Wednesday, December 28, 2022

When Educators Use the Word "Science" and the Need for Critical Thinking

 "Science can be a language of distance which reduces a being to its working parts; it is language of objects."  Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Educators and education policymakers have discovered a new word "science." Well, it's not new to them, but some educators have figured out that by placing the words "Science of" before whatever topic they wish, somehow transforms that topic into something that is to be heeded and given authority. For example, I remember some state level educators throwing around the words "Science of Change" or "Science of Innovation" at a professional development session pushing some new curriculum scheme the state wanted to be accepted. It's as if by talking about "change" being a "scientific discipline, it should be accepted without question. Never mind that often with change, the important questions are not scientific at all. The questions of value, like "Who is affected by this change?" and "Who gains the most from this change?" are extremely important as well. Change and innovation are too often pushed for their own sake, or for the sake of some career that stands to gain from its implementations. 

We need to realize that the placement of the word "Science" before change, or innovation, or, most recently, "Reading" does not make the contents of that field any more legitimate and immune to critique. In fact, we should turn on the critical thinking even more when educators throw around the word science in this manner, because they have done it so often in the at the turn of the 20th century with the term eugenics. At that time, education leaders and policy makers did a great deal of talking about the science of eugenics too, and we all know the ethical issues with that science.

As Kimmerer points out, it is important to understand the effects of imposing the language of science on anything, even reading. It creates a distance between us and that object. It tears it down into working parts pretty well, but in the end, you sometimes don't understand it any more than when you started your "scientific study." Sometimes, an act like reading needs to be understood as a whole too. If we reduce the act of reading too much as some kind of simple skill that can be taught, we actually ignore the fact that reading is really a personal, meaning-making experience too among other things. It is actually a subversive activity too if we let it be.

Educators always need to be skeptical of their colleagues and educational gurus throwing around the word science. It's very appropriate to ask tough questions, even the questions they would like to be out of bounds.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Time to Demote Social Media to Super-Market Tabloid Status

Because corporations are not elected, they cannot be voted out, and yet they have become pseudogovernmental by virtue of their wealth, power, and the reach of their technological systems. Their leaders insist that they, and they alone, know what is best for us—from what information we should see to how much privacy we should retain. Increasingly, these companies have placed themselves in the role of determining how we move about in the world, literally and figuratively, and their power to define our reality increasingly extends to the power to decide elections in the US and other nations, taking away our most fundamental rights as citizens to self-determination." Mar Hicks, "When Did the Fire Start" in Your Computer Is On Fire

It's time to demote social media's status in our lives.

The problem with social media systems like Twitter, is that we have given them too much power over us. They have become "pseudo-governmental," to use the term used by Hicks (2021), which means they become the unelected governors over the information diet we consume. 

Place an autocratic, narcissistic CEO in charge of such companies, which is what we have in Elon Musk, and the real danger is that the social media system becomes at best a polluted information ecosystem flooded with misinformation and nonsense. At worse, the social media system becomes a propaganda mechanism, promoting what a CEO like Musk thinks is best for us. The question then becomes do we really want someone like Musk deciding what information is relevant for us? Do we want him determining what free speech means? I think not. 

We as consumers get to really decide how much value social media has in our lives. Honestly, I think we should not have listened to the techno-utopian hype in the 2000s that promised that social media would foster connections and community. It hasn't. We are more separated and polarized than ever, and social media is the cause. It is time to relegate social media to the same status as the super-market tabloid.

Edu-Techno-Utopian Voices Got It Wrong with Remote Learning

“No matter the problem, it seems, a chorus of techno-utopian voices is always at the ready to offer up 'solutions' that, remarkably enough, typically involve the same strategies (and personnel) as those that helped give rise to the crisis in the first place. We can always code our way out, we are assured. We can make, bootstrap, and science the shit out of this.” Thomas S. Mullaney, "Your Computer Is On Fire"

Interesting thoughts here by Mullaney and some truth. There truly exists “a chorus of techno-utopian voices…ready to offer up ‘solutions’ that…typically involve the same strategies (and personnel) as those helped give rise to the crisis in the first place.” Education has its own “techno-utopian chorus” that sings of tech-solutions to everything that ails us in education too. Educational problems are seen as opportunities to solve with technology. But, as the recent remote learning experiment clearly demonstrated, our educational problems are not always solvable with tech. 

In fact, the application of tech, like in this situation, often amplifies existing problems, and causes a whole set of new problems. For example, in the remote learning experiment, the problem of parental involvement in their children’s education was magnified for those students because parents who were able to assist were either non-existent or not available. The students that remote learning most penalized were these students. There was not a ZOOM technology that could solve this issue because it was a problem before the pandemic, and it was a problem magnified during.  A whole set of new problems accompanied the remote learning experiment too. For example, how to effectively provide the services, such as counseling, therapy, and lunch to students who were not physically present, not to mention the issue of missing socialization with peers that works best in physical presence. 

As Mullaney points out, our first reaction as educators is to try to “code our way out” of the problem, or “science the shit out of it.”  Perhaps the problem in education is our recurring turn toward technology for answers. Sure, the tech industry loves that thinking and helps foster it, but we need to think independently.