Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I might be biased, but...

We are doing our children and our students and ourselves a huge disservice.



Somehow, we have taught ourselves that the news should be presented without bias. Somehow, we have internalized the idea that bias in reporting is wrong. We will gleefully label the “liberal media” or the “conservative think tank” or the “corporate machine” but paradoxically demand that there must be some truly unbiased side to the story. We accept the concept that perception is reality, but yet we hold on to the belief that a “truth” remains, somewhere in the middle of all of the ideology. We insist that “objectivity” is possible.


The unfortunate result is that our media caters to our demands. Talking heads will present dangerous views of the anti-vaxxers next to the medical expertise of the entire pediatric community, as if they both deserve equal airtime. News agencies will validate the voice of the climate change deniers by allowing them talk time right along with the nearly unanimous voice of science. In our “two sides to every story” mythology, we engender the misnomer that there ARE, in fact, two—and only two—sides...


And somehow, we, as a country, have bought into the concept that the law must be objective. We insist that judges and juries and court cases can and should somehow be “unbiased.” We pretend that those interpreting  and applying the law must somehow live in a bubble, free from the influence of anything they might inadvertently see or hear or experience during their entire lifetimes.


In the classroom, somehow, we have taught our students that bias is bad. We teach them that every argument has a counterargument; we insist that they address the counterargument in their writing; we pretend that both sides of every argument should be given equal value and airtime. We demand “objectivity” in their writing and in their sources; we have taught them that what they find online must be “unbiased.”  We insist that information with bias cannot be used when they are researching. In essence, we have told them that bias is bad.


But let’s take a step back for a moment, and consider the ridiculousness of what we are teaching. As an example: if we are asking our students to research child abuse, should they search only for unbiased information? Is there a pro/con site on child abuse? Should they present the counterarguments for rebuttal? If they are to create a meaningful and well-researched piece on child abuse, should this be done without bias?


Here’s the thing: bias just IS. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just IS. And there is no way for us to be “unbiased” or for a jury to be without bias, or for a textbook or a piece of canonical literature or an informational text or a journalist’s article about an event to be written without bias. We are all biased in every single aspect of our lives. Our biases are the lenses through which we view the world. Our upbringing, our peers, our religious, social, and cultural beliefs, our race, our gender, our age, our socio-economic status, our nationalism, and the micro-aggressions we experience and we internalize...these are our lenses of bias through which we view the world. We cannot escape our biases.


But we CAN be aware of them, and we can be highly cognizant of our worldviews and of the sources we find that corroborate our worldviews. And we MUST be aware of the biases that exist in all aspects of our lives. Instead of fruitlessly searching for “unbiased information,” we must unpack the biases of the information we find, measure that information against our understanding of the world, and use that information to broaden our horizons.

We are doing our children and our students and ourselves a disservice if we continue to pretend that information without bias exists. We need to stop deceiving ourselves with the belief that every argument has a counterargument that is equally valid. We need to stop giving airtime to “the other side” so that we can feel good about our own research and journalism and present ourselves as “fair and balanced.” Our biases are what make us uniquely us; it is only in recognizing our own biases and challenging them, and simultaneously recognizing the biases in others, that we can begin to have intelligent and informed conversations about our world.



Thursday, October 29, 2015

Liar, Liar


(Reading Logs on Fire)




If I had a penny for every reading log entry I’ve lied on so far in my children’s elementary school career, I’d be able to pay for their first semester of books in college.


Okay, obviously, I exaggerate. I also do the common core math homework with my kids, so I can estimate in my head. I’d probably only be able to buy a Little Caesar’s HOT-N-READY Pizza.


But I stand by the premise of my point. I lie. On reading logs. A Lot.


And, from a recent Facebook conversation I had with friends, so does everyone else.


These friends were not education-hating non-reading conspiracy-theory moms, mind you. There were more MA’s and Ph.D.’s in that group than I could common core estimate. Most of the commenters work in education. And almost all of us lie on reading logs. All. The. Time.

Why? We are all avid readers. We all believe in the power of reading.


We’ve all seen the handouts. The charts. The memes. If our kids don’t read 20 min a day, every day, they will become education-hating non-reading conspiracy-theory adults. 

The risk is huge. We must incentivize. This reading must happen. And reading logs are an easy way to keep kids and parents on track.


Parents just need to step up and be responsible. At the end of the day, that's the message.


Disclaimer: I’m a teacher. And I don’t believe in homework. I never assign it to underclassmen on purpose. Only my AP seniors get homework, and it is always specifically designed after the college model. I have spoken with many other teachers who don’t believe in homework. But I can't get past the conversations I have had with educators I highly respect. One of them, a high school teacher who formerly taught second grade, said, “I never assigned homework in second grade. Except for 20 min a day of reading. And math facts.” The other educators in my family fundamentally believe in the importance of 20 min of reading a day...and math facts.


<Oh, the math facts. So many problems a day. Worksheet after worksheet. So many tears. So little time.>

When I’ve talked with my kids’ teachers, the reasons have been varied, but the results are the same. 

“It’s a grade-level decision.”

“It’s a district decision.”

“If kids don’t read 20 min a day, they will fall behind.” 

“It’s an incentive for non-readers, and no big deal for avid readers.”


BUT let's STOP for a moment. Let's be honest, here.


We’re ALL LYING. All of us parents. We are liars on the reading log. Maybe we just fudge the numbers. Or make up the titles. Or spread one marathon reading session over several log entries. Day after day, week after week. The reasons and methods are varied, but the results are the same. Everybody does it and everybody knows it.


My daughter reads every night in bed. I know she’s reading. Sometimes she reads for 10 minutes. Sometimes she reads for an hour. She reads books aloud to her brother and me in the car. She reads magazines in the bathtub. She reads the Comcast Ondemand screens as she searches for new Teen Titans Go! episodes. Her bedroom has one clear path from the doorway to her bed and the dresser. And it is lined with books. There are books on her bed, in her bed, under her bed, next to her bed.


But I don’t know every title of what she reads every day and how many minutes she reads each of them. Frankly, I don’t care. She reads. And so I scrawl something on the reading log every day so she doesn’t have to stay inside at recess. “It’s okay, mom, I didn’t mind losing Friday recess for not having my reading log done. I got to stay in and read,” she said.


I know that we could set up a plan, read on the commute to and from school, practice our math facts together, and be done with it all before we walk in the door. But car rides are when we get to examine the merits of Taylor Swift lyrics, discuss the implications of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and analyze the finer points of secondary Marvel characters. Car rides are also where we discuss the Pledge of Allegiance, what we should say to our friends when they insist that “Let it Go” is a terrible song, and how people can know for sure if they’re gay or straight. I gotta tell you, I’m not substituting our car conversations for homework.


My son, who has not yet received his first reading log, considers himself a non-reader. He is reading at grade level, but he is not reading-confident. Unlike his older sister, he is driven to do his homework and do it right. “Call the teacher,” he’ll sob. “There’s a word missing on the spelling list and the test is tomorrow. Call the teacher!” Maybe reading logs will be an incentive for him. I imagine it will be easy to fill out the reading logs for him when they start to arrive. Every level 1 reader we read takes at least 30 minutes to get through. We stop on every page, as he explains the plot inconsistencies and the missing information on Peter Parker’s transformation. He is frustrated that these books don’t get the stories right: "The Hulk and Iron Man were not on the same team in that story, mom. The book is wrong." When the reading logs begin to arrive, I know that if I can just remember to write down the title of the book and the number of minutes and sign in the little box, I can conquer this windmill.


But I know what will happen. I will come downstairs after tucking him in, and I’ll check Facebook and I’ll make lunches and I’ll fold laundry and I’ll do the dishes and three days later I’ll remember the reading log on the fridge, buried underneath the latest spelling test. I’ll make up book titles. I’ll randomly decide that some days we read for 30 min, and Friday night we only read for 10, because that looks more believable. I’ll sign my name and tally the numbers in my head with my common core math skills and I’ll put the log in the homework folder.


Another reading log finished and turned in. Success.




Thursday, June 18, 2015

Public Confessions


I have a confession to make.


I have been pretending to be something I am not.

I am not a Ginger.

I have been passing as a Ginger for 20 years; I have identified as a Ginger for 30 years. But I have learned over the past week that we must all confess publicly to the passing that we do. And so, here I am, a dishwater-brown-slightly-greying-haired woman, confessing that I have dyed my hair various colors of red over the past 20 years. Right now, my hair is l’Oréal Féria R57. But my roots, which I have learned must be made public at all times, are the color of "meh."

In fact, I was born blonde. Well, no, that’s not true. I was born bald. But when I was two years old, I had wispy blonde hair and green eyes. And then, when I hit puberty, my hair darkened and actually was red for a while. Or maybe there was just a lot of rust in our well during those years. In high school, I passed as having long spiraled curly hair, but I must confess now, in the spirit of public confessions, that I had a perm.

But I never felt like a blonde. I didn’t feel like a blonde when I was 6, when blonde meant Brady Bunch, and I didn’t feel like a blonde when I was 13 and my hair turned temporarily reddish. I most definitely didn’t feel like a blonde when I was 19, and blonde meant “girl next door” sorority pretty. I had very pale, freckled skin, that didn’t really tan as much as it burned; in the winter, I could get so pale I looked perpetually tired and sick; I definitely didn’t fit the definition of "blonde" in the blonde jokes. I felt like a Ginger. I identified as a Ginger. And so, I became one.

Now, I know that this was unfair of me, to take on the culture of the Ginger without having been relentlessly teased and kicked as a child. I could have lived my entire life as a "Meh"formerlyblonde, and I could have done just as much good in the world as my true self instead of pretending to be something I was not. And, once I decided to live as a Ginger, I should have revealed my true identity to everyone I met, instead of allowing them to assume that I was a real Ginger. I should have revealed my roots, instead of hiding behind the façade of Gingerhood. Although any true Ginger could take one look at me and know I’m not a real Ginger, many people have complimented my “beautiful, unique hair color” over the years; they’ve tagged me in Ginger-themed memes; they’ve asked me how many souls I’ve eaten.

If, hypothetically, there was an organization in my city that worked to advance the fair treatment of Gingers, and I applied for a job there, should I have to reveal that I am not a “real” Ginger? If I get kicked on Kick a Ginger Day, is the kicking less real because I am not a real Ginger? (Now, of course, if I kicked myself on Kick a Ginger Day but then pretended that someone else kicked me, that would be pretty sad. I should be reprimanded for falsifying said Ginger-kicking reports. I should also maybe find a therapist. But should I be dragged onto a national stage at this point?) Is the work that I’ve done for the Ginger Rights Advocacy Group any less valid because I have roots of a different color? If GRAG didn’t straight out ask me if I was a REAL Ginger, do I have a responsibility to reveal my ungingerness? If I am hired by GRAG as a Ginger, is it blonde privilege if I’ve presented as a Ginger the entire time and earned my GRAG position as a Ginger? If I am not required by law to check the “used to be a blonde girl” box, should I still check the box, just in case? Am I lying if I don’t check the box?

Which brings me to another confession that I have to make. There is another lie I’ve told by omission. To my boyfriend’s high school friends at the wedding last summer: I should have confessed while we were shaking hands that I was wearing Spanks. I am not, in fact, the slightly more toned slightly thinner person you met. My real ass jiggles all over the place when I walk. But I didn’t feel like an ass-jiggly mom-tummy woman that night; I felt like all my parts were just a bit more toned. However, it was wrong of me to allow my desire to be perceived as thin to trump my DNA. In fact, as I have recently been informed, denying my DNA and trying to be something I’m not is giving in to original sin. I was naive and vain and did not realize that my wearing of Spanks and my non-reveal of my Spanks wearing was in the original sin category; I guess I should confess to trying to present myself as someone I was not at that wedding.

Which, sadly, brings me to another confession I must make. To the lady at the golf clinic yesterday who said that she was much closer to retirement than I was, I must reveal that I am actually over the hill. I didn’t correct her belief that I was younger; it seemed a bit weird, honestly, to say that to a stranger. “No, I’m just as old as you are.” I felt like that could be taken so many different ways, and we had only just met. But I clearly should have said, on introduction, “Hi, my name is Sharon, and I am 42. I color my hair and wear sunscreen a lot.”

Which brings me full circle back to my 30-year identification as a Ginger. You see, I just feel more accepted by the Gingers; their liberal use of sunscreen makes sense to my worldview; their transparent skin in January speaks to my soul. With the Gingers, I feel like I belong, like I have a place in the world, like I can truly make a difference.

I know that many of you are arguing that race and Gingerhood are not in the same category. Believe me, I do not mean to imply that the atrocities committed towards those of various races by those in power are in anyway comparable to Ginger-kicking. And I am not implying that a person's DNA is irrelevant to their identity. But race is a social construct. It’s a made-up thing. Race is something that was created and defined by those in power so that they could separate out those whom they wanted to control. And so, arguing about a person’s race or their need to reveal their race upon entering a room is as ridiculous as arguing about whether or not Gingers really do eat people’s souls.

Our need to publicly crucify a woman because we do not agree with or understand her life choices seems cruel and inhumane. We don’t have to agree with everything that Rachel Dolezal has done in her life; luckily, that is her life and not ours. We’ve been busy making our own mistakes. (I had very short, straight, highlighted hair for about 6 unfortunate months.) If she chose not to reveal her parentage or embrace her race, what business is that of ours? If she broke the law, then the law can and should act. If she took a job that she did not rightfully earn, then she should be fired. But no matter what she has done, or not done, or revealed, or not revealed in her life, she is still a woman: a mother with two children, a sister with four siblings, a teacher, a public servant, a human being. We don’t have to choose to understand her choices, and we don't have to accept them. But we can choose to understand what it is like to want to find a place where we belong, and to want to feel confident and comfortable in our own skin. We don't have to condone her actions. But we can be kind.

We can choose how to treat people. We can choose how to conduct ourselves in this world.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go color my hair. My roots are beginning to show.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Socrates in a Snapchat World

“We model an inquiring, probing mind by continually probing into the subject with questions.” (1)

In a perfect classroom with perfect students in a perfect world with a perfect teacher, Socratic Teaching is the perfect pedagogy. Teaching critical thinking through asking guided questions moves the teacher to the facilitator chair and puts the onus of thought and inquiry on the students. The Center for Educational Leadership’s “5D+ Self-Assessment and Professional Development Plan” insists that, in order for a teacher to be “distinguished” (which aligns with “highly effective”), they must do 40+ things, including the following 8:
  • The success criteria for the learning target(s) are clear to students. The performance tasks align to the success criteria.  Students refer to success criteria and use them for improvement.
  • Teacher sets expectation and provides support for a variety of engagement strategies and structures that facilitate participation and meaning making by students. All students have the opportunity to engage in quality talk. Routines are often student-led.
  • Teacher provides scaffolds and structures that are clearly related to and support the development of the targeted concepts and/or skills.  Students use scaffolds across tasks with similar demands.
  • Teacher consistently uses strategies for the purpose of gradually releasing responsibility to students to promote learning and independence.  Students expect to be self-reliant.
  • Students consistently assess their own learning in relation to the success criteria and can determine where they are in connection to the learning target.
  • Students consistently use assessment data to assess their own learning, determine learning goals and monitor progress over time.
  • Routines for discussion and collaborative work have been explicitly taught, are evident, and result in effective discourse related to the lesson purpose. Students independently use the routines during the lesson. Students are held accountable for their work, take ownership for their learning and support the learning of others.
  • All available time is maximized in service of learning. Transitions are student-managed, efficient, and maximize instructional time. (2)

These 8 items on the rubric require the students to: lead the class, monitor themselves, assess their own progress, set their own goals, and “take ownership for their learning and support the learning of others.” And herein lies part of the problem with this specific teacher evaluation rubric; it's also part of the problem with Socratic teaching: it asks the students to do things that students (and most adults) aren’t really that interested in doing. Let’s face it: we want to find the shortest, fastest path to the correct answer, so that we can get back to our lives. LOLcats are decidedly more fun than formulating answers to guiding questions; in a Snapchat world, we want to find and send the right answer in 6 seconds or less.

My research project is fundamentally based on Socratic Teaching. Instead of giving students a checklist of criteria that their sources must pass in order to be deemed “good,” I am asking them guiding questions, and demanding that they think critically about the information and formulate their own guidelines to determine source reliability. Right now, my students are crashing and burning. They treat the Internet like a scavenger hunt: click quickly, skim for information, copy it down, move on to the next question. I am fundamentally challenging the way they do research on the Internet (and maybe even the way they do school), and they are frustrated by the lack of “answers” that they find.

A 2011 study(3) in which a Socratic lesson was re-enacted with modern students found that students “gave answers astonishingly similar to those offered by Socrates’ pupil”(4); however, more than half of the contemporary subjects failed to understand the importance of the questions themselves. This study raises questions about the Socratic method and students today. In a world that moves as quickly as ours, where the right answer is the celebrated one, and the bubble sheet is the final dictate of success, is Socratic teaching even truly possible? Can students truly learn critical thinking by being presented guided questions, and is that method truly valuable to them and to their lives?

I would answer, resoundingly... “maybe?” 


__________________________________________________________________

(1) Foundation for Critical Thinking. “Socratic Teaching,” 2013. Online. Internet. 19 Apr. 2015. . Available: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/socratic-teaching/606.

(2) “5D+ Teacher Evaluation Rubric,” n.d. Online. Internet. 19 Apr. 2015. . Available: http://info.k-12leadership.org/5d-teacher-evaluation-rubric.

(3)  Goldin, A. P., Pezzatti, L., Battro, A. M. and Sigman, M. (2011), From Ancient Greece to Modern Education: Universality and Lack of Generalization of the Socratic Dialogue. Mind, Brain, and Education, 5: 180–185. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-228X.2011.01126.x.

(4) Paul, Annie Murphy. “Why Asking Questions Might Not Be the Best Way to Teach.” Time, n.d. Online. Internet. 19 Apr. 2015. . Available: http://ideas.time.com/2011/12/14/why-asking-questions-might-not-be-the-best-way-to-teach/

“research cat says Wikipedia not acceptable source - Cheezburger,” n.d. Online. Internet. 19 Apr. 2015. . Available: http://cheezburger.com/1959160576.
 

Enmeshed in a World Wide Web of Frightening Metaphors

“Can you trust everything you read on the Internet? Can you trust anything you read on the Internet? Teach your kids which Web sites to trust!”(1)
 The sub-headline on Education World’s lesson plan page for teaching web literacy shouts at us with bold and italics. The subtext is clear: the Internet is a place you cannot trust. Education World goes on to list the possible authors of web pages, including “any ignoramus -- or satirist or bigot or fool with an ax to grind” and presents the scary question: “how do kids distinguish between The WhiteHouse.org (a site you definitely don't want to show your students) and The WhiteHouse.gov?” [For those not in the know, WhiteHouse.org is a political satire site, mostly mocking George W. Bush and many policies from his tenure as president, but has also had adult humor and adult content links from time to time; it includes the hilarious and inappropriate “White House for Kids” page of links on fun tobacco safety, how to deal with stupid policemen, and abstinence (how to keep it in your pants). This site is not to be confused with WhiteHouse.com, which was a porn site for years, before it turned into a list of dating site links and now seems to be mostly defunct.]
This positioning of the Internet as a place full of ax-grinding predators lying in wait to trap children into smoking cigarettes and running from the police is not limited only to poorly constructed arguments complete with bandwagoning and a lack of concrete evidence by sites such as Education World, who claims “The words you are reading now have been read -- and reread -- by several experienced editors and educators. They are words you can trust -- posted at a site you can trust”; this us-versus-the-monster language is a consistent feature of the media literacy discussion.


 The European Association for Viewers Interests (EAVI) video series (2) on media literacy for children (written by Paolo Celot and Susie Jones) features Jack, a small boy in a rowboat navigating an ocean. On his journey through the waters of the Internet, Jack sees a submarine spying on him, sharks circling his rowboat, an armada of pirates meant to represent advertising, and a single octopus’ tentacle that suddenly rears up out of the water, towering over Jack, meant to represent false advertising and the hidden danger trying to pull Jack under or capsize his rowboat at any time. Lurking under the surface of the water, there is a submarine with a bomb, more sharks, and some sort of big-toothed piranha-like fish, representing google searches. The narrator of the video points out that Jack must be “armed with critical thought,” a metaphor that escalates the dangers lying in wait to attack Jack to that of a war, in which he needs weapons. In episode 2 of the video series, Jack lands on an island, and promptly “gives away his power” and “allows the media to distract him”; the viewer watches a scary cartoon of Jack in his boat getting dragged all over the place in the ocean by a submerged arm. Lux, the aptly named guide for Jack, appears and tells Jack he must “nurture the seed of awareness in [his] belly” so that it can grow into an awareness tree. Jack then climbs his tree of awareness and texts his friends, sadly circling the base of the tree down in the darkness of the forest, so that they can ask themselves “What am I doing? Where am I going?” and find their own awareness tree to climb and giant bird to ride through the sunny air of the Internet.

The metaphorical world of the media that Andrea Quijada constructs (3) is no more mature and no less frightening than the world of ignoramuses, satirists, bigots, and fools with axes to grind, or the world full of circling sharks, tentacles, submarines, and pirates, all wanting to ambush or capsize Jack in his rowboat. Quijada’s world presents an Internet full of subtext and untold stories; her media literacy students are on a quest to deconstruct the media; they need magical “accessories” in their toolbelts. She likens the media-literate student to Wonder Woman with a “golden lasso”; her students, when finished with the media literacy unit she teaches, have “gained a superpower.” Her prevalent example of media manipulation and the deconstruction of the message is an ad by a credit card company that her winning student deconstructed and reconstructed, to show the “corporate manipulation and slavery” that the subtext of the ad was selling.

These scary metaphors are doing more harm than good. Media literacy skills are critical, and teaching students (and ourselves) to be critical thinkers is incredibly important...but not because the sharks are grinding their axes and we can only survive by using our golden lasso to avoid smoking the abstinence cigarettes of corporate manipulation and slavery. We should teach students to use critical thinking because that’s what educated people do. If we approach the Internet tentatively out of fear, waiting to see what lurks around the corner to pounce, we risk missing the chance to be on a level playing field, participating as savvy consumers, creative inventors, and eager explorers.

If there is a war to be fought, it should be with our own fear; our students should be armed against ignorance, assumptions, and malevolence in all aspects of their world...and mind. 


 _____________________________________________________________________
(1) Education World. “*I Read It on the Internet: Teaching About Web Literacy,” 13 Jan. 2015. Online. Internet. 22 Mar. 2015. . Available: http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/lesson230.shtml.

(2)  Media Literacy Concepts and Metaphors: Critical Thinking, 2013. Online. Internet. 19 Apr. 2015. . Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYKnfuFZ1pA&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

(3) Creating critical thinkers through media literacy: Andrea Quijada at TEDxABQED, 2013. Online. Internet. 19 Apr. 2015. . Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHAApvHZ6XE&feature=youtube_gdata_player.
 
 All images licensed through Creative Commons for public use. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Teacher in a Strange Land

In “Teaching the Digital Native: Learning With Computers and the Internet Poses New Challenges,” Fawn Johnson, reporter for NationalJournal.com, writes about the changing landscape in the education industry, and the need for schools, teachers, and infrastructure to evolve with the times. Although she attempts to write from a pro-education standpoint, her premise is clear: the computer programs are good, and the way teachers have been teaching and schools have been running is bad.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

The picture above, included with the article, is captioned: “Digital classrooms are the wave of the future.” Notice the very homogenous classroom with their matching brown shirts. Is this how our students look? Is this the student body of the future? Who is the audience for this article, if their vision of the classroom is white kids in matching T-shirts? 

 It is important to note that National Journal, according to Wikipedia, receives “substantial financial support from the Gates Foundation ($240,000+) to provide coverage of education-related issues that are of interest to the Gates Foundation.” That may help to explain Johnson’s stance, and even her audience. She is not talking to educators or parents; she is preaching to the corporate company choir.

Johnson cites two recent “experiments” in which a school district implemented new technology. The first experiment, one she labels a success, was Kramer Middle School in Washington D.C. The principal, Kwame Simmons, installed state-of-the-art infrastructure into his newly remodeled building, instituted blended learning (half of the students’ time is spent on laptops, and the other half is teacher-led), and replaced “most of the teaching staff so he could hire technically savvy faculty.”

The second experiment, nationally deemed a failure, was the Los Angeles school district’s disastrous $1Billion iPad purchase without the necessary “comprehensive implementation plan.” According to Johnson, “schools paid full price for online curriculum that wasn't finished, students complained that they couldn't read on the iPad screen, while others figured out how to bypass the Internet controls and surf the Web for anything. The school district suspended the program."

Looking at the Kramer Middle School experiment, a school that “replaced” (a very pretty way to describe a systematically firing of the staff and a hiring of a brand new staff) most of their staff to hire “tech savvy faculty” (note that she didn’t say teachers), it is easy to take her word on this success story. And yet, Johnson doesn’t link to any articles throughout the Kramer paragraphs, although she links to articles everywhere else. In my own research, I have found that, although Simmons’ picture and profile are listed on the Kramer Middle School website, Delia Davis-Dykes is listed as interim principal at the District of Columbia Public Schools’ website. The Kramer Middle School Facebook page has not been updated since 2011; KMS is rated 2/10 on greatschools.org, 12th out of 13 ranked schools on schooldigger.com, and is a Priority school based on 2013-2014 data. It is extremely odd that Johnson, in her article published September 15, 2014 deems Kramer Middle School as a success and Simmons as a visionary.

Putting aside the questionable journalism of this article, it does speak to the bizarre time we, as teachers, are currently in. The “digital native” language in and of itself is troublesome, as it is imbedded with so much emotional and social weight (and is no longer politically correct). But the concept that the teachers in the “successful” district had to be replaced in order to present this technology-rich success story is also disconcerting.  According to Johnson, “Only 8 percent of teachers say they feel proficient with technology, according to White House data,” although she does not link to this study or cite a source for this statistic.

Johnson fawns about a forum held by The Atlantic in 2014 that “featured some of the most prominent innovators in education technology, the people who design individualized learning platforms and free online courses and ways to take and share notes on online content. It's wonderful stuff as long as there are people and resources to make it work like it's supposed to,” she concludes. You will notice that she talks about “it” working. And the people and resources that need to be there in order for “it” to work. What is “it”? Well, I can tell you what it is not. It is not nurturing. It is not student-centric. It is not building relationships with students. It is not making personal connections with students’ lives and helping them see how to not only survive in this world, but to thrive, and maybe even to make it better. It is not a human connection. It is a computer program, built with algorithms, sold to districts, who then need to replace their content-expert and student-expert teachers with technology experts.

The statistic that “only 8 percent of teachers say they feel proficient with technology” tells us something very truthful about teachers, but it’s not what Johnson thinks. Her premise is that, if teachers say they aren’t proficient, then they must not be; therefore, they should be replaced with faculty who are proficient in technology. Whether or not this statistic is real (and there is no evidence in this article that the statistic IS real), teachers do say they don’t feel proficient. Why? Because teachers believe that they have to be experts in their field. In order to be an English teacher, I have to be an expert in English language and literature. Teachers are highly trained and highly proficient in their content area, and their content area is not technology, unless they happen to be a technology teacher.

But do teachers have to be experts in technology in order to remain relevant in teaching? In “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher” Michael Godsey, longtime English educator, mourns that teachers won’t be relevant for much longer. He voices his fears that teachers are no longer allowed to be the experts in their subject area; instead, teachers have to be “expert facilitators.” They have to be able to manage multi-modal and blended-learning educational programming: in essence, pre-packed, canned curriculum. They are no longer teaching, but rather “facilitating,” while the computer programs do the teaching.

This goes against everything teachers have been trained to do...and against the driving philosophies that teachers idealistically believe in, when they go into education. They want to work with kids: to inspire, to challenge, to help, to teach. They don’t go into teaching to manage computer programs and hardware. Teachers do not deem themselves “proficient in technology” because, to be proficient, in educational terms, is to be at mastery. By very definition in the classroom,  a proficient teacher is a very good one. And we are charged to raise all of our students to proficiency in our content area. That means that all of our students are “at mastery” of the content. And teachers do not feel like they are “at mastery” in technology.

What teachers are proficient in, is teaching the individual human students in their classroom, with all of the baggage and hopes and struggles and dreams that students bring. And this is something that no computer algorithm can do, no matter how many “success stories” are written by the corporate mouthpieces.





"...she's all the unsung heroes who couldn't make it but never quit." 

________________________________________________________________________________

“Auguste Rodin, ‘The Fallen Caryatid Carrying her Stone’ c.1880–1, cast 1950.” Tate, n.d. Online. Internet. 30 Mar. 2015. . Available: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/rodin-the-fallen-caryatid-carrying-her-stone-n05955.

Heinlein, Robert A. Stranger in a Strange Land. Penguin, 1987.