Sam Harrelson

The dangers of thinking “They’ll get it because they’re young”

So very true despite the stereotypes (spoken as a former college / high school / middle school teacher turned tech consultant). Parents have a big burden to bear in helping their young and old children make wise decisions about how and why to use the web. Just assuming “they’ll get it because they’re young” is very dangerous.

What is surprising about this data is that while education is a factor in online security literacy, age is less so. Users aged 65 and older were seemingly just as knowledgeable as users in the age range of 18-29; while online literacy bias in general is weighted toward younger users, the Pew survey suggests that overall there is a shared standard of what we know and what we don’t know.

Source: Why did we give our data to Facebook in the first place? – Scientific American Blog Network



Link: How David Bowie helped my autistic son become himself.

I’ll freely admit that I didn’t make it through this without some tears…

I don’t think it’s saying too much to suggest that Bowie helped Benj discover his humanity. Like all of us, the parents, the therapists, and teachers, he was drawing the child’s spirit out into the light of relations that could sustain it. But the opposite is true too. Bowie the wild man, the extravaganza, the extraterrestrial—he was, as he always knew, in desperate need of being humanized, of being understood as merely, fully, human. Everything he did was about its being all right to be yourself—that’s what Benj heard and, in the mirror he held to himself, allowed Bowie again to be.

Source: How David Bowie helped my autistic son become himself.



Less School

This is going to put me at odds with many of my more liberal friends, but I do see the justification for the argument here as well as “The Case Against Education.” Education is big business and we’re not educating our children (or adults) in the US in a way that best suits their future or the future of our republican democracy.

So what is really going on? Caplan offers plausible evidence that school functions to let students show employers that they are smart, conscientious, and conformist. And surely this is in fact a big part of what is going on. I’ve blogged before one, and in our book we discuss, some other functions that schools may have served in history, including daycare, networking, consumption, state propaganda, domesticating students into modern workplace habits.

Source: Overcoming Bias : Read The Case Against Education



Learning to Summize?

 

Take a picture of a textbook page and instantly get summaries, analyses, videos, flashcards and annotations.

Source: Summize

I’ve been playing with this new app this morning. It’s … interesting and has caused me to stop and think.

And to think… I had months (if not years) of instruction time at elementary, middle, high school, and college levels training me to summarize, analyze, annotate and make flashcards.

Remember SQ3R? I certainly do.

We had entire classes and tests on “study skills.” Barf. If anything, SQ3R etc made me detest reading textbooks at an early age even more than I already did (which is why I rarely if ever used them as a middle school teacher). Granted, reading and processing a college textbook is much different than reading for pleasure (which is probably one of the reasons why I became a Religion major and find escape from textbooks).

Here’s an example of Summize’s “Bias Analysis” from a page I randomly took from The Practice of Adaptive Leadership:

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It doesn’t get all the words right, but come on… that’s pretty interesting when you consider anyone can do that from their iPhone. This is from the “Concept Analysis” feature, which basically gives you the rundown of a page’s main concepts for review:

2016-05-18 09.56.20

There’s also an automatic flashcard builder or you can snap your own essays and do quick grammar checks. You see where I’m going.

We thought desktops would revolutionize the classroom when I was a kid in the 80’s. Then it was CD-ROMs and laptops in the 90’s. Then it was personal digital assistants in the 00’s. Now we realize that the mobile revolution is the real instigator for substantive technological impact in education.

Mobile is just the beginning as we venture into an augmented / virtual reality world where information will, literally, be on our retinas in the blink of an eye (no fingertips needed this time).

It pains me to consider that concepts and skills such as spelling, punctuation, state capitols, multiplication tables, cursive writing (well, not really that one), lines of Shakespeare etc may not be required to be stored in our brains in the near future … if now. Or perhaps even the larger concepts of knowing how to look at a page of a textbook, get out your various colored highlighters, and go to work summarizing and finding the “main ideas” aren’t requirements for “successful” reading and processing.

Sure, they’re good things to know… but so were knowing star charts, how to hunt skin squirrels, and morse code at one time (not that all three aren’t still very valuable in certain circumstances).

Does this make post-millennials (or whatever we are going to call them) any more “lazy” than the Baby Boomers? I don’t think so. I know plenty of Baby Boomers who decry having to carry a mobile phone yet learn to love FaceTiming their family after a few weeks of doing so.

The older I get, the more I realize that conceptions of required understandings, skills, concepts etc are all in constant flux. Perhaps we benefited someway in the 20th century U.S. by having a rather sturdy monoculture that gave us a clear “common core” roadmap of things that every person of good standing should know and know how to do.

But I’ll take this evolving 21st century realization that normative culture isn’t the best path for the education of our children. Perhaps technological tools can help us rise above the barriers that very real socio-economic barriers of schools and home circumstances that previously segmented our society from the outset and didn’t give many kids the opportunity to “be all that they can be.”

By the way, the Founder of Summize is 18.



“Random” prime numbers and human projections

“So just what has got mathematicians spooked? Apart from 2 and 5, all prime numbers end in 1, 3, 7 or 9 – they have to, else they would be divisible by 2 or 5 – and each of the four endings is equally likely. But while searching through the primes, the pair noticed that primes ending in 1 were less likely to be followed by another prime ending in 1. That shouldn’t happen if the primes were truly random –  consecutive primes shouldn’t care about their neighbour’s digits.”

Source: Mathematicians shocked to find pattern in “random” prime numbers | New Scientist

Math, philosophically, is spooky.

Does it “really” exist in the cosmos or is it (like most things we consider to be intrinsic to the universe) a human projection based on our finite nature?



The “Mystery” of Good Schools

“The authors of these two books demonstrate that grand ideas cannot be imposed on people without their assent. Money and power are not sufficient to improve schools. Genuine improvement happens when students, teachers, principals, parents, and the local community collaborate for the benefit of the children. But a further lesson matters even more: improving education is not sufficient to “save” all children from lives of poverty and violence. As a society, we should be ashamed that so many children are immersed in poverty and violence every day of their lives.”

Source: Solving the Mystery of the Schools by Diane Ravitch



The Loss of Solitary Exploration

“This experimental feature helps voters make more informed choices, and levels the playing field for candidates to share ideas and positions on issues they may not have had a chance to address during the debate. By publishing long-form text, photos and videos throughout the debate, campaigns can now give extended responses, answer questions they didn’t get a chance to on stage, and rebut their opponents. As soon as the first debate begins at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, search “Fox News debate” to find campaign responses.”

Source: Official Google Blog: New ways to stay informed about presidential politics

Wait, you mean the debates are scripted?

But seriously, this is interesting… as I’ve been watching the X Files revival this week (also on Fox™), I’ve been thinking more intentionally about the how’s and why’s we consume media in 2016 compared to, say, twenty years ago in 1996 when I was a nerdy teenager madly in love with the show. The X Files were something that I watched, recorded, and watched again most every week in order to parse out a new piece of the show’s ongoing mythology. It was a solitary, but incredibly beneficial, experience. I did the same with Beatles lyrics and Herman Hesse novels around the same time.

However, with this new iteration of the X Files, I’ve noticed that I’m watching my iPad as much as I’m watching the show. The #xfiles stream on Twitter has been an integral part of my viewing of the show. I only realized how much last night as I was watching the stream and realized that I had missed a key plot point that was subtle (I probably would’ve missed it if I had been watching the show intently rather than partitioning my attention, but still…) but was important. A tweet clued me in and I immediately “got it.” Would I have had that experience had I not been following the conversation on Twitter? Maybe. Hopefully in a second or third viewing I would. But I find myself not watching or reading things a second or third time these days because OMG JESSICA JONES is on Netflix and I have to catch up before diving into Making a Murderer before the next season of House of Cards!

Following the X Files last night was the last Democratic Presidential Debate before the Iowa Caucus next week. Again, I spent as much (if not more) time arguing with my friend Thomas Whitley about the merits of Bernie Sanders on Twitter as I did actually watching the debate. I’ve been watching presidential debates since … well, about 1996 when Clinton was at his high point and masterfully debated against a credible threat from Bob Dole. Throughout college and graduate school, I loved watching debates and can remember highlights from ’00 and ’04 as if they were fresh memories. Will I remember the ’16 debates (as remarkable as they are given the current political climate) as fondly or well? I’m not sure. I certainly don’t remember much about the ’12 debates when I was also using Twitter as a side show to further my “engagement with the conversation,” but there are also the variables of age and my diminished attention span to consider.

Perhaps that’s the fulcrum of whatever point I’m trying to make… as we grow older (I’m 37 now), do we intentionally seek out these side reels in order to persuade our minds that things like the X Files or a sporting event or a presidential debate are *really* important? Or do we seek these out as ways to validate our own confirmation bias about a particular football team or candidate (or mythology)?

I’ve noticed that when I read books on my Kindle, I frequently come across highlights that other Kindle users have made. It’s a neat feature for readers, as you get clued into what other readers have considered important or highlight-worthy in the same book you’re reading. It’s a feature that can be turned off, but I haven’t done that yet. I wonder what 17 year old Sam in 1996 would have said or thought of that feature when I was pouring through Siddhartha for the 3rd time? Would I have even made it through that many readings, since I would have had the highlights from other readers?

When I was a middle school teacher (I use that past tense slightly as I’m not sure one can ever divorce oneself from such an absurd calling / profession), I was always an enthusiastic promoter of the “back channel” in the classroom. The back channel, to me, was a space for students to openly raise questions and explore avenues during the course of a class experience. I experimented with various ways to bring about a healthy back channel, but I’m not sure if I ever did (I saw good benefits, but there was no way to quantifiably measure those outside of summative assessments which I also didn’t particularly enjoy). I wonder if I would encourage that back channel presence now, being a little older and with the benefit of hindsight? Did it detract from the class experience in the same way that my watching both the X Files on TV and #xfiles on a screen detracts from my solitary exploration of thoughts and ideas? Or were there tangible benefits in the same way that I realized a plot point I would have probably missed last night?

I miss the days of having to watch a well worn VHS tape recording of a Star Trek TNG episode or The Empire Strikes Back or a Presidential Debate in order to make sure I didn’t miss anything, rather than just googling “last night’s X Files” to find the right subreddit to lose a few hours in. That’s unfair nostalgia (I’m getting old, remember). These tools, these social spaces, we’ve created are doing amazing things for our culture and society. I appreciate how Twitter and Reddit enrich my life.

But sometimes, I want to read Siddhartha again because as a pernicious 17 year old I hated the very idea and existence of Cliff Notes. Now, I can’t seem to experience anything without a cliff note version via 140 characters or a Virgil in the form of a polished Redditor.



Lower Salary Potential

I’ll take my Religion major any day…

USC considers charging different tuition for some majors | The State: “‘Look at what it costs to deliver an engineering degree than it does to deliver a philosophy degree,’ USC President Harris Pastides told trustees Tuesday. ‘Yet these two students pay the same amount of tuition.’

After the board meeting, Pastides said he could see lowering the price tag on humanities majors, such as history, which have lowers salary potential.”

Our university system is a broken diploma / tuition factory that is breaking the backs of our young people who think they have to have a degree in order to have a “good job.”

Our democracy will suffer.



S.C. teen assaulted by deputy is a recent orphan

“Our kids, who already face enormous pressure in life, should never be subjected to state-sponsored violence while in school. For this young girl, Spring Valley High School should’ve been a refuge.”

Source: KING: S.C. teen assaulted by deputy is a recent orphan – NY Daily News



“Turn off that phone and do some real work.”

“In our constantly developing world, we have to learn to adapt to change. The fact that we are so dependent on the internet is scary. But the fact that you, as an adult, are struggling to keep up with us and the internet, does not give you the right to say that the way we are learning and growing up and socialising is wrong and we need to go back to how you used to write letters to your friends or call them using the home telephone. Neither way of living and socialising is better, just very different, which I think is the main cause of the older generation not tolerating the use of our phones.”

Source: Dear old people: why should I turn off my phone?

Anecdotally, I’ve always found that it’s the people / teachers / ministers etc who complain the most about “young kids always being on their phones” that leave their phones’ ringers on (at full volume) and have no problem answering a call (after a few rings, of course) and having a very loud conversation despite the context or their situation.