October Education Reading

Interesting books and articles I read in October:

  • ‘The Brave Little Surveillance Bear’ and Other Stories We Tell About Robots Raising Children “no matter the stories we tell about innovation, no matter the predictions we make about disruption, in time everything in ed-tech becomes indistinguishable from the learning management system.”
  • Autism 101 – Erin Human “Autism is type of brain wiring (neurological type) that processes information differently than typical brains do. This means that autistic thought patterns, sensory perceptions, social interactions, language processing, and emotional regulation all develop differently than those of people who are not autistic. Modern societies operate in ways that often disadvantage autistic people, which makes autism a developmental disability.”
  • The Cult(Ure) of Strength | USENIX “Strength is a tax paid with emotional labor.”
  • A perspective on modern schooling in WEIRD (Western Educated Industrial Rich Democratic) societies. – Educating The Young Heart “WEIRD societies not only are not representative of humanity as a whole, they are, in fact, among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans.” / “Our approach to education is extraordinarily authoritarian. It is obsessed with compulsion and control.”
  • Why I Don’t Grade | Jesse Stommel ”grades are the biggest and most insidious obstacle to education. And they’re a thorn in the side of Critical Pedagogy.” / “Grading is a massive co-ordinated effort to take humans out of the educational process.”
  • Principal: ‘Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry.’ – The Washington Post “I believe deeply that we can actually teach anti-racism. And we must.” / “Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry. We have to stop making everything about the individual.”
  • When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Princ… – Kindle ‘”If I could do it, so can you” is an echo of the “just work harder” assumption. It is the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” ethos to which so many generations of Americans adhere. Yet data repeatedly show how poverty, social class, race, and parents’ educational attainment more directly influence an individual’s success and potential earnings than any individual effort. We clearly do not yet have a level playing field, but this belief is all but impossible to challenge.’
  • Grit: A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad (##) – Alfie Kohn “When you hear about the limits of IQ these days, it’s usually in the context of a conservative narrative that emphasizes not altruism or empathy but a recycled version of the Protestant work ethic. The goal is to make sure kids will resist temptation, override their unconstructive impulses, put off doing what they enjoy in order to grind through whatever they’ve been told to do”
  • Rejecting Growth Mindset and Grit at Three Levels | radical eyes for equity “growth mindset and grit speak to and reinforce powerful cultural ideologies and myths about meritocracies and individual character—ones that are contradicted by the evidence; and thus, growth mindset and grit contribute to lazy and biased thinking and assumptions about marginalized groups who suffer currently under great inequities.”
  • How to Improve Math Class “The problem is the performance culture in our schools, more present in math than in any other subject. Students believe that the purpose of math class is to demonstrate that they can quickly find the answers. An undergraduate recently told me that when she writes down her ideas, even when working alone, she expects someone to judge her.”
  • A Call for Critical Instructional Design “Operant conditioning and the manipulation of response to stimuli are at the heart of theories that support instructional design. But more, they form the foundation of almost all educational technology—from the VLE or LMS to algorithms for adaptive learning. Building upon behaviorism, Silicon Valley—often in collaboration with venture capitalists with a stake in the education market—have begun to realize Skinner’s teaching machines in today’s schools and universities.”
  • To Ban or Not to Ban? Technology, Education, and the Media – EdTech Researcher – Education Week “The final assumption guiding these editorials is that everyone learns in exactly the same way. Research on accessibility in higher education (as well as K-12) and Universal Design for Learning clearly contradicts this assumption.”
  • Hack Education Weekly News “I sense a theme in this week’s stories about profiting from preschoolers, don’t you?”
  • “Why Don’t Students Like School?” Well, Duhhhh… | Psychology Today “Children hate school because in school they are not free. Joyful learning requires freedom.” / “In school they are told they must stop following their interests and, instead, do just what the teacher is telling them they must do. That is why they don’t like school.”
  • The Business of Ed-Tech: October 2017 Funding Data
  • A Teacher’s Dilemma: Take a Stand Against Testing or Keep Abusing Children | gadflyonthewallblog “These are the kinds of students I have – victims of generational poverty, malnutrition, childhood trauma, violence, drug abuse and systemic racism and prejudice. Strong-arming them into another standardized test isn’t doing them any favors.” / “What purpose do I serve enforcing policies I know to be detrimental?”
  • THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: Why Autistic Students Need Autistic Role Models “We realized that the people society says are the most qualified to help him are the people least equipped to understand him.” / “Everything that the school’s professionals tried was behavior-related, and it wasn’t working. So we implemented a root cause approach instead. I asked everyone in the room who had worked with Nick if there was anyone there who didn’t believe that at his core Nick was a good kid and wanted to succeed. And everyone raised their hands. So, working from that point of trust, I asked everyone to support efforts to help Nick succeed, items that empowered him to make good choices.”
  • WBEZ Investigation: CPS Secretly Overhauled Special Education At Students’ Expense | WBEZ “The overall effect is really to wear parents down in every way that they can, and wear the staff down in every way that they can, so that the ultimate outcome is giving less”
  • Why Students of Color Don’t Take Latin – EIDOLON “The challenge that the grammar-translation approach poses to inclusivity is that it takes language, something universally accessible to all, and creates a series of unnecessary and onerous roadblocks that render it accessible to only the few.” / “Grammar-translation and its demands have served as something akin to voter I.D. laws in the United States.”
  • The Cost of Success: How Letting Billionaires Shape Early Childhood Education Harms Kids—and Democracy | Alternet ”Child-centered, experiential learning, on a timeline that allows for the natural variability of development, has become a province of the elite.”
  • Why a key research finding is ruining teaching in Texas – The Washington Post “when classrooms are too rigid, controlled and task driven, students cannot initiate and continue conversations with their peers”
  • Why I Don’t Have Classroom Rules | Edutopia “I wanted my students to do more than just follow rules handed down to them. I wanted them to understand why those rules exist, and be willing to interrogate ones that didn’t seem valuable, meaningful, or useful.” / “The reason I find this strategy better than rules is because it teaches students to become active participants in the formation of a community. Rules alone tend to condition the students to become dogmatic followers, while broader imperatives guide them to be critical and reflective participants.”

Selected Tweets

Favorite tweets collected in Twitter Moments:

Selected Quotes

More quotes from the pieces listed above:

“Strength,” “Courage,” and “Bravery” are virtues often heaped upon individuals undergoing hardship. These compliments come from a deep-rooted cultural value that sacrifice should be praiseworthy and that performing in the face of difficulty is a sign of virtue. In tech, strength is valued to the point of caricature, creating a culture of depersonalization and overwork that disproportionately affects people who by their identities or job descriptions are asked too often to “take one for the team.”

Through the lens of my 15+ year journey through the STEM pipeline, I’ll talk about the culture of strength and how we can better set expectations to manage hardship and workload in the workplace or community.

 Strength is a tax paid with emotional labor.

Tech is full of hero worship; heroism is only achievable through sacrifice.

Strength becomes an easy thing to assign deficit to and to use as a scapegoat.

If your process requires regular sacrifice, your planning sucks.

Over-emphasizing extraordinary acts of sacrifice normalizes them and turns them into expectations.

We are workers. And expectations of strength compel us to perform free labor.

Source: The Cult(Ure) of Strength | USENIX

Operant conditioning and the manipulation of response to stimuli are at the heart of theories that support instructional design. But more, they form the foundation of almost all educational technology—from the VLE or LMS to algorithms for adaptive learning. Building upon behaviorism, Silicon Valley—often in collaboration with venture capitalists with a stake in the education market—have begun to realize Skinner’s teaching machines in today’s schools and universities.

And there’s the rub. When we went online to teach, we went online almost entirely without any other theories to support us besides instructional design. We went online first assuming that learning could be a calculated, brokered, duplicatable experience. For some reason, we took one look at the early internet and forgot about all the nuance of teaching, all the strange chaos of learning, and surrendered to a philosophy of see, do, hit submit.

The problem we face is not just coded into the VLE, either. It’s not just coded into Facebook and Twitter and the way we send an e-mail or the machines we use to send text messages. It’s coded into us. We believe that online learning happens this way. We believe that discussions should be posted once and replied to twice. We believe that efficiency is a virtue, that automated proctors and plagiarism detection services are necessary—and more than necessary, helpful.

But these are not things that are true, they are things that are sold.

Source: A Call for Critical Instructional Design

Agency, dialogue, self-actualization, and social justice are not possible in a hierarchical system that pits teachers against students and encourages competition by ranking students against one another. Grades (and institutional rankings) are currency for a capitalist system that reduces teaching and learning to a mere transaction. Grading is a massive co-ordinated effort to take humans out of the educational process.

Learning Outcomes: More and more, we are required to map our assignments, assessments, and curricula to learning outcomes. But I find it strange that teachers and institutions would pre-determine outcomes before students even arrive upon the scene. I have argued, instead, for emergent outcomes, ones that are co-created by teachers and students and revised on the fly. Setting trajectories rather than mapping in advance the possible shapes for learning.

Require teachers to give more B and C grades and they give more B and C grades disproportionately to black students. In education, I think we should be creating opportunities, not limiting possibilities for success.

Grades as Motivators: Alfie Kohn writes in “The Trouble with Rubrics,”“Research shows three reliable effects when students are graded: They tend to think less deeply, avoid taking risks, and lose interest in the learning itself.” Grades do motivate, but they don’t motivate the kinds of peak experiences that can happen in a learning environment. Something like “have an epiphany, communicate an original thought, sit uncomfortably with your not knowing, or build something that’s never been built before” can’t be motivated by a grade.

Source: Why I Don’t Grade | Jesse Stommel

1. Money doesn’t have to be an obstacle

2. Race doesn’t matter

3. Just work harder

4. There is a college for everyone/everyone can go to college

5. If you believe in yourself, your dreams will come true

Taken together, the five assumptions listed above can be dangerous because they reinforce the deeply held American belief that success is individually created and sustained. “If I could do it, so can you” is an echo of the “just work harder” assumption. It is the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” ethos to which so many generations of Americans adhere. Yet data repeatedly show how poverty, social class, race, and parents’ educational attainment more directly influence an individual’s success and potential earnings than any individual effort. We clearly do not yet have a level playing field, but this belief is all but impossible to challenge. Whenever we hear of another bootstraps story, we want to generalize. We disregard the fact that luck often plays a major role. And in generalizing and celebrating the individual nature of success, we disregard the imperative to rethink social and economic policies that leave many behind.

Source: Nathan, Linda F.. When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College-for-All Promise (p. 6, p. 8). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.

Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry. We have to stop making everything about the individual.

But as I began to visit more schools and talk to my alums who were incredibly “gritty,” I became actually disgusted with the “movement.” It is a movement, for the most part, “owned and operated” by white folks and executed onto black and brown bodies.

Of course you don’t get ahead without determination and persistence, and it’s one of the reasons I’m such an arts advocate. That’s what you learn in the arts: how to practice, how to work together, how to persist through difficult scenes, lines, choreography, etc. . . . but this notion that “if we show grit by having strict behavioral codes/rules, all will be well” is ridiculous.

I’ve seen too many boys (especially black/brown boys)  suffocated by what has become grit pedagogy. Kids need to jump and play and yell and run. Of course not in the classroom all the time, but we must ensure that there are multiple methods to reach and teach our students. I think this “movement” needs to be curbed and I am pleased that even some of the “worst” offenders are now questioning their tactics.

Source: Principal: “Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry.” – The Washington Post

Consider the current buzz about self-regulation: teaching students to exercise self-discipline and self-control, to defer gratification and acquire “grit.” To discipline children is to compel them to do what we want. But because we can’t always be there to hand out rewards or punishments as their behavior merits, some dream of figuring out a way to equip each child with a “built-in supervisor” (as two social scientists once put it) so he or she will follow the rules and keep working even when we’re not around. The most expedient arrangement for us, the people with the power, is to get children to discipline themselves – in other words, to be self-disciplined.

Proponents of this idea like to point out that cognitive ability isn’t the only factor that determines how children will fare in school and in life. That recognition got a boost with science writer Dan Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence in 1996, which discussed the importance of self-awareness, altruism, personal motivation, empathy, and the ability to love and be loved. But a funny thing has happened to the message since then. When you hear about the limits of IQ these days, it’s usually in the context of a conservative narrative that emphasizes not altruism or empathy but a recycled version of the Protestant work ethic. The goal is to make sure kids will resist temptation, override their unconstructive impulses, put off doing what they enjoy in order to grind through whatever they’ve been told to do – and keep at it for as long as it takes.

Good grades, in other words, are often just a sign of approval by the person with the power in a classroom.  And even when they serve other functions, grades suffer from low levels of validity and reliability.  Moreover, students who pursue higher grades tend to be less interested in what they’re learning, more likely to think in a superficial fashion (and less likely to retain information), and inclined to prefer the easiest possible task whenever they have a choice — because the goal isn’t to explore ideas but to do whatever is necessary to snag the A.  Those who snag a lot of them seem, on average, to be overly conformist and not particularly creative.  So if students who are more self-disciplined or persistent get higher grades, that doesn’t make a case for grit so much as it points up the limitations of grades as an outcome measure

In her recent research, she created a task that’s deliberately boring, the point being to devise strategies so students will resist the temptation to do something more interesting instead.

This is the mindset that underlies the campaign for grit and self-discipline, even if it isn’t always spelled out. Which is why it’s critical that those of us who don’t share Duckworth’s values – and are committed to changing the system rather than just making kids adapt to it – maintain a healthy skepticism about that campaign. While we’re at it, we might bring that same skepticism to bear when the next bandwagon rolls through town.

Source: Grit: A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad (##) – Alfie Kohn

At the first level, I question the ideological motivation for doing research to find the source of success and failure within individuals-assuming that individual character and behaviors are primarily or solely the source of both success and failure.

As a colleague noted during comments after the keynote, this is a “very American” way of thinking; and I would add, a flawed view of the relationship between human behavior and social forces.

At the second level, I am cautious about the quality of growth mindset and grit research as valid, and that caution is grounded in the first level-both concepts fit well into American myths about rugged individualism and the Puritan work ethic; thus, even so-called dispassionate researchers are apt to see no reason to challenge the studies (although some have begun to unpack and question Angela Duckworth’s studies on grit).

Scarcity, mentioned about, is a compilation of powerful studies that make a case unlike what most Americans believe about success and failure: those living in scarcity struggle because of the scarcity (think poverty), and those living in slack are often successful because of the slack. This work has not been embraced or received the celebrity of growth mindset and grit because it works against our narratives.

Privileged researchers blinded by their own belief in American myths as well as trust in their own growth mindset and grit, I fear, are not apt to challenge research that appears even to a scholar to be obvious.

The third level is the most damning since growth mindset and grit speak to and reinforce powerful cultural ideologies and myths about meritocracies and individual character-ones that are contradicted by the evidence; and thus, growth mindset and grit contribute to lazy and biased thinking and assumptions about marginalized groups who suffer currently under great inequities.

K-12 applications of growth mindset and grit have disproportionately targeted racial minorities and impoverished students, reinforcing that most of the struggles within these groups academically are attributable to deficits in those students, deficits linked to race and social class.

All three levels, then, are born in, protected by, and prone to perpetuate race and class stereotypes, and as a result, work against inclusive pedagogy and culturally relevant pedagogy.

Finally, stepping back from these levels, I also remain skeptical of growth mindset and grit because they are very difficult to disentangle from deficit perspectives of students and from monolithic, thus reductive, views of identifiable groups by race, class, gender, or educational outcomes.

Source: Rejecting Growth Mindset and Grit at Three Levels | radical eyes for equity

Until we change the way we teach math to emphasize learning and exploration, rather than performance, we’ll continue to produce students who describe their math experience as a hamster wheel, or worse, a prison. We’ll continue to produce anxious students who experience fear when they see numbers. The performance culture of mathematics has destroyed a vibrant, essential subject for so many people. As schools have worked to encourage a few speedy calculators, they’ve neglected to teach the kind of creative, quantitative thinking that can open new worlds. If we encourage new generations of students who love learning and love math, we’ll raise up kids who are prepared to take their place in society as free, empowered thinkers.

Source: How to Improve Math Class

Operant conditioning and the manipulation of response to stimuli are at the heart of theories that support instructional design. But more, they form the foundation of almost all educational technology-from the VLE or LMS to algorithms for adaptive learning. Building upon behaviorism, Silicon Valley-often in collaboration with venture capitalists with a stake in the education market-have begun to realize Skinner’s teaching machines in today’s schools and universities.

And there’s the rub. When we went online to teach, we went online almost entirely without any other theories to support us besides instructional design. We went online first assuming that learning could be a calculated, brokered, duplicatable experience. For some reason, we took one look at the early internet and forgot about all the nuance of teaching, all the strange chaos of learning, and surrendered to a philosophy of see, do, hit submit.

The problem we face is not just coded into the VLE, either. It’s not just coded into Facebook and Twitter and the way we send an e-mail or the machines we use to send text messages. It’s coded into us. We believe that online learning happens this way. We believe that discussions should be posted once and replied to twice. We believe that efficiency is a virtue, that automated proctors and plagiarism detection services are necessary—and more than necessary, helpful.

But these are not things that are true, they are things that are sold.

The critical instructional design approach prioritizes collaboration, participation, social justice, learner agency, emergence, narrative, and relationships of nurture between students, and between teachers and students. It acknowledges that all learning today is necessarily hybrid, and looks for opportunities to integrate learners’ digital lives into their digitally-enhanced or fully online learning experiences.

Importantly, in keeping with its social justice roots, critical instructional design seeks to create learning and educational opportunities for students of all backgrounds, leveraging techniques especially to give platforms for those voices most usually suppressed or oppressed, including the voices of women, people of color, LGBTQ folk, people with disabilities, and more. It works against the standardization of so many educational technologies, and aims for the fullest inclusion possible.

One of the key principles of critical instructional design is that concept of emergence, that outcomes are determined by the learning process, and not as much predetermined. Jesse recommends that we don’t wield outcomes like weapons, and I usually give the advice that if you must include learning outcomes in your course, plan for everyone to meet them mid-term… and let the rest of the term emerge.

Source: A Call for Critical Instructional Design

The first assumption is that all learning is synonymous with memorization and facts. Certainly, students need to know information and facts before they can move on to higher order skills like synthesis and application, but there is so much more to learning than what Paulo Freire called the “Banking Concept” of education, where an instructor deposits information and students withdraw it for exams.

The second fundamental assumption inherent in these pieces is that learning is primarily an individual rather than a social endeavor. However, classrooms are social spaces, and our students are human beings who interact with each other — and with us — in order to build knowledge.

The final assumption guiding these editorials is that everyone learns in exactly the same way. Research on accessibility in higher education (as well as K-12) and Universal Design for Learning clearly contradicts this assumption.

Source: To Ban or Not to Ban? Technology, Education, and the Media – EdTech Researcher – Education Week

Ask any schoolchild why they don’t like school and they’ll tell you. “School is prison.” They may not use those words, because they’re too polite, or maybe they’ve already been brainwashed to believe that school is for their own good and therefore it can’t be prison. But decipher their words and the translation generally is, “School is prison.”

Let me say that a few more times: School is prison. School is prison. School is prison. School is prison. School is prison.

But I think it is time that we say it out loud. School is prison.

If you think school is not prison, please explain the difference.

The only difference I can think of is that to get into prison you have to commit a crime, but they put you in school just because of your age. In other respects school and prison are the same. In both places you are stripped of your freedom and dignity. You are told exactly what you must do, and you are punished for failing to comply. Actually, in school you must spend more time doing exactly what you are told to do than is true in adult prisons, so in that sense school is worse than prison.

Children, like all human beings, crave freedom. They hate to have their freedom restricted. To a large extent they use their freedom precisely to educate themselves. They are biologically prepared to do that.

In school they are told they must stop following their interests and, instead, do just what the teacher is telling them they must do. That is why they don’t like school.

There is no evidence at all that children who are sent to prison come out better than those who are provided the tools and allowed to use them freely.

Children hate school because in school they are not free. Joyful learning requires freedom.

Source: “Why Don’t Students Like School?” Well, Duhhhh… | Psychology Today

These are the kinds of students I have – victims of generational poverty, malnutrition, childhood trauma, violence, drug abuse and systemic racism and prejudice. Strong-arming them into another standardized test isn’t doing them any favors.

Because they knew what was expected on MY test, and they knew they could meet my expectations. I was there for the lesson. I made the test. I would grade it. I have a relationship with these kids and they know I will assess them fairly.

But not on this standardized CDT nonsense!

Data Recognition Corp isn’t there for the lesson. It has no rapport with students. Kids don’t know what the expectations are and don’t think they can meet them. And they have no sense that this multi-billion dollar corporation will grade them fairly for their efforts.

So they act out.

What purpose do I serve enforcing policies I know to be detrimental?

Source: A Teacher’s Dilemma: Take a Stand Against Testing or Keep Abusing Children | gadflyonthewallblog

“Strength,” “Courage,” and “Bravery” are virtues often heaped upon individuals undergoing hardship. These compliments come from a deep-rooted cultural value that sacrifice should be praiseworthy and that performing in the face of difficulty is a sign of virtue. In tech, strength is valued to the point of caricature, creating a culture of depersonalization and overwork that disproportionately affects people who by their identities or job descriptions are asked too often to “take one for the team.”

Source: The Cult(Ure) of Strength | USENIX

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