30 April, 2010

Argh, some things are new. Lets all panic!

If I may quote the principal of this? school...
(emphasis is mine)
...It is time for every single member of the BF Community to take a stand!
There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! Let me repeat that - there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None...

Most students are part of more than one social networking site.
Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today!

Let them know that you will at some point every week be checking their text messages online! You have the ability to do this through your cell phone provider.

Let them know that you will be installing Parental Control Software so you can tell every place they have visited online, and everything they have instant messaged or written to a friend. Don't install it behind their back, but install it!

Over 90% of all homework does not require the internet, or even a computer. Do not allow them to have a computer in their room, there is no need...
Have a central "docking station" preferably in your bedroom, where all electronics in the home get charged each night, especially anything with a cell or wifi capability (Remember when you were in high school and you would sneak the phone into your bedroom at midnight to talk to you girlfriend or boyfriend all night - now imagine what they can do with the technology in their rooms).

If your son or daughter is attacked through one of these sites or through texting - immediately go to the police! Insist that they investigate every situation. Also, contact the site and report the attack to the site - they have an obligation to suspend accounts or they are liable for what is written...

The threat to your son or daughter from online adult predators is insignificant compared to the damage that children at this age constantly and repeatedly do to one another through social networking sites or through text and picture messaging.

It is not hyperbole for me to write that the pain caused by social networking sites is beyond significant - it is psychologically detrimental and we will find out it will have significant long term effects, as well as all the horrible social effects it already creates.

I will be more than happy to take the blame off you as a parent if it is too difficult to have the students close their accounts, but it is time they all get closed and the texts always get checked...

Some people advocate that the parents and the school should teach responsible social networking to students because these sites are part of the world in which we live. I disagree, it is not worth the risk to your child to allow them the independence at this age to manage these sites on their own, not because they are not good kids or responsible, but because you cannot control the poor actions of anonymous others...

Anthony Orsini
Principal, BFMS
I think I have already expressed the idea that schools should be about schooling and that if the teachers of my kids were to start intruding into our lives outside of school I would be expressing my displeasure quite bluntly.

There is some decent advice in this message in terms of being aware what your kids are up to, but there is so much stupidity that it beggars belief. I think it may be time for people to pull out their copies of On Liberty and see if they like anything John Stuart Mill wrote. What? Doesn't everyone have a copy of On Liberty?
Well, then go to a library and borrow a copy!

The tyranny of the majority shouldn't be what drives our decision making. Sure it is hard sometimes in a school setting to deal with the individual. I see teachers still using the cry "one of you is talking so you will all stay back" and I remember the mouthy young kid I was. I remember often wanting to get up and walk out rather than accept the punishment for the actions of others (and sometimes I did).

But, how can we think this is acceptable behaviour? Because they are younger than us, is this the only reason?

I know that some people (mostly on the left) have the idea that the real purpose of school is to create grist for the mill. We are all sent into these factories to be indoctrinated in order that we become good plebs and live our lives in the role society hands us. I hate that idea and don't believe that is what modern schooling should be about. We are not creating cannon fodder for the frontline or mindless drones, we are here to help small humans to become the best adults they can be.

So, perhaps "...the school should teach responsible social networking to students because these sites are part of the world in which we live..." but even if that is not our role, it is certainly not our role to prevent them engaging with that part of our modern world.

Do I teach responsible social networking. Well, not exactly. It comes up when I talk to the kids about online research, but the social networking sites are blocked by the NT education department. Perhaps it is logical to ensure there aren't too many shiny things to distract the kids but it does mean we are not engaging with the kids through those networks. There is no twitter back channel displaying school news (although, I am hoping I can get one up and running some time soon). There is no library facebook page with research hints, I would like there to be one but even if there was the students would only be able to access it from home. And any parents who listen to a Luddite like the one quoted above would be preventing their kids from joining the conversation anyway.

To quote Mill "
over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign" this includes the freedom to hold an opinion and the freedom to publish it (I'm not sure Mill would have used facebook as his medium, but I strongly suspect he would have supported your right to twitter inanely and blog without censorship).

Goodhart goes to school

Are you familiar with Goodhart's law?
No, not Godwin's Law of NAZI analogies. While that may have some impact on your school or library (teaching kids how to debate or write signs for a teabagger rally), Goodhart's law is the one I was wanting to think about today.

Goodhart came up with his law during the Thatcher years in Britain and it related to monetary policy. In brief it suggests that measuring something changes it (yes, that is similar to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle but that is quantum theory and I don't usually like the idea of assuming that what is true of waveforms is a universal truth to live my life by). But Goodhart goes further than that, to suggest that in finance or social policy the change makes the measuring unsuitable for its original purpose.

A government decides to test all students nationwide to determine how well students are reaching certain educational markers (good idea).
but then...

Private schools work out that they can use a bit of game theory and teach specifically to the test. Thus improving their appearance of success (but not necessarily improving real world outcomes for their students).

So, our public schools follow suit (teaching to the test). Private schools must then raise their performance again, so poorly performing students are jettisoned before the testing date or given a convenient diagnosis of ADHD or dyslexia to allow them extra time on the test.

Before you know it you have a test which measures nothing more than the ability of teachers and administrators to play the system.

As you may gather, I see very little of benefit in the information I as a parent can gain from the my school website that our wonderful Labour government has set up. It shows almost nothing which will allow me to work out how my child will perform in a particular school. Not to mention, if I am sending my kids to a public school, I have very little choice where they will attend (the nearest one is usually the rule). So, if I am well off (or willing to make sacrifices) I can send my kids to a private school. But if I am well off I am probably living in a good socio economic area and as such will be close to a well performing school.

This is old news I know. But the complete stupidity of thinking that you can measure the ability of teachers through standardised testing performed every few years is insane and it is about to happen again. Except, it seems a lot of teachers are now willing to take a stand and are refusing to administer the test.

Damn, I have come to the end of my post and have reached no conclusion.

Goodhart's law makes sense to me. There, done.

19 April, 2010

But, all I know of Indian burial grounds I learned from a Stephen King novel

Today my inbox contained an email which I had received via OZTL_NET (cross posted on six other lists) entitled "What does Neil Gaiman know about American Indians?".

This email was from a Professor of American Indian Studies and pointed to a blog post she had written concerning some remarks the Author Neil Gaiman had made in an interview about The Graveyard Book. It seems the professor had concerns that these comments were ill-advised in relation to the true nature of American history.

I shot back a reply to the list (but not to the cross posted lists) saying that I thought the comments made sense in the context of the book (and perhaps made a joke in there about reading comprehension of the original poster).
I considered sending @neilhimself a tweet to let him know there was a blog post out there in the world which seemed to be suggesting he was... ? Racially insensitive, culturally ignorant?
but I decided that I am not such a fanboy that I needed to do that.

A short time later I noticed via the Tweet Tubes that Neil was aware not only of that post, but also of another post which seemed to take things further and suggest that his quote (if not he himself) was racist.

Neil lashed out, using foul language like 'twit' but then recanted and apologised for it. But the damage had been done and internet white knights rode into battle, some defending their hero Neil while others rode in to defend the two bloggers who had called out this racist Brit.

All in all it was a wonderfully amusing internet sideline for me today, but it left me wondering a few things.

Why do people get so offended so easily, why do we all feel we know the authors whose books we read, is this all a storm in a teacup...

oh, and did the original blogger invoke the name of a literary celebrity beloved of many online folk just in order to ramp up some blog traffic? If not, why would she be emailing a list for Australian teacher librarians to mention her blog post?

Apparently there are follow up blog post on the issue, but I don't believe I care to read them. I think I'll read a book instead but if it has Indians in it I will make sure I consider the cultural implications. Ohh, seems spaming newsgroups and bagging authors may be a good method to get your point across?
I wonder if anyone out there in academia is looking at the representations of Indigenous Australians in children's books? I know that Biggles in Australia is appallingly racist but I don't know many kids these days who read about Biggles and his chums. And if I were to come across a kid with a love of the hero of the Camel Squadron, I think I would be able to have a nice conversation about outdated British imperialism and ideas of racial superiority.