Wednesday, January 30, 2008

NCTQ Should Know Better

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) – a “nonpartisan research and advocacy group committed to restructuring the teaching profession” – publishes a monthly bulletin on, what else, teacher quality issues. (And, no, I will not get drawn into questioning how an organization run by Kate Walsh, affiliated with the Fordham Foundation and the author of “Teacher Certification Reconsidered: Stumbling for Quality” can truly call itself nonpartisan”.)

In the most recent bulletin they pick up the Jay Greene “research” about ed schools teaching more multiculturalism than math. Sigh. See my recent post.

I really, yes really, do get some good information from NCTQ sometimes. They provide a good antidote to over-the-top left-wing teacher education arguments. But what is really silly and amateurish is how they defend Greene. They link to a so-called “exhaustive review by the AERA” that they claim proves that diversity training doesn’t work. But that link simply goes to an AERA presentation by a professor at San Jose State University of a sample 120 students in 2 marketing classes. Hello? They then link to a Washington Post article that supposedly discusses a “recent study of diversity training in the private sector” that shows the same thing. But if you actually read the article, the third paragraph states:

“The analysis did not find that all diversity training is useless. Rather, it showed that mandatory programs -- often undertaken mainly with an eye to avoiding liability in discrimination lawsuits -- were the problem. When diversity training is voluntary and undertaken to advance a company's business goals, it was associated with increased diversity in management.”

Oops. I’m not sure that even counts as a good try by NCTQ, much less a good faith effort.

Such tactics are really sub-par and need to be called out. There is good research on such issues, and Greene’s is not it. Moreover, and the point of this posting, is that, to be generous, these are embarrassing and amateurish mistakes. To be less generous, NCTQ is being disingenuous and politically destructive, fabricating and biasing data. It should know better.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

If NCLB is Such a Success, Why Do Poor Kids Need a Way Out of the Public Schools?
[NYT] President Bush’s call for a $300 million program called Pell Grants for Kids is the latest effort by his administration to channel tax dollars to low-income parents to help them send their children to private or religious schools.

His proposal, in his State of the Union address Monday night, was denounced by some top Democratic lawmakers and teachers’ union officials as a national “voucher” program that would only drain resources from urban public schools that in many cases are in need of money.

And some critics said that the president’s call for yet another education initiative only underscored the failure of the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal law that Mr. Bush considers a landmark achievement of his first term. . . .

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ed Links

Totally Cool if Irrelevant: Digging Up an Ant City

Beauty in the banal

[Walter] Benjamin read the modern era from its refuse: cityscapes, word puzzles, quotations from forgotten books, Russian toys, shopping arcades. He believed, writes Leslie, “that contemporary literacy has less to do with the ability to read words and more to do with reading images”.


[Neils] Bohr's discerning conviction was that the invisible world of the electron was essentially a cubist world. By 1923, de Broglie had already determined that electrons could exist as either particles or waves. What Bohr maintained was that the form they took depended on how you looked at them. Their very nature was a consequence of our observation. This meant that electrons weren't like little planets at all. Instead, they were like one of Picasso's deconstructed guitars, a blur of brushstrokes that only made sense once you stared at it. The art that looked so strange was actually telling the truth.

He's Not as Smart as He Thinks

A British researcher reports that the male ego is often larger than his actual IQ. But you might be surprised by what women think of men's intellect.

Mapping the Most Complex Structure in the Universe: Your Brain

"The 'wiring diagram' of the brain could help us understand how the brain computes, how it wires itself up during development and rewires itself in adulthood," said Sebastian Seung, a computational-neuroscience professor at MIT. . . . A full set of images of the human brain at synapse-level resolution would contain hundreds of petabytes of information, or about the total amount of storage in Google's data centers, Lichtman estimates.

Teen Drivers Would Benefit From Greater Restrictions

Most states have graduated licensing for teen drivers but such programs should be even more restrictive, according to a new study. Teens are at excess risk, they say, for all crash types, which include a combination of various elements: characteristics of the teen driver, time of day, day of week, driver behavior and the context within the vehicle.

Your shopping buddy turns to you and asks, "Which one of these would you get?" Or, you're talking with your spouse about which candidate you'd like to vote for before switching on the nightly news. Turns out simply being asked to make a choice -- especially if you're in a hurry or have something on your mind -- will make you like the next thing you see more.

About nine percent of teenagers may have metabolic syndrome, a clustering of risk factors that put them on the path toward heart disease and diabetes in adulthood. This shocking statistic represents some of the first concentrated efforts to define and measure metabolic syndrome in children and adolescents -- a necessary starting point for combating the problem, but one that has proven even trickier in youth than it has been in adults.

Babies conceived during a period of famine are at risk of developing addictions later in life, according to new research. Researchers studied men and women born in Rotterdam during the Dutch "hunger winter." Those whose mothers had suffered severe food shortages and starvation during their early pregnancy were significantly more likely to be receiving treatment for addictive disorders.

A new study shows that only about half of children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, exhibit the cognitive defects commonly associated with the condition and further, found that in populations where medication is rarely prescribed to treat ADHD, the prevalence and symptoms of the disorder are roughly equivalent to populations in which medication is widely used.

'Truthiness,' according to television satirist Stephen Colbert, represents the human preference to follow our intuition despite the presence of facts or evidence. For example, the more ambiguous an answer to a question, the more likely an individual will believe it is truthful. At least that is what psychologists Rick Dale of the University of Memphis, Michael Spivey of Cornell University and the late Chris McKinstry found when they asked college students questions that ranged in levels of vagueness and tracked their corresponding arm movements to clicking 'yes' or 'no' on a computer screen.

Kids may roll their eyes when their mother asks them about their school day, but answering her may actually help them learn. New research reveals that children learn the solution to a problem best when they explain it to their mom.

Children from low-income families in the United States do not have the same access to qualified teachers as do wealthier students, according to a new study. Compared to 46 countries, the United States had the fourth largest opportunity gap, the difference between students of high and low socioeconomic status in their access to qualified teachers.

Gender disordered children as young as ten are being denied desperately needed hormonal drugs leading to bullying, violence and even suicide according to new research. Dr Simona Giordano from The University of Manchester says British doctors are depriving children relief from "extreme suffering" caused by their condition - forcing their families into seeking help outside the UK. Homophobic bullying in schools is experienced by 89.2% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths in the UK.

Children undergoing PAS are manipulated by their custodial parent, who tries to turn them against their father/mother, arousing in them feelings of hatred and contempt for the other parent. Children usually not only reject the noncustodial parent, but also his or her family and close friends.

The term 'posttraumatic embitterment disorder' (PTED) was recently introduced to describe a subtype of adjustment disorders, characterized by prolonged embitterment, severe additional psychopathological symptoms and great impairment in most areas of life in reaction to a severe negative but not life threatening life event. The aim of this study is an empirical description and validation of the clinical concept of PTED, by comparing clinically defined PTED patients with patients suffering from other mental disorders on measures of posttraumatic stress and psychopathological distress.

New research supports the idea that sleep plays a critical role in the brain's ability to change in response to its environment. This ability, called plasticity, is at the heart of learning. This research clarifies this phenomenon, supporting the idea that sleep plays a critical role in the brain's ability to change in response to its environment. This ability, called plasticity, is at the heart of learning.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ed Links

From The wheel of consciousness

The first chapter from Physicalism, or Something Near Enough by Jaegwon Kim. A review of Artificial Consciousness. Is it possible to be too aware of our own consciousness? A review of Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic. A review of The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness by Jeff Warren. A review of The Self?, ed. Galen Strawson. Don't just stand there, think: Research suggests that we think not just with our brains, but with our bodies. A review of The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge. A review of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink. An article on John Searle on the human mind and the nature of intelligence.

Is Homosexuality an Evolutionary Step Towards the Superorganism?

Only by conceiving of evolution as acting upon entire populations rather than individual organisms can we understand eusociality -- the mysterious, seemingly "altruistic" behaviors exhibited by insects who forego reproduction in order to care for a colony's young.

New research suggests that we think not just with our brains, but with our bodies

The brain is often envisioned as something like a computer, and the body as its all-purpose tool. But a growing body of new research suggests that something more collaborative is going on - that we think not just with our brains, but with our bodies.

Cos and Effect

Bill Cosby may be right about African-Americans spending a lot on expensive sneakers—but he's wrong about why.

Just Fascinating from Bookforum: A cradle of Western civilization

From Archeology, an article on the top 10 discoveries of 2007; and this old thing? Copper Age fashion comes to life. Where it all started: A review of Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind by Colin Renfrew. From Discover, did a tsunami wipe out a cradle of Western civilization? Like the Indian Ocean disaster, this wave was a mass killer.

Introducing PATHWAYS Magazine
A magazine on poverty, inequality, and social policy

Trends in poverty and inequality: Periodic reports on key poverty and inequality indicators. Cutting-edge research: Concise summaries of research that is changing how we understand the sources and consequences of poverty and inequality. Bold new visions: Must-read discussions of how labor market, poverty, and inequality policy might be rethought and changed. Debates: Leading scholars and policymakers weigh in on the crucial poverty and inequality questions of our time

Third Of Stunting, Quarter Of Deaths Among Toddlers In Poor Countries Could Be Prevented

If existing maternal and child nutrition interventions were implemented in poor countries, cases of stunting among children under three years of age could be reduced by a third, and deaths by up to a quarter, according to new research.

American teens are confident they can invent solutions to some of the world's pressing challenges, such as protecting and restoring the natural environment, but more than half feel unprepared for careers in technology and engineering, the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index has found this year. The Index, which gauges Americans' attitudes toward invention and innovation, also found there is an important need for more project-based learning in high schools.

Every year, 759,000 children with asthma may be at risk of a major asthma attack while they have no health insurance. About 30 percent of those families earn more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, putting them above the threshold for the state children's health insurance program in most states. Chronic asthma requires ongoing treatment to avoid hospitalizations.

Children living in households with food insecurity, are more likely to be at developmental risk during their first three years of life, compared to similar households that are not food insecure.

New research shows for the first time that the brain processes aggression as a reward -- much like sex, food and drugs -- offering insights into our propensity to fight and our fascination with violent sports like boxing and football.

Children whose mothers are chronically stressed during their early years have a higher asthma rate than their peers, regardless of their income, gender or other known asthma risk factors.

Scientists have found that the part of the brain that deals with sound, the auditory cortex, is adapted in each individual and tuned to the world around us. We learn throughout our lives how to localize and identify different sounds. It means that if you could hear the world through someone else's ears it would sound very different to what you are used to.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

OLPC staff ignoring local context

As a followup to my earlier post on OLPC, see Alexandre Enkerli's response and then the following Q&A taken from a discussion forum on an OLPC fan website. Someone was preparing for an interview with OLPC Chief Connectivity Officer Michail Bletsas, and I suggested a few questions. But if the report of Bletsas's answers is correct, his lack of responsiveness to important issues is disappointing.
  • Q. Africa has by far the lowest internet diffusion, for a variety of reasons, and the WHO has created a CD-ROM distribution network and the hard-copy Blue Trunk Library program in part to compensate. Is OLPC partnering with WHO or other NGOs for creative ways to get around the access issues in areas without any internet access and where the community cost of satellite access to the internet is prohibitive?
  • A. OLPC is doing everything they can to make sure that wherever there are XO's internet access will be nearby. Remember that thru the mesh network if one person has wireless the entire building or village will be able to access it. Each XO acts as a repeater for the wireless signal.
The mesh network idea works if there is some access point, but it's irrelevant if a community cannot afford the access. There are ways to work around this, such as distributing flash cards or USB drives with content, but that requires some planning and collaboration.
  • Q. In the Thai pilot community (Ban Samkha), adults clearly wanted one of the preinstalled activities to be a basic spreadsheet. Is there any in development?
  • A. OpenOffice should work on the XO but the intentions were for children to use it. They really do not need it immediately but have the capabilities to get it at a future time.
Let me get this straight: a project invests resources in a pilot, and the pilot community explains what should change, and then the project ignores the feedback??
  • Q. In the doctoral seminar I taught this semester, a few anthropology graduate students expressed concern that the OLPC's focus on child-child networking was structured in a way that put child-adult/community relationships in the background. Do you have any cultural anthropologists to keep you guys honest on relationships with communities?
  • A. OLPC does not have the resources to have any cultural anthropologists. It is up to the individual countries and communities to deal with this area for now.
In other words, We don't care about local context.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Failure to Add (Anything to the Debate) or Has Jay Greene Jumped the Shark?

Another swipe at education schools. Jay Greene and Catherine Shock tell us that ed schools supposedly teach twice as many diversity courses than math courses. Can one say bad research? Can one say it’s been done? Has Jay Greene jumped the shark?

Simply put, the research is shoddy. As Sherman Dorn has noted, it is more akin to the ACTA’s screed on Ward Churchill rather than proper syllabi analysis (such as Rick Hess’s on educational leadership analysis). (Eduwonkette takes a swipe at the research as well.)

I’ll focus only on the multiculturalism side, as that is the research I know.

The problem is that Greene and Shock fixate on what is listed in the catalog rather than on what is actually taught. In my own research I found that multiculturalism courses were required in just one of five education programs. The requirement of multicultural education courses, moreover, had no correlation to whether a program was NCATE accredited (which is a whole other research question). And I found that “inclusion,” which they subsume under the multiculturalism label, references special education courses, not “social justice.” Greene and Shock thus inflate their numbers, inaccurately swipe at NCATE, and undermine their own argument when they suggest that education schools are nothing but hotbeds of political correctness. They’re the ones doing the right-wing political correctness thing by jumping (too late and too weakly) on the bandwagon.

Now don’t get me wrong. Ed schools have lots of problems. But David Labaree has written about the current iteration of such problems for over a decade. Greene’s work offers us nothing new. It is sad that a scholar like Greene offers nothing more than a poor repetition of David Steiner’s attack dog work from three years ago, which itself was deeply flawed ($).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Educating Citizens About Organizing: Beyond "Just Doing It" (Community Organizing and Urban Education)

[See the whole series here]

On October 6, 2007, the “Beyond Social Service” conference brought an extremely diverse group of approximately seventy Milwaukee residents together to learn about social action. The conference aimed to spread information about organizing more broadly in a city where ignorance about social action is a growing crisis.

Some organizers seem to believe that we don’t need educational separate from our ongoing campaigns for change. All we need, it has been implied, is more and better organizing. The problem is that funding for organizing is extremely limited, as is the visibility of organizing. In my experience organizing, by itself, isn’t necessarily educating that many people who aren’t already participating in it as key leaders. Those who “see” organizing happening, or its results, don’t necessarily really understand what’s happening to make it work. While we can “do” organizing better to overcome this a little, I don’t see the “just more of what we are already doing” response as adequate.

The “Beyond Social Service” effort represented the first time in many years that so many community organizing groups came together to address an educational challenge not directly connected to a specific campaign. For many reasons—limited resources primary among them—unless they are collaborating on a shared action campaign organizing groups in Milwaukee tend to stay in their own “corners.” The groups’ willingness to add this effort to their already crowded calendars indicates the importance they placed in the overall aims of the project

The conference was an initial experiment, embedded within broader concerns about how to help more people understand the potential of organizing for social change. From the beginning, conference organizers discussed the need for other approaches.

The key lesson we learned was that there is a deep hunger for information about how to organize for collective power in Milwaukee. This report seeks to answer questions about how we might adequately serve this hunger.

Summary of Lessons Learned

Organizer Burn-Out
Organizers are already overwhelmed with their duties in their individual organization. It is likely too much to expect them to add yet another “job” on top of the one they already have to support an effort not directly linked to their group’s goals. These challenges limited outreach and participation for the conference. To respond, broader educational efforts like the conference need:
  1. To draw in people outside the already overworked organizer community.
  2. To provide more dedicated funding for those putting in the work making sure this educational work is carried through, in whatever form.
  3. To link educational efforts more closely to the self-interests of existing organizing groups
Other Possibilities for “Rebuilding the Tradition of Organizing” in Milwaukee
The experience of putting on the “Beyond Social Service” conference also pointed towards other ideas for rectifying the ignorance about community organizing that pervades our community.
  1. If They Won’t Come to You, Go to Them
  2. Create an Incubator for New Organizing Groups
  3. Create a Federation of Organizing Groups in a Shared Building to Pool Resources
  4. Develop Coherent Pathways for Leader and Organizer Education
  5. Hold an Organizing Retreat in Milwaukee about “Rebuilding the Tradition”

To read the rest of this report, go here. This report is an abridged version of the one sent to funders and organizers.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ed Links (Post Holiday Edition)

Orthodox Economic Education, Ideology and Commercial Interests: Relationships that Inhibit Poverty Alleviation (pdf)

Many factors have been cited for the continuing, intractable poverty condition in most poor countries. . . . However, there is still another cause that has been insufficiently elucidated. That cause is the combined and iterative impact of three unwholesome relationships: (1) the relationship between the narrow, ideological graduate economic education and the orthodox development perspective held by the international agencies - a perspective that emphasizes growth of output without emphasizing distribution effects; (2) the relationship between international agency policies and the ideological foreign policy interests of the USA and UK, interests that some argue seek to gain control over poor countries' resources while promoting implementation of a pro-democratic, free market ideology; and (3) the relationship between development policies introduced by the international agencies and the commercial interests of multinational corporations and international banking firms, the interests of which are interlaced with USA and UK foreign policy interests.

Top 100 Living Geniuses

British geniuses feature heavily in a recent list that notes the greatest living thinkers of our time - proportionately more than any other country. The top 100 living geniuses was compiled by a panel of six experts in creativity and innovation from Creators Synectics, a global consultants firm.

[FYI--#1 is the inventor of LSD. By turns a weird, irritating, and fascinating list. Mostly white men, of course. No bias here. . . .—AS]

A Fascinating Condensation of New Knowledge: The Edge Annual Question — 2008

When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy. When God changes your mind, that's faith. When facts change your mind, that's science. WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT? WHY? Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?" [Lots of psychologists and neuroscientists and other related stuff. For example “I set out to show that language didn't affect perception, but I found exactly the opposite. It turns out that languages meddle in very low-level aspects of perception, and without our knowledge or consent shape the very nuts and bolts of how we see the world.”—AS]

The Genetics of Language

Researchers are beginning to crack the code that gives humans our way with words.

Percent Who See America As Divided Between Haves and Have Nots.

[Note that the largest difference is between republicans and democrats—AS]

Disordered Eating Less Common Among Teen Girls Who Regularly Eat Family Meals

Adolescent girls who frequently eat meals with their families appear less likely to use diet pills, laxatives or other extreme measures to control their weight five years later, according to a new report.

Chimpanzees May Build Their 'Cultures' In A Similar Way To Humans

Scientists have found cultural differences among chimpanzee colonies. Socially-learned cultural behavior was thought, until now, to be unique to humans.

Why It Pays To Be Choosy: The Co-evolution Of Choosiness And Cooperation

Given that cooperative individuals can often be exploited, it is not immediately clear why such behavior has evolved. A novel solution to this problem has been found by scientists who show that when individuals in a population are choosy about their partners, cooperativeness is rewarded and tends to increase.

Physical Education And Active Play Help Teens Maintain Normal Weight As Adults

Adolescents who participate in physical education at school are more likely to maintain a normal weight as young adults, according to a new study. For each weekday of physical education at school the odds of being an overweight adult decreased by 5 percent. Participation in all five days of physical education decreased the odds of being an overweight adult by 28 percent.

Divorce May Widen Distance Between Teens, Fathers

The typical distancing from parents by adolescents is exacerbated by divorce for fathers, but not for mothers, according to a recent study. Although research demonstrates that fathers' involvement with children has increased in recent decades, mothers continue to do the majority of childcare while fathers are the less involved parent.

Lack Of Imagination In Older Adults Linked To Declining Memory

Most children are able to imagine their future selves as astronauts, politicians or even superheroes; however, many older adults find it difficult to recollect past events, let alone generate new ones. A new study reveals that the ability of older adults to form imaginary scenarios is linked to their ability to recall detailed memories.

Social Standing May Be Linked To Body Mass Index In Teen Girls

Teen girls who perceive themselves as being lower on the social ladder appear more likely to gain weight over the subsequent two years, according to a new report. Between 1999 and 2004, the percentage of American teen girls classified as overweight increased from 14 percent to 16 percent, according to background information in the article.

Novel Mechanism For Long-term Learning Identified

Practice makes perfect -- or at least that's what we're told as we struggle through of multiplication tables and piano scales -- and it seems to be true. That's why neuroscientists have been perplexed by data showing that at the level of individual synapses increased, repetitive stimulation reverses gains in synaptic strength. Neuroscientists have now discovered the mechanism that resolves this paradox. The findings are published in Science.

Mom's Obesity During Conception Phase May Set The Stage For Offspring's Obesity Risk

Researchers have examined whether fetal exposure to gestational obesity leads to a self-reinforcing viscous cycle of excessive weight gain and body fat which passes from mother to child. The results of a new study suggest they do.

Evolution Education Is A 'Must' Says Coalition Of Scientific And Teaching Organizations

A coalition of 17 organizations is calling on the scientific community to become more involved in the promotion of science education, including evolution. The introduction of "nonscience," such as creationism and intelligent design, into science education will undermine the fundamentals of science education, according to the coalition.

Blacks, Hispanics Less Likely To Get Strong Pain Drugs In Emergency Rooms

Despite increases in the overall use of opioid drugs to relieve severe pain, black and Hispanic patients remain significantly less likely than whites to receive these pain-relievers in emergency rooms, according to a new national study. Opioids are narcotic drugs used to treat patients with moderate to severe pain.

Bad Dreams Associated With Difficult Temperaments In Children

Bad dreams in preschoolers are less prevalent than thought. However, when they do exist, nightmares are trait-like in nature and associated with personality characteristics measured as early as five months.

Which Intervention Would Do The Most To Improve The Health Of The Extreme Poor?

Experts were asked to name the one intervention that would improve the health of those living on less than $1 a day. The collected responses--from health researchers and activists, journalists, academics, and communities living in poverty--highlight effective, low tech, and remarkably cheap ways to make a profound difference to the lives of the poorest people on the planet.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

OLPC skepticism/hope

Early last month, Aaron Schultz explored some of the skepticism towards the OLPC project. On Sunday, Aaron Barlow was skeptical of the value of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, Nicholas Negroponte's vision of putting a cheap, energy-efficient computer in the hands of millions of children worldwide. Aaron's not alone. Business Week's Bruce Nussbaum has gotten his digs into OLPC (twice, in September and December), as did the Putting People First blog and Alexandre Enkerli. While there are some dissenting views from an anthropological perspective, and while one of the Red Hat programmers on the project had a much more sophisticated view of technology's use context, I can't deny some of the more extreme versions of patronizing/ignorant attitudes I've seen, either examples from within the project (one naive view of one of the Abiword/Write (word-processor) app programmers) or by some of the enthusiasts at OLPC Forum (see this thread on the software being "child-centered").

So what perspectives can social foundations offer OLPC and its green-and-white XO (the name of their machine)? Negroponte's utopian vision is that inexpensive laptops will revolutionize the education of children in poorer countries. There are two lines of criticism that overlap. One relies on the history of education (and the history and sociology of technology), while the other from the world of comparative education. In both cases, the point is similar: technology does not exist outside a social and institutional context.

As an historian, I'd note that Negroponte's argument is a fairly standard educational technology fairytale, perhaps the 21st century equivalent of Thomas Edison's claim that movies would eliminate the need for textbooks. In Teachers and Machines, Larry Cuban points out how in the U.S., technology evangelists have often ignored the existing culture of schools as organizations. It's one of the themes he and David Tyack explored in Tinkering toward Utopia (where they discuss computers explicitly, if briefly), and the most vivid example he uses is a geography class that's in a plane, and the teacher is in the front of the cabin in a fairly standard lecturing style with student desks arrayed in rows, just as if they were in a standard school. No one is looking out the window at the ground below.

Thus, I agree with Bruce Nussbaum: the omission of teachers from the picture is deeply troubling and shows too little thought about the XO operating within a school context. That doesn't necessarily sink the project entirely, but it's discomforting. The "child-centered" ideology so often tossed around is abstracted from a social context, and in this case suggests too little thought about relationships between children and adults.

As Larry Cuban has noted several times, computers hold the promise of being different from other technologies. As flexible tools, they are closer to the flexible tools that are now considered semi-automatic in U.S. schools—chalkboards or dry-erase boards, or overhead projectors. And there is some evidence that computers are making that transition, as some teachers look to computers for the connections to the internet and the wider world rather than as drill machines or programming boxes. But technology still exists in a social context, as historians and sociologists of technology would tell us. Those contexts vary from country to country, and the bravado of OLPC may ignore the local nature of adaptations and use.

Comparative education researchers and anthropologists would point out the long history of top-down efforts at educating children in poor and moderately-poor countries, paralleling all sorts of humanitarian efforts that ignore the realities on the ground, the local context. Read Putting People First's views on culture and technology, or listen to the lessons Randy Martin describes from his efforts at Mercy Corps USA, to get a sense of how that context can change and how important it is to consider what educators and communities in an individual country think is needed from their perspectives. Thus, Aaron Barlow's criticism of OLPC for a top-down set of decisions about what the developers thought must be needed in poor countries. Or Alexandre Enkeril's suggestion that maybe a better project would be One Cellphone Per Child.

There's another blind spot in OLPC, the assumption that there is a device that can be aimed at a hypothetical lowest-common denominator of poor countries. This has driven the creation of a fairly ingenious device that requires little power, that is sealed against the elements, and that has a bimodal display that can be used in the dark and in bright sunlight. Yet that model oversimplifies both the potential market for computing devices and also misunderstands the last 40 years of educational history worldwide. OLPC is attributing the loss of the bid for the first 150K machines in Brazil to Brazil's national protectionist policy to nurture its IT industry. That shouldn't surprise us, that countries poorer than the U.S. are nonetheless ambitious enough to want to build its own industry. The pilot program whetted the country's appetite... but not necessarily for the XO, or at least not just to provide computers to schoolchildren.

The educational system in a country is also relevant. In many of those countries with established primary education systems, the OLPC's first machine is going to look inappropriate, for multiple reasons. While I disagree in some important theoretical respects with John Meyer, Aaron Benavot, and others who have argued that we've witnessed the worldwide diffusion of a system of education, it is true that there are plenty of countries where at least primary education is well established. Those are going to be the best markets for the XO, yet they may not be satisfied with it. Apparently one of the reasons for Nigeria's selection of the Classmate PC is the ability to integrate it into the country's curriculum planning (or maybe integrate the national curriculum into content loaded onto the machines). In addition, the XO truly is a machine built for small children, hard to use in secondary schools.

And yet I was optimistic enough to pop for the give-one, get-one program, and we've had an XO in our house for two weeks. I think there is a chance for the machine (and the project) to be much more than a patronizing waste, for a few reasons. First, the three-year lead-time from Negroponte's proposal to the first machines, plus the existence of competition from both the Classmate PC and national IT industries, has allowed countries the opportunity to decide if they really want the XO, something else, or nothing in terms of computers (as India apparently has decided). Brazil popped for the 150,000-machine bid because President Lula da Silva had committed to closing the digital divide early in his term and committed his country to open-source software to reduce expenses. Countries that are choosing the XO are doing so with more information, in a competitive environment.

Second, the smaller roll-out will give the OLPC group the opportunity to do what they evidently failed to do: Work in local contexts to understand local needs. If OLPC had succeeded in gaining millions of orders by the end of 2006, the architecture would have been set in stone for all of those machines. Now, there's a chance for the OLPC staff and allies to modify, adjust, and react. And a chance for the concerns of individual communities to be heard.

Third, the smaller roll-out gives some of the technology ideas to spread to other machines. In particular, the lower-power design and the dual-display screen are significant achievements that should be licensed to commercial firms. (In some ways, OLPC could have succeeded without nearly as much acrimony if they had done as the Rocky Mountain Institute has and consulted with commercial manufacturers instead of trying to produce a machine.) If Enkerli is right and cell phones are going to be better choices, the cell phones can still use dual-display technology so they can be read in sunlight.

Finally, the OLPC idea will have social spin-offs as well as technological ones, and while I'd like to be able to look around corners on this one, I can imagine one social consequence: greater internet access for teachers, who have generally been ignored in all the OLPC hype. Even in countries with rigid curricula, giving teachers internet access will change their ability to learn as adult intellectuals. And that's a heady idea.

If Business is to Decide What Education Will Be, We Must Decide What Business Will Be

Posted, too, at Schools Matter:

The New York Times has this piece and the CBC this on the millions of disappearing birds that have been displaced and killed off by habitat destruction, pesticides, and other chemicals. Last year a big back page story was the wholesale evacuation of billions of bees from their hives, an unsettling phenomenon that still remains largely a mystery today.

The sad fact that these stories do not resonate or even register on the attention meter of most Americans is the tragic tribute to another generation mis-educated toward satisfying the most crass and debased forms of self-interest, with "self" ontologically roped off by ceaseless standardized competitions for disembodied infobits that disallow the essential development of individual human beings in ways that encourage or even allow community values, democratic values, or ecological values.

Instead, the only value that matters enough to affect what goes on in school is now "economic competitveness for the global marketplace," which serves to instigate among us a socially-atomized clawing toward the top of a treacherous pinnacle that has less and less space for more and more aspirants desperate to get there--or to hold onto their place by pushing others over the edge. Meanwhile, nearly 30 percent of Americans now live alone and never notice that the forsythia is now blooming in many places before New Year's Eve.

Can you imagine how the next generation might come to view the world if our schools injected some concern to ground the rabid consumerism, some care to temper the torpid competition, some connection to inform the caricatured capitalism?

Jane Roland Martin did not come up these three Cs, caring, concern, and connection, in order to devise a new set of courses to add to the curriculum alongside the 3 Rs. She envisioned the possibility of our existing courses developing standards that would infuse the 3 Cs into every aspect of school and every course. For instance, can you imagine that our Earth would be moving now toward the boiling point if previous generations of students had learned the science of caring for the Earth while learning the earth science? Do you think we could so blithely neglect to take note of the imminent extinction of large swaths of species if we had learned that our own lives are connected with the lives of frogs and birds and bees? Is not the continued presumed health of the global economy dependent upon our surviving its success?

These are facts of science, too, but ones that have not been included or that have been marginalized in our education that, instead, focuses our learning earth science in order to more efficiently exploit the Earth's resources for, what else, "economic competitiveness in the global marketplace"--while ignoring the underlying facts that show clearly the unsustainability of our present cultural and economic course. These are the facts we ignore, and unfortunately, the facts we ignore reveal the values we don't have or the ones we prefer to forget.

For me this year, 2008, must point to re-focusing the purpose of education toward the sustainability of life on Earth--which introduces the fourth C, Commitment. I can't think of a better beginning than this essay by Svi Shapiro, It's Time for a Progressive Vision in Education!, in Tikkun. The intro:
The primary debates are an exceptional vehicle to make, as the educational philosopher Maxine Greene put it, “the familiar strange and the strange familiar.” They are, in other words, an opportunity to pose serious questions about the conventional wisdom that guides our public policies and practices, as well as a time to suggest radically different visions for how we might do things in our society and in our world. At least as far as education goes, the candidates have failed miserably in both regards. They have neglected to ask the deep questions about what is really happening in our schools. Nor have they even begun to offer imaginative possibilities for what education might be about in these early but difficult years of the 21st century. This is both sad and troubling, not merely because of the limitations of what these individuals have had to say about this one sector of our culture, but, more importantly, because education in many ways instantiates the root metaphors that guide and structure how we think about the purposes of human life and social relationships. What we have to say about education is intimately bound up with what we say to the young about the meaning of our lives, the aspirations we value for them, and how they should understand their relationships and responsibilities towards other human beings. In this sense education is always about the qualities we favor in human beings as reasoning, moral, and spiritual beings, and about our capacity to teach these to young people. Sadly, the candidates ’ shallow banalities and overwhelmingly predictable discourse about schools has done little to point the public in new and more meaningful directions in thinking about what it means to educate the young in these turbulent times.