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.