about the reference to Wolf’s biliterate reading brain, especially after a former colleague and reader of this newsletter recently forwarded me this article about Wolf’s idea and current offering, Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. It also includes thoughts from the ubiquitous Daniel Willingham who always prompts more feelings of ambivalence but it is still a really good introduction to the concept of biliterate reading.

What if Competition Isn’t As “Natural” As We Think? – Slate – John Favini (8-minute read)

I have been having an ongoing conversation with a colleague about related matters to this article recently, so this article immediately caught my eye. I am really grateful to have the kinds of conversations we have had, as they force me to seriously interrogate some of these ideas and my own thoughts about them. The central question in this piece gets at least part of the heart of our discussions. The idea that humans might not be quite as competitive as we might believe is something I have devoted a lot of thought to in recent months, making me feel a bit like this article may have found me more than I found it.

That is one of the interesting subtextual wrinkles included in this piece. We, humans, tend to find what we are looking for. It is incredibly hard to remove ourselves from our culture, influences, and prevailing notions of our time. As Favini explains this was the case for Charles Darwin too, not to mention others who twisted his ideas into a social context. He goes further to highlight a lot of legitimate theory and research that undermines some of those notions. Perhaps most important is the lesson advanced here, “we must learn to recognize the impulse to naturalize a given human behavior as a political maneuver.”

Education Evolutions #121

Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Semester one is done. It seems as though it was a particularly speedy semester in retrospect. Reflecting on it, I cannot help but feel like summer was only a few weeks ago, just before the holidays. Unfortunately, at the secondary level, there is no break to set apart the terms like there is in higher education. So the new semester begins as most of us are trying to wrap up the previous one and get everything in the books, as they say.

This week a small theme emerged in the selections. It is pretty well focused on the humanities in some way or another in each article. It just kind of happened organically which for me is always the best way. It would be awfully difficult to produce a weekly newsletter with a new related theme every week, beyond the overarching of focus of education, technology, and teaching.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. The intersection of the old and the new, modern technology and history is always fascinating to me. Plus, as I read it it seemed like it was an article that had been written for inclusion in this newsletter.

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

Why I’m optimistic about the future of the humanities – CNN – David M. Perry (4-minute read)

This might not be the most accurately titled opinion piece, despite the fact the author may indeed feel more optimistic. His reasons for optimism are fine but more of a reach as far as I am concerned. However, his reasoning for the decline in humanities study is a lot more insightful. Perry’s open anecdotal experiences are revealing and I suspect far from uncommon for professors in the humanities.

The decline of the humanities has been a topic for most of my lifetime. That time frame also coincides with the most precipitous rise of university costs. With the cultural rise of market-think, as well as tuition increases, families increasingly look at college through the lens of return on investment. A university education has become less about learning how to be a better, educated, and well-rounded human being and more about serving as a kind of professional finishing school. Consequently, majors like business, marketing, and finance look a lot more alluring than the dusty halls of the humanities. This doesn’t even begin to address how so many colleges and universities have essentially evolved into banks. Yet, if the humanities are to make a viable comeback the cost of attending college has to become cheaper, full stop. Also, I would humbly submit that failing to reduce college costs and revive the humanities has a consequence and cost that far surpasses what be immediately comprehensible.

Economists Ate My School – Why Defining Teaching as a Transaction is Destroying Our Society – Radical Eyes for Equity – Steve Singer (5-minute read)

Steve Singer is a teacher and prolific blogger with a definite agenda to defend the public school system. The volume that he produces is impressive and many of the points that he makes overlap with a lot of my thinking. This post definitely does. Singer articulates how flawed looking at teaching as a transaction can be. It is harmful to both teachers and students, otherwise known as children in a whole lot of cases. Yet, there is a kind of propaganda that never seems to go away.

Human beings are not products and teaching is not a service, no matter how popular that notion might become. Looking at education as a transaction is beyond reductive. Moreover, the prevalence of looking at life through an economic lens is ultimately dehumanizing. Of course, there are plenty of people in power that benefit from positioning everything in economic terms. It firmly keeps who is winning and losing in stark relief. As Singer suggests buyer beware becomes the rule, although I am not sure it becomes the only one. There are a few other oppressive edicts that help keep people in there place too. In fact, one of many things that the humanities are really good at revealing is that if money is the only metric a whole lot of other things simply don’t matter all that much.

The Way We Write History Has Changed – The Atlantic – Alexis C. Madrigal (7-minute read)

Sticking with the humanities trend, this article is a fascinating look at the intersection of the ubiquity of the smartphone and the practice of doing history. It is a fascinating angle because of just how much the smartphone as a technology has influenced everyday life and the wider effects in areas not necessarily recognized. It is impossible to deny how a pocket-sized camera and computer could completely change the archive experience for a historian.

What is more interesting about this piece, however, is Madrigal’s interrogation of what is gained by the digitizing of artifacts but also what might be lost. Aside from greater efficiency, the idea that digitization might invite more diverse people to get involved in doing history is a more than encouraging development. Also, the idea that historians believe that they can do a better more thorough job is exciting. Yet, recognizing that the process of digitization dislocates the artifact from its context was a particularly insightful thing to include. There is a lot more to that idea and Douglas Rushkoff has written about what kinds of affordances and privileges, as well as consequences come with the digital world in the excellent book Program or Be Programmed. Being conscious of these factors can be crucial, especially in the field of history.

Education Evolutions #120

Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

This holiday weekend was jam-packed with end-of-term grading, subsequently contributing to my getting this issue out a day later than normal. With exams coming up, there is always a bit of a bottleneck of things to do, especially in my classes that will restart with a new group second semester.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the second or middle one. As I compose this newsletter every week on an Apple Macbook, I have long been a user of Apple products and maintain a mild interest in the evolution of the company, I couldn’t help but including this piece looking at the first trillion-dollar company as a country. Plus, it is a gateway to a much longer and deep dive into Apple for anyone interested in following that fancy.

As I continue to consider videos for this newsletter, this one How Big Data Will Creep Into Your Life, Like It Or Not (2:54) seemed like a perfect fit for the kind of topics I tend to include here. It really is about the ever-expanding and unregulated internet of things and just leaves me wondering when, if ever, we will get wise to our lack of rules or understanding of the consequences of all these connected products.

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

Electric school buses are batteries for the grid – Axios – Joann Muller (2-minute read)

This is a quick read with a couple of links to some other brief stories of more depth on the prospects of electric school buses. My initial reaction was this seems like a great idea. There are so many school buses in service across the country, it is a fleet of diesel vehicles that would potentially be a genuine boon to transform to electric. Removing the pollution alone should be reason enough to look into the possibilities.

It was encouraging to see that Massachusetts is one of the places experimenting with electric school buses. The linked article offers some more information about the current pilot program and calls for the city and regional transit authorities to consider a change. Yet, the real incentive may be in the vehicle-to-grid possibilities raised in this short piece. While the current Bay State effort does not seem to be part of the evolution, it is precisely the kind of large-scale efforts that are enhanced by public investment.

Welcome to Apple
A one-party state
 – Tortoise – Peter Hoskin and Alexi Mostrous
(11-minute read)

The very premise of this article is perhaps the most intriguing of all. Essentially, this is the first part of a multi-part, long-form piece of journalism based on the premise “If Apple were a country…” It comes from a newer publication outfit named Tortoise, a subscription-based publication from England specializing in longer, slower, in-depth journalism. What I have read of there work so far is strong, this being one example.

On some level, I am surprised I have not seen more pieces that treat the largest multi-national corporations with the same paradigm, looking at them as nation-states. Of course, there only three trillion dollar companies (Apple, Microsoft, and Alphabet/Google), which might have something to do with it. Still, based on the treatment given to Apple here, I am definitely curious about Tortoise’s next steps and where this series is headed.

Even if you only read the opening part, this is a fascinating read, especially if you have ever had more than a passing interest in Apple. For me, a kid who remembers the first time I sat in front of an Apple IIe in the library of elementary school, Apple has made the most enduring technology products of my life. I was always partial to the Macintosh from the very beginning over all other computer choices. Of course, I spent plenty of time in the Microsoft/PC world but was more than happy to return to the Mac lineup when the opportunity came. Add to that personal experience, in a world that venerates corporate CEOs it is difficult not to find the late Steve Jobs a fairly compelling figure. In this piece, Jobs is more a shadow of the past as this focuses much more clearly in the company’s present. I am slowly parsing through the rest of the sections.

The Market Fails Education – Radical Eyes for Equity – PL Thomas (8-minute read)

I am a regular reader of PL Thomas’ blog and have cited a number of posts from it in this newsletter. He is an exceptionally good writer and a keen observer and critic within the field of education. His focus on equity within education and observations about it are excellent. He is a bright light in a constellation of strong voices. In this piece, he uses a specific example of an outside professional development vendor as evidence why, as the title suggests, the market fails education.

He makes a case that is both short and strong, exposing that the market approach begat the very parasite that he highlights. Yet, he goes further and exposing the fault lines that make the whole endeavor even more vulnerable. The example, a less than credible source with solutions for dealing with students in poverty afforded an opportunity to not only grow and profit from the very schools and districts that are battling poverty is one of the grand ironies that our current system fosters. the problems are systemic, as Thomas explains.

His counterpoint, using the highway system as an example of a positive symbiotic relationship are exactly the kind of projects that are dismissed or ignored by policymakers seemingly intent on blaming victims of systems that have at best yielded unintended consequences to keep oppressed people down and at worst been designed ensure they stay there. The majority of my life an insidious message that anything publicly funded means “inefficient, corrupt, and/or failing” has only lead to the greatest inequality in over a century. Thomas’ final sentence says it all, “The U.S. needs and deserves a robust and autonomous public education system free of bureaucracy and outside the market that invariably fails education and our students.”