Thursday Assorted Links

1A. Picture pedaling across the U.S. on a safe, seamless, and scenic pathway.  3,700 miles from swampy Washington in the east to glorious Washington in the west.

1B. The ‘sports car’ of e-bikes. Pricey, but light for an e-bike. But 19 mph, come on maaan, I don’t want to take all summer to traverse the Great American Rail-Trail.

2. COVID-19 Projections Using Machine Learning compliments of Youyang Gu, an independent data scientist.

3. Okay, I feel a little better about public school education.

 

 

 

Reinventing College

There’s lots of talk of radical change as a result of the pandemic. I think a lot of it is premature.

Things may never be the exact same, but that doesn’t mean an era of tele-medicine and working remotely will be ushered in as soon as we receive an “all clear”.

We’re a forgetful people. By 2021, I predict most of the changes, like not shaking hands, will be relatively subtle.

I’m most intrigued by all the talk of higher education disruption. Not just the financial destruction of institutions that were already on the brink, but a major shift to on-line learning. Specifically, some like Scott Galloway predict a Big Tech firm like Google will partner with someone like MIT, or maybe Apple will partner with Stanford or Cal, to offer 2-3 year programs to 50x more students than at present for a fraction of the current costs. Mid-tier and lesser institutions will all suffer greatly; and this shift will be accompanied by major reductions in faculty and staff everywhere; with a few, surviving all-star faculty, making a lot more.

The prognosticators think this could happen in the next five years, which reminds me of all the over-excited driverless car talk from five years ago.

Those types of changes probably will happen, I just wouldn’t bet much money they will happen as fast as many opinion leaders are currently thinking.

The educational status quo is far more resistant to change than even the “education experts” realize. Probably best to measure “disruption” in decades.

Talking About Sexual Stuff On The Phone

We routinely get loose with language. Take “phone sex” for example*. I write a family friendly blog, so it’s not like I have any experience with it, but isn’t it a bit presumptuous to label talking about sexual stuff with another person as “sex”? Granted, “talking about sexual stuff on the phone” is uber-wordy, but far more accurate.

Similarly, as everyone does these days, it’s presumptuous to label “on-line teaching” as teaching. Take Dr. Paige Harden for example:

Screen Shot 2020-03-11 at 9.59.06 AM.pngHarden has an informative twitter thread on how to “teach on-line” and you can see her and a colleague in action here:**

Everyone refers to “teaching on-line”, but Harden’s specific phrase “teaching to a camera” highlights the fallacy of the phrase.

You can present to a camera, but you cannot teach to one. “Okay Boomer” alert. . . the word “teaching” should be preserved for IRL settings. The “on-liners” can go as crazy as they want with “presenting”.

Teaching encompasses more layered relationships with students than presenting. Teaching interactions involve direct eye contact, silences, nonverbal communication, occasional emotion, and one-on-one conversations outside of class where each of those are even more integral. Teaching, at least in the humanities and social sciences, entails learning your students’ stories, tweaking your plans according to those stories, and being spontaneous and authentic in ways that are difficult in a separate studio. Teaching is messy for the same reasons all interpersonal relationships are—because everyone enters into the conversation with different worldviews shaped by contrasting gender identities, class backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, and political beliefs. And then, for good measure, add in status and power imbalances.

Teachers have a more immediate sense of how a course is going than presenters because technology-mediated feedback is harder to interpret. When I lecture in an auditorium, I can assess audience engagement based upon several subtleties including eye contact, head nods, facial expressions, and the number (and quality) of questions asked afterwards. The technologist will argue they can do the same sort of thing on-line, but I’m skeptical because teaching entails a dynamism that I don’t believe exists in on-line presenting. My “in real life” students routinely alter my lectures, discussions, and activities with unpredictable questions, or comments directed to me or their classmates, whose responses cannot be anticipated either. Again, technologist will say their presenting is similarly organic, but again, everything is relative.

So let me correct the record. As the nation’s professors and students turn to cameras, microphones, screens, and keyboards, some truth-in-advertising is in order. The country’s colleges are not moving to on-line teaching, they’re moving to on-line presenting.

*since no one talks on phones anymore, “sexting” is probably a more relevant frame of reference, another modern phenom I know nothing about

**Apple thanks you for the commercial

 

 

 

Is There a Loneliness Epidemic?

Sporadic small signs rim the perimeter of our our local high school with the message, “You are not alone.”

Are high schoolers and people more generally lonelier today than than in the past?

From “Is there a loneliness epidemic?”

“Surveys from rich countries do not suggest there has been an increase in loneliness over time. Today’s adolescents in the US do not seem to be more likely to report feeling lonely than adolescents from a couple of decades ago; and similarly, today’s older adults in the US do not report higher loneliness than did adults of their age in the past.

That’s of course not to say we should not pay attention to these topics.

It’s important to provide support to people who suffer from loneliness, just as it is important to pay attention to the policy challenges that come from large societal changes such as the rise of living alone. However, inaccurate, over-simplified narratives are unhelpful to really understand these complex challenges.”

Unless we improve math education, we’ll continue to be susceptible to “inaccurate, over-simplified narratives” of this nature.

I Love It When

A Pressing Pauser, who happens to teach high school, approaches me after church in the narthex and says he doesn’t necessarily agree with me about college professors’ iffy pedagogy. And then thoughtfully explains that the older students are, the more they should adjust to their teachers since employers and the larger world won’t necessarily adapt to their individual learning preferences.

It’s at times like that I wish I had humble blog t-shirts to give away. Solid point. I went on to say, “Iffy Pedagogy—Take 3” was forming in the recesses of my pea brain. The final point in the series being that one other major, overlooked difference between his work and mine is that my students pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend, while some of his are only there because of compulsory attendance laws. More simply, K-12 teachers have to be masters of classroom management, my colleagues and I do not. When I roll into my seminar tomorrow at 11:30a, my students will all be there, having done the reading, ready to follow my lead, listening to and learning from one another.

Upon pointing that out, my friend proceeded to lament some of his ninth grade knuckleheads who it’s super difficult to get through to. Especially when there’s a gaggle in one class.

Of course, which educators deserve the most respect shouldn’t be a zero-sum competition. My primary point is that conventional wisdom, that profs deserve the most respect because they have the most education, is wrong. Elementary, middle, and high school teachers deserve at least the same amount of respect.

Over and out. That is, until hopefully, approached again by another active reader.

 

 

 

College Professors’ Iffy Pedagogy—Take 2

The tendency to assign more academic texts than students can realistically read closely isn’t the only, or even primary difference, between many higher education faculty and the best K-12 teachers.

The single greatest difference is most college professors expect their students to adapt to their teaching methods. In contrast, the most effective K-12 teachers learn early on to adapt their teaching methods to the various ways their students learn. As a result, accomplished K-12 teachers have many more methodological arrows in their quivers.

In elementary, middle, and high schools, the onus of adaptability is on the teachers to “differentiate instruction”. In higher education, the onus of adaptability is almost always on the students.

This is some far-fetched shit*, but imagine if the chairs of academic departments in colleges and universities across the country invited a handful of the most excellent K-12 educators from their communities to talk to their faculty about the myriad, student-centered ways, they promote genuine learning.

University students everywhere would be indebted to those enlightened chairs.

*just trying to sound Presidential

 

Friday Assorted Links

1. Mea Culpa. Kinda Sorta. Or how not to apologize when added to the ever-expanding sexual harassment list.

Why, in the aggregate, is the male gender failing? Young women’s academic achievement greatly exceeds young men’s. And consider these statistics from Wikipedia:

“In the United States, men are much more likely to be incarcerated than women. More than 9 times as many men (5,037,000) as women (581,000) had ever at one time been incarcerated in a State or Federal prison at year end 2001. In 2014, more than 73% of those arrested in the US were males. Men accounted for 80.4 percent of persons arrested for violent crime . . . . In 2011, the United States Department of Justice compiled homicide statistics in the United States between 1980 and 2008. That study showed males were convicted of the vast majority of homicides in the United States, representing 90.5% of the total number of offenders.”

In the aggregate, something is seriously wrong with how young boys are or aren’t parented. Why are some personal attributes, like being kind, cooperative, caring, and nurturing, most commonly associated with females? And being tough, competitive, and independent more commonly thought of as male attributes? Yes, of course there are gender-based biological differences, but they don’t explain why young women, in the aggregate, are so much more successful in school and society. Why aren’t we talking more openly and honestly about the glaring gender gap that the sexual harassment story is one part?

2. Schools and cellphones: In elementary schools? At lunch?

“It used to be that students through fifth grade could carry cellphones only with special permission. But over the years, an increasing number of parents wanted their elementary-age children to take phones to school, often believing kids would be ­safer — walking home or in an emergency — with the device at the ready.”

And:

“. . . a survey of third-graders in five states found that 40 percent had a cellphone in 2017, twice as many as in 2013. Among the third-graders who had a phone, more than 80 percent said they brought them to school daily. . . .”

Violent crime has steadily declined, yet parents are more anxious. Why? What if parents acknowledged that cellphones will never guarantee that bad things sometimes happen to good people. And what if we redesigned our neighborhoods so that people could walk or bicycle to and from school? And made our roads and other public spaces safe enough that parents didn’t feel a need to give their elementary children cellphones? By giving elementary children cellphones, we’re throwing in the towel on safer, healthier, more secure communities.

Lastly, the article is woefully incomplete since there was no consideration of many adult educators’ own painfully obvious dependence upon their cellphones during the workday.

3. On Being Midwestern: The Burden of Normality.

The Humble Blog is big in the Midwest. Especially among intellectuals who will dig this essay. Shout out to Alison; Don; Karen; Bill; Dan and Laura (honorary Midwesterners).

Early Christman:

“If it is to serve as the epitome of America for Americans, and of humanity for the world, the place had better not be too distinctly anything. It has no features worth naming. It’s anywhere, and also nowhere.”

Late Christman:

“Every human is a vast set of unexpressed possibilities. And I never feel this to be truer than when I drive through the Midwest, looking at all the towns that could, on paper, have been my town, all the lives that, on paper, could have been my life. The factories are shuttered, the climate is changing, the towns are dying. My freedom so to drive is afforded, in part, by my whiteness. I know all this, and when I drive, now, and look at those towns, those lives, I try to maintain a kind of double consciousness, or double vision—the Midwest as an America not yet achieved; the Midwest as an America soaked in the same old American sins. But I cannot convince myself that the promise the place still seems to hold, the promise of flatness, of the freedom of anonymity, of being anywhere and nowhere at once, is a lie all the way through. Instead, I find myself daydreaming—there is no sky so conducive to daydreaming—of a Midwest that makes, and keeps, these promises to everybody.”

4. Why Millennials are obsessed with HGTV.

“I guess for millennials, it feels like a fantasy. We love to see the things that we can’t afford, given that we’re crammed into 300-square-foot apartments and have debt.”

5. The best indie books of 2017.

“Most writers make less than £600 a year, and the average literary title sells just 264 copies. . . . I think about one per cent of books break out. The big publishers have not helped the situation. Since the 2007-8 crash, they have retrenched in terms of what they publish, and how they go about it. I was talking to someone at a major publisher the other day and she asked a colleague about a book: “is this one of the ones we’re getting behind?” The point being, of all the thousands of books published every year, publishers only “get behind” a few. That can make the difference between a book you’ll hear about and one you never will. Of course, an author will never be told the publisher is ‘not getting behind their book’.”

Brutal odds.

6. Best new photog blog en todo el mundo.

Why Teach?

When asked why teaching, one recent applicant to the teaching certificate program I coordinate said, “Because I have to REALLY get out of retail.” I wanted to stand up and yell, “STOP dammit! Stop! Thanks for coming and good luck making retail less stultifying.”

Most applicants are pulled, rather than pushed into the profession, but their reasons still routinely speak to ulterior motives.

• “I’m a good story teller and students’ find me engaging.”

• “I love when the light bulb goes off when a student learns something new.”

• “It will be nice to have the same schedule as my children.”

That’s understandable. I recently wrote that everyone cares about compensation, benefits, work-life balance, but I’m waiting longingly for a prospective teacher to say something like this:

“I want to become an educator because I have a hunch that teaching is a continuous exercise in selflessness and I want to learn to lose myself in service of others. I’m an impatient listener and prone to self-centeredness. I want to learn to listen to young people in ways that help them fulfill their potential. I suspect teaching will provide me the opportunity to become not just a positive influence in young people’s lives, but also a better person, friend, partner, and citizen.”

I suppose, if that more Eastern starting point leads one to ask, “Relative to others, how well are you serving others and modeling selflessness?” practicing selfless service to others could turn into a tail chasing, self-regarding exercise. “Too bad others aren’t as selfless as me.” Ego is a perpetual trap.

Despite that conundrum, I’m wondering if I should add this tagline to our Teaching Credential Program’s promotional materials, “People with Buddhist sensibilities are strongly encouraged to apply.”

 

 

The Scourge of Vagueness

The Columbia Basin Herald:

“The Moses Lake School District is looking for a new high school principal following the resignation of Mark Harris Wednesday.

“We came to a mutually agreeable decision that his skill set is not the best fit for Moses Lake,” said outgoing superintendent Michelle Price.”

I’d be very disappointed if one of my first year writing students explained someone’s firing by writing, “his skill set was not the best fit”, because that requires readers to work way too hard.

Then a slight elaboration:

“We had a conversation about where we are and the future of two high schools,” Harris said. “And we decided they need someone who knows the community and is steeped in its traditions and culture.”

More vagueness, “where we are”, “the future”, “knows the community”, “its traditions and cultures”. Those references are far from self-explanatory. This reader is going to guess Harris didn’t ask enough questions, implemented changes with little input from teacher-leaders, and probably lacked the needed interpersonal skills to effectively lead a high school more generally.

There’s this pseudo-elaboration too:

“Explaining the phrase ‘skill set,’ Price elaborated that with the addition of the second high school as well as planned upgrades to the existing high school, Harris didn’t really have the skills to lead through that kind of change.”

But again the phrase, “the skills to lead through that kind of change” is the same vague reflex. What does that mean? What specific skills was Harris lacking? The reader has to speculate. After a couple of readings, I still don’t know what “the skills to lead through that kind of change” is code for?

The district spokesperson concludes by proving it is possible to speak entirely in cliches:

“It will take someone special to lead people through the coming changes,” she added. “Leadership is about fit.”

What does “someone special” mean? And “changes”? And “Leadership is about fit.”? Dear CBH, please resubmit.

Even though all of Moses Lakes probably knows, I can’t help but conclude that Harris flamed out as a principal in ways the district really doesn’t want made more public.

Here’s an idea. When no one is willing to tell ANY of the story behind the story, just go to Twitter, and spare readers the public relations chess game.

Summer Reading and Thinking

What I’m reading. Janesville by Amy Goldstein. What happens to a place when a majority of people work for an automaker that closes shop? When people used to earn $28/hour with some overtime and now make somewhere between $0 and $16/hour. Here’s a part of the answer:

     “In the shadows of town, hundreds of teenagers are becoming victims of a domino effect. These are kids whose parents used to scrape by on jobs at Burger King or Target or the Gas Mart. Now their parents are competing with the unemployed autoworkers who used to look down on these jobs but now are grasping at any job they can find. So, as middle-class families have been tumbling downhill, working-class families have been tumbling into poverty. And as this down-into-poverty domino effect happens, some parents are turning to drinking or drugs. Some are leaving their kids behind while they go looking for work out of town. Some are just unable to keep up the rent. So with a parent or on their own, a growing crop of teenagers is surfing the couches at  friends’ and relatives’ places—or spending nights in out-of–the-way spots in cars or on the street.”

Robert Putnam on Janesville,

“Reflecting on the state of the white working class, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy focuses on cultural decay and the individual, whereas Amy Goldstein’s Janesville emphasizes economic collapse and the community.  To understand how we have gotten to America’s current malaise, both are essential reading.”

On deck. In the hole.

Shifting to thinking, I’m thinking about how artists talk about becoming artists and the implications of that for parents, teachers, and coaches. How do parents, teachers, and coaches cultivate true artistry or other specialized forms of expertise in young people? Specialized expertise that might enable them to independently make a living in the new economy. My thoughts are still in the subconscious primordial ooze phase, but I trust they’ll settle in some sort of coherent pattern sometime soon.

In short, here’s what I don’t hear artists say, “I took this really great class in school.” Instead, musicians for example, almost always say, “My parents were always playing the coolest music.” The word I keep returning to is “milieu” or social environment. In this data obsessed age, we’re utterly lacking in sophistication when it comes to the cumulative effective of the environments young people inhabit. Granted, formal schooling, think Juilliard for example, can contribute to artistic excellence, but meaningful learning is mostly the result of osmosis outside of school.

How do some families, in the way they live day-to-day, foster specialized expertise in children almost by accident, whether in the arts, academics, cooking, design, computers, or athletics? What can educators learn from those families to reinvent formal academic settings? What might “osmosis-based” schools look like? Schools where students watch adults actively engaged in learning and get seriously caught up in the fun.