In her keynote speech to open the third day of SXSWedu, Danah Boyd, founder and president of Data & Society, a principal researcher with Microsoft Research and a visiting professor at New York University, posed the question, “What hath we wrought?”
Boyd told the crowd that the funny thing about education is that students are asked to challenge their assumptions, and doing so can be enlightening and destabilizing. When students are asked to challenge their sacred cows, however, we must give them a new framework with which to make sense of the world. If not, other people will do so — and it doesn’t always end as well as hoped.
She pointed out the humor in media literacy lessons that ask students to detail the difference between CNN and Fox News, or telling students not to trust Wikipedia while also suggesting they should “Google it,” which can be a more frightening proposition. But media literacy must do more than that.
Rather than coming at this from an idealized perspective, Boyd set out to look at media literacy in terms of what’s happening on the ground. In many communities, experience trumps science as proof. History is more than a set of facts to be memorized, and there are ways it can be used as a tool for power and weaponized to benefit various agendas. Critical thinking can also be weaponized, she said, as seen in Russia Today’s “Question Everything” campaign, which proposed questions like “Is climate change more science fiction than science fact?” or “Is terror only inflicted by terrorists?”
What was amazing about those ads, she said, is that they appealed to people of every political stripe, presenting views that allowed problematic narratives to enter the broader public debate. Social media has furthered that by allowing anyone to be amplified with no curation or editorial control.
People espousing extreme views are highly skilled with media tools, and teaching more media skills doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be used for good. The best ideas don’t always surface to the top, Boyd said. We should still try to educate people and encourage critical thinking, but media literacy alone isn’t enough to solve these problems. Teaching those skills can backfire and people can use them in ways you haven’t imagined.
danah boyd: I don’t want people to naively assume that media literacy is enough to solve our culture wars. Teaching people media literacy skills can backfire, they can use it in a way that you cannot imagine. The very act of asking questions is what’s being weaponized. #SXSWEDU— Tony Wan (@tonywan) March 7, 2018
There may be value in trying to help students better understand their own psychology, and to develop grounded empathy that maintains distance from toxic mindsets. Additionally, helping students understand epistemological differences — how people from different backgrounds and world views think differently — is key.
Disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline requires rethinking K-12 school model
In a morning session, Lynette Tannis, a Harvard University Graduate School of Education adjunct lecturer, Sophia Jones-Redmond, superintendent of Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) School District #428 and John Sonnenberg, Pearson regional manager of online and blended learning discussed ways to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.
Tannis assured those gathered that the pipeline is, indeed, very real. Nationwide, students as young as elementary age have been handcuffed by police, suspended and more. African-American students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled, and students expelled or suspended are three times more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system. In schools with school resource officers, those students are 11 times more likely to end up in a juvenile court, she said.
African-American students also account for 16% of the student population, but 31% of the suspensions. A student unable to read at or above grade level by 3rd grade is four times less likely to graduate. When poverty is added to the mix, they’re 13 times less likely to graduate on time than their peers. Some 1.1 million cases are heard in juvenile courts nationwide each year, with 70,000 youth in a juvenile facility on any given day and 10,000 in an adult facility.
On average, $241 a day is spent to incarcerate a youth, 68% of the nation’s incarcerated youth are students of color, and only 16% of states said they have educational and vocational programs for incarcerated youth that are comparable to those for non-incarcerated youth.
Part of fixing this pipeline involves rethinking school design, with things like blended learning, personalization, and educators as “meddlers in the middle” rather than “sages on the stage.” Schools are still designed, at their core, to promote white, Western, European males. The rest we fail to a short, limited life and/or prison, especially now as traditional blue-collar jobs in fields like manufacturing that standardized public school traditionally prepared students for are falling by the wayside due to automation, Sonnenberg said.
Jones-Redmond detailed how the IDJJ is working to break the cycle. Black males are 9.3 times more likely to be incarcerated as youths than the general population in Illinois, and 96.4% of incarcerated youth are black males. She said that her staff is encouraged to embrace the mantra of “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
Overall, Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice enrollment is dropping because facilities are right-sizing their populations. Youth are being incarcerated less for minor incidents like shoplifting, and the facilities are now primarily serving youth who have committed violent crimes, including murder. Jones-Redmond said they are in the business now of saving these students’ lives, rehabilitating and turning them around.
Juvenile justice reform in Illinois began after the class action lawsuit RJ vs. Mueller, Ilinois Department of Juvenile Justice. The resulting plan includes improving conditions in mental health services, educational services, use of room confinement, safety inside the facilities from violence by staff or other youth, and continued commitment to youth beyond their release dates. “Everything about IDJJ got flipped up, and it was amazing,” Jones-Redmond said.
The department has adopted five core principles: Right-size, rehabilitate, reintegrate, respect and report. Teacher staffing ratios are now 10:1 for general education and 6:1 for special education, down from as much as 20:1 previously. Instruction is now in blended and project-based learning models, and the program has gone to a full-day, full-time school day model. New positions were created, with school counselors, special education resource coordinators and substitute teachers. Over 200 diplomas were awarded last year. Several facilities also now include post-secondary and vocational programs, and as of Nov. 1, 2017, all juvenile justice schools now have official names.
What should academics, educators and designers learn from students about games?
In a Wednesday afternoon session, Steve Isaacs, a video game design and development teacher at William Annin Middle School (NJ), iCivics Executive Director Louise Dube, Games for Change President Susanna Pollack, and Matthew Farber, an assistant professor of educational technology at the University of Northern Colorado, examined what students have to say about educational games and their takeaways for academics, designers and educators.
The student feedback on educational games stemmed from short “What Kids Think of…” videos created and published to YouTube by Isaacs’ students, in which they reviewed several popular games.
On iCivics’ “Win the White House” game, for example, students wanted to be able to continue playing as the president after they won the campaign in the game, though Dube noted that they do have a game that lets students do that called “Executive Command.” Additionally, she suggested that designers need to develop games in tandem with teachers and students to ensure the optimal experience is delivered.
Other takeaways from students: They must take on meaningful roles, not know how the game is going to end or be presented with what essentially amounts to a bunch of quiz questions. They also want more simulation in games like “Coffee Shop” or “Lemonade Stand,” and relevancy to their lives or the "real world."
Texas administrators discuss how they unified for statewide educational transformation
Frequently recognized for its efforts in scaling student-centered models in ways that fit individual communities while meeting broader standards and guidelines, Texas is ahead of many of its peers. In a Wednesday afternoon panel moderated by Education Reimagined Executive Director Kelly Young; Brandon Core, associate executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA); Alamo Heights Independent School District Superintendent Kevin Brown, and Clear Creek Independent School District Superintendent Greg Smith discussed the strategies that have led to the Lone Star State’s success.
The work began in Texas around a decade ago, but to begin, administrators had to have deeper, “fruitful” conversations about changing the narrative on the approach, Smith said.
“At that point in time, there really was no vision for public education,” he said. It was more about how to comply with the rules set forth by the state, and Austin telling them how high they had to jump to barely clear the bar.
What came of the High Performance Schools Consortium were decisions around who’s in charge of setting the performance standards and ensuring they’re high-quality and deep, finding ways to reduce exams so there’s less teaching to tests, integrating digital tools to improve learning opportunities, and developing a community-based accountability system based on local taxpayers’ desires for students.
“When you’re transforming the education system, you’re gonna have to go slow to go fast,” Smith said.
Brown said that the first meeting with his board of trustees was an entire day of discussing where his district was at and what they wanted to accomplish. Students were seeing success in the traditional model, but it felt like something was missing. They felt they were still missing the boat on meeting every child’s individual needs. What Smith and TASA did, he said, was create a vision modeled after the Declaration of Independence in the sense that government control was driving decisions that forced compliance and teaching to tests in a factory model without preparing students for the 21st century world.
The approach was geared toward designing experiences for students that resulted in profound and deep learning, producing critical thinkers who were presented with curriculum that wasn’t “a mile wide and an inch deep” like its predecessors.
Brown added that ensuring this has required them to, while still following the law, ignore testing to an extent and get as far from compliance-driven mandates as possible. To design engaging experiences for students, you also have to take the same approach in training staff, as well, he said.
The TASA visioning document outlining these approaches also resulted in students, parents and staff collaborating on building a profile of a learner and setting forth characteristics and attributes desired in everyone across a school district. TASA has also facilitated the borrowing of ideas between superintendents statewide.
Administrators have also had some legislative wins, working toward changing policy rather than having to continue working against it.
PBS, KQED partner on free media literacy certification for educators
- PBS and San Francisco Bay Area public media station KQED this week announced a new free media literacy certification for PreK-12 educators.
- The PBS Media Literacy Educator Certification by KQED will recognize educators with strong media literacy competencies, delivering free media literacy courses through the KQED Teach digital professional learning platform.
- The courses will help educators develop skills like creating and sharing original content on multiple platforms to reach specific audiences and implementing lessons around media skills.