Author Archives: Fred Haas - @akh003

About Fred Haas - @akh003

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

Education Evolutions #99

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

Maybe just maybe spring has finally sprung in New England. This has been the nicest weekend weather I can remember this year. That made putting together this newsletter a bit more challenging.

Not sure that there is much of a theme to this collection of articles. However, there is a kind of thread of tests. Even the article about athletics and leisure time activity hinges on a test of sorts, even though it might not involve ticking boxes. Still, all of these articles ask some pretty interesting questions.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is probably the first one. They are all interesting in their own right but Peter Greene has been producing some excellent pieces since starting to write for Forbes. He is definitely an education writer worth following, either at his blog or the magazine. His blog has more of his acerbic wit, but his Forbes pieces retain a sharp perspective and give him a potentially much wider audience.

So, enjoy this selection of shorter reads. I kept it brief by design in the hopes everyone might go outside for a walk or something.

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

Have We Stolen A Generation’s Independent Thought? – Forbes – Peter Greene (4-minute read)

Peter Greene commonly appears in this newsletter. An avid and excellent teacher blogger, he now regularly contributes to Forbes on edreform issues. His blog Curmudguation has long been on my reading list. Having spent nearly 40 years in a high school classroom, he is a keen observer with a jaundiced eye. He has seen a lot of education fads and silliness come and go through the years and writes about it with great insight. Here the very fact that the title poses the question it does kind of hints at the answer.

Using the frame of contrasting an open-ended question and a closed multiple choice question, Greene highlights some possible consequences. Anyone that tries to encourage the kind of open-ended exploratory thinking suggested here with high schoolers has to have felt similar frustrations with students’ intense focus on “correctness” or the “right answer” from time to time. These consequences have always existed, as Greene deftly explains, “This is not a new issue in education, but we have ramped it up, systematically injected it into every level of K-12 education, and incentivized it like never before.”

While I completely concur, I wonder if part of this phenomenon is also simply linked to maturity. Some of the desire to know the “right” answer is linked to engagement with abstract thinking. That is not easy for all students and takes time to develop. It is a readiness issue. I remember a couple of my favorite teachers in high school saying things when I was a student to the effect, “What you will learn soon enough is that there are very few “right” answers.” I also remember being slightly frustrated when confronting that reality as a young person. THat may only be anecdotal evidence but I believe Greene’s central point is accurate.

How High School Ruined Leisure – The New York Times – KJ Dell’Antonia (5-minute read)

This column was timely, considering the recent article I posted about the professionalization of high school sports and the mental health toll that it might be taking on our youth. It also reminded me of a recent conversation with a graduating senior about quitting track. It all sharpened the point that Dell’Antonia was trying to make, for me at least.

I definitely feel an acute awareness of high school being the end of an athlete’s career for many students and how that can have a substantial impact on them. Even in my own experience, I was fortunate enough to play a sport at the collegiate level for a time. I can remember even feeling the dawning recognition that continuing to play at the next level was a major intrinsic reason I wanted to even go to college and that might not be the soundest rationale. While injury forced me to reevaluate where I put my focus, I count myself fortunate. Still, I reached the “end of that achievement conveyor belt” just a little later. I later watched both my siblings wrestle with the situation too in opposite ways. One simply stopped and the other played as long as he could at the highest NCAA level, eventually getting cut. Eventually, the end became more of a turning point but each of us felt the loss.

So when I recently had a conversation with a student I discovered had quit running track during her senior year, I asked why. Sports are valued at a significantly high standard where I teach and the female athletic program is the most successful, especially track. Her reasoning was both thoughtful and mature. She no longer felt the need to compete like that anymore. She knew where she was headed for university, where athletics were not going to be the priority, and she realized she could run just for enjoyment. It was an impressive and refreshing explanation. That was a kid who had already started answering Dell’Antonia’s question “Do you still do your thing — whatever your thing is — when no one is watching?” Her answer was “Yes,” and I suspect she is pretty happy with the decision too.

Dear STAR Test, We Need to Talk Again… – Pernille Ripp blog – Pernille Ripp (9-minute read)

For those that don’t know, Pernille Ripp is a pretty blogger and elementary teacher. She has written multiple books and is definitely an in-demand educator. In this post, she takes on the STAR Reading test once again, a few years after the last time she considered the use of the widely used reading assessment. As the title might indicate, she is still not impressed.

Aside from the playful and entertaining approach Ripp takes, she makes a seriously important point that is overlooked so often it borders on maddening. A whole lot of these assessments districts buy and impose on students do not even render reliable or even valid data. In the case that she presents, the scenario sounds a bit horrifying but not as bad as it certainly could be. Even more impressive is the depth of information that she has culled from STAR Reading’s own marketing material to highlight the dubiousness of the whole enterprise.

This whole data obsession that has swept through education is profoundly problematic. The new, even greater emphasis on testing and metrics, prompted by testing and software companies, to improve education is certainly symptomatic of a wider cultural disease that has roots in surveillance capitalism. Yet for some reason, decision-makers in policy and education keep taking the bait. One of the biggest problems is often there is a presupposition that the data being collected is valid, despite significant evidence that it is not. This willing dismissal of the contrary taints the whole decision-making process. Resources are engaged and decisions are made to address issues revealed by tests like STAR Reading and many others all the time. Plenty of decision-makers may say that determinations are not made based on any one assessment but if bad data is infecting the process it still influences the decision-making. Failure to recognize that fact is just folly.

Education Evolutions #98

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

This week’s newsletter arrives a little late as Mother’s Day prevented any time to sit down on Sunday. Hopefully, this finds everyone well.

This is another collection of short reads that run a wider gamut of topics. From the need for poetry to how technology is amplifying the fracturing of public life to the foolishness of standardized testing, a lot of ground is covered. The nice thing is when all the articles are this short it is easy to give them all a look.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the middle one. It is not the first time that I have highlighted something by danah boyd. She is an excellent thinker and writer on the technology front and it was her particular expertise in youth culture and tech that first led me to her work. If you have not read anything by her you should do some quick searching and start. However, this keynote speech is as good a place to start as any.

More showers in May in New England. What else is new?

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

Who needs poetry? We all do – and we need it now – The Guardian – Kenan Malik (1-minute read)

This is a very brief but beautiful commentary about the importance of poetry. While some people might be quick to dismiss poetry, I agree with Malik. We have never needed it more. There is poetry even in this column itself.

As I have been trying to convince students of late, poetry is not necessarily as scary as we might like it to be. There can be a remoteness to poetry that makes it hard for some to find a way in. However, there is so much poetry is not accessible, inviting, and even amusing that it need not be that way for anyone, especially with only a bit of interest.

The reasons used to support the need for poetry are eloquent and elegant. Few if any uses of language has the power and concentration of poetry. It is both artistic and understandable. In fact, the Meena Alexander quote that poetry “is a work that exists as an object in the world but also… allows the world entry” might be one of the most beautiful insights I have read recently. Consider clicking the links for the poems they are pretty good too.

Agnotology and Epistemological Fragmentation – Data & Society: Points – danah boyd (8-minute read)

Anyone unfamiliar with danah boyd should take a moment and look her up. She is an academic researcher with some deep roots and serious chops. She wrote her dissertation on the rise of social networks, when MySpace was bigger than Facebook – Ah, those halcyon days. She speaks and writes a lot about technology and society and definitely knows her stuff.

In this keynote speech, she breaks down a couple of major problems that are plaguing our modern lives at the minute, the use of media in a deliberately manipulative way to undermine “the social fabric of public life.” It is something that has been going on for some time but has been supercharged through the use of technology, especially social media.

Agnotology was not a term familiar to me but it is an awfully good one to label part of the problem. The idea of purposefully seeding doubt and forcing everyday people to question what is fact versus fiction has become a major thread in contemporary life and we are feeling the cost it daily. “Many people who are steeped in history and committed to evidence-based decision-making are experiencing a collective sense of being gaslit,” might be the single best line in this presentation. It is good but boyd is always good.

We Must Teach for ‘Range’ and ‘Depth’ – EdWeek – James Nehring (4-minute read)

While this piece is a few years older, I came across it again more recently and felt an instant recognition. As the testing season enters full flight, this kind of sentiment should get read with greater regularity. Nehring nails the paradox that we find ourselves in regularly as educators, “The problem is this: Human judgment is poison to accountability, but it is the basic ingredient for assessment of learning.” As we have drifted increasingly toward accountability measures, human judgment has been maligned. Now, we are even hearing the whispered promises of artificial intelligence taking care of the assessment.

Yet, it only seems to get sillier. New tests are forcing curricular changes across the nation but for what. They are not being driven by educational goals as much as they are driven by the desire for accountability. Decades after the failure of foolish policies like No Child Left Behind, policymakers continue to consort with test makers in an ever-increasingly costly enterprise that does very little to serve students. Even a little human judgment surely has born that fact out as truth.

This whole piece reminded me of the research by masters of human error Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who discovered all kinds of things about the flaws in human intuition. We cannot take human judgment out of any context with humans. Just like removing emotion from rational thought does not work out so well. They are intertwined. A really intelligent principal once reminded me education is the human resources business, literally and figuratively. When it comes to educating our young, human judgment should be tempered but always present.

Education Evolutions #97

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

This week’s newsletter covers a lot of ground. From individual awareness and agency to consciousness of the collective, these writings have some real breadth and depth. There was a lot to choose from this week but these are the ones that struck the strongest chord for me.

These reads get progressively longer but they all offer in-depth looks into their subject matter. Read together, I hope that their scope can be appreciated more than simply picking and choosing. I mention that with the knowledge that most people probably do a lot more picking and choosing. Plus, I am never completely sure how much of my thinking influences the urge to click a link.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” has to be the last one. Any educator would benefit from interrogating the ideas presented in this essay. Teaching has always been and will forever continue to be a political act, no matter what anyone might suggest to the contrary. It is a humanitarian effort at the core, which is at least in part why it is often referred to a calling. It is closely tied to the original three professions too. Read and reflect on the intersection of education and our democratic experiment.

The bloom has definitely begun but April’s showers seem to be reaching into May.

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

Mindfulness Won’t Save Us. Fixing the System Will – ACSD Education Update – Christina Torres (3-minute read)

While I am a proponent of mindfulness, personally, and even believe that there is a place for it in schools, this article touches on the source of some of my ambivalence on the topic. Torres’ challenge for educators to take a long hard look at their complicity in authoritarian systems might be the most important point from this piece.

Another key element is the recognition that mindfulness is a tool, not a solution. It cannot be a solution, ever. As the quoted Buddhist teachers suggest, mindfulness is about embracing life in all of its complexity not finding some happy place or avoiding unpleasantness. The latter where my ambivalence arises. Managing frustration or negative feelings is important for any human but so is recognizing that humans also make evaluative judgments all the time and those judgments can have a major impact, especially when it comes to the systems in which we live.

There are systemic problems in our world, where many people have been maligned in all kinds of ways. To avoid confronting that fact is antithetical to mindfulness. Perhaps the growing interest in mindfulness might trigger this realization, rather than invite passive compliance to existing systems that oppress or dehumanize. As far as I can tell, exploring or interrogating life’s paradoxes is an important part of living a healthy life, both individually and collectively.

Student Agency, Authority, and Credibility as Writers – radical eyes for equity blog – PL Thomas (7-minute read)

This post resonated with me considerably. I often think of myself as a teacher of young writers if I am a teacher of anything, which is both a source of strength but also consternation. Thomas hits on some of the latter here. He is an excellent thinker and teacher that I include often in this newsletter. As I watch students finish their research projects, I found myself identifying with a lot of what was written here.

I really like how Thomas lays out the structure of his approach in his bulleted list. I even share much, if not all of his rationales. However, at the risk of seeming contradictory, I provide a formatting template for students. While I explain much of the reasoning for format and nuances of different formats to my students, it all seems like a bridge too far for high school students. Yet upon even greater reflection, it has been an attempt to alleviate a grading problem. It is also about prioritization of time.

Sources, revising, openings and endings are much more significant issues for students in my mind. They are big concepts where high school students often struggle, wrestling with their abstract qualities at times. Formatting almost always is conflated only with students’ idea of rules. Plus, it is one of the easiest things to itemize in a rubric and score. I think that is part of the reason I chose to sidestep it, somewhat. It was an attempt to minimize the associated grade damage. In providing a formatting template, I have been surprised at just how many chose not to use it. Perhaps I need to find new ways to help them with the notion of purposefulness.

The Virtue of an Educated Voter – The American Scholar – Alan Taylor  (19-minute read)

There is so much insight in this essay it is hard to know where to begin. For me, it served as a poignant reminder that we may well live in Alexander Hamilton’s world but we cannot forget Thomas Jefferson’s idealism. Both men were undoubtedly flawed. While the two fought fiercely for the future of the nation, one of the things Jefferson remained most proud of in his long list of achievements in life was fostering our public educational system. It became the envy of the world.

It is good to be reminded of the battles that have been fought for the entirety of our nation. What I appreciate most about this essay is Taylor’s insistence that education is a public good not just a private benefit. That belief deeply informed my decision to go into education. It also is one of the primary reasons that sustains my involvement. Education is not job training. The more we accept that lie the more we corrupt the very system we are trying to preserve. As Taylor highlights, those beliefs seem quaint today. Still, how many of those that have benefitted most from our public investment in education see fit to destroy it? It is hard to say but it is not a short line.

Without arresting the path we find ourselves on, we are only likely to hasten the demise of our republic. We are already well down the path of demagoguery and have enshrined a plutocracy, at least for the foreseeable future. The only option is to continue to fight for our public education system. It is imperfect, severely underfunded in places, and remains a political battleground. That is because the stakes are so high. The world in which we now live is not so far from that which our founders, at least in terms of the corrosive forces of foreign threat and seemingly innate human selfishness. Reminding ourselves of this fact may be virtuous in itself.