Category Archives: communication

Roundup August 26th, 2007

From a comment Larry left, I discovered his blog, and from there this page of resources for students. An impressive list, although there are lots more resources than student-produced pages.

One of the links was to Dandelife “a social biography network”.

One of the stories I clicked on at random referred to sleep apnea and a successful treatment this guy found called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, which I wasn’t particularly interested in until I read this: The examples and perspective in this article or section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject.

The Wikipedia article on this topic and a related one on the Neutral Point of View, are both fascinating, revealing a global awareness and how this affects point of view, bias and accuracy in writing, something I blogged about a few months ago: blogging to broaden your perspective. If you’re writing on the Internet, you can assume you’ll get readers from all over the world, and you can’t assume, as so many writers do, that your readers are like you, or have the same point of view.

On the Wikipedia page on countering systemic bias, I found these points to be particularly interesting:

  • The origins of bias
    The average Wikipedian on English Wikipedia is (1) male, (2) technically inclined, (3) formally educated, (4) a native or non-native English-speaker, (5) white, (6) aged 15–49, (7) from a nominally Christian country, (8) from an industrialized nation, (9) from the Northern Hemisphere, and (10) likely to be employed in intellectual rather than practical or physical jobs (see Wikipedia:User survey and Wikipedia:University of Würzburg survey, 2005).
  • Why [bias] matters and what to do
    Many editors contribute to Wikipedia because they see Wikipedia as progressing towards, though never reaching, an ideal state as a repository of human knowledge. The more idealistic may see Wikipedia as a vast discussion on what is true and what is not from a “neutral point of view” or “God’s Eye View”. The idea of a systemic bias is thus far more troubling than even widespread intentional vandalism. Vandalism can be readily identified and corrected. The existence of systemic bias means that not only are large segments of the world not participating in the discussion, but that there is a deep-rooted problem in the relationship of Wikipedia, its contributors and the world at large.

    The systemic bias of the English Wikipedia is permanent. As long as the demographic of English speaking Wikipedians is not exactly identical to the world demographic, the vision of the world presented on the English Wikipedia will always be askew. Thus the only way systemic bias would disappear would be if the population of the world all spoke English at the same level of fluency and had equal access and inclination to use the English Wikipedia. However, the effects of systemic bias may be mitigated through conscious effort. This is the goal of the Countering systemic bias project.

    There are many things you may do, listed roughly from least to most intensive:
    * See if there are web pages on a particular subject which were written by people from other countries or cultures. It may provide you other places to look or other points of view to consider.
    * Be more conscious of your own biases in the course of normal editing. Look at the articles you work on usually and think about whether they are written from an international perspective. If not, you might be able to learn a lot about a subject you thought you knew by adding content with a different perspective.
    * Occasionally edit a subject that is systemically biased against the pages of your natural interests. The net effect of consciously changing one out of every twenty of your edits to something outside your “comfort zone” would be substantial.

When people turn against people…

Human beings killed three other human beings on Wednesday northwest of Baghdad.

In Iraq on Wednesday, major violence continued against human beings and the human beings guarding them. Human beings detonated a car bomb in the southern Baghdad district of Saidiya, which killed eight human beings, and wounded 27. In Iskandariya south of Baghdad, human beings lobbed mortar shells at other human beings, killing 6 and wounding 13.

In the small city of Baladruz northeast of Baghdad, human beings bombed a cafe, killing 30 and wounding 25.

Altogether, the wire services reported 90 dead human beings in violence for Wednesday.

(from Informed Comment )

Blogging to broaden your perspective

Karl Fisch responded to my post on his impressive presentation “Did You Know?” and it raised an issue I’ve been wanting to write about.

But first, go see the Doonesbury cartoon for Sunday, March 4th 2007. Are you back? OK.

Karl writes

As far as the “nationalistic” piece, that was not the intent – please follow the link and note the original context of this presentation. It has a U.S. flavor because it was created for my teachers and students at my school which does happen to be in the U.S., therefore it was designed to capture their attention. If I had known it was going to spread like this . . .

I’m not criticizing Karl; his comment gave me food for thought.

If you put something up on a blog, it can be read by anyone anywhere in the world, regardless of the writer’s intended audience. As Uncle Duke says, “Only a couple million people have seen it. I justed posted it!” You are putting your communication, deliberately, on a global stage for all the world (with a browser and Internet connection) to see. Maybe in your little head, your audience is your friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, whatever, but that may not correspond to reality. As Karl wrote, “If I had known it was going to spread like this…”

A friend of mine goes running. Recently, he took part in his first big marathon race. Why? To raise his game. A personal challenge. To run with a different calibre of runners than he normally runs with, and by doing so raise his game.

Putting your thoughts on the Internet, as opposed to a Yahoo!Group or some other mailing list, or into a printed faculty or neigbourhood newsletter, I would suggest, has the same kind of purpose: to challenge yourself, to run with a different calibre of people than you normally run with, and by doing raising your game. As English-teacher -in-Hawaii Bruce Schauble writes about blogging,

It’s been a terrific learning experience, not only because of the writing itself but because of the feedback that I have gotten from the emerging community of readers that have stumbled upon or found their way to the blog.

I blog in order to broaden my community, to open myself to communication with people I would not and could not otherwise communicate with, and to get perspectives which are different from mine, to raise my game.

This brings a benefit and a responsibility: you get the benefit of (potentially) all kinds of varied input, but also you need to raise your game: you are now writing (potentially) for people who do not share your values, your background, your experience, your view of things.

There are few truly global citizens (I mean people with a global view, not just people who travel a lot), and many of us are still trapped in our parochial thinking, me included. But when we put something up on a blog, we are writing for a global audience, whether we are aware of that or not, whether that’s our intent or not.

It’s kinda like being married: you think you know why you married your spouse, but life (or your subconscious) has its own reasons: to challenge you to be the best person that you can be, to push you beyond what you think your limits are.

A student of mine wrote to me that he came to university because he wanted to become more intelligent. What if that wasn’t just a personal wish? What if the planet right now was really hoping all of us would become as intelligent as we can, real fast? OK, that’s kinda freaky, forget I said that.

“How many people have seen this?”
“Only a couple million. I just posted it!” (Doonesbury, March 4th, 2007).

We’re not in Kansas anymore. None of us.

(The graphic above comes from the Buckminster Fuller Institute. Buckminster Fuller created the Dymaxion map to show the people of the world that we are not living in separate countries in separate continents, but on one world island in a one world ocean. Searching for a graphic for this post, I found lots of globes and pictures of the earth, but many of them were US or Euro-centric, with the US or Europe in the middle of the globe. (Guess which country is centre-stage in world maps in Japan?). I wanted a graphic that matched what I wrote: something suitable for a global stage.) Spaceship earth, Fuller called it.

The Education Debate

Dan Meyer posted a thoughtful piece after watching Freedom Writers, an(other) inspirational school movie. I’m unable to post comments on Dan’s blog for some reason, so I’m posting my comment here.

Quick update: IMDB offers quotes from the movie, including this:

Andre: It’s the dumb class cuz. It means you too dumb.
Jamal: Man, say it to my face cuz.
Andre: I just did. See what I mean? Dumb?

The dumb class.

a pervasive complex of martyrdom. Hmm, food for thought. I disagree mostly with JD Hirsch’s push for a unified curriculum, “What every child should know” etc, but his analysis of the romanticisation of teaching philosophy, the rosy glasses thru which otherwise rational people allow their vision to be distorted, I think is accurate and could usefully be read and considered by every teacher who favours “hands-on, project-based, student-centred learning”. Not that I don’t believe in those approaches; it’s just that it’s easy to get behind ideas, as Hirsch puts it, that sound good, and fail to check if they actually work or not.

That said, I think everyone involved in this debate needs to be real careful. The issue of education is one that people feel passionately about, and have deep-rooted, what I can only call ideologies about this, making reasoned debate extremely difficult and rare. I hope this blog can be one of the rare places it happens. (A great (or terrifying) example of ideologies at work is described in Doc: the story of Dennis Littky and his fight for a better school.)

Setting up straw men is a dishonest debating tactic, loved by ideologues and politicians – people who aim at persuasion, not revealing the truth – and the writing on education is full of this tactic, on both the liberal and conservative sides. Caring ? sadly ? is how the majority of my co-workers and co-bloggers have framed the objectives of our job. Really? I know and have read many who point out the importance of the emotional state in learning, but that is only in order to promote better teaching, not as an aim in itself.

And on which “side” should we place someone like Pissed Off (Teacher)? Does it sound like the administration and supervisors she works with care about the kids? Is she a wimp, trying to avoid responsibility and wriggle away from accountability, just because she cares about her students?

It’s not black or white, and it’s not a 2-sided issue, “caring vs professionalism”. It’s a lot more involved and complex than that.

Martyrdom has an interesting younger sibling: playing the victim. The Republicans have pretty much had things all their own way in public affairs for the past 7-8 years and before that under the elder Bush and Reagan. Yet many of them play the victim, whining about how the entire US (the media, the schools, the universities, the courts (!) even) is run by rabid left-wing nutcases who make them feel intimidated and afraid or even unable to speak out freely about their conservative views. I couldn’t believe my ears when I listened to actual Republicans. Is this (mis)perception manipulated and exploited by some for political and personal gain? Is the Pope Catholic?

(I only know that it’s corrosive … on a day-to-day, post-to-post basis…to teach while feeling like the harmlessly insane…. no one seems to be listening to this side closely enough. Now that isn’t martyr talk or victim talk is it? No! Of course not.)

Another point where one needs to tread very, very carefully, is in avoiding being conned. Cons use people, usually enthusiastic people, to further their own, hidden, agendas, not yours, and not the ones they sound like they are promoting. They are masters of rhetoric and sophistry. I worked with a guy for several years before I realized that he had approached me only so that I would give his enterprise a veneer of professionalism and solidity; he loved it when I pointed out how “our” approach was solidly supported by pedagogical theory, but he himself didn’t believe any of that shit and he couldn’t have cared less, just as long as people bought the product.

I’m not a big fan of the “inspiring teacher” film genre. A friend once gave me Dangerous Minds to watch, but was taken aback when I told him I was more impressed with the apparent bankruptcy of a “system” that allowed such decrepit schools and dangerous environments to develop in the first place.

(Curiously, while many of these movies depict outstanding, strong-minded individuals [would you call Louanne Johnson a wilting bleeding-heart-liberal violet?], the kind of pedagogical approach many of the protagonists use kinda goes against the “student-centred, project-based, free expression” approach many enthusiasts seem to favour.)

Finally, here’s a quote from Tom Englehardt which kinda sums up my position on this debate. If you’re still here, thanks for reading:

Every now and then, I go to some event — I covered the demonstrations in front of the 2004 Republican Convention and then the Republican delegates on the convention floor — and essentially ask people why they’re there. In our media, we almost never hear people speak in more than little snippets…
So we seldom hear their real voices or how they actually think, and they almost invariably turn out to be more eloquent and complicated than we expect.

(My emphasis).

(Related comment on Borderland)