A Question about Investigating Russian Meddling

There’s been a question, trying to form in the back of my head, like an itch I can’t reach, concerning our investigation of Russian meddling in U.S. elections. I do worry about Trump’s possible collusion with a foreign power and the corruption it would imply – though corruption seems to be the way of things in our capitals these days.

Social Media Vs. VOAI found that itch yesterday, as I was talking about it with my wife — and here it is.

What’s the difference between Russia’s efforts to sew distrust in our government with social media and our efforts to sew distrust in the Soviet/Russian government during the Cold War with Voice of America broadcasts?

There is an important difference, I believe. VOA sought to “win the attention and respect of listeners” behind the Iron Curtain by offering a “consistently reliable and authoritative source of news.” (Words from the VOA Charter of 1959.)

We wanted to help intelligent people in the USSR, to recognize true news and reject the Soviet propaganda.

Russia, on the other hand, wants to appeal to unintelligent Americans’ willingness to believe sensationalist propaganda and reject true news.

That’s the difference!

Perhaps, rather than investigating Russian meddling, we should be investigating education policy that wants students to memorize the right answers to questions, instead of teaching them the discipline of asking questions and the wisdom to question the answers.

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.

Look to Struggling Students for Your Future Leaders and Game-Changers

Valedictorian Speech
Valedictorian Speech

Karen Arnold, a Boston University researcher has conducted a 14 year longitudinal study of high school valedictorians, finding that they rarely achieve fame and fortune. To be sure, they usually finish college, many earn graduate degrees and about half rise to top tier positions.

“But how many of these number-one high-school performers go on to change the world, run the world, or impress the world?” Eric Barker is asking this question in his new book, “Barking Up the Wrong Tree.” He cites another study of 700 American millionaires, finding that their average high school GPA was 2.9. Of course, not all millionaires are game-changers.

Barker seems to believe that there is a disconnect between the kinds of students we reward and the kinds of graduates that a rapidly changing world needs. He suggests two reasons for this incongruity, both of which I touch on in “The Quiet Revolution.”

  1. “Schools reward students who consistently do what they are told” – and life rewards people who shake things up. Arnold says that in high school, “we are rewarding conformity and the willingness to go along with the system.Speaking to a group at Business Insider’s New York office, Baker said, “In school, rules are very clear. In life, rules are not so clear. So a certain amount of not playing by the rules is advantageous once you get out of a closed system like education.”
  2. “Schools Reward being a generalist” If you are passionate about political history, you have to restrain that passion for time to spend on your Math, Science, Health, and English homework. The real world rewards passion and expertise.

Surprisingly, Arnold’s study found that students “who genuinely enjoy learning tend to struggle in high school. They find the education system ‘stifling’ because it doesn’t allow them to pursue their passions deeply.”

Lebowitz, S. (2017, May 29). Why valedictorians rarely become rich and famous — and the average millionaire’s college GPA was 2.9. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/why-high-school-valedictorians-dont-become-really-successful-2017-5

Is Print Really Better than Digital?

Business Insider reported on Sunday about a study that indicates that even though college students enjoy learning from digital texts more than print and believe that they learn better, the truth is that print is better.  The article, A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens, explores the work of Patricia Alexander and Lauren Singer, both from the University of Maryland. The two also reported their finding here at The Conversation.

The Business Insider article does a pretty good job of drilling down into the specifics of digital print’s failing – and I do not contest their findings. As a long time reflective user and producer of digital content, I recognize that you read differently and often for different reasons with a hand-held or larger screen. My concern is that certain conservative-leaning policy makers will see this as an opportunity to lash out at progressive educators with, “Your new way is not as effective as the old paper print.”

That conclusion reflects a gross and dangerous misunderstanding of technologies’ place in formal education, and a disgraceful lack of imagination. Sadly, the imagination required to understand what technology means to teaching and learning is lacking in  conspicuous sections of the professional education community.

I have long held that to understand how digital networked technology supports leaning we must reflect and come to understand how we are using tech to help us learn after school. We learn by researching and identifying the information that best helps us accomplish our goals, and achieving this by resourceful perseverance. We use the technology to find people and communities who are knowledgable and discussing the topics we need, and dynamically connecting with those communities. We learn in this digital, networked and information-abundant environment by being critical readers, always asking questions about the answers we find. To this end, textbooks are a detriment to effective learning, because they defy critical questions.

We need to understand how we (adults) learn through our screens after our schooling, because continued learning is the defining character of the future for which we are preparing our students.

The flaw in education is that we’re stuck in thinking about education and not thinking about learning – something we’re all intimately involved in.

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.

Sources:

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

A Couple of Observations about the Election

“Playing with data is as fun as playing with Legos”

Even though I suspect that most Americans, Republican and Democrat, believe in mostly the same things.  The political gap seems to have much to do with your neighborhood – that is to say, how far you live from your neighbors.

I did a little figuring with the population density of each state and the percent of votes cast by its residents for Donald Trump.  The correlation coefficient (yes, I’m college educated) was -.46, which apparently is a moderate downhill or negative relationship (see chart #1). In other words, the higher the population density (urban) the less likely you and your neighbors were to vote for Trump. The lower the density (rural), the more likelihood of Trump votes in your neighborhood.

Chart #1
Chart #1

But this gap seems to have been magnified by the U.S. Constitution, as the document describes the Electoral College. North Dakota, 47th in density ranking, cast 216,133 votes for Trump. That amounted to only 72,044 votes for each of the state’s 3 electoral votes for the Republican candidate. In Massachusetts, the 3rd most densely populated state, it took over 100,000 more votes for Clinton (178,615) to earn one of the state’s 7 electoral votes for the Democrat (see chart #2).

Chart #2
Chart #2

What surprises and disturbs me is the education gap. The graph below, from Pew Research Center, indicates that among all voters, those with college degrees or more voted for Hillary Clinton by 9 points, while voters with some college or less chose Donald Trump by 8 points. The education gap widens when looking at white voters only, a gap of 35 points.1

There are many ways to read meaning into this, and I’m going to be thinking pretty hard about it. But we might assume that free college education, as provided in many European countries, is pretty much off the table here at home.

Education Gap
Education Gap

1  Tyson, A., & Maniam, S. (2016). Behind Trump’s victory: Divisions by race, gender, education. Retrieved from Pew Research Center website: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/behind-trumps-victory-divisions-by-race-gender-education/

Use Your Department of Education to…

Consitution
U.S. Constitution

Before this absurd presidential election is over and the chilling potentialities have faded, I want to urgently request something of our next president. 

We are a great country with a wealth of resources, a rich culture that derives from its heritage of immigration and a government that has been carefully designed by some really smart people. We are greatest when we thrive to better ourselves based on the honorable principles that guided the best of our countries designers. As such, we have an immense responsibility to ourselves and to the world. 

In recent months, I have also come to realize how fragile our country is — not because of a failure of resources, culture or even our government (surprise).  It’s because we have forgotten what our country is about and the spirit behind its creation —  and our education system deserves a large part of the blame.  We endeavor to prepare our children for their future workplace, and rightly so.  But we have increasingly worked toward this goal at the expense of preparing them to become knowledgeable and responsible citizens of a democratic society. 

We have angrily express our dissatisfaction with how Congress, the President and the Supreme Court conduct governmental affairs.  Yet, according to an Annenberg Public Policy Center study, only 36% of us could name all three branches of government. 35% could not name a single one. Only 27% knew that two-thirds of the House of Representatives and Senate could overturn a Presidential Veto. 21% believe that a 5-4 Supreme Court Decision is sent back to Congress.* Yet the constitution we apparently know so little about grants us the power to select those who will fill our offices of leadership. 

Therefore, I earnestly beseech our next president to use his or her Department of Education to enact a complete overhaul of Social Studies education in America.  We need to understand the history and heritage of our country, both our successes and our blunders.  ..And, additionally, we will not be able to accomplish this without escaping the tyranny of high stakes testing and the multiple choice knowledge that it precipitates. 

The United States has an exciting history that folds into an even more exciting world history, and it all influences nearly every aspect of our daily lives.  Learning about that history and its social, cultural and economic implications should be just as exciting — and it can be. 

It should be. 

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana

..or worse, have it rewritten for them!

* Annenberg Public Policy Center. (2014). Americans know surprisingly little about their government, survey finds. Retrieved from http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/americans-know-surprisingly-little-about-their-government-survey-finds/

Who Would Teach for Cuckoos?

In the graphs below, I label the X-axis as “Years of Republican Led General Assembly,” referring to the years that North Carolina’s legislative branch has been dominated by the Republican Party, the first time since 1870.  I regret using this distinction because I actually respect much of what I think the Republican Party represents.  I am referring, instead, to the Cuckoo legislators, arrogantly conservative politicians who appear to be Republicans, holding just enough resemblance to push many fine and thoughtful statesmen out of the nest of North Carolina’s State Government.

The Exceptions

Spreadsheet ods  OpenOffice Calc
Students in Music & Art Ed Programs

Why? click

That said, I want to report on one of the many effects of their arrogance, and not the millions of dollars lost to the state as a result of their hastily written and passed HB2.

I am no longer a teacher.  I left the classroom for leadership roles in a time when teachers practiced autonomy in their classrooms and were rewarded for advancing their own educations.  Today, I can barely imagine how demoralizing the last five years have been for North Carolina teachers, and for school administrators who are desperately struggling to fill their classrooms with qualified teachers.

The solution to an alarming teaching shortage is simple, at least to the amateurs in Raleigh.

Appear to grant a raise to teachers in North Carolina.  

Factoring in the nominal inflation of the past decade and a half, teacher pay in North Carolina has dropped 13%.1  Real and significant raises would certainly help and are certainly warranted.  But there’s nothing new here.  While teachers have always been grossly underpaid, we have continued to have talented and committed men and women wanting to become teachers.

In my opinion, the teacher shortage has more to do with the declining conditions of the job and the increasing barriers that stand in the way of real learning in the classroom.  A teacher’s passion comes from celebrating the meaningful learning and growth of her students.  But today, the creative art of teaching has been spoiled by requirements to comply with government mandated standards that are measured by tests that choke real learning.

..And why would a high school student want to do, what they’ve spent 13 years watched their teachers dispair in not being allowed to do?

The result?

Enrollment at the 15 UNC schools of education has plummeted 30 percent since 2010, a worry for a state where those programs are the biggest source of classroom teachers.2


Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/education/article58311793.html#storylin1

I recently received a document from one of the state’s 15 schools of education that lists the numbers of students joining their various education programs since 2012, and the numbers SHOULD worry us.

For instance, this graph illustrates the university students who are planning to become elementary school teachers.

Elementary Ed
Students in Elementary Ed Programs

The decline, since 2012, represents a net loss of 213 potential elementary school teachers.

Equally disturbing are the numbers entering Math and Science programs, illustrated here.

Science/Math Ed
Students in Science or Math Ed Programs

That’s 34% few Math and Science teachers than would have been likely in a more stable environment.  And, as I’ve written many times before, the real problems of this state, nation and world have less to do with Math and Science, and more to do with our social condition – and we’ve lost 65% of the Social Studies teachers we might have had.  In 2016, no college student in that university sought to pursue a career as a Social Studies teacher.

Socialstudies
Students in Social Sciencs Ed Programs

Considering how teachers have been treated in this state, it is easy to fathom what these Cuckoo legislators fear the most.  It is highly educated and organized teachers.  In many of the state’s communities, the most educated citizens are teachers.  It’s why the General Assembly and Pat McRory (Governor) stopped paying higher salaries to teachers with advanced education (part of the Appropriations Act of 2013).  We are the only state that does not pay more to teachers with graduate degrees.  The result?

MastersDegreePrograms
Students in Advanced Degree Programs

A loss of 27%, though many teachers continue to advance their own education, even without compensation.

If you are a North Carolina voter, and you believe that the future of our state depends on the talent and intelligence of its citizens, then learn how your representatives voted on the final adoption of the Appropriations Act of 2013. If you do not know who your representatives are, go here.  Then go here and click the name of your House member (here for your senator) to see their voting history in 2013-14 session.  If he or she voted “No” to the final adoption of SB 402, the Appropriations Act of 2013, then they voted FOR teachers and stronger public schools in North Carolina.


1 Hinchcliffe, K., & Johnson, C. (2016, April 26). After inflation, NC teacher pay has dropped 13% in past 15 years. WRAL.com [Raleigh].

2 Bonner, L. (2016, February 3). Enrollment plunges at UNC teacher prep programs. The Charlotte Observer[Charlotte].

Good Enough for the 4th of July, But Not for the Classrooms of North Carolina

The history of my country is accented by acts of enormous bravery, men and women who did what they were told, and more, in the face of the ultimate sacrifice.  But among those acts of bravery, for which we owe our independence and freedom, were people who did what they were told by the powers of authority, not to do.  The Boston Tea Party is an example, when patriots risked their freedom and even their lives to dump bundles of tea into the Boston harbor, rather than pay the British taxes, imposed without representation.  Other such acts of civil disobedience include:

BostonTeaParty
BostonTeaParty.jpg
  • Refusal to pay federal taxes in protest of slavery and the Mexican War
  • Street marches, hunger strikes, and submission to arrest and jail in order to gain the right to vote for women.
  • Harriet Tubman’s underground railway and other actions which helped to end slavery.
  • Sit-down strikes and free speech confrontations to eradicate child labor and improve working condition.
  • Sit-ins and illegal marches to gain civil rights for all Americans.

We were taught about these acts and their courageous actors in school and we celebrate them on days like “The 4th of July.”  They are part of our identity as “the land of the free and home of the brave.”  But, if this nation’s most arrogantly conservative legislature, the North Carolina General Assembly, has its way, such acts will be considered grounds for refusing teacher licensure, in the interest of keeping our children safe.

Protect Students in Schools (Senate Bill 867) was sponsored by Senaters Chad Barefoot, Trudy Wade, Buck Newton and others. The bill suggests that a teacher, who has been “..convicted of a crime, whether a misdemeanor or a felony … indicates the employee poses a threat to the physical safety of students or personnel.”1

Among the crimes listed by the bill are murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery, arson and…

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE

I have written a number of blog posts (here, here, here and here) about the declining state of public education in my state, since radical conservatives took the legislative, executive and judicial branches of our state government. Without collective bargaining, North Carolina teachers have little voice in determining the direction of our schools, beyond the voting booth — which the legislature and Governor McRory seek to influence with long awaited for raises, averaging 4.7%. 

To put teacher salaries into context, on average North Carolina’s pay for public school teachers averaged $1,549.93 below the national mean, between 1970 and 2010.  However, between 2010 (when conservatives took control of both houses of our General Assembly) and 2016, NC teacher salaries have fallen to $7,911.66 below the national average.  Part of this may be the General Assemblies elimination of a higher pay scale for teachers who continue their education through graduate degrees.2&3

It seems to me that in this time of rapid change, we need to empower our professional educators to lead in our schools with permission to be flexible and creative, as they craft and facilitate learning experiences that help students to become innovators and resourceful learners. But, if our legislature’s desire is to turn public education into a market place and our schools into customers for corporate products and sources for corporate profits, then creative, resourceful, passionate, and well-spoken teachers are a factor to be avoided. 

 

1 Barefoot, C., Wade, T., & Newton, E. S. (2016). Senate Bill 867 (S867). Retrieved from North Carolina General Assembly website: http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2015/Bills/Senate/PDF/S867v1.pdf

2 Teaching Salary Data by State. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.teacherportal.com/teacher-salaries-by-state/

3 Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, by state or jurisdiction: Selected years, 1969-70 through 2009-10. (2010). Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics website: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d10/tables/dt10_083.asp

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What Would You Like to be Doing?

I ran across this Guardian article (Reboot: Adidas to make shoes in Germany again – but using robots) yesterday morning and posted it to my Facebook timeline immediately.  I wrote, “The manufacturing jobs that once brought prosperity to many of our towns and cities will not be coming back, if this article represents a trend – and there’s no reason to think it does not.”

There is a caption on the Guardian page that reads,

If robots are the future of work, where do humans fit in?”1

I think this is an interesting question – and it should not necessarily make us afraid.  Why not consider it an opportunity.  If we no longer need the economic contribution of every adult to make our national economies work, then a lot of us, a whole lot of us, will be freed.  I do not make this statement lightly.  Having mostly retired from kmy work life, I have experienced some of the inevitable depression that comes from reflecting on how much my work has dominated more than half of my 60+ years – and I’ve had the most interesting career that I can imagine.  It seems to me that working for a living, as a necessity,  is a bit unfair – not that I would give up any of my time in the field of education.

Perhaps the more interesting question should be, “What would you like to be doing?”

If the answer is, “Getting stoned and watching TV.”  Then we have a problem, and I have no doubt that this would be a common answer.  Assuming that I am right, I would suggest that one of most important goals of our public schools in the near future might be, assuring that for our students, the answer to that question is something a lot more productive and interesting.

I ran across this article, just minutes after posting this entry: iPhone manufacturer Foxconn is replacing 60,000 workers with robots

1France-Presse, A. (2016, May 24). Reboot: Adidas to make shoes in Germany again – but using robots. The Guardian [London]. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/25/adidas-to-sell-robot-made-shoes-from-2017