The University of North Carolina is hosting a professor from the University of Illinois who maintains that what “minority” students need if they’re going to understand math is for it to be presented as a “social construct.” This makes me think of the famous hoax by Alan Sokol — a published paper contending that gravity was a “social construct.” I don’t think this is a hoax, though.
NAS published articles on both sides of the debate over the future of reading. One held up the merits of traditional books and asserted that we have much to lose as human beings if we abandon the printed word, and the other defended the Kindle as a helpful option for the modern reader. "Inflammatory Books on Kindle? Reigniting the Written Word,” by David Clemens, argues that, "When the book becomes disembodied, so does the reader." Jason Fertig counters in "A Kindled Spirit" that "there is no need to fear the Kindle and its electronic cousins, for they are on our side [the side in favor of reading books]." We hope to have more pro/con pairs like this in the future.
As the creator of SimCity, The Sims, SimEarth, The Sims online, and Spore, Will Wright is a computer gaming “god.” In his GameTech 2010 keynote address, Wright offers provocative observations about games and education. He argues that learning begins with collecting data, then studying the data for patterns, using discerned patterns to develop schemas (abstractions) which allow us to create mental models, and finally base our behavior on those models that we hope will be predictive. So gamers learn to master a game which unfolds in “nested feedback loops” of increasing duration. Gamers succeed by learning what works only through suffering serial failure, the same way an apprentice learns from failing at what the journeyman does well. But classroom education, Wright says, causes students to avoid failure by teaching them as many rules as possible. Theory, too, he says, insulates you from failure. Worse, theory often results in schemas that are not derived from the experiential world (which explains why businessmen run countries better than professors). From online play data, Wright discovered that The Sims players actually enjoy exploring failure states because by hitting walls and discovering limits, they can build a model of the game’s “possibility space.” Life, Wright warns us, allows limited opportunities to build reality-based behavioral models, but we can take advantage of two “educational technologies” to increase our store of experience: toys (play) and stories (the experience of others). He calls his games “toys” because they don’t involve winning and losing; Spore, for example, teaches basic biological principles through play. One can't help wondering if Basic Skills education might be redesigned so as to produce learning through play, failure, and nested feedback cycles.
According to this survey from the National Association of College Stores, students prefer traditional print textbooks by a significant majority, and would not buy digitalized versions even if they were readily available and inexpensive. I'm not sure exactly what this signifies in the larger scheme of things, since students increasingly are deficient in reading proficiency irrespective of the particular medium involved. I can't help gloating just a bit though, since I've been so regularly assured that "technology" is the unstoppable wave of the future, and that I'd better get used to the fact that traditional textbooks are already obsolete. Full disclosure: I'm a skeptic about "technology." I haven't rejected the use of my computer, but I think enthusiasm tends to run way ahead of evidence where things such as online courses are concerned. I don't doubt that many in higher education, especially administrators fervently wish for that eventuality, and maybe it will come to pass. For me, however, that's a separate question from whether it will be able to deliver pedagogical dividends. Now if I see evidence that students begin to take to digitalized texts and their reading habits are likely to improve, I won't stand athwart the March of Progress. But for the moment, they're not interested in buying, much less reading the new gadgets.
So brain-dead is much of contemporary education that, at first blush, one might be tempted at least to give the benefit of the doubt to a "Brain Education" program in which thousands of New York City public-school students and teachers are participating. Except that this program, which so far has caused the state's taxpayers $400,000, is now alleged to have ties to a cult. Numerous former employees of an organization called Dahn Yoga -- whose founder developed the teachings for Brain Education -- allege the program is controlled by a group that is part of a huge web of interrelated companies that, in the Post's words, "reels people in with lovey-dovey, group-building activities before steadily ratcheting up the pressure" and cons "participants into investing all their time and money in unproven health and healing activities." Moreover, these employees charge that Dahn Yoga's "activities are abusive and grow increasingly devotional over time to the group's founder and spiritual leader, 57-year-old Seung Huen 'Ilchi' Lee." (On the abuse front, note that Dahn Yoga has been sued by the family of Julia Siverls -- a healthy, 41-year-old CUNY professor who died during an endurance hike sponsored by the group. Her family alleged that Siverls had been drugged and made to hike in desert heat with 40 pounds of rocks in her backpack and with little water. Another former Dahn employee who alleged that she was sexually assaulted by Lee settled her case against him.) But how to illustrate Brain Education at work on the ground in New York? At a Bronx elementary school, for example, students were instructed to say, "I love your Power Brain face," to one another and to rap songs with lyrics like "I love my thalamus." You get the picture. More mad pedagogies and pedagogical scams. And more mad neglect of students who desperately need to learn to read and write, among other tried and true paths to real cerebral empowerment.