Author Archives: Fred Haas - @akh003

About Fred Haas - @akh003

Teacher in Boston suburbs and Technology Liaison for the Boston Writing Project

Education Evolutions #62

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

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

I was not entirely sure I would get this issue out. The last day of a vacation tends to be a bit of a helter-skelter sprint to finish all those things I hoped to do over the break but maybe fell short. That’s probably still the case but I yielded to this particular compulsion.

This week features an almost entirely education-wide focus. Sure there is some tech and teaching mixed in there but, for the most part, these selections are about the big systems that shape education for better or worse. I have often been accused of being negative about these kinds of things. I disagree. Actually, I really am an optimist with the greatest of hopes. I just happen to be frequently disappointed. Even these articles, as much as they might stir me up, still fill me with hope in spite of any disappointment.

As for the “If you read only one article…” selection this week, it has to go to the third selection “How Education Reform Ate the Democratic Party.” If you have ever wondered about terms like neoliberalism, wondered how the political party that used to support educators and the working class changed, or why we seem so bereft of alternative ideas about education, that has to be considered a must read. It is part history lesson and primer on how the field of public education finds itself in its present state.

Well, I return to school tomorrow, as many fellow New Englanders do after spring break, and it is only just yesterday started to actually feel like spring.

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

25-Year-Old Textbooks and Holes in the Ceiling: Inside America’s Public Schools – The New York Times –  Josephine Sedgwick (8-minute read)

This article got a lot of play on the Internets after it was published. It seemed almost irresponsible not to include it on that chance that some might not have seen it yet. It is pretty sobering. It is not as balanced it probably could have been, although I am not certain how balanced the story can be. It is heavy on states that are in the midst of strikes and walkouts. It may not represent schools everywhere but it certainly represents a whole lot. I wish that they were far more transparent about the difference between true public schools and charters because it is not entirely clear.

It is pretty inarguable that states have been shortchanging education spending now for decades. Considering just how many unfounded demands have been placed on schools in the NCLB era alone, there is almost no possible evidence to contrary, even if the net spend has increased. As increases in demand and desire for more technology grow there is no end in sight to a need for more funding. However, how the money is spent might require a bit more oversight. We educators should never forget that part of the push for more technology buttresses the standardized testing regime and student surveillance. I am not sure how they can be divorced but I wish that more time and energy was spent on that problem.

Pearson Tested ‘Social-Psychological’ Messages in Learning Software, With Mixed Results – Education Week –  Benjamin Herold (8-minute read)

The fact that this report is not presented almost without making the acknowledgment of serious ethical problems the most front and central focus might be the most alarming thing of all. The fact that Pearson conducted this kind of research effort using children without any parental consent is serious enough. Let me be clear, without consent or knowledge, children were subjects. That they were brazen enough to publish their work more so. However, why there has not been a backlash of outrage is shameful. We should be demanding state-level departments of education to take action against the company.

However, an even graver concern should be that this kind of massive, widescale “research” experimentation will be done with impunity by technology companies on children in educational settings under the guise of product development. That is almost without question. What Pearson has done is essentially confirm that fact with the publication of this paper. Moreover, it simply doesn’t matter how well-intentioned or positive the results might be. This is the kind of thing that should be illegal and subject to major financial and legal penalties, especially after the insights gained from the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.

How Education Reform Ate the Democratic Party – The Baffler –  Jennifer C. Berkshire (12-minute read)

This is not really a new story as one that just goes underreported. This story reads like a rewrite of how the Democratic party essentially sold out to big money in the 1970s. Here Berkshire details how big money neoliberalism finances advancing charter schools and attacking teacher unions. Even better this article is essentially a history lesson on how America’s attack on teachers began and it is a fascinating one.

Something I observed long ago and stated for years without the forcefulness of Berkshire is how little attention has been paid to how much Clinton-era Democrats essentially won elections by co-opting the Republican platform. I still cannot for the life of me fathom just how many people buy into “logic of the market” nonsense for education, let alone a host of other aspects of society. I just keep hoping that the power teachers unions have been flexing in some of the hardest hit states will spark a broader and more intelligent conversation.


Education Evolutions #61

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

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

While often opt not to publish this newsletter during breaks from school and teachers across New England begin spring break this week, I still felt compelled to get this one out. Next week may be a different story. I may still churn an issue out but it should not be a complete surprise if nothing arrives next Sunday either. I’ll see how the week goes, actually.

Plus, this week there just seemed to be too much worth sharing. In a week that saw both Mark Zuckerberg and Congress exposed a bit more than usual, edtech journalist Audrey Watters poignantly remarked that maybe tech journalists should do a better job of explaining how things work. I could not agree more. I would even include those writing about educational technology. Far too many repackage thinly veiled corporate marketing and perpetuate the idea of magic solutions.

Listed below is a rather eclectic mix of pieces this week. I do really try to seek out articles that offer a variety of points of view. They offer me the opportunity to challenge and refine my own thinking. That was key in my including the Sue Thomas piece. I am not sure I agree with her but I actually respect the point of view she is researching and advancing as a serious and reflective endeavor.

As for the “If you read only one article…” selection this week. The third selection “The Noisy Fallacies of Psychographic Targeting” earns that distinction. It highlights just how much dubious claims and mythmaking can sweep through our understanding and consciousness, especially when coupled with some shady sleight-ofhand diversionary tactics employed by profit-seeking enterprises offering the latest edtech solutions.

Even though spring break has started, the season still seems pretty far from arriving. I cannot believe how cold it is in mid-April.

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

I love my digital life – Sue Thomas’ on Medium –  Sue Thomas (5-minute read)

I came across this post and found it an interesting departure from much of the current conversation, despite the post being five years old. I am not entirely sure that I buy some of it but I still found it interesting to read and think about. I will say that the differences between our digital and physical lives can be hard to distinguish and I am a middle-aged adult. I can only imagine what it must be like for the teenagers in my classroom. If nothing else, this post made me reevaluate why the idea that a kid’s mobile phone might feel more like oxygen to them.

My personal fascinations have led me to a lot of hours in front of a computer and online from the earliest days of computers becoming personal and invading our homes. Plus, the restrictions my parents and teachers placed on my time in front of screens and interfaces likely only made the fascination deeper. Still, as I read this I felt a stronger sense of ambivalence and suspicion. I am not yet sure that it is discomfort from wrestling with the ideas that Thomas puts forth or a too-easy, reactive dismissal of some of the thoughts presented here. I certainly am not sure I agree with everything but I cannot summarily ignore it.

If nothing else, Thomas’ sentiments, in part, explain a whole lot of desktop wallpapers adorning the computers of friends and colleagues (It seems like an emoji would be appropriate here!). Apparently, the idea has gotten some legs since the publication of this post. She finished a book on the subject and is now offering retreats at Othona in West Dorset, UK. Broadchurch fans will recognize the locale.

“Unfreezing” Teachers: Why So Many Technology Initiatives Are Stagnating – Leading Innovation in Schools: From Someday to Monday –  Tom Daccord (5-minute read)

Tom Daccord is a name familiar to many in the edtech space, especially if you live in the Boston area. The former history teacher left the classroom to create a successful educational technology consulting company with partner Justin Reich, even claiming the ubiquitous name EdTechTeacher as a brand. They do some interesting work, to be fair, and I have even attended and presented at their events.

However, this blog post discloses none of the pertinent personal information before essentially blaming teachers for not getting with the edtech, innovation program. Using references to the father of social psychology, Kurt Lewin, he justifies his conclusions. It is not that this post is devoid of any sound reasoning, it is that it is far too oversimplified and misses some pretty significant factors, like the prevalence of competing demands placed on teachers and administrators, not to mention any recognition that any “galvanizing vision of how learning can be different when technology” includes a whole range of dubious assumptions. Interestingly, I quickly found that Lewin’s ‘changing as three steps’ model has its own unreliable legacy.

Of course learning can be different with technology but that difference is not de facto better. That notion seems completely absent. In fact, I would argue that is the single biggest myth going in education today. Another completely absent notion is how mandatory and standardized testing is antithetical to any concept of the popular edtech buzzwords like innovation or vision, let alone educationally sound concepts of “student-centric” and “creativity-focused.” That fact seems almost lost entirely in writing about educaiton today. Without acknowledging any of this, it is hard to take any of this thinking very seriously as anything other than marketing, which it seems to be if you read a little closer and think a little deeper.

The Noisy Fallacies of Psychographic Targeting – Wired –  Antonio García Martínez (10-minute read)

This might be one of the most interesting pieces to come out in the wake of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica revelations. What this article does better than most is provide a proper context in which the wider story can be placed. How effective the Cambridge Analytica data heist even was has been mostly lost in the drama of Facebook being dragged through the mud, deserved though it may be.

Garcia Martinez provides a bit of history as to where psychographics comes from and just how soft it is as a concept. He also goes into a bit more detail as to how easily the data heist was able to be accomplished. Then he explains the two “leaps” made in what Cambridge Analytica was trying to do, “guessing about individual political inclinations based on rather metaphysical properties like ‘conscientiousness;’ and predicting what sort of Facebook user behaviors are also common among people with that same psychological quality.” If it sounds shaky it is because it is.

Another thing this piece does well is highlight where journalism might be falling down on the job and informing the public about the nuance instead of the drama. Thus, more myths and misunderstandings march on. Perhaps the most insightful comment is made at the end, “just because a product doesn’t work doesn’t mean you can’t sell it.” This might just be the motto of a whole lot of edtech enterprises. And don’t forget Facebook has been selling personalized learning in schools for a few years now. Better still and completely underreported, “Facebook employs psychologist whose firm sold data to Cambridge Analytica.” Of course, I don’t think Zuck commented on that mcu during his discussions with Congress.

Education Evolutions #60

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

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Another milestone of sorts seems to have been achieved with hitting issue number 60. I am not entirely sure that I envisioned getting to that number when I started this experiment. Considering I have taken the summers off, for better or worse, I guess I feel a certain degree of accomplishment. I suppose 75 would be the next serious marker.

I find myself a bit torn in curating this week’s list of suggested readings. I could easily have added a couple more but have grown to think that more very quickly becomes overkill. So I have been deliberately trying to limit myself from just adding all kinds of links. Although if anyone reading this thinks otherwise be sure to let me know.

Another thing I have been contemplating recently is how much crafting this thing has been influencing my own personal learning. Consequently, I want to invite anyone and everyone that does read this to share links and articles that you may have found on your Internet travels. I love including them but the invitation is more about sharing the opportunity as much as the resource. You may not have the time or inclination to make a whole newsletter but some thoughts on something you read and found really interesting is probably not out of reach.

All three of these are on some level are about democratic community, thin as that thread might be. I definitely have a pick for “If you read only one article…” this week. The third selection “The Grief of Accepting New Ideas” is not only important but immediately beneficial, although I probably liked “I’m Nowhere In-between” best. Of course, reading them all is a good idea too.

Still waiting for the lamb that went missing at the end of March so that April can kickstart spring. Here is hoping the weather may break soon.

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

Chinese jaywalkers are identified and shamed by facial recognition, and now they’ll get warnings over text message – BoingBoing –  Cory Doctorow (2-minute read)

I found this courtesy of Doug Belshaw and it has got to be the longest title to an article I have ever mentioned. The title is ironically long, given how short the actual article is to read. Still, this is the kind of terrifying development that haunts me. Granted China is not an exactly a free democratic state but this effort strengthens a couple of my fundamental claims.

First claim, “If it can be done, it will be done.” Unfortunately, I find this to be a truism whether or not it is a good thing. The fact that this kind of facial recognition technology exists is dubious enough to me but it the minute it became so it was always only a matter of time before we found it used in this Minority Report fashion. I’m sure that the citizens of Shenzhen had little or no say in the implementation of this program. In fact, click the link about social credit for some more eye-opening insights.

Second claim, “If you are not doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about is a stupid argument.” That tired self-righteous justification is how people allow their privacy and freedom to slowly be eroded without clear thought or necessary resistance. To think that abuses will not occur after passively accepting invasive surveillance efforts is naive at best. As we have already seen recently in stark relief, data can very quickly and easily be weaponized and used against people that provide it. The Chinese may not have a choice but I hope that we still do. After all, these are the lengths being gone to for jaywaliking!

I’m Nowhere In-between: Why we need ‘seriously uncool’ criticism in education – Long View on Education –  Benjamin Doxtdator (9-minute read)

Benjamin Doxtdator is one of those educators I feature often in this newsletter. His writing is both excellent and intelligent. It challenges and interrogates in the way that education does at its best. Plus, his keen interest in power and social justice is razor sharp. He may not be for everyone but rarely do I read something that he has written where I do not finish feeling impressed and inspired.

I will also say that I am ready to join him the great ‘Nowhere In-between.’ Far too often educators of all stripes eschew ‘seriously uncool criticism’ for expedience, fashion, flawed certainty, even laziness, just to mention a few reasons. Yet we do at our own peril. Blind acceptance is rarely good for anyone. If educators abdicate genuine academic inquiry, as messy and conflicted as it can be, what separates us from caretakers. This is not to denigrate caretakers in any way, teaching involves caretaking to be sure, but that is not it’s only concern.

There are so many good strands in here to think about, the reductionism of institutions, the seduction of skills agendas, the myth of apolitical scientific progress, and more. Yet, I recognize that far fewer people get excited about these ideas than those that get swept into the latest educational fad. I suppose simple acknowledgment would be a lot more valuable than excitement or outright ignorance. Everyone arrives at any topic with a different story and at a different point. Yet, I kind of believe that looking critically at pedagogy is part of a teacher’s job description. I am just not sure that is a universally shared belief.

The Grief of Accepting New Ideas – Association for Middle Level Education –  Rick Wormeli (11-minute read)

I like a lot of what Rick Wormeli has to say generally. His work on grades is really worth investigating. This article is filled with a lot of really insightful discussion on the idea at the center of the title. In fact, this is the kind of piece I wish more educators would read thoughtfully. In fact, my favorite part of this whole piece is the conclusion. Education, like life, is rife with a lot of dubious ideas but some compassion can go a long way.

I have long said that one of the reasons why change in education can be really slow and difficult is that the profession of teaching, at its core, always comes down to values. I am not sure that is recognized with the degree of prominence it should be. Wormeli articulates this notion in a clear and rather elegant way. He does it in a way I wish that I had written.

Another thing I have long thought and occasionally said is that there is a lot that we can learn an awful lot by looking closely at what we feel compelled to resist as educators. The resistance impulse is important and a genuine place for personal learning. I would even suggest it is necessary for being a reflective practitioner. Sometimes reasons for resistance are sound, sometimes not so much. Wormeli touches on that too. What he does not really address is from where the new ideas hail and who exactly is peddling them, which I would say is a bit of a blindspot but perhaps another piece altogether.

As always, thanks for supporting this newsletter,