Posts Tagged ‘technology’

NYC Schools Offer No Virtual Learning in Fall… and Offer No Change to 2019-20 Status Quo

May 25, 2021 Comments off

The headline for Eliza Shapiro’s article in yesterday’s NYTimes reads “NYC Will Eliminate Remote Learning For Next Year School“. Ms. Shapiro opens the article with this focal point:

New York City will no longer have a remote schooling option come fall, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday, a major step toward fully reopening the nation’s largest school system and a crucial marker in the city’s economic recovery after more than a year of disruptions caused by the pandemic.

The announcement represents the single most important decision the city was facing on school reopening, and means that all students and staff members will be back in buildings full time. Many parents will also be able to return to work without supervising their children’s online classes, which could prompt the revitalization of entire industries and neighborhoods.

The content of the article was a good encapsulation of the debates that have raged for the past months. This debates tended to focus primarily on the impact of school closures on the economy at large, an impact that was a consequence of public education’s ultimate duty: the provision of child care for the low wage work force. Low wage workers could not function unless they were physically present at the work site and their children could not do well with remote instruction without parental supervision. From the perspective of political and business leaders reopening schools had nothing to do with teaching children: it had to do with getting the low wage workers on the job so their businesses could function. The media’s endless coverage on the debates about masks, social distancing, the role of the teachers unions, deep cleaning, and the deficiencies of remote learning due to technological glitches provided grist for the culture wars that accompanied the “debate” on school reopening.

Bu for the past several months, politicians, teachers unions, school boards, and parents have been having the wrong debate. They’ve been debating the effectiveness of the ad hoc remote learning formats to the 2019-20 status quo model of education and found the ad hoc learning formats wanting. When schools were forced to close due to the pandemic, I was hopeful that the hiatus from the traditional “stand-and-deliver-and-teach-to-the-test” model of schooling would call that model into question and, when the spotlight was shone on it, the public would, at long last, abandon the factory model and replace it with something better. That didn’t happen. Instead of looking at remote learning as a stopgap measure policy makers and politicians could have used the closures to closely examine the premises of the current school system. They could have asked the set of questions posed in the “About” section of this blog. Fundamental questions about the way school is organized and the way quality is measured. Questions like:

  • Why are students grouped in grade levels based on their age?
  • Why are students graded within a particular grade level based on their rate of learning?
  • Why are students grouped at all?
  • Why do we use comparisons with other students to define an individual student’s “success”?
  • Why do we use extrinsic rewards and punishments to motivate students?
  • Why do we limit the mission of school to academic instruction?
  • What values do we teach children because of the way we measure student learning?

Instead of debating “when will schools reopen” we could have been debating “how will schools operate when they reopen?”

Ms. Shapiro alludes to this missed opportunity near the end of her article:

Along with bringing students back to classrooms, some families say the city should also do more to address so much of what wasn’t working well for vulnerable children before the pandemic, including segregated schools, large class sizes and poor infrastructure.

“When the pandemic hit, we thought this was really the wake-up call for us to do better, to really restructure the system,” said Shino Tanikawa, a parent activist in Manhattan. “I don’t see that happening.”

Too bad the NYTimes didn’t use more of its column inches to explore the kinds of restructuring parent activists like Shino Tanikawa were seeking. It MIGHT have changed the debate away from the “culture war” topics like masking and union-vs-management to deeper questions about the purpose of schools— which I hope is more that providing child care for low wage workers.

Can We Just Say No to Facial Recognition Software… or Has That Train Left the Station?

April 15, 2021 Comments off

Common Dreams staffer Jake Johnson posted an article yesterday titled “Too Dangerous To Exist” which describes the recommendation of a coalition of privacy rights advocates who want to stop the development of facial recognition software on the grounds that it is far too invasive of privacy and, in the wrong hands, could lead to horrific consequences. Lest anyone believe that the collection and use of biometric data could have chilling consequences, one only needs to look at how that data is being collected and used now in the private sector. Mr.
Johnson cites a letter written by 20 privacy rights organizations:

“In a world where private companies are already collecting our data, analyzing it, and using it to manipulate us to make a profit, we can’t afford to naively believe that private entities can be trusted with our biometric information,” the letter reads. “We call on all local, state, and federal elected officials, as well as corporate leaders, to ban the use of facial recognition surveillance by private entities.”

The groups cite several examples of corporations using facial recognition in ways that threaten workers’ rights, including Amazon’s requirement that delivery drivers consent to allowing the company’s artificial intelligence-equipped cameras to collect their biometric data and surveil their activity on the job. The coalition also points to Apple’s facial recognition scans of its factory employees.

“These cases clearly show how private use of facial recognition by corporations, institutions, and even individuals poses just as much of a threat to marginalized communities as government use,” the letter reads. “Corporations are already using facial recognition on workers in hiring, to replace traditional timecards, and to monitorworkers’ movements and ‘productivity’—all of which particularly harm frontline workers and make them susceptible to harassment, exploitation, and put their personal information at risk.”

I am writing this post on my MacBook Air which now opens when I press my index finger though if I were more competent at typing with my thumbs I could have used my iPhone which opens when I look at it and can be found by asking my robotic friend Siri to help me find it. These examples of biometrics are all “time saving” in the cyberworld time frames we are now accustomed to. I mean who wants to log onto a laptop or iPhone using keystrokes when a touch of the finger or glance will accomplish the same thing.

The letter, which can be found in the post, references misuse and abuse of biometric data in the corporate, medical, and law enforcement fields but makes no mention of the data collected involuntarily by schools…. data that has the same far reaching impact on the well-being of students as it has on the well-being of adults and employees. And what makes it even worse is that, as noted in an earlier post, the schools who serve children raised in poverty and children of color are far more likely to have cameras collecting this data than schools serving affluent children.

Here’s hoping that the genie is not already out of the bottle on this issue!

Categories: Essays Tags: ,

Media Literacy: The Road Not Taken in Public Education Where Standardized Tests and Safety Took Precedence Over Critical Thinking and Creativity

April 4, 2021 Comments off

After a mob overpowered police and entered the Capitol on January 6, 2021, a hue and cry went up and fingers were pointed in many directions. Inevitably, one of the fingers pointed at the lack of civics education in public schools. But the problem with that finger pointing is that no one took the futurists in education seriously and no one took the forward-thinking liberal arts educators seriously…. because they saw January 6 coming in the 1980s and especially in the early 2000s when it became abundantly clear that students were getting more information online than they were getting in books.

To help me research a forthcoming op ed piece, I just downloaded a timeline prepared by Frank Baker, who developed the media literacy clearinghouse in 1998, and the very time I recall my recently hired Technology Coordinator typing the word “Google” behind a cursor to show me how a newly devised “search engine” was going to transform research. 

Here’s my over-arching premise: in the late 1990s and early 2000s public education found itself at a crossroads: it could, in the words of Marshall McLuhan, move forward looking at the rearview mirror or it could look ahead and drive based on the road ahead. The rearview mirror called for the use of ever-refined standardized tests to determine what knowledge students attained and how they could use it OR they could embrace the way learning was happening in real time— via the internet— and devise a curriculum using the principles identified by the National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy, a group who in 2003 offered the following basic principles for critical analysis of media messages:

• Media messages are constructed.
• Messages are representations of reality with embedded values and points of view.
• Each form of media uses a unique set of rules to construct messages.
• Individuals interpret media messages and create their own meaning based on personal experience.                       • Media are driven by profit within economic and political contexts.

Needless to say, had national leaders chosen to emphasize those five principles over test preparation, chosen investments in technology instruction and the acquisition of personal technology over SROs and cameras in schools, we might have had a different way of thinking about the world in 2021.