The importance of social studies and information literacy

As someone who grew up in the Washington, D.C. suburbs and whose parents worked for the federal government, today’s events have been… challenging.

I think that what I will say here is:

  1. Policymakers, you know how you’ve minimized the importance of history, government, and civics in all of your education reform efforts over the past couple of decades? Yeah, that was probably a big mistake…
  2. Superintendents and principals, are you ready yet to pay more attention to information literacy throughout your P-12 curricula?

Mandates that are bad for kids

Tom Dunn said:

As a former school superintendent . . . . I felt perpetually conflicted about being forced to implement mandates that were, frankly, bad for kids. The irony is how often the very politicians who denounce bullying use their power to beat adults into submission with their ill-conceived laws. In education, they do this through threats of financial penalty against districts that dare disobey them, by threatening the professional licensure of educators who don’t do as they are told, and/or through character assassination of those who dare question them.

via Ohio’s Aggressive School Vouchers Set to Cripple Even High-Scoring Public Schools

2 questions about cheating, copying, and student ‘integrity’

ScoldingWe’re so quick to bemoan the lack of ethics in our students. They cheat. They copy. They take shortcuts on the work. We complain incessantly about their work ethic, their commitment to their classwork and homework, and their failure to find interest or meaning in the learning tasks we put before them.

Lost in these laments is any recognition that a vast amount of what we ask our students to do in school is indeed actually meaningless. From a life success standpoint. From a future relevance standpoint. From a ‘you can look this up in Google in 3 seconds so why I am spending days on this?’ standpoint. From a ‘why on earth would a [x]-year-old care about this at all?’ standpoint.

Questions

1. If we repeatedly put meaningless work in front of students – and, in turn, they repeatedly do whatever it takes to get that work out of the way as quickly as possible so they can get back to something more meaningful in their lives – whose ‘integrity’ is the real concern?

2. If our responses to the first question are along the lines of ‘we know better than they do what they need’ or ‘there are things students have to learn in this class (and that might mean we have to force students to do them),’ is that a sign of…  [select all that apply]

a) our keen judgment and ultimate wisdom as educators?

b) our arrogance?

c) our need for control?

d) our unwillingness to let children actually own their learning?

e) our complicity in the district, state, federal, and corporate curriculum / assessment machinery?

f) our own helplessness as educators?

g) something else?

Those in glass houses should not throw stones. – European proverb

Great marketing [or forced compliance] won’t be enough to boost sales of your junk product. – Seth Godin

Meaning is in the eye of the beholder.

Image credit: Scolding, Louis Ressel

The surveillance of our youth

Big BrotherLike many school districts, the Southeast Polk School District in Pleasant Hill, Iowa monitors the Web usage of its students on district-provided computers for inappropriate activity. And like some school districts, Southeast Polk also uses a monitoring service that sends weekly emails to parents summarizing their students’ Internet search history. This raises some difficult issues because we know that young people need space away from the heavy thumb of adults for healthy identity formation and the development of self. 

Why do teenagers go to the mall, or congregate at the park, or cruise the strip, or gravitate toward the online spaces where adults aren’t? Because they need spaces that are separate from us. Should we monitor every single book or online resource that our children read? Should we use biometric school lunch checkout systems so that we can see exactly what our children eat for lunch each day? Should we dig through our children’s belongings and rooms every morning after they leave for school to see if they’re doing something that they shouldn’t? Should we install RFID and GPS tags into our children’s clothing and backpacks so that we can track them in real time? Should we slap lifelogging cameras on our kids and review them every evening? Should we install keystroke logging software or monitor everything that youth search for on the Internet? Which of these makes you uncomfortable and which doesn’t?

We can think of numerous reasons why students might search the Internet for things that they don’t want their parents to know about, just like they talk daily about things that they don’t want their parents to know about. For instance, perhaps there is a gay boy who’s struggling to make sense of things but is not ready to come out to his family yet. Or a teenage girl with liberal politics in an ultraconservative family. Or a young couple that is pregnant and searching for information and options before they tell their parents. Or a teen who’s in a spat with a peer but doesn’t want clueless adults stepping in and creating more drama. Or any teen or tween with normal adolescent concerns who just needs some information, resources, or nonlocal empathy and connection. Do these students deserve some space? Do they deserve a presumption of privacy? Or should they immediately and automatically be outed by school software?

danah boyd asks some important questions about youth privacy, including Who has the right to monitor youth? and Which actors continue to assert power over youth? She also notes that:

Just because teens’ content is publicly accessible does not mean that it is intended for universal audiences nor does it mean that the onlooker understands what they see. . . . How do we leverage the visibility of online content to see and hear youth in a healthy way? How do we use the technologies that we have to protect them rather than focusing on punishing them? . . . How do we create eyes on the digital street? How do we do so in a way that’s not creepy?

Similarly, First Monday notes:

The right to privacy is stipulated in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [and] Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as numerous international and regional human rights treaties and conventions [and has been found to be a protected Constitutional right by the U.S. Supreme Court]. The right to privacy essentially protects the integrity of the individual and his or her home, family, and correspondence. A common denominator for the different areas of privacy is access control: thus control over what others know about us; control over private decisions and actions; and control over a physical space. The right to privacy builds on the presumption that a zone of autonomy around the individual is central to individual freedom and self-determination.

Should school districts be complicit in the hypersurveillance of our young people? What messages do we send our students when we monitor their every action and send out weekly reports? Are we creating digital social graphs for our children and then placing them in the hands of commercial vendors? Are we intentionally instituting oppositional and distrustful stances against our own students? Are we fostering the creation of graduates who will shrug at the infringement of their civil liberties as adults because their families and educators have done so for years?

I wonder if there’s an opt out for families that don’t want to Big Brother or helicopter parent their children…

See also

Image credit: Big Brother is watching you, Photon

Be proud of your pockets of innovation. AND…

PocketsEvery school system has pockets of innovation. Those three forward-thinking teachers in the elementary school, that one grade-level team in the middle school, the department that’s really trying to do something different at the high school, that amazing principal over there, and so on. As school leaders we’re proud of – and point to – that cutting-edge work and rightfully so.

But we also have to recognize that pockets of innovation mean that inequities exist. What if you’re a student that doesn’t have one of those forward-thinking elementary teachers, who isn’t on that middle school team, who has nominal exposure to that innovative high school department, or who doesn’t attend that principal’s building? You’re out of luck.

We always will have educators who are ahead of others. That’s inevitable. What’s not inevitable is our lack of a plan to scale desired innovations. What’s not inevitable is our lack of a guaranteed viable curriculum that strives for every student to accomplish more than mastery of factual recall and procedural regurgitation. If we want our pockets of innovation to ever be more than just pockets, we have to intentionally and purposefully scaffold and design and support to move the entire system to something greater. We also have to be smart about the design choices that we make. For instance, that intervention / remediation / extension time block that you created in your school schedule? During that time, who suffers through low-level thinking work in order to ‘catch up’ and who’s building robots or rockets? The very mechanisms that we create to close achievement gaps often intensify life success gaps.

Who in your schools gets to become future-ready and who doesn’t? Are you remedying traditional inequities or exacerbating them? What’s your plan to scale your innovations so that every student has opportunities to be prepared for life success, not just a few?

Image credit: Pockets, Astera Schneeweisz

It’s 2018, not 1918. Basic skills are not enough.

NYC Schools Opening (U.S. Library of Congress)Here is a quote from Kentucky Education Commissioner, Dr. Wayne Lewis (who is a friend of mine). The context is a statewide conversation about higher education standards for Kentucky high school graduates.

On Tuesday, Lewis said the current system already penalizes students by not actually preparing them for success.

“When we give them a diploma without ensuring that they have basic skills and they go to post-secondary education and they hit a brick wall – when they get into those English and math gateway courses, when they don’t have the necessary basic skills or preparation to get a job and take care of themselves,” he said. “Those kids are held accountable right now.”

Compare this with the following quote from Dr. Marc Tucker, outgoing CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy:

The jobs that were lost to globalization are not coming back. They are being automated. American manufacturing is actually doing very well, but much of the manufacturing work that was done by people a few years ago is now being done by machines. The same thing is true of mining and steel making. The jobs of gas station attendants were automated years ago. The jobs of retail clerks are ebbing fast. Even the jobs in Amazon’s warehouses are being automated. AI-powered systems are doing legal research, diagnosing cancer, writing music, serving as network newscasters, and doing surgery.

The thing that unites the “left behind,” whether they are rural whites in communities with boarded-up storefronts and peeling paint on their homes or urban African-Americans without jobs or any prospect of getting them, is lack of the kind of education and skills that employers are willing to pay decent wages for. . . . The difference between the young people that Facebook is hiring at $140,000 per year for their first jobs and the UBER drivers in the same cities for $10 an hour is their education and skill levels.

With due respect to Wayne, I think Tucker is right. Basic skills aren’t enough these days for many/most American high school graduates to succeed in postsecondary and/or ‘get a job and take care of themselves.’ Basic skills are necessary but insufficient. If we don’t frame future readiness and life success as more than basic skills, we’re doing our students and graduates a grave disservice. As Tucker notes,

What unites the first phase of globalization with the second phase of globalization is the fact that, whether the work is manufacturing or services, whether it is highly skilled or low-skill work, the employer can look for people with the requisite skills anywhere. Whatever your skill level, you are now in competition with people all over the world who have similar skills and who are willing to work for less.

That is bad news for Americans because we charge a lot for our labor. That is especially true for our low-skill and semi-skilled people – people who have basic literacy, but little more. Many nations that were largely illiterate in the 1970s have now built education systems that are capable of producing levels of basic literacy equal to those in the United States, and those newly literate people are now competing directly with the workers in the United States who have only basic literacy, which is roughly half of our workforce. The cruel fact is that our low- and semi-skilled workers – roughly half of our workforce – are very high priced in the global market for labor. That is why their real wages have not gone up in decades. They are a commodity, and the price they charge at the minimum wage level for that commodity is more than they are worth on the global market.

Neither state nor federal policymakers can change that fact. And it is that fact, not unfair trade practices, that is leading ultimately to the kind of anger and despair that is corroding our politics. I refer here not only to the anger and despair of rural and urban working-class whites, but also to the despair of inner-city African-Americans and many Latinos who are also trapped by the dynamics I have just described.

We must have a bigger vision for our graduates than basic skills. And we need to stop using this term as if it were enough.

SIDE NOTE: While we’re at it, we also know that 3rd grade retention is one of the dumbest things we can do in school. As a researcher and former university educational leadership faculty member, Wayne should know better than this.

Image credit: N.Y. schools opening, Library of Congress