WXYZ news in Detroit reported on the story of John Glenn HS senior Hazel Juco, a whistleblowing teenage student in Michigan, who took a picture of the discolored water coming from the spigot in the girls bathroom at her high school and posted it on Facebook and Twitter. Why did she do this?
“I always hope that someone will see it and want to help us,” said Juco. “Because our school obviously doesn’t have money.”
What happened next was a sequence of events that serve an example of the kind of country we live in now… AND… the kind of country we would like to live in going forward.
First, her Principal called her to the office and suspended her for the “inappropriate use of electronics in the restroom”, based on the presumption that taking any pictures in the girls room is “inappropriate”.
What happened next was heartwarming and hopeful. Her classmates, upon hearing that she was suspended for an “inappropriate picture” reposted and retweeted all of the selfies THEY had taken in the bathroom and posted and tweeted an entirely new set of bathroom selfies. Someone contacted WXYZ news in an effort to get some kind of justice and when the news station contacted the Superintendent, Dr. Michele Harmala, the suspension was reversed and Ms. Juco was allowed to return to school and had the suspension removed from her record. And here’s the kicker: Dr. Harmala had an app in place on the school district’s web page that enabled individuals like Ms. Juco to make a report of a maintenance problem directly to the maintenance department so that a problem like the discolored drinking water could be addressed ASAP.
Like the politicians and business leaders in our country today who do not want to see the flaws of their organizations exposed, the Principal took immediate and drastic action against a subordinate to “send a message” to everyone else in the organization that displaying the flaws of that organization is strictly forbidden.
But the blowback to her wrongheaded decision, fueled by the use of social media, ended up with her ultimate exoneration. This would be akin to having the newly elected President exonerating Edward Snowden or having his exile somehow reversed by the Supreme Court…. or akin to having any number of corporate whistleblowers who were dismissed from their jobs being restored to full employment. This kind of fair-minded action by higher-ups would also make it more likely for those living in dangerous areas to “say something” when they “see something”… an activity that is now challenged by the “snitches end up in ditches” mentality that too often pervades schools and communities.
A democracy depends on citizens having a voice. When the voice of a whistleblower is silenced by authority we are reinforcing totalitarianism. When it is heard and considered thoughtfully we are able to make continuous improvements. We should all have an app to maintain our voices as citizens.
Decades ago Ivan Illich wrote Deschooling Society, a book that changed my thinking about what education could be. It offered a model for education that was the antithesis of the factory model that underpinned all of public education, a model that engaged community members into the schools and engaged students with the life of the community. One chapter of the book, titled “learning webs” envisioned a mechanism where students could seek out mentors in the community who shared similar passions and who worked in occupations that interested the students. Written in 1971, well before the age of the internet, Illich’s method for connecting students and community members was clunky and time consuming but it was workable.
An article by Jessica Mendoza in the Christian Science Monitor describes CommunityShare, a program in Tuscon AZ that realizes the illich’s vision of learning webs. To me, this is a very exciting direction for public schools to take, one that I intend to pursue locally. Here’s a couple of quotes from the article that give a context to the concept, and illustrate how our fears have overtaken our sense of community:
The paradigm views schools as components of an “ecosystem” – one that would show children the relevance of their classroom learning in the real world while encouraging members of the community to participate, says CommunityShare founder Joshua Schachter. The goal, he adds, is to create a shift in how communities view their children’s education, so that everyone feels like they have a stake in their future.
The notion of bringing the public to public schools is at least decades old. Researchers have long seen value in getting the community to work with schools to ensure the holistic development of the child, as well as more equitable access to education. The first public schools in the country, established in New England in the 1600s, developed around the idea that educating children is crucial to a society’s well-being.
That sense of ownership has faded somewhat today, in part because of security concerns, some say – a result of fears around school shootings, kidnappings, and other dangers.
A drive toward efficiency has also contributed to making schools more isolated than they were originally intended to be: “We used to think that the most efficient way to get people to know how to do things is to ‘download’ our information into their heads,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. “We tell them the things, give them the information, they practice, and then they ‘know’ it.”
Read Illich’s chapter on Learning Webs and read about Tuscon’s “Craigslist for Volunteers” and see how this program could change the way we think about schooling… how schools need to be thought of in terms of a community network instead of a hierarchical framework that segregates children from the community-at-large.
New York magazine’s Intelligencer blog today featured an article on the decline in spending on public education, a phenomenon writer Eric Levitz characterized as a “disinvestment from our nation’s future”. The diminishment of public education spending described in the article is appalling:
In May 2008, U.S. school departments employed 8.4 million teachers, administrators, and other staff. Today, they employ just 8.2 million, despite the fact that those schools now serve 1 million more students, according to Department of Education estimates. And while those teachers are being asked to serve more students, they’re making less money: According to a new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, weekly wages for public-school teachers have declined 5 percent over the past five years… Between 2008 and 2014 (the last year for which we have full data), state public-education funding declined 6.6 percent. While the stimulus money was still flowing, Uncle Sam was able to ameliorate this austerity somewhat, but still left schools spending 2.4 percent less per student over that period, when adjusting for inflation. And when the stimulus wore off, state and local governments failed to pick up the slack: In 2012, total school funding fell for the first time since 1977. As FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Casselman notes, this cutback wasn’t concentrated on administrative salaries or extravagant construction — instructional spending has fallen at roughly the same rate as overall budgets.
The New York article covered some of the same ground as the NYTimes editorial I blogged about yesterday, emphasizing the impact (and preposterousness) of State-level Reagonomics. Noting that the graying of America will drive up retirement and health care costs and that the reduction in pay for teachers is making the profession less attractive, Eric Levitz concludes with this mind-boggling choice:
In the long run, it will take either a drastic increase in federal investment — and/or the proliferation of low-cost robots — for American schools to truly leave no child behind.
Given the choice between “pro-union Government run schools” and a robot that can teach children at home or in, say, a church basement, what do you think taxpayers will vote for?
On Saturday, Diane Ravitch wrote a post lamenting the expropriation of the term “personalized learning” by the education industry.
It is unfortunate that, once again, a valid descriptor has been appropriated by the education industry. Ted Sizer was an education reformer in the true sense of the word, now Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee are “reformers”. Vermont wrote a law requiring personalized learning plans that would be developed by human beings. Now personalized learning plans are algorithms developed by reformers who see computers as our salvation.
Big Data and Little Children: A Potent Combination for Learning… or Marketing… or Controlling – Part One
Thanks to two links to posts by Robert X. Cringely provided by Naked Capitalist blogger Lambert Strether I now have a better understanding of the history of and potential of Big Data as it applies to public education. The posts are lengthy and detailed, but not so technical I felt overwhelmed… and clearly written enough that I could see some promising… and frightening… links between Big Data and public education and see how my own experiences in public schools linked to the evolution of Big Data.
Part One of Cringely’s synopsis of Big Data provided a history of data collection from the beginning of mankind to 1996. Outlined below are some excerpts from that first post that I found pertinent. The first one describes where we stand today in terms of data being collected about us as citizens… and why that data is being collected:
Wherever you are in the world, computers are watching you and recording data about your activities, primarily noting what you watch, read, look at, or buy. If you hit the street in almost any city, surveillance video can be added to that: where are you, what are you doing, who or what is nearby? Your communications are monitored to some extent and occasionally even recorded. Anything you do on the Internet — from comments to tweets to simple browsing — never goes away. Some of this has to do with national security but most of this technology is simply to get you and me to buy more stuff — to be more efficient consumers. The technology that makes all this gathering and analysis possible was mainly invented in Silicon Valley by many technology startup companies.
Cringely’s post also includes the most concise definition of Moore’s Law I’ve read:
Moore’s Law. As computers were applied to processing data their speed made it possible to delve deeper into those data, discovering more meaning. The high cost of computing at first limited its use to high-value applications like selling airline seats. But the advent of solid state computers in the 1960s began a steady increase in computing power and decrease in computing cost that continues to this day — Moore’s Law. So what cost American Airlines $10 to calculate in 1955 was down to a dime by 1965, to a tenth of a penny by 1975, and to one billionth of a cent today.
This effect of Moore’s Law and — most importantly — the ability to reliably predict where computing cost and capability would be a decade or more in advance, made it possible to apply computing power to cheaper and cheaper activities. This is what turned data processing into Big Data.
Cringely’s history of data collection showed how an alliance between American Airlines and IBM in the 1950s led to the development of main frame computing and that, in turn, evolved into increasingly faster and cheaper means of collecting and processing data, leading to the development of “business intelligence” by software pioneer Oracle:
Oracle… enabled… not just more flexible business applications, but whole new classes of applications including human resources, customer relationship management, and — most especially — something called business intelligence. Business intelligence is looking inside what you know to figure out what you know that’s useful. Business intelligence is one of the key applications of Big Data.
(Amazon founder Jeff) Bezos — a former Wall Street IT guy who was familiar with all the Business Intelligence tools of the time, wanted a system where the next time you logged-in the server would ask “are you still looking for long underwear?” It might even have sitting in your shopping cart the underwear you had considered the last time but decided not to buy. This simple expedient of keeping track of the recent past was the true beginning of Big Data.
This was 1996… where Part One of Cringely’s analysis ends… where public education is just now…. but more on this in Part 3 of these posts….