Author Archives: Fred Haas - @akh003

About Fred Haas - @akh003

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

Education Evolutions #103

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

Well, it has taken a couple of weeks to get back up and running since the start of the new school year but here is the first issue for year three of my humble newsletter project.  Hopefully, this new message finds you well and enjoying that overlapping summer-fall period where there is still plenty of daylight and beautiful weather.

Returning to this practice of culling through readings and sharing has been fun. Every year since I returned to the classroom, I think, “Can I still do this? Do I have the time?” Yet, I quite like forcing myself into a reflective look at what has been giving me a lot to think about. Considering how often I force that kind of thing upon my students, it seems only fair that I impose similar kinds of demands on myself.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. I have regularly taken aim at big tech corporations in this newsletter. Despite being a technology enthusiast, I have long passed the point of seduction by shiny buttons where all that glitters is gold. There is no good reason why tech companies cannot be better regulated nor why better privacy laws cannot be put into place. Anyone suggesting otherwise is a con. Corporations and markets always adjust and greed never seems to go out of style in America.

Here is to a new school year and great autumn. There is no pre-season for teachers, so get rest and wash your hands more often to stay healthy. The dragging will probably disappear in a few weeks.

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

Writing as a Tool for Reflection – Edutopia – Laura Lee (2-minute read)

Since I started off in a reflective mood, this short article seemed like a good place to kick off the new school year. This piece may be a bit of churnalism that rehashes some content from EdWeek‘s “Why Teachers Should Write,” which is definitely worth a read if you have a bit more time. Still, this abbreviated version is a nice reminder to us educators how writing can be a great means to reflect on the work.

The longer piece is more developed and offers some steps to get started. It is one of those pieces I wish that I would have put together myself and submitted. However, I have to admit that my first impulse is rarely to seek and submit work for publication through a mainstream outlet, although I keep thinking I ought to make more of an effort on that front.

Still, this newsletter serves as one of my means for doing some of what these two articles suggest. Even if you write reflectively and never share it with others, there can be enormous value personally. Plus, reading and writing are the coin of the realm in the academic world. If you are not as convinced, reading broadly and deeply is also pretty good practice for us educators. That is why I started this newsletter, to share a curated list of readings that colleagues may not have the time to find this kind of thing on their own.

Why College Became So Expensive – The Atlantic – Joe Pinsker (5-minute read)

This short Q & A is with anthropologist Caitlin Zaloom who wrote a book Indebted: How Families Make College Work at Any Cost. As a parent that still has college expenses looming in the future, these kinds of articles always catch my eye. This one, however, offered a bit more insight to be gleaned.

Like so many paradigm shifts occurring in the 1980s that swerved toward market-think for everything, the notion of a college education drifted toward being considered a private good rather than a public one. Decades of defunding of public universities later and we find ourselves in the midst of the impending crisis now on the horizon. The very fact that politicians are finally discussing it in their campaigns is encouraging, although certainly no promise of remedy.

Ther is no question I am of the belief that health and education are undeniable public goods, despite those obsessed with marketworld priorities that suggest otherwise. Unfortunately, there are forty years of government-is-bad messaging to overcome, when the whole point of their existence is to protect their citizenry. Defining protect as nothing more than a national defense is possibly the most narrow-minded nonsense ever.

Google Is Fined $170 Million for Violating Children’s Privacy on YouTube – The New York Times – Natasha Singer and Kate Conger (6-minute read)

As big a record-breaking fine $170 million seems, I am with the dissenters on this and believe the penalty imposed is not remotely severe enough. Google and others in the tech sector routinely claim that they are not doing things like collecting and making money off the data of minors until they are caught. Tech companies already operate in a rigged system where they use ever-changing terms and service agreements to extract nearly whatever user data they want to then turn around and profit from it in a virtually unregulated marketplace, all the while lobbying Congress with our-industry-should-be-allowed-to-regulate-itself nonsense.

Meanwhile, Google has already become practically ubiquitous in the education world. Their entire “free” ecosystem benefitted from early and aggressive marketing and has become embedded in school systems across the country. So, to not look at this settlement with anything other than suspicion strikes me as, at best, naive. There are even alternatives but convenience is this wolf’s chosen fleece.

Anyone who reads this regularly must know that I am well beyond any false belief that the giant tech companies are even remotely capable of regulating themselves. There is just far too much evidence piling up that they operate with little more than greed as a driver. Unfortunately, most people feel powerless to do much about it and our government has been dragging its feet and stocking regulatory agencies with industry-friendly former executives for decades. I keep hoping the tide is turning but remain unconvinced.

Education Evolutions #102

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

With the crush of the end of the school year, I completely failed to get the newsletter out last week. It was actually a confluence of factors but it, unfortunately, stymied any efforts on my part. Still, as I wrap up the final week of exams, this could be the final installment as I typically have taken the summers off. We’ll see if that remains, I may put together some summer issues.

Consequently, that meant there was no shortage of stories in the education world from which I could choose. It often gets difficult to select the three main articles. I always feel like I am leaving good material out. I may need to change the format a little in future. That is one of the things that I will be considering over the summer.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the first one. It is the shortest but it is also the most universally recognizable and potentially applicable one for educators. Alfie Kohn produces a lot of insightful commentary about schools and this New York Times Opinion piece kind of hits a few nails squarely on the head with force and precision.

Here is to a great summer. Teachers enjoy the holiday and time to relax, rejuvenate, and restart in the fall.

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

Why Can’t Everyone Get A’s? – The New York Times – Alfie Kohn (4-minute read)

I write it every time I include something from Alfie Kohn. The longer I am in education the smarter that guy looks and the more I like what he has to say. This piece is no different. He is incredibly adept at blowing up some simple assumptions that are made pervasively across the educational field.

In this recent opinion piece, Kohn does not share anything new as much as he shares it well with a razor-sharp insight. Excellence need not be a zero-sum game. In fact, I would argue that we are far too quick to don goggles that reinforce beliefs of scarcity where there may not be much. It may just be one more consequence of being “Indoctrinated by Econ 101,” which manages to hold a devastating grip on the imagination of many.

So many things Kohn argues here are proven repeatedly to anyone watching closely. If students do too well, it is because things are too easy. He also includes rampant cries of grade inflation but left out another lie in education that most pernicious teacher’s claim of holding the line of “standards” while everyone else is letting them slip.

All of this continues feeding the nonsense about school rankings, like league tables, too. Yet, we can’t seem to stop the sick comparisons, despite professing that we don’t necessarily put a lot of stock in the results. They become a stick when the rankings are bad and prod when they are good. There is never a carrot.

Doublethink Is Stronger Than Orwell Imagined – The Atlantic – George Packer (10-minute read)

This one goes out to all my English colleagues that read 1984 with students. The tenth graders at my school wrapped a unit that featured this novel just weeks ago, culminating in a simulation that is always fascinating. The anniversary of the book and the current state of political affairs has brought a wealth of writing about the work. This article is an interesting ride on that wave.

Part book review, part personal reflection, and part social commentary, Packer manages to cover a lot of ground in this piece. The book review portion of this is actually quite compelling and makes The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984 sound like a fascinating read. On that front, it is also an interesting twist on a book review.

Where things take an even more interesting turn is in Packer’s criticism of the political moment, taking relatively equal aim at both the right and the left. Neither the right nor the left seems to have a strong hold on the truth, at least if the American party system is any indication. The final handful of paragraphs are best of all, pointing out how we have a profound tendency to be our own worst enemies.

Here’s how an alleged charter school conspiracy netted $50 million – The San Diego Union Tribune – Morgan Cook (10-minute read)

It seems like there is no end to the mendacity and malfeasance opportunities with charter schools in this country. This in-depth article outlines a fairly elaborate scheme to rob millions of dollars from the state of California, as well as students and families from a decent education. The amount of litigation involving charter schools around things like fraud, embezzlement, and other kinds of grift is actually quite stunning.

While charter schools desperately hold on to the claim that they are public schools, they are not bound by the same oversight or requirements. Somehow this is celebrated as a good and needed thing. It is the kind of innovation required to change a broken system. However, the defendants in this case and so many others merely identify the brokenness as a growth opportunity for their bank accounts. It also seems that online charter schools seem to be the most tainted of the lot.

Not all charter schools are rackets and schemes. Still, the truth is that oversight of charter schools is most often woeful. Add the fact that there is little incentive to shut a charter school down because that would negatively impact a whole lot of families, and they become an almost open invitation for long con scenarios. Yet, as many cases gain attention in the media, the efforts to perpetuate them is mind-boggling. It is open season for scams.

Education Evolutions #101

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

Well, this week’s issue is delayed as I have been basking in the victory of my beloved Reds who now reign as the kings of European football. Liverpool won their sixth European Cup and I couldn’t be happier. After absolute heartache last year and a near miss at a league title, the best club in the world won the biggest trophy in all of club football. Winning in Madrid Saturday night, the parade was most of the Sunday back in Liverpool which I couldn’t stop watching. Absolute scenes, even wilder than duck boats by Boston Garden.

Meanwhile, there was a lot of stories in the education world this week. It actually proved a bit tricky to pick from all that I had bookmarked since issue 100. Some of this looks a bit dire or dramatic, but there also is a bit of fun too. That is one of the cool things about curating a bunch of articles regularly, sometimes there are trends or themes that emerge and other times there is just a wide variety of cool things to read.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” has to be the first one. The rate at which we as a nation are employing surveillance strategies on everyone, let alone schools should be alarming to everyone, not just the ACLU. However, schools seem to be seduced by false promises of greater security even more unilaterally than other public spheres. Student data already enters a virtual black box in many schools, where software companies farm out server storage to third parties, and that is without even getting into Google which seems to be particularly opaque about its educational services. Give this one a read. It affects more than just students.

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

Schools Are Deploying Massive Digital Surveillance Systems. The Results Are Alarming – EdWeek – Benjamin Herold (15-minute read)

Fear of faux promises of security have stoked the surveillance gold rush in our country’s schools and we are only just starting to see the consequence of its viral spread. Security cameras are not exactly new in schools, although their proliferation has nearly tripled in the last 15 years. While cameras there is little evidence that suggests that the presence of cameras makes anyone safer, they certainly make policing students a lot easier and they often present a potential vulnerability to be exploited. However, the new array of tech tools to monitor students under the same stale promises of safety are far more chilling.

As schools rush to purchase new and more advanced surveillance systems to monitor a student’s digital life, one that they increasingly make mandatory often as part of the curriculum, there is very little public conversation about it. Administrators are spending no small amount of money on systems under the guise of protecting students while budget battles are waged across the nation around school funding. Far worse is the near acceptance that surveillance is simply a given in schools.

Students already have curtailed rights in a school but do we want to indoctrinate them into an actual Big Brother world? I suspect most parents have no idea to what degree their children are monitored and how far that reach extends. While some undoubtedly may feel safer, as a result, I suspect that there are plenty that would be shocked and possibly distressed. Only by that time, they will have found out about it is will likely be too late.

Federal jury: HISD staff repeatedly violated copyright laws, owe company $9.2M – Houston Chronicle – Jacob Carpenter  (5-minute read)

This story broke late last week and rippled through my online ecosystem. This is the first story that I am aware of where a school, in this case, district, has been punished for a major violation of copyright. Sadly, based on the evidence presented in this article, they seemed to deserve a ruling against them. There is not much of an argument to suggest that the district blatantly disregarded the law.

What makes this story so unfortunate, aside for the company that won in court, is that there is already so much confusion about copyright, especially in schools. It will likely stoke increasing fears and recriminations rather than sensible decision-making, more nuanced understanding of the law, or quality teacher training on the topic. Education has some special standing with regard to copyright and the provision of fair use. By all indications, this case was not even close to a fair use claim.

Fear of litigation already has a chilling effect on many educators and educational institutions with regard to their rights to fair use of copyrighted material. Add the oversimplified and blunt instruments of many technology platforms and user’s rights erode. As educators, we have a responsibility to learn about fair use of copyrighted material and pass that understanding on to our students or risk losing our user’s rights entirely, which is exactly what well-monied interests would like. Sadly, it looks like a principal in Houston failed on multiple counts, as did any staff commitment to righting wrongs, and now the entire district on the hook for major damages.

Nine Teaching Ideas for Using Music to Inspire Student Writing – The New York Times – Natalie Proulx (15-minute read)

This is definitely more upbeat but might be far more appealing to the English teachers out there. Not that using music is the exclusive province of English classes. In fact, I have helped a history teacher with quite a cool music-inspired lesson. Nevertheless, the writing emphasis in many of these ideas means that they probably are more likely to appeal to the English teachers who read this.

There are all kinds of cool lesson resources through The New York Times but this is one of the slickest offerings. One of the best aspects of this post is all the links to examples and other related readings. That can be really powerful, especially when trying one of these ideas for the first time. While a lot of these are not particularly new or novel necessarily, it is a nice compendium of possibilities that could be incorporated quickly and easily in a classroom.

A number of these items I could certainly fold right into my journalism class with almost no adjustments. However, there are some additional ideas that I could fold into any class. One thing I have learned in my years of teaching when students are given choices and can incorporate music it seems a lot less like work to them. I recently rolled out an assignment with a bunch of ninth graders that involved music, a bit like option #5. More than one student actually said things like, “This is going to be fun,” or “I love assignments like this.” It is not every day that a teacher hears that kind of sentiment, so taking advantage of it now and again is definitely worth it.