Friday, June 11, 2021

Social Media…Emphasis on MEEEEEdia: Fatal Flaws of the 21st Century Supermarket Tabloid

Over time I have come to discovery that the flaws in the architecture of all social media platforms are irreparable and can’t be redeemed. As a thoughtful and reflective critic, I have no choice but place social media on the figurative supermarket tabloid rack where the National Enquirer and Weekly World News reside. 

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—even LinkedIn are all media doomed because of one major fundamental flaw: they presume that the individual should be able to choose the information they encounter and that those same individuals should be able to selfishly screen out the information that makes them uncomfortable and fundamentally question their lives, their beliefs, and even their place in the world. It is really ideas that disturb us, that make us uncomfortable that make us reflective and introspective. Without them, we unquestionably follow doctrine and demagogues, and become entangled in the webs of propaganda spun by authoritarian quacks.

Social media…which should really be spelled….social MEEEEEEEDIA, unfortunately has been responsible for much of polarization and partisan divide that exists in our country. It is a technology that allows individuals to live comfortably in alternative universes and in worlds of alternative facts. It also assumes too much, that those who inhabit their milieus know the difference.

Neil Postman somewhat prophetically captured this fatal flaw in social media way back in 1988 when he wrote: 

“Just as the language itself creates culture in its own image, each new medium of communication re-creates or modifies culture in its image; and it is extreme naïveté to believe that a medium of communication or, indeed, any technology is merely a tool, a way of doing.” Neil Postman, Conscientious Objections

We were, I was, naive to believe that social media was or ever would be, “Just a tool, a way of connecting.” It has “re-created” and “modified” our culture in its image, which is a culture where my own beliefs, biases, prejudices, and nonsense constantly validated. The “Me” in social media’s architecture has cultivated a society where what I believe is true and everything else and everyone else on on highways to hell. As a tool for connecting individuals with others, social media has failed colossally.

It is time to stop calling “social media” simply at “tool” with just a communicative purpose. With its algorithms and architecture, it is designed most exclusively as a propaganda tool (which in my thinking is simply a more harsh but correct characterization of the term “marketing”), and is not just a tool to disseminate information. It shoves only the information its users wish to see, only the most propagandistic ideas into the minds of its users. And, add the fact that one can “pay” to promote your posts, and you have the ability to promote ideas, not because they are beneficial or right or just or worthwhile, but because you have financial means to affect the minds of others.

One can only take a look at some of my past blog posts and see that I once believe the stories social media sites used to promote themselves as tools for individuals to connect. But I was wrong. Social media platforms are fatally constructed as they are. They are disinformation and malinformation machines and anyone using them now needs to keep all such sites figuratively located on the supermarket tabloid rack next to the National Enquirer when it comes to what you read therein. 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Calls to Reopen Schools to Face-to-Face Learning Due to CDC Research Ignores Everything That Research Says

 When the latest CDC research was release on January 26, 2021 in the JAMA article, "Data and Policy to Guide Opening Schools Safely to Limit the Spread of SARS-CoV-2 Infection," calls to Reopen Schools has increased each day. But many of those state governors and politicians as well as others selectively read only a portion of the article that says:

"...there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission."

They read this statement and ignore other parts of the same article which also state that, 

"Preventing transmission in school settings will require addressing and reducing levels of transmission in the surrounding communities through policies that interrupt transmission (eg, restrictions on indoor dining at restaurants. In addition, all recommended mitigation measures in schools must continue: requiring universal mask use, increasing physical distance by dedensifying classrooms and common areas, using hybrid attendance models when needed to limit the total number of contacts and prevent crowding, increasing room air ventilation, and expanding screening testing to rapidly identify and isolate asymptomatic individuals. Staff and students should continue to have options for online education, particularly those at increased risk off severe illness or death if infected with SARS-CoV-2."

So, yes there is little evidence of transmission within schools, but there are also some additional measures schools should take to keep that transmission low. They include, according to the CDC:

1) Limit and restrictions on establishments, such as restaurants and gyms, in the community that do increase transmission rates within the community. (This one is never mentioned by governors who declare we need to get students back in schools.)

2) Continue to require masks in schools by all individuals.

3) Dedensify classrooms, cafeterias, and other common areas. This means reducing the number of people in these spaces at one time so that social distance can be practiced.

4) Use hybrid models of attendance so that the number of students in the buildings and on buses are reduced to allow for distancing.

5) Increase ventilation in buildings.

6) Expand rapid testing ability so that asymptomatic individuals can be isolated quickly.

7) Reduce and postpone school activities such as athletics, assemblies, concerts, and other events that are social gatherings that increase the risk of transmission. 

The use of this article as a political sledgehammer to get schools reopened entirely is clearly underway. Yes, schools can reopen, but it is going to take the courage of our political leaders to make decisions that will perhaps restrict indoor dining and to provide schools with level of funding needed to dedensify education spaces too.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Need to Be Skeptical and Critical of STEM Education and Business Demands for Certain Kinds of Graduates

" was in the 1990s that shop class started to become a thing of the past, as educators prepared students to become 'knowledge workers.'" Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft

I recently read Matthew B. Crawford's book Shop Class as Soulcraft, which I highly recommend for all educators. This quote from the beginning of the book captured my attention immediately because the book as a whole outlines an important mindset educators have been neglecting when it comes to thinking about the kinds of graduates we should be producing. The prevailing thinking today is that public education's job is to produce the kinds of workers that business and industry currently demands. To me that is shortsighted and a disservice to our students and society.

The education system has taken on the role of distributing people in the niches needed by business and industry. In the case described by Crawford, when business calls for "knowledge workers," the system reacts and cuts funding of some programs and distributes students into the chosen learning niches of business and industry. The problem with the education system reacting in this manner, is that they place students in niches that might be short-lived due to business and industry's concerns with short-term profits and benefits. 

Business and industry rarely has only the long-term interests of students and people in general in mind. Hence, the evidence of this is their decisions to move entire production lines overseas or to lay workers off for the sake of short-term stock benefit. Education systems that purely have their students' interests in mind will look with a skeptical eye towards the kinds of workers called for from the private sector. It does not mean that the system ignores them entirely, but educators need to remember that the way business ideology is currently constructed in the United States especially, is more libertarian and tilted toward the idea that what is best for them is what is best for everybody. A quick glance at history immediately dispels this illusion. Maybe instead of shoving students into the STEM niche, we need a broader consideration of their potentials and interests. Niche-learning limits possibilities rather than increases them despite what the pro-business and STEM evangelists would have us believe.

Educators need to be critical and skeptical of claims made by politicians regarding what kinds of graduates are needed. We can certainly listen, but we also need to remember that they are obligated by current economic and business ideology to look after themselves. Shoving every student into some STEM approach to education or making sure every student can program might not be in some students' best interest. As Matthew Crawford laments in his book, the decline of shop class to produce so-called 21st century workers might not be the best course for our students. We are still going to need shop mechanics, bricklayers, carpenters, and other trades, and there can be great satisfaction in doing this work as a life-long career. We are also going to need writers, artists, musicians. Let's remember that programs like STEM education and other initiatives can place limits on students' futures rather than possibilities.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Real Reason Why Remote Learning Failed: It's Our Educational and Philosophical Foundations

Could it be that all this insistence and scrambling to find ways to get students back into our schools during an exploding pandemic is simply our society's unwillingness to let go of the twentieth-century, assembly-line schooling model?
What if the issues with remote learning is not the technology at all, but symptoms of an educational system that just used that technology to try to apply the assembly-line educational process which only works with a child seated in a classroom with a teacher in front of them and not a child sitting at a computer or with a device at home? (Of course we knew this process does not work for every child either.)
Take the design of a learning management system. It is an electronically structured class with the teacher at the head and students as subordinates (in most cases, that is how it is used.) It still requires some of the same assembly-line processes to ensure that the student-product is being advanced. Grading is inherent in these systems. Attendance is in there. Often, the activities students are being subjected to are simply e-versions of what they would be doing if they were present in a classroom. In others words, all our technologies, even those we use in remote learning like our learning management systems, testing systems are simply more of the same of what we would do if we had students sitting in classrooms. No wonder we can't see the results we want. It simply is no longer possible.

Then there's all this talk about students "being behind." Peter Green, blogger and writer, asks a very pertinent question here: "Behind what exactly?" (See "Everything's Made Up and Nobody's Behind") He goes on and points out the obvious, that this line or point where students should be is "made up." Also, the whole idea that students should travel down a education-system prescribed path where their progress should be measured is made up too. This is not a natural idea that exists out there. Like the decision to place students in grades, which was a factory-assembly line idea, it is made up. Perhaps what we've really discovered here is not that remote learning doesn't work; perhaps remote learning and this pandemic crisis has made all too clear the foundational and philosophical limitations of our educational systems.

For example, all this talk that students are "behind" due to not being able to physically sit in our seats in our schools is early twentieth century factory thinking. It is adherence to the notion that we have to subject students to an assembly line and quality-control test them along the way to make sure they are being produced properly. Now they can't always be in our presence, so we're lost. Our factory assembly line pedagogies no longer work.
Our testing-quality-control systems can't be applied, so, we are frantically seeking ways to bring them back into our buildings once again so we can grow them and measure them once again. We just might have not really rethought our educational system during this crisis; we've simply tried to apply factory thinking remotely.

What if we were to completely rethink everything? Then what exactly needs to be rethought? Here are some things to chew about:
Idea That Government Prescribed Standards Are a Must: Standards are assembly-line necessities. Now the first thing an educator is going to say is that you have to have standards. Maybe, but perhaps standards need to be rethought in true remote learning. Maybe instead of being rigid markers of OUR chosen path to progress, they need to entirely personal too. Maybe they need to be flexible and adaptable to student needs and interests. Maybe they need to take some other form other than a rigid mark by which we judge if students are progressing or behind. In the remote world, perhaps having rigid standards will not work.
Idea that Education is a Treatment Students are Subjected to: Education has long had what I call "medical profession envy." We want to be "diagnosers," and "interventionists," and "prescripters." In that enterprise, we have a frame of mind that sees education as something "we do to students" rather than something they choose to participate in. In that educational thinking, the assembly-line pedagogies still exist no matter how much we talk about personalized and individualized learning. Just maybe, it's time to let go of the "medical profession envy" and all the pedagogical processes and practices that go with it, and rethink what we do. Maybe, start with the natural state of each child, what they know, what they need. and what they want to learn. These ideas aren't new. They just aren't efficient, which is perhaps the last area that needs rethinking.

Idea that Education Must Be Efficient: The idea that education must, above all, be efficient has been a fetish of educational leaders and politicians since our educational administration forefathers uncritically adopted Taylor's "principles" scientific management at the dawn of the twentieth century. Over the course of American education history, we've sacrificed many of our young at the altar of this business principle. When students historically cause inefficiencies in the system, such as refusing to comply, or refusing to learn in the prescribed manner, we've labeled them as deviant, abnormal, and even failures and often tossed them out or placed them in "special programs" to keep the main assembly-line going. The truth is: education and learning can and often is the most inefficient process of all. It does not happen on demand, even when we like to think that the application of this technique or that method will make it happen. We are often left scratching our heads, trying to figure out why that didn't work. In our efforts to push out remote learning, perhaps we still hang on to the notion that it all has to be "efficient" for us, and do not really focus on what would work for each child.
Sadly, like many educational practices and notions, it is very possible that "remote learning" will end up on the slag-heap of educational technologies with the likes of open-education and other tried methods that simply would not work given our tenacious grip on current philosophical and educational thinking. In our efforts to make education and educational leadership a practical endeavor instead of a scholarly and philosophical enterprise capable or real critical intellectual examination, it is no wonder that remote learning has been found wanting. Just maybe like every pedagogical technology, remote learning works for some and not others. We still search for that "one-way" to educate even though it is as much a myth as it was in the 19th century.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

A Really Helpful Twitter Tip for School Administrators, Teachers, and Anyone Else

Since I joined Twitter in 2008, I've seen it evolve and transform in ways that I liked and in ways I did not. I've also evolved as a Twitter user and social media user in general. But recently, I really took time to examine my Twitter feed, and I really did not like what I was seeing.

If your feed is perhaps like mine, there were about 8 to 10 people who tweeted so often and prolifically, they dominated my feed. I would scroll down, and see multiple tweets, retweets, and likes from these same people over and over and over again. They were actually preventing me, unless I scrolled through their endless contributions to my feed, from seeing many of the others I follow. It's as if these individuals were "yelling so loudly, they were drowning out all the other voices I've purposely followed.

What did I do to resolve this issue? It was rather simple actually, I unfollowed these feed dominators. I took some time and examined my timeline and observed these shouters and simply clicked the unfollow button.

Now, I've begun to see some of the long lost individuals that I followed that had all but disappeared from my timeline. Like a room with a lot of shouters trying to scream ever louder to be heard, I got rid of the "chief-noise-makers." Now, I can once again see many of those who might have something more substantial to say.

Admittedly, I was once one of those shouters myself. I tweeted, retweeted as fast as I could click the Tweet Button. But with time, I've come to some conclusions about Twitter specifically and social media generally: How can anyone hear anything with all the shouting going on that room known as Twitterverse? I also come to realize that by constantly blasting the world with my Tweets, I really wasn't contributing anything substantial to the conversation, as if such conversations are even possible on Twitter. I really did not have that much substantially to say that required such constant clicking.

Perhaps fundamentally, that's what's wrong with Twitter and other social media. It's more about establishing a "presence" or "being seen" rather than heard, I mean really heard. True conversations happen when you get rid of the shouters, those who dominate the conversation. That's a just enough reason for me to unfollow those bombard my timeline with their tweets, and its reason enough to Tweet seldom but with substance. Maybe, then, we can really and truly connect.

Friday, November 1, 2019

School Leaders Need to Recognize How Social Media Is Broken

Social media is broken. No matter what evangelistic talk you hear from the brotherhood-for-the-advancement-of-social-media, it has some serious problems that educational leaders would do well to examine closely. Often promoted as the media for school leaders to “get their message out,” social media has become a polluted cesspool of misinformation, incivility, and deception. It is a powerful tool for propagandists and marketers who are more interested in promoting themselves, their products rather than the truth. Social media has become irredeemably infected with what Michael Lynch calls “information pollution.”

Lynch (2019) writes:

“Information pollution is dumping potentially toxic information onto the media environment. Information can be toxic in different ways, but he most obvious ways are by being false (misinformation),  intentionally deceptive and misleading (disinformation), or simply not based on any evidence at all.” (Lynch, 2019, p. 31).
Social media has become the ideal channel for distributing “information pollution.” If has dumped so much toxic misinformation sludge into discourse, we have individuals wandering about our society like zombies, enveloped in cocoons of alternative facts from which they may never escape.

When information pollution was confined mainly to supermarket tabloids, its reach was limited. Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn has now replaced this tabloid rack as the conduit for the bizarre, the nonsensical. Social media has become the conduit for delivering non-sense to the masses.

Educational leaders have been encouraged to engage social media. I myself have been guilty of trying to convince them of engaging in using Facebook, Twitter...yet, I am firmly convinced that social media in its present form is a media that too easily pollutes our world with deception and misinformation. School leaders would do well to be skeptical of those who still claim that social media is a valid media.

So what should be social media’s status with school leaders? It is rather leaders need to maintain a skepticism and ethos of critique towards it. We need to come to terms with its limitations. Social media is a powerful enabler of misinformation and inauthenticity. It is not the miracle media that will provide opportunities for schools and school districts to better their standing with the public. It is simply a propagandist tool that allows users to manufacture a world in their own image. 

Lynch, M. (2019). Know-it-all society: Truth and Arrogance in Political Culture. Liveright Publications: New York, NY.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Social Media: Tool for Manufacturing Ourselves and 'Truth'

What is the real issue with social media? Set aside the fact that entities like Facebook are selling our personal data to the highest bidder. Ignore the practice of the perpetual eavesdropping of these companies in our personal lives. What the real issue is with social media is simple: You can't believe anything you see. You can't trust that others are who they say they are. It is a place of fiction and fantasy, distortion and misinformation. It is a place where truth is whatever users determine or think it to be.

The problem at the rotten heart of social media is best described by Margaret Wheatley in Who Do We Choose to Be? She writes:
"In humans, how we define ourselves determines our perceptions, beliefs, behaviors, values. Social media enables a culture of manufactured identities, where people create any self that ensures their popularity. In the Digital Age, identity has changed from a culturally transmitted sense of self within a group to an individual one, where you can be anything you want." (p. 19)
Any technology that allows one to "manufacture" his or her identity is problematic. While it might be acceptable to "market" oneself, in social media, truth is often the fatality. The worst quality of social media is that it allows individuals to manufacture a version of themselves that is far from who they really are. They can be someone they want to be rather than be authentic.

If there's one lesson educators need to get about social media, and share with students is this: Social media is not simply a communication media. It is a media of distortion and propaganda. It creates manufactured persons. Educators of all people should be wise enough to see this rather than buying into the hype of what this industry would have us believe.

Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In aren't simply tools of networking and connection: they are tools for manufacturing identities.