A Teacher's Writes

One teacher's thoughts on life, literature, and learning

Something we do well: Conditioning students for surveillance

When we develop and use educational technologies that monitor a student’s every moment in school and online, we groom that student for a lifetime of surveillance from the NSA, from data brokers, from advertisers, marketers, and even CCTV cameras. By watching every move that students make while learning, we model to students that we do not trust them– that ultimately, their every move will be under scrutiny from others. When students recognize that they are being watched, they begin to act differently– and from that very moment they begin to cede one small bit of freedom at a time….

By developing technologies that collect, track, record, analyze every move a student makes both online and off, technologists and investors and educators are ensuring that today’s students will have less privacy than any other generation that came before them, threatening to make privacy and anonymity unattainable for future generations.

Reblogged from Alan Jacobs. Post originates here.

Ta-Nehisi Coates describes how painful it is to learn

The hardest thing about learning any new skill is that beginning portion when you are forced to walk in the dark, with no map at all. It’s not just what you don’t know, it’s that you have no idea what you don’t know and when you’ll stop not knowing it. Fear then takes over. Will I ever read Rousseau? Why can’t I get that “r” right? When I will I stop embarrassing myself every time I speak? Why do I keep confusing “son” and “ton?” What is wrong with me? Do I have a brain injury? The questions—the darkness—dogs us. And so we quit. It’s hard to sit in ignorance—mostly because there are no real signs of when that ignorance will end.

I am privileged, in that I was born into a culture where no one had the right to be the best at anything. You had better dance at that party. No one cares that you can’t cabbage patch. And you had better play basketball on that crate—even if you can only rebound and play D. I’ve sucked at a lot of things in my life. I’ve also gotten better at them. At 15, I was an awful djembe drummer. By 17,  I could both play the djembe, shave a goat-skin, attach it to the head and string the drum. I was a bad poet. I became a better one. I was a bad reporter. I became a decent one. I knew very little about the Civil War. And then I read some books, and I knew much more. It’s true that I was not a scholastic high-achiever. But have always been—and expect to always be—a hard student. School never ends for the hard student. She is primarily concerned with her curiosities, not the benchmarks of others.

My expectations for French are derived from my experience. I expect to suck for awhile. Then I expect to slowly get better. The point is neither mastery, nor fluency. The point is hard study—the repeated application of a principle until the eyes and ears bleed a little. And then all of that again. In my time as a hard student, I have found that it is much better to focus on process, than outcomes. The question isn’t “When will I master the subjunctive?” It’s “Did I put in my hour of study today?”

Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic.

College Course Evaluations as a Useless Measure

Michele Pellizzari, an economics professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, has a more serious claim: that course evaluations may in fact measure, and thus motivate, the opposite of good teaching.

His experiment took place with students at the Bocconi University Department of Economics in Milan, Italy. There, students are given a cognitive test on entry, which establishes their basic aptitude, and they are randomly assigned to professors.

The paper compared the student evaluations of a particular professor to another measure of teacher quality: how those students performed in a subsequent course. In other words, if I have Dr. Muccio in Microeconomics I, what’s my grade next year in Macroeconomics II?

Here’s what he found. The better the professors were, as measured by their students’ grades in later classes, the lower their ratings from students.

“If you make your students do well in their academic career, you get worse evaluations from your students,” Pellizzari said. Students, by and large, don’t enjoy learning from a taskmaster, even if it does them some good.

There’s an intriguing exception to the pattern: Classes full of highly skilled students do give highly skilled teachers high marks. Perhaps the smartest kids do see the benefit of being pushed.

from NPR. When I get discouraged about how K-12 schools evaluate teachers I need only consider how universities do it. I magically feel better.

Seth Godin’s Power Point Rules

Here are the five rules you need to remember to create amazing PowerPoint presentations:

  1. No more than six words on a slide. EVER.
  2. No cheesy images. Use professional images from corbis.com instead. They cost $3 each, or a little more if they’re for ‘professional use’.
  3. No dissolves, spins or other transitions. None.
  4. Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never (ever) use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have.
  5. Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They’re emotional, and they won’t work without you there. If someone wants your slides to show “the boss,” tell them that the slides go if you go.

from Seth Godin’s “Really Bad Power Point (and how to avoid it).” I think you can find good imagery without spending money, but you have to know how and where to look. If you don’t know what it looks like when you find it, you shouldn’t be creating these kinds of visual aids. I’ve also never been in a situation where a sound effect would have been helpful. But, oh, my, do I wish more people would understand the power of number 1.

Alan Noble sees The Road as validating faith in the transcendent

It’s difficult to express how remarkable this novel is. Modern readers expect a hopeless ending, an ironic ending, an ambiguous ending, or at best an ending that praises the human will to persevere in the face of a godless and hostile world, but McCarthy very intentionally validates the faith of his protagonist, a faith that is absurd from a secular perspective (for a lengthy treatment of this absurdity, see here).

One of the points made by Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor in his great work, A Secular Age, is that while religion remains popular, our society no longer assumes as a basic fact that the supernatural or transcendent is a reality which can affect us. Whether it is miracles in the Bible or God’s preserving common grace today, most modern people find it difficult to conceive of the supernatural. Ours is a largely disenchanted world, one in which we look inward for our hope and significance and direction, rather than outward toward a transcendent reality. And yet here is Cormac McCarthy, perhaps the foremost living American novelist, telling a story that acknowledges the weightiness of the secular vision (in the voice of the mother) and then denies that vision by validating a faith in the transcendent.

Alan Noble, describing a book he thinks every Christian should consider reading

Active scholars are better teachers

Economists have discovered that teachers with high SAT scores or perfect college GPAs are generally no better for their students than teachers with less impressive credentials. But teachers with large vocabularies are better at their jobs because this trait is associated with being intelligent, well-read and curious.

In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois, who once taught in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Tennessee, wrote that teachers must “be broad-minded, cultured men and women” able to “scatter civilization” among the next generation. The best teachers often love to travel, have fascinating hobbies or speak passionately about their favorite philosopher or poet.

From the Wall Street Journal

Thabiti Anyabwile appeals to evangelicals to call what happened to Michael Brown wrong

Orthodox evangelicalism is dead to the marginalized because it’s so allergic to the margins. It wants its mainstream, its tree-lined streets of cultural acceptance, its reserve and respectability. So it’s dead.

To be clear, evangelicalism’s quietude is not a case of not knowing what to say, how to say it, or being too distant from the problem. It’s not merely a case of leaders and people staring into an isolated incident and needing to collect data before they act. It’s not a case of not having media outlets and channels of its own. No. In incident after incident—proving a pattern, a systemic problem that requires eyes-and-mouth-wide-open denouncement—the church has turned her head, closed her eyes, and pressed tight her lips. The problem dominates local and national news. But evangelicalism changes the channel and carries on with regularly scheduled programming. Even if the revolution is televised, evangelicalism ain’t even willing to watch much less join.

And this call isn’t an attempt to guilt people who have nothing to do with some far off situation. No. This post is a recognition that evangelicalism is useless in its own back yard, with its own neighbors, while it changes its twitter avatars to identify with persecuted Christians half a world away. Evangelicalism should show outward solidarity with persecuted Christians. But it should also be the good Samaritan religion, a religion of justified people who demonstrate their justification in practical acts of compassion for its beaten, robbed and left-for-dead ethnic-other neighbors. Do we see that from national evangelical ministries and leaders? No, we don’t. Ours appears to be the religion of the Pharisee who asks, “Who then is my neighbor?” . . .

We pretend the world is large when the suffering of “others” is in view, but it’s small when it comes to the promotion of our ministries, the establishment of multi-sites, or the size of our conferences. We board planes, as I’m about to do Saturday, and cross oceans to preach in distant lands. Proximity isn’t a problem when it’s time to preach; why is it a problem when it’s time to protest?

from Thabiti Anyabwile’s post, ‘Is It “Goodbye Evangelicalism” or “We Evangelicals Join You in Your Suffering”?’

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