David Warlick Ryann Warlick Martin Warlick
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Trust, Media & Democracy Survey

Critical Media Consumers
Graph 1

I recently ran across a Gallup/Knight Foundation survey entitled American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy.  The poll of more than 19,000 U.S. adults aged 18 and older attempts to measure how our changing information landscape has affected media trust in the U.S. and made it harder for the news media to fulfill their democratic responsibilities.  It is important to note that Trust, Media and Democracy was a nationally representative mail survey.  So a back-of-your-mind question should be, “Who took the trouble to share their views by mail?”

That said, a couple of things especially caught my attention.  First, it seems that younger respondents were more likely to consider the intentional spread of inaccurate information over the Internet and bias in the media to be a “Major Problem.”  See graph 1.

It leads me to wonder if we (educators) did a better job than we thought, over the past 10 to 15 years, of teaching our students to be critical media consumers.  Or perhaps it’s a result of a generation who is, unquestionably, more net-savvy than their elder.  Regardless, we have more work to do.

Fake News
Graph 2
What disturbs me is how many people do not really know what “Fake News” is.  Wikipedia defines it as

..a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically, often using sensationalist, dishonest, or outright fabricated headlines.. (Wikipedia)

That pretty much aligns with my own understanding of “Fake News.” Yet 20% of Democrats believe that an accurate news story that casts a politician or political group in a negative light is “Fake News.” The percent is higher for Independents and Republicans. See graph 2

Fake News
Graph 3

This one surprised me, that the more conservative a person is, the more likely they are to consider “Fake News” to be a serious threat to democracy. See graph 3 and please explain this to me.

There is much more available through the PDF report, which you can download at: https://goo.gl/emk1EM

I created the graphs from the survey data using Create a Graph from the Department of Education web site.

Where Social Media Fails – It’s Us

No HateDemographics, or demography, is the statistical study of populations.  It encompasses the size, structure, and distribution of these populations. Demographics have long been used by decision makers in both government and commercial arenas.

Psychographics (a new word for me)  is the study and classification of people according to their cognitive attitudes, aspirations, interests, opinions, beliefs and other psychological criteria.

Cambridge Analytica is a company that uses big data mining to accomplish, among other things, “psychographic profiling.”  The company does this “..for political purposes, to identify “mean personality” and then segment personality types into yet more specific subgroups, using other variables, to create ever smaller groups susceptible to precisely targeted messages.”  THEY DID THIS FOR THE DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN.

Yesterday, ProPublica announced that they had successfully used Facebook, to direct mock articles directly to the newsfeeds of 2,300 people who’s psychographic profiles indicated interests in “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” or, “History of ‘why jews ruin the world’” – for $30.  The anti-semitic categories were immediately removed.  They had been created by computer algorithms, not by people. Facebook is exploring ways to fix the problem

For a long time I promoted and celebrated the people-power of social media, that it responds and behaves based on how we, people, use it. This characteristic is incredibly empowering and culture-enriching, and it can also be used to inflict great evil. For this reason, I also strongly urged educators and education leaders to refine their notions of what it is to be literate, that it is no long merely the ability to read and understand, but also the skills and habits of exposing what is true in the information that we encounter.


Burleigh, N. (2017, June 8). How big data mines personal info to craft fake news and manipulate voters. Newsweek. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/2017/06/16/big-data-mines-personal-info-manipulate-voters-623131.html

Angwin, J., Varner, M., & Tobin, A. (2017, September 14). Facebook enabled advertisers to reach ‘jew haters’ [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.propublica.org/article/facebook-enabled-advertisers-to-reach-jew-haters

Demography: https://goo.gl/AkfHdt
Psychographics: https://goo.gl/pjxPiM

Were We Ready?

A few days ago my son posted this short statement on Facebook:

We weren’t ready for the Internet

He got some affirming comments and I just added,

Because of the Internet and other advances in telecommunications and broadcasting, we have become a world of nations divided by ideology instead of nations divided by borders. You can’t “storm the beaches” of the ideas that are contrary to yours.

Being a Digital Detective
Being Literate Means being a Digital Detective

This is actually something that I’ve thought about for quite a few years and the reason I spent the last 15 years trying to convince teachers to redefine literacy.

The fact is that we believe what we read on the Internet, because we were taught to believe what we read.  Our schooling was purposely limited to textbooks, compelling (and not so compelling) lectures and library resources selected by librarians with advanced education.  We try to limit our students’ learning to what is reliably accurate.  As a result, our notion of what it is to be literate is limited.  Can you “read and understand what someone, who you trust, has handed you to read.” ..and can you answer questions about it on a test?

In my efforts, I respelled the 3 Rs with 3 Es.  Instead of teaching children to read, we should be helping them learn to Expose what is true.  To expose what is true, you must learn to read it.  But being able to search for, find and synthesize the information, and select that which is most appropriate to your situation, has become just as critical as being able to read it.

I use to suggest to teachers that they should, at every occasion, ask their students, “How do you know that’s true?”  I added that students should be free to ask their teachers, “How do you know that’s true?”  I suspect that if political candidates were regularly asked, “How do you know that?” and we demanded answers, our leadership might be quite different.

The other Es were:

  1. Learning to Employ information, instead just teaching students to calculate numbers
  2. Learning to Express Ideas Compelling, instead of just teaching students to write a coherent paragraph
  3. There was a 4th E – exposing, employing and expressing information with respect for and devotion to what is true, Ethically using information to answer question, solve problems and accomplish goals.

What do they Have to Gain from our Illiteracy?

StockMarket & Employment Data

My questions first: 1) Where are U.S. citizens getting misinformation? 2) What do the liars have to gain by misinforming us?

According to a May 11 Public Policy Polling press release, 43% of voters believe that unemployment as increased during Obama’s presidency.1 In truth, there are more U.S. citizens employed today (April 2016, 5,867,000) than at the highest employment period of the GW Bush administration (April 2008 5,540,000) – this from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The first graph shows a devastating dip in employment during the first months of Obama’s presidency, but that was clearly a result of the banking debacle, which happened before his inauguration.2

PPP’s polls also indicate that 32% of voters believe that the stock market has declined during the current administration.1 Again, this is untrue. Microtrends’ historic charts for the Dow Jones indicate that the previous administration enjoyed a high Industrial Average market index of 15,811 in October of 2007 – only 1,070 points above the value on his first day of office. The highest index during Obama’s two terms was 18,314 on February, 2015 – an increase of 9,329 points above its value on the first day of his presidency.3

Again, Where are U.S. citizens getting misinformation? .. and what do the liars have to gain by misinforming us?

1 Jensen, T. (2016). Ryan Disliked by Republicans; Trump Could Hurt Down Ballot. Retrieved from Public Policy Polling website: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2015/PPP_Release_National_51116.pdf

2 BLS Data Fander 0.8. (2016). Retrieved from United States Department of Labor website: http://beta.bls.gov/dataQuery/find?st=0&r=20&fq=survey:[ce]&more=0

3 Dow Jones – 100 Year Historical Chart. (2016). Retrieved from Microtrends LLC website: http://www.macrotrends.net/1319/dow-jones-100-year-historical-chart

Extraordinary Learning

A 15 year old Canadian schoolboy, with a fascination for the ancient Mayan Civilization, recently theorized a correlation between the star positions in major constellations and the geographic locations of known Mayan cities. Based on this theory, he used Google Maps to suggest the location of an unknown ancient city. The Canadian Space Agency was so impressed that they used a satellite-based space telescope to study the spot and confirm the existence of the hitherto, unknown city. 

In my work I ran across many ordinary youngsters who — with access to technology, supportive teachers and unconstrained curiosity — did extraordinary things. It all begs for a more empowering and imaginative way of educating our children. 

Why We Need to Rethink Literacy

C02 TCP social media image 97
From the Consensus Project

97% of scientific papers written by climate scientists state the position that global warming is caused by human activity.  This is not a secret.1 Yet, according to a 2008 Gallup Poll,2 questioning people in 128 countries, only 49% of U.S. citizens believe what these scientists are telling us.  That’s a smaller portion of the population than 86 other countries.3

My point is this.  What we typically think of as literacy and what’s taught in schools, needs to expand.  In the age of Internet, social media and 24 hour news, literacy is no long just the ability to read and comprehend.  It is equally critical that the literate be skilled and inclination to detect if what they are reading is intended to inform their behavior, or manipulate it.

1 Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Green, S. A., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., … Way, R. (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature (doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024). Retrieved from Environmental Research Letters website: http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024/pdf

2 Pugliese, Anita; Ray, Julie (11 Dec 2009). “Awareness of Climate Change and Threat Vary by Region”. Gallup. Retrieved 22 Dec 2009.

3 Climate change opinion by country. (2016, March 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:38, May 9, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Climate_change_opinion_by_country&oldid=711997815

The Next Disruptive Wave in Education

Many would disagree, but I believe that the introduction of new information and communication technologies into our classrooms has had a productively disruptive effect on education. We have certainly not seen its full potential, and reaching it may well be impossible for a human society.  But I’ve recently wondered about a new disruptive influencer on the horizon, one that has the potential to further progress formal education – or destroying it – in my humble opinion.

Consider that even though some presidential candidates have promised to bring back the manufacturing jobs that America has lost to China, the jobs that actually left our shores are a mere ripple, as Matthew Yglesias put it in a recent MoneyBox article,1 compared to the manufacturing jobs we lost to robots during the same years – and those jobs will not return.

And now we have driverless cars, just around the corner?  Sam Tracy, in a 2015 Huffington Post article itemized the numbers of Americans who make their living by driving: taxi drivers, chauffeurs, bus drivers, driver-sales workers, school bus drivers, postal service carriers, light truck deliveries and heavy truck transport.  It totaled almost four million jobs, with wages of almost $150 billion a year.

Will there really be new jobs for them to train for?

Then entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Sam Altman, says this in a recent Freakonomics podcast, that, “..90% of (the) people (may) go smoke pot and play video games, but if (only) 10% of the people go create incredible new products and services and new wealth, that’s still a huge net-win.”2  In other words, is there a national economic need for 100% employment in the near future, or even 15% employment – besides what Altman refers to as a “..puritanical ideal that hard work for its own sake is valuable.”

All this is to suggest that the job of schools, sooner than later, may be to educate our children to be unemployed.  Consider the recent media interest in the concept of basic income.  Here is a Google Trend graph of the frequency of the term’s searches.

Google Trends  Web Search interest basic income  Worldwide 2004  present
Google Trends - Web Search interest_ basic income - Worldwide, 2004 - present.jpg

In the most general terms, basic income would have the federal government handing out to all citizens enough money to live on.  Those who want more would work for a wage. Those who do not, would find some other way of spending their time.  Experiments are already underway in Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland & the UK.

Even though I suggest an open mind, I do not want to spend this blog post arguing the merits or dangers of such an arrangement.   What I do want to ask is, “What would you say to a student who says, ‘I don’t need to know this because I don’t need a job?’”  What if he is absolutely right?  The next question is “What would he or she need to know for a future that does not require employment?” and “How might preparing our children for productive leisure change the WHY, WHAT and HOW of formal education?”

What do you think?

Coincidentally, this article, Machines Won’t Replace Us, They’ll Just Force Us to Evolvepopped up in my Reddit stream just minutes after submitting this blog post.

Yglesias, M. (2012, November 19). Nothing Will Bring Back Manufacturing Employment [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/11/19/global_manufacturing_employment_is_in_decline.html

Weller, C. (2016, April 19). A Silicon Valley entrepreneur says basic income would work even if 90% of people smoked weed instead of working [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.techinsider.io/sam-altman-praises-basic-income-on-freakonomics-podcast-2016-4

Class Blogmeister Retires After a 12-Year Run

Class Blogmeister - August 2005
Class Blogmeister - August 2005

I launched Class Blogmeister in 2004, realizing that there were a lot of teachers who needed a blogging platform for their students, one that was designed for the classroom.  I anticipated that the service would live for a couple of years, after which other more skillfully constructed and professionally supported services would be available.  They were available, but teachers wanted to keep using CB and I wanted to keep learning from their inventive ideas and add features as they were requested.

Now, 12 years later, I have mostly retired from speaking and writing, and my wife and I are spending much of our time in the foothills of North Carolina, helping and enjoying our aging parents.

So, sadly, I will be closing Class Blogmeister around the middle of June this year.  It’s seen a pretty good run, serving over 300,000 teachers and students from 90 countries, who have written nearly 1.5 million blog articles – and I have been the real beneficiary, learning from this amazing community.

I want to commend everyone who has used Class Blogmeister for your adventurous nature and your steadfast adherence to the idea that teaching is an art.  Student blogging requires courageous teachers – and I believe that “courage” is one of the central defining qualities of all good teachers.

I thank you for your loyalty and patience, and especially for being a good teacher.  I can think of no better compliment to pay.

Are We Missing the Point?

Coding super power
Coding Super Power

The title of this article is a question, because I admit my ignorance of the answer.  I’ve not been paying much attention to THE conversation, since I have finally accepted my status as retired. Wahoo!  But I am working on another book, so my mind is still in our righteous endeavor, even though my PLN has evolved.

The book I am working on will be a history of technology in education, as I have witnessed it – so programming is on my mind.  You see, that’s what we called it back in the 1982, programming.  So I was struck by a sense of déjà vu when I saw so much of the edtech discussion, at the recent Raleigh NCTIES conference, devoted to coding.

But are we (and I’m asking this question seriously) missing the point of a skill that has been so important to me, not to mention a pure personal joy?  You see, what has made coding so important is not necessarily its practicality, though I have been able to support the educational endeavors of many teachers with my tools.  It’s not even the bread it has put on my table, though I am enormously appreciative of that.

I often tell the story that on that first afternoon, after spending my first couple of hours teaching myself how to program (uh, code), I got on my hands and knees and I thanked every algebra teacher I had ever had.  There was finally a practical use for those mystical techniques for manipulating numbers.

But there was a major difference between how I was using Math and how I was taught Math – and it is a difference that strikes right at the heart of what we’re doing wrong in education.  You see, I immediately understood, though I may not have been able to express it, that I was using Algebra as a language, in order to instruct the digital environment (Radio Shack TRS-80 computer) to behave in the way that I wanted.  If you can communicate with a computer, then you can use it to learn and express.

We learned Reading so that we could read our textbooks and other more authentic sources of knowledge.  We learned to Write so that we could articulate our growing knowledge.  Maybe we should learn Coding in order to learn the language of numbers, so that we can learn from our own thoughts and express our ideas in endlessly creative ways.

..instead of teaching Math and teaching Coding.

Of course, I’m not the first to suggest such a radical idea.  It was during those earliest years that some very smart people (Seymour Papert & my friend, Gary Stager for two) were already suggesting and putting into action this very idea with the Logo programming language.

Image Attribute – Coding: It May be the Closest Thing We Have to a Superpower [Digital Graphic]. (2016). Retrieved from http://sfmstechapps.org/2016/02/lets-code/coding-super-power/ From the web site of Spring Forest Middle School Tech Apps Activities

A New Education Environment

The best of my teaching resources
 When I taught Middle School Social Studies in the 1970s, I used a five-year-old textbook, a few old maps and globe, which predated WWII, a well managed but tiny school library and two stacks of ancient National Geographic Magazines, inherited from my grandparents and cut to pieces for the pictures. The New York Public Library’s upcoming release of 180,000 documents to the digital public domain is a small contribution to the vast infoscape that we learn in today. I taught with information scarcity. Today’s teachers teach in information abundance. This dramatically changes how we teach, what education looks like, and even what it means to be educated. 

keep looking »

Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Books Written

Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
(2007) • Lulu
• Amazon
Raw Materials for the Mind

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