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.
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:
- Learning to Employ information, instead just teaching students to calculate numbers
- Learning to Express Ideas Compelling, instead of just teaching students to write a coherent paragraph
- 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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
2 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
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.
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.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.
In my new situation of retired educator (or semi-retired educator. I can’t really decide), I find myself paying less attention to Twitter and more to friends and relatives on Facebook. But this morning, when I started my computer and Twitteriffic flashed up, I scanned through the most recent tweets from my long-time and famous educator friends – and my eye landed on one by Doug Peterson actually a retweet of Miguel Guhlin’s,
The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher is a March 25 article in The Atlantic written by Michael Godsey, a “veteran high-school English educator.” Asked by a college student about the prospects of becoming a public-school teacher, he writes,
I never think it’s enough to say that the role is shifting from “content expert” to “curriculum facilitator.” Instead, I describe what I think the public-school classroom will look like in 20 years, with a large, fantastic computer screen at the front, streaming one of the nation’s most engaging, informative lessons available on a particular topic. The “virtual class” will be introduced, guided, and curated by one of the country’s best teachers (a.k.a. a “super-teacher”), and it will include professionally produced footage of current events, relevant excerpts from powerful TedTalks, interactive games students can play against other students nationwide, and a formal assessment that the computer will immediately score and record.
To that, I say, “poppycock!” How’s that for post-career reflection and rejection of the ideals that I seemingly promoted for the last 20+ years? But the fact is that I never promoted such a future for the classroom and find the arrangement to be personally revolting and counter-productive to what I believe the purpose of education to be.
It’s an interesting question and one that many of us have challenged ourselves and each other with, “What is the purpose of school.” Here’s a good answer, in my opinion – Why School by Will Richardson and what is described in Invent To Learn, by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager. But here is my ready answer that is short and to the point.
The purpose of school is to prepare our children for adult life during the next 70 to 80 years.
Life doesn’t happen on a video screen and it can’t be simulated with a game. Goddey’s “fantastic computer screen” will help as will the games and video clips from top thinkers on TED. In fact, they are essential. But the fallacy is the assumption and fear that technology replaces the teacher.
To be sure, nobody in education, but those in the darkest recesses of denial, believes that the role of the teacher is not changing. The shift from “content expert” to “curriculum facilitator” is certainly happening – and it should. But NOTHING, my most loyal readers, IS EVER THAT SIMPLE.
A phrase like “sage on the stage to guide on the side” is intended as an idiom to focus the attention of experienced professional educators who already grasp the changing conditions that are reshaping school. It is not an all-encompassing description of the future of classroom instruction. Frankly, while reading Godsey’s advice to his student, I saw no need for classrooms at all – and that’s the last thing I’d want to see for my grandchildren and their children.
We have to acknowledge that there is a powerful cabal that desires and promotes just the scenario described by Mr. Godsey. They fancy an education system that spends its billions on their videos, games, tutorials and assessment products, instead of unionized public school teachers. Products, whose service can be measured (test scores), can be marketed.
In my mind the most preposterous statement in the whole article is the advice of a superintendent, aired on NPR, “If you can Google it, why teach it?” ..and this gets back to the question, “What is the purpose of school?” If education’s objective is to equip our children with facts that they can recall on state test day, then I would agree with the superintendent’s statement. But if its purpose is to prepare our children for adult life, then the job of the teacher is to help learners to understand what they’ve Googled and develop the essential literacy skills and habits of questioning, analyzing and assigning context to the Googled information.
What we can predict about life in the next 70 to 80 years is almost nothing, beyond the timeless practices of responsibility, compassion and providing value to the community. It will continue to be a time of rapid change, inventions that redefine how we accomplish our goals and discoveries that challenge our beliefs and philosophies.
The common core subject of every classroom today should be learning to learn.
And this brings us back around to Michael Godsey’s apparent fear that his college earned knowledge of literature has become obsolete. Our classrooms still require experts. But experts today are no longer known for knowing all there is to know about a subject.
Today’s experts are known for being highly skilled at learning and relearning the ever growing and often changing knowledge about their subject.
This is the notion of expertise that teachers need to model and that students need to see every day, the essential and constant practice of contextual learning-skills / learning-literacies.
Adult life is about learning.
In my efforts to write this book about the history of educational technology (as I have witnessed it), I’m finding myself doing more reading than writing. I guess that’s normal for book-writing, though it surprises me since I am typing this mostly from my own recollections.
This morning, in my reading, I learned a new word. It’s mesofacts. These are facts that, when learned, seem to be dependable, longterm and applicable truths – when in fact, they are likely to change within a lifetime, and often within a few years.
In his Harvard Business Review article, Be Forwarned: Your Knowledge is Decaying Samuel Arbesman relates an example, a hedge fund manager saying in a conversation, “Since we all know that there are 4 billion people on the planet…” 4 billion people is what I learned when I was in school, and it still surprises me when I heard that it was up to 6 billion and now 7 billion.
Arbesman says that these mesofacts are far more common than we realize. It makes me wonder about how much of what we are expecting our students to memorize, will simply not be true in their adulthood, and may even be problematic.
This all supports something that I heard someone say a few years ago.
Any question, whose answer can be googled,
should not be on any test.
Another epiphanic statement, which may or may not be attributable to John Dewey is,
If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s,
we rob them of their tomorrow.
Another word I learned is scientometrics. Its the study of the shape of how knowledge grows and spreads through a population.
keep looking »