A Thanksgiving for Public Education: Free, Life-changing, and Available to Everyone

Howdy DSISD (and all school districts),

With the Thanksgiving break approaching, I want to convey my thanks to you defenders of public education. “Free, life-changing, and available to everyone.” That’s what I and my peers have fought for in open source tech, and it’s what y’all fight for in education. The fight is hard, and opponents are numerous and well-funded. Keep on. For what it’s worth, I’m with you.

On a bright May morning in 2000, I was standing on the deck of a ship churning toward Alaska’s Inside Passage with more than a hundred computer programmers. The glittering towers of Vancouver receded behind us as we slipped under the Lions Gate Bridge heading out to the Salish Sea. The occasion was the first “Geek Cruise”— an entrepreneur’s bid to replace technology conferences in lifeless convention centers with oceangoing trips to exotic destinations. I booked passage on the ship, a Holland America liner called the Volendam, to cover the maiden voyage for Wired magazine.

Of the many legendary coders on board, the uncontested geek star was Larry Wall, creator of Perl, one of the first and most widely used open-source programming languages in the world. Thousands of websites we rely on daily— including Amazon, Craigslist, and the Internet Movie Database— would never have gotten off the ground without Perl, the beloved “Swiss Army chainsaw” of harried systems administrators everywhere.

To an unusual and colorful extent, the language is an expression of the mind of its author, a boyishly handsome former linguist with a Yosemite Sam mustache. Sections of the code open with epigrams from Larry’s favorite literary trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, such as “a fair jaw-cracker dwarf-language must be.” All sorts of goofy backronyms have been invented to explain the name (including “Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister”), but Larry says that he derived it from the parable of the “pearl of great price” in the Gospel of Matthew. He told me that he wanted the code to be like Jesus in its own humble way: “Free, life-changing, and available to everyone.” One often-used command is called bless. But the secret of Perl’s versatility is that it’s also an expression of the minds of Larry’s far-flung network of collaborators: the global community of Perl “hackers.” The code is designed to encourage programmers to develop their own style and everyone is invited to help improve it; the official motto of this community is “There is more than one way to do it.”

In this way, the culture of Perl has become a thriving digital meritocracy in which ideas are judged on their usefulness and originality rather than on personal charisma or clout. These values of flexibility, democracy, and openness have enabled the code to become ubiquitous— the “duct tape that holds the Internet together,” as Perl hackers say. As the Volendam steered into open water, I watched with admiration as my fellow passengers pulled Ethernet cables, routers, and other networking paraphernalia out of their bags to upgrade the ship’s communication systems. Instead of dozing in chaise longues by the pool, my nerdy shipmates were eager to figure out how things work and help make them work better. By midweek, they persuaded the captain to give them a tour of the engine room.

Source: Silberman, Steve. NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (pp. 1-2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Letter to My Representatives on the Tax Bill

An estimated thirty-six million middle-class families face a tax hike under the GOP tax bill. Not so for corporations. Families get a hike while huge corporations get a massive giveaway.

The end of the SALT (State and Local Tax) deduction means we families will be paying taxes on the money we’re paying in taxes. Further, there will be cuts to firefighters, schools, roads, and libraries in our towns and states, especially in states that have higher SALT taxes in order to pay for these necessary services.

One-third of the corporate tax break goes to foreign investors. That break plus the end of SALT is a transfer from blue states, in particular, to the transnational economic elite. A permanently lower tax rate on overseas operations & profits than on U.S. operations & profits plus new loopholes will encourage even more offshoring.

So, families are punished and blue states are punished. Who else?

Students, ex-students, and teachers are punished. Students lose help paying off their loans. Teachers can’t deduct the significant costs of buying classroom supplies. Graduate students get taxed on their scholarships. Head Start, Pell Grant, and other programs receive cuts.

The end of SALT will pressure states to cut services, particularly education. We’ve seen this over and over in states that have obliterated their tax bases—Oklahoma, Iowa, Maine, and Kansas, notably.

Disabled people will also be punished. Health care costs will skyrocket. Families won’t be able to get a deduction for large out-of-pocket medical expenses. With the loss of the adoption tax credit, fewer disabled kids will find homes. Giant cuts to Medicaid & Medicare and repealing parts of ACA will kill people and drive disabled people from in-home care to more expensive—and very abusive—institutional care. The lives and futures of my children are on the line.

With a one trillion tax cut for corporations, 200 billion for wealthy heirs, and 300 billion for individuals, this plan enormously favors the richest. It brashly and unapologetically favors kleptocracy.

This plan is wildly unpopular in both parties. Voters in deep red states are rejecting slash-and-burn tax policy. Americans do not believe they will receive any benefit from these policies, quite the opposite. Our lifelong experience is one of wages remaining static as corporate profits soar to historic levels. This will be no different.

The GOP is betraying the people they are supposed to serve. This long con is the selling out of America. This bill straight up takes away our health care to give tax cuts to corporations, oligarchs, and kleptocrats. We are witnessing the systemic poisoning and dismantling of America by a party that has irredeemably given itself to kleptocracy, white supremacy, and Christofascism.

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

Math Homework, Notepad Calculators, Toolbelt Theory, and 1:1 Laptops

My go-to calculator is the notepad calculator, Soulver. I use it on all my devices. It’s handy for napkin math, bistro math, and dimensional analysis (factor-label method). Dimensional analysis is one of the most useful things I ever learned, and notepad calcs lend themselves to it better than most.

The other night, I tried to impart my love of notepad calculators and factor-label method to my nine-year-old while tackling a Math Stars worksheet. These worksheets are much about dimensional analysis, though it isn’t named as such. I introduced him to variables and probably went a bit over fourth-grade heads, but showing him my approach made for a fun expedition. Using a laptop to solve problems really piques his interest, keeping him in the learning moment. Laptops and discovering new tools and workflows rouse his intrinsic motivators.

Here’s a screenshot of Soulver in action. You can add headings and comments using a lightweight markup syntax. @ for headers. // for comments. With these, you can markup your calculations, turning them into documents.

Screenshot of Soulver showing some calculations.
Screenshot of Soulver showing some calculations.

Notepad calculators are my favorite tool for all sorts of calculations. As with my text editor, they provide a space for ideating, exploring, testing, and iterating. Notes are not just the result of the thinking process, they are the thinking process. And with tools like Soulver, you can export that thinking process to various formats. Here’s a PDF showing our Math Stars thinking session. Behold the embarrassing errors of my rusted mind. 😉

https://ryan.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/math-stars-4-6c50bbd93508435b8e7a28d3eb65af97.pdf

I want a schoolhouse with 1:1 laptops that encourages a culture of finding the tools that work for you, tools like notepad calculators. Albemarle County Schools with its Seven Pathways, tool belt theory, and open technology and Penn Manor with its open schoolhouse are great examples of how to create such a culture. Both have 1:1 laptop programs and allow students to pick their tools and control their devices.

Build a technology culture about collaboration, filling your tool belt, and finding your flow, not one about deficit model remediation. “Which side of the command line should our kids be on?”

When Grit Isn’t Enough

I’m reading When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College-for-All Promise. I incorporated some quotes and thoughts from it into my The Pipeline Problem and the Meritocracy Myth and Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology posts.

I’ve been working the mindset marketing beat for a few years now, ever since Leader in Me arrived at my elementary school. I’ve done a lot of reading and listening since then. For me, mindset marketing and behaviorism are up there with the cult of compliance and the grading and ranking of children as the biggest obstacles in the way of education. Grit, growth mindset, LiM, and Positive Behavior Support are fundamentally at odds with neurological pluralism, critical pedagogy, and social justice/social model education reform.

These deficit ideologies ignore systemic problems, choosing instead to tinker with kids. They push the meritocracy myth. The assumptions made by these ideologies harmfully gaslight students and families.

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.

We also see these down-punching deficit ideologies in disability and neurodiversity communities in the forms of inspiration porn and the super crip narrative. Our societal infatuation with deficit ideologies and fixing kids instead of systems has led to the domination of instructional design and almost all educational technology by operant conditioning and the manipulation of response to stimuli. This a huge, generational threat, particularly to marginalized kids.

Let’s stop spending time and money reinforcing deficit ideologies. Let’s stop pursuing behaviorism that has been vocally and forcefully rejected by the folks subjected to it. Instead, fix injustice, not kids, and bring social model inclusion to education.

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

September Education Reading: Double Empathy, Unqualified for Tech, STEAM > STEM, Ed-tech Ethics, Lower Ed, Paying the Price, Shame is not a Weapon, #CripTheVote on Education, Reading Logs, Intrinsic Motivation

Here’s a recap of my education-related reading and writing from September.

My Writing

Suggested Reading

Interesting articles by others:

Behaviorism, Mindset Marketing

Disability, Accessibility, Inclusion

Reading and Writing

The Grading and Ranking of Children

Dress Codes

Play

School Start Time

Ed-tech, Deficit Model Capitalism, Surveillance Capitalism

Tech Ethics

Colonialism, Racism, Structural Ideology, Critical Pedagogy

Other

#CripTheVote chat on education

In the#CripTheVote chat on education, we talked about PBS, growth mindset, and ed’s infatuation with behaviorism. Behaviorism backed by millions in marketing is a growing concern for neurodiversity and disability communities. Among top issues noted in the chat are: ableism (number one with a bullet), the deficit model, behaviorism, mindset marketing, assessment industry, mainstream ed-tech, surveillance, lack of social model. I updated my curation post on Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology with resources from the chat.

Curated Tweets

Here are curated collections of education related tweets. Each month, I put notable tweets and threads into Twitter Moments. Ed + ed-tech + D&I + tech ethics + social model. These are important intersections.

There are lots of great educators to discover in these collections. “The gospel of the new economy is the transformative power of a diverse, genuine network.” Have a peek at my networks:

Lower Ed, Paying the Price, and Weapons of Math Destruction

Lower Ed shows exploitation of vulnerable. Paying the Price tells how we fail them. Weapons of Math Destruction outlines tools we made to do it.

Source: Kyle Johnson on Twitter

Indeed. These three great books provide a systems view of higher education and its intersections with tech and algorithms. Below, I excerpt from their introductions and book blurbs, provide chapter lists, and select a handful of tweets from authors Tressie McMillan CottomSara Goldrick-Rab, and Cathy O’Neil. They are all active on Twitter and well worth a follow.

Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy

Years later, I would also realize how Jason could think that the Technical College was God’s will, as education gospels converge with our articles of faith in individual work ethic, self-sacrifice, and gendered norms about being the head of a household. A college education, whether it is a night class in auto mechanics or a graduate degree in physics, has become an individual good. This is in contrast to the way we once thought of higher (or post-secondary) education as a collective good, one that benefits society when people have the opportunity to develop their highest abilities through formal learning. Despite our shift to understanding higher education as a personal good, we have held on to the narrative of all education being inherently good and moral. Economists W. Norton Grubb and Marvin Lazerson call this the education gospel: our faith in education as moral, personally edifying, collectively beneficial, and a worthwhile investment no matter the cost, either individual or societal. Grubb and Lazerson aren’t the only ones to allude to education as a faith-based institution. All institutions require our collective faith in them for them to work. We call that legitimacy. But I like Grubb and Lazerson’s construction of the education gospel, in part because it speaks to the contradictions in that faith. The gospel was critical to higher education’s shift to its vocational promise. That is, the idea that higher education is a moral good is allowable only insofar as higher education serves market interests. Education is good because a good job is good. The faith breaks down when we divorce higher education from jobs. The contradiction is that we don’t like to talk about higher education in term of jobs, but rather in terms of citizenship and the public good, even when that isn’t the basis of our faith.

Based on the education gospel, we increasingly demand more personal sacrifice from those who would pursue higher education: more loans, fewer grants; more choices, fewer practical options; more possibilities, more risk of failing to attain any of them. We justify that demand by pointing to the significant return in higher wages that those with higher education credentials enjoy. And we imply that this wage premium will continue in the “knowledge economy,” where twenty-first-century jobs will require everyone to have some post-secondary education to do highly cognitive work. The gap between the education gospel and the real options available to people—those who need a priest but who instead get a televangelist—is how we end up with Lower Ed.

Lower Ed refers to credential expansion created by structural changes in how we work, unequal group access to favorable higher education schemes, and the risk shift of job training, from states and companies to individuals and families, exclusively for profit. Lower Ed is the subsector of high-risk post-secondary schools and colleges that are part of the same system as the most elite institutions. In fact, Lower Ed can exist precisely because elite Higher Ed does. The latter legitimizes the education gospel while the former absorbs all manner of vulnerable groups who believe in it: single mothers, downsized workers, veterans, people of color, and people transitioning from welfare to work. Lower Ed is, first and foremost, a set of institutions organized to commodify social inequalities (see Chapters 3 and 4) and make no social contributions beyond the assumed indirect effect of greater individual human capital. But Lower Ed is not just a collection of schools or set of institutional practices like profit taking and credential granting. Lower Ed encompasses all credential expansion that leverages our faith in education without challenging its market imperatives and that preserves the status quo of race, class, and gender inequalities in education and work. When we offer more credentials in lieu of a stronger social contract, it is Lower Ed. When we ask for social insurance and get workforce training, it is Lower Ed. When we ask for justice and get “opportunity,” it is Lower Ed.

Source: McMillan Cottom, Tressie. Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy (Kindle Locations 190-220). The New Press. Kindle Edition.

More than two million students are enrolled in for-profit colleges, from the small family-run operations to the behemoths brandished on billboards, subway ads, and late-night commercials. These schools have been around just as long as their bucolic not-for-profit counterparts, yet shockingly little is known about why they have expanded so rapidly in recent years-during the so-called Wall Street era of for-profit colleges.

In Lower Ed Tressie McMillan Cottom-a bold and rising public scholar, herself once a recruiter at two for-profit colleges-expertly parses the fraught dynamics of this big-money industry to show precisely how it is part and parcel of the growing inequality plaguing the country today. McMillan Cottom discloses the shrewd recruitment and marketing strategies that these schools deploy and explains how, despite the well-documented predatory practices of some and the campus closings of others, ending for-profit colleges won’t end the vulnerabilities that made them the fastest growing sector of higher education at the turn of the twenty-first century. And she doesn’t stop there.

With sharp insight and deliberate acumen, McMillan Cottom delivers a comprehensive view of postsecondary for-profit education by illuminating the experiences of the everyday people behind the shareholder earnings, congressional battles, and student debt disasters. The relatable human stories in Lower Ed-from mothers struggling to pay for beauty school to working class guys seeking “good jobs” to accomplished professionals pursuing doctoral degrees-illustrate that the growth of for-profit colleges is inextricably linked to larger questions of race, gender, work, and the promise of opportunity in America.

Drawing on more than one hundred interviews with students, employees, executives, and activists, Lower Ed tells the story of the benefits, pitfalls, and real costs of a for-profit education. It is a story about broken social contracts; about education transforming from a public interest to a private gain; and about all Americans and the challenges we face in our divided, unequal society.

Source: Lower Ed | The New Press

Chapters

  • Introduction: The Education Gospel
  • The Real
  • The Beauty College and the Technical College
  • Jesus Is My Backup Plan
  • When Higher Education Makes Cents
  • Where Credit Is Due
  • Credentials, Jobs, and the New Economy

Tweets

Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream

There is a new economics of college in America. In the past, students and families who worked hard stood a real chance of attaining a college degree, a ticket to the good life. But then the world shifted. Today, the promise of a college degree in exchange for hard work and dedication no longer holds true. Instead, students encounter a price so high that it has changed what it means to attend college.

Unfortunately, many people don’t know this. Millions enroll in higher education with plans to work, borrow, and save, only to find that their funds still fall short. Even living on ramen, doubling up with roommates, and working a part-time job isn’t enough to make ends meet. Many who start college can’t afford to complete their degrees. Others take on huge debt that either they cannot repay or limits their future opportunities. And this is occurring at a time when diplomas matter more than ever.

What happened? Just as Americans decided that college was essential, states began spending less on public higher education and the price of college rose. At the same time, the financial aid system, long intended to make college affordable, failed to keep up with growing student and family need. Student loans became the stopgap. And, to make matters worse, for nearly 80 percent of the public, family income declined.

What does this mean for students facing the new economics in public colleges and universities? How are they managing to make it through higher education today, and where are they falling short? This book is the result of my six-year-long effort to find out. As you will see, the statistics and stories make one thing quite clear: college students are paying a hefty price.

Source: Goldrick-Rab, Sara. Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream (Kindle Locations 53-65). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

If you are a young person, and you work hard enough, you can get a college degree and set yourself on the path to a good life, right?

Not necessarily, says Sara Goldrick-Rab, and with Paying the Price, she shows in damning detail exactly why. Quite simply, college is far too expensive for many people today, and the confusing mix of federal, state, institutional, and private financial aid leaves countless students without the resources they need to pay for it.

Source: Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream, Goldrick-Rab

Chapters

  • Introduction
  • Possible Lives
  • The Cost and Price of a College Education
  • Who Gets Pell?
  • Making Ends Meet
  • On Their Own
  • Family Matters
  • Making the Grade
  • City of Broken Dreams
  • Getting to Graduation
  • Making College Affordable

Tweets

Weapons of Math Destruction: How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy

And then I made a big change. I quit my job and went to work as a quant for D. E. Shaw, a leading hedge fund. In leaving academia for finance, I carried mathematics from abstract theory into practice. The operations we performed on numbers translated into trillions of dollars sloshing from one account to another. At first I was excited and amazed by working in this new laboratory, the global economy. But in the autumn of 2008, after I’d been there for a bit more than a year, it came crashing down.

The crash made it all too clear that mathematics, once my refuge, was not only deeply entangled in the world’s problems but also fueling many of them. The housing crisis, the collapse of major financial institutions, the rise of unemployment— all had been aided and abetted by mathematicians wielding magic formulas. What’s more, thanks to the extraordinary powers that I loved so much, math was able to combine with technology to multiply the chaos and misfortune, adding efficiency and scale to systems that I now recognized as flawed.

If we had been clear-headed, we all would have taken a step back at this point to figure out how math had been misused and how we could prevent a similar catastrophe in the future. But instead, in the wake of the crisis, new mathematical techniques were hotter than ever, and expanding into still more domains. They churned 24/ 7 through petabytes of information, much of it scraped from social media or e-commerce websites. And increasingly they focused not on the movements of global financial markets but on human beings, on us. Mathematicians and statisticians were studying our desires, movements, and spending power. They were predicting our trustworthiness and calculating our potential as students, workers, lovers, criminals.

This was the Big Data economy, and it promised spectacular gains. A computer program could speed through thousands of résumés or loan applications in a second or two and sort them into neat lists, with the most promising candidates on top. This not only saved time but also was marketed as fair and objective.

Yet I saw trouble. The math-powered applications powering the data economy were based on choices made by fallible human beings. Some of these choices were no doubt made with the best intentions. Nevertheless, many of these models encoded human prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias into the software systems that increasingly managed our lives. Like gods, these mathematical models were opaque, their workings invisible to all but the highest priests in their domain: mathematicians and computer scientists. Their verdicts, even when wrong or harmful, were beyond dispute or appeal. And they tended to punish the poor and the oppressed in our society, while making the rich richer.

I came up with a name for these harmful kinds of models: Weapons of Math Destruction, or WMDs for short.

Equally important, statistical systems require feedback— something to tell them when they’re off track. Statisticians use errors to train their models and make them smarter. If Amazon. ​ com, through a faulty correlation, started recommending lawn care books to teenage girls, the clicks would plummet, and the algorithm would be tweaked until it got it right. Without feedback, however, a statistical engine can continue spinning out faulty and damaging analysis while never learning from its mistakes.

Many of the WMDs I’ll be discussing in this book, including the Washington school district’s value-added model, behave like that. They define their own reality and use it to justify their results. This type of model is self-perpetuating, highly destructive— and very common.

In WMDs, many poisonous assumptions are camouflaged by math and go largely untested and unquestioned.

This underscores another common feature of WMDs. They tend to punish the poor. This is, in part, because they are engineered to evaluate large numbers of people. They specialize in bulk, and they’re cheap. That’s part of their appeal. The wealthy, by contrast, often benefit from personal input. A white-shoe law firm or an exclusive prep school will lean far more on recommendations and face-to-face interviews than will a fast-food chain or a cash-strapped urban school district. The privileged, we’ll see time and again, are processed more by people, the masses by machines.

Source: O’Neil, Cathy. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (pp. 2-3, pp. 6-8). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

A former Wall Street quant sounds an alarm on the mathematical models that pervade modern life – and threaten to rip apart our social fabric

We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives-where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance-are being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated.

But as Cathy O’Neil reveals in this urgent and necessary book, the opposite is true. The models being used today are opaque, unregulated, and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong. Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination: If a poor student can’t get a loan because a lending model deems him too risky (by virtue of his zip code), he’s then cut off from the kind of education that could pull him out of poverty, and a vicious spiral ensues. Models are propping up the lucky and punishing the downtrodden, creating a “toxic cocktail for democracy.” Welcome to the dark side of Big Data.

Tracing the arc of a person’s life, O’Neil exposes the black box models that shape our future, both as individuals and as a society. These “weapons of math destruction” score teachers and students, sort résumés, grant (or deny) loans, evaluate workers, target voters, set parole, and monitor our health.

O’Neil calls on modelers to take more responsibility for their algorithms and on policy makers to regulate their use. But in the end, it’s up to us to become more savvy about the models that govern our lives. This important book empowers us to ask the tough questions, uncover the truth, and demand change.

Source: Weapons of Math Destruction

Chapters

  • Introduction
  • BOMB PARTS: What Is a Model?
  • SHELL SHOCKED: My Journey of Disillusionment
  • ARMS RACE: Going to College
  • PROPAGANDA MACHINE: Online Advertising
  • CIVILIAN CASUALTIES: Justice in the Age of Big Data
  • INELIGIBLE TO SERVE: Getting a Job
  • SWEATING BULLETS: On the Job
  • COLLATERAL DAMAGE: Landing Credit
  • NO SAFE ZONE: Getting Insurance
  • THE TARGETED CITIZEN: Civic Life

Tweets