Take the [please!] newest, most naive form of sharing personal news and information, let it be a for-profit business and just for kicks, make it the most profitable non-product the world has ever known. What would you get?

On the one hand, the company wants to curtail the spread of disinformation across its site. At the same time, it wants to avoid alienating the groups and candidates who depend on its platform for fund-raising and organizing. So in trying to find a way to please everyone on the issue, Facebook has managed to please no one.

The social network has now become an outlier in how freely it lets political candidates and elected officials advertise on its platform. While Mr. Zuckerberg declared last month that Facebook would not police political ads, Twitter said it would ban all such ads because of their negative impact on civic discourse. On Wednesday, Google said it would no longer allow political ads to be directed to specific audiences based on people’s public voter records or political affiliations.

Part of our own vulnerability rests within an inability to understand simple words like ‘sharing’, and reluctance to engage with non-simple contracts like the many we would rather click agree to and just get back to posting our favorite stuff. More on all of this soon, but we’re really staring into the abyss here without noting the swirl. We hear the sound, but not its signal; can do steps but are not invited to the dance.

Thumbs up!

Wet Behind the Turnip Truck Yesterday

Pierce calls this the Dare to be Ignorant Protection Act of 2013 and I’ll have a hard time swimming up the Nile on that one:

In biology class, public school students can’t generally argue that dinosaurs and people ran around Earth at the same time, at least not without risking a big fat F. But that could soon change for kids in Oklahoma: On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Common Education committee is expected to consider a House bill that would forbid teachers from penalizing students who turn in papers attempting to debunk almost universally accepted scientific theories such as biological evolution and anthropogenic (human-driven) climate change.

Gus Blackwell, the Republican state representative who introduced the bill, insists that his legislation has nothing to do with religion; it simply encourages scientific exploration. “I proposed this bill because there are teachers and students who may be afraid of going against what they see in their textbooks,” says Blackwell, who previously spent 20 years working for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “A student has the freedom to write a paper that points out that highly complex life may not be explained by chance mutations.”

Stated another way, students could make untestable, faith-based claims in science classes without fear of receiving a poor mark.

HB 1674 is the latest in an ongoing series of “academic freedom” bills aimed at watering down the teaching of science on highly charged topics. Instead of requiring that teachers and textbooks include creationism—see the bill proposed by Missouri state Rep. Rick Brattin—HB 1674’s crafters say it merely encourages teachers and students to question, as the bill puts it, the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that “cause controversy,” including “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Eric Meikle, education project director at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) in Oakland, California, says Oklahoma has proposed more anti-evolution legislation than any other state, introducing eight bills with academic freedom language since 2004. (None has passed.) “The problem with these bills is that they’re so open-ended; it’s a kind of code for people who are opposed to teaching climate change and evolution,” Meikle says.

You don’t say, Eric. Friday reading, indeed.

Define ‘this’

Surely you’ve noticed these Exxonmobile commercials (no link, sorry. Google it) focussing on the state of education in America today, how we’ve fallen behind relative to so many other countries and how we need to support teachers and students to re-establish our dominance. Exxonmobile is concerned. About education.

The cartoon narratives are fancy and well done, but back up a minute. The tag line, ‘Let’s solve this.’ Really? Confident. Serious. First-person plural. Everything else they are involved in is kosher and so now they’re turning their attention to our education problems. Exxonmobile. That is sporting of them. This is has got to be one of the most classic, think-up-something-else-so-we-don’t-talk-about-energy-policy, concerning trolling PR strategies they have dreamed up at least since they embraced, and likely already solved, the ‘go green’ issue – by making it go away. Let’s solve this?

Here’s what’s actually going on in solving education problems today:

Starting this fall, thousands of poor and middle-class kids will get vouchers covering the full cost of tuition at more than 120 private schools across Louisiana, including small, Bible-based church schools.

The following year, students of any income will be eligible for mini-vouchers that they can use to pay a range of private-sector vendors for classes and apprenticeships not offered in traditional public schools. The money can go to industry trade groups, businesses, online schools and tutors, among others.

Every time a student receives a voucher of either type, his local public school will lose a chunk of state funding.

“We are changing the way we deliver education,” said Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican who muscled the plan through the legislature this spring over fierce objections from Democrats and teachers unions. “We are letting parents decide what’s best for their children, not government.”


I’ll stop with that sub-head, just to let it sink in. Let’s solve this. Oy.

Open your art books to page…

A reminder that there are all shades of green, some of them not Eco at all. Via, this little meditation on, faced with school budget cutbacks that always, ALWAYS, get aimed at the art curriculum first, how we should teach art instead of history.

This general scenario matches up with other stories I’ve seen. But why should art be on the chopping block before history class? I believe we romanticize history, making it seem practically and ideally more important than it is. People defend history in the gauzy language of citizenship, with appeals that rarely rise above aphorism. “Those who don’t history are bound to repeat it”. This doesn’t hold up in a practical sense though. There’s a reason the phrase isn’t “those who have history as a significant part of their high school curriculum are bound to repeat it”. Being taught history doesn’t make you better voters unless you remember that history. I’m not going to go down the litany of things that huge percentage of Americans incorrectly believe about history, instead I’ll just give one prominent example. How many hundreds of millions of dollars to we spend each year teaching kids about the Civil War, and still 42% of people don’t know we fought it over slavery?

Sign me up. I would even say (but never write) that we would better off teaching (more) people about art. An example? a survey about the work of JL David will render the history of French Revolution unforgettable. And once you have The Death of Marat or The Tennis Court Oath in your head, along with the stories behind them, you’re only going to want to find out more. Moving through history on the basis of art movements is a more durable sort of engagement. Why the salons of the 1870’s happened or Goya’s dark paintings just doesn’t go away. That knowledge moves and grows into something else. Something we need.

And this is to say nothing of the benefits of people learning printmaking or drawing. It would be like mass producing the keys to critical thinking and problem solving. Then we can finally get back to that Shangra-La where no one locks their doors.

Movin’ on Down

As an unplanned follow-up on yesterday, apparently the young’uns think the William of Rights used to be Bill Somebody. Or they think bill is a verb. Either way, #civicsfail:

Fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights on the most recent national civics examination, and only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches, according to test results released on Wednesday.

At the same time, three-quarters of high school seniors who took the test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, were unable to demonstrate civic skills like identifying the effect of United States foreign policy on other nations or naming a power granted to Congress by the Constitution.

The Department of Education administered the tests, known as the nation’s report card, to 27,000 4th-, 8th- and 12th-grade students last year. Questions cover themes including how government is financed, what rights are protected by the Constitution and how laws are passed.

As I slowly drew my finger to wag in the direction of our young citizens of tomorrow, I remembered some of my own schoolin’ and put it back in the hypocrisy holster. Sure it’s easy to blame them – except that they didn’t create an education system more concerned with turning them into workers and consumers than into citizens. I didn’t either. But they hear all the time that they are consumers and should address every single thing as such. Civil liberties? Unless that’s some kind of all-night sale at Failmart, how would they come into contact with the concept? Shorter me: How can they be expected to know things they are not being taught? Hmm?

These kids have a problem, in that many of them are largely ignorant of important issues and hence are ill-equipped to make decisions about them and double-hence, more likely to be manipulated. But they are not the problem. It’s their elite overlords, who think there are two sides to deathpanelsbirthcertificatedeficitsocialism!, that are the problem.

Prisoners and Guards

As in the line from Mr. Zimmerman. If you weren’t paying attention, you’d think this was off-topic.

In, uh… celebration isn’t the right word but, of California deciding that locking people up is more important than educating them, we re-visit Michel Foucault’s 1974 tract, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. While not at all required reading, it can be fun. If you see it in Barnes & Whatever, it’s worth picking up and reading the intro wherein he describes a mid-eighteenth century instance of a condemned man being drawn-and-quartered. Really, the things you pick up.

This is from the 3rd section of Part Three, entitled Panopticism:

If it is true that the leper gave rise to rituals of exclusion, which to a certain extent provided the model for and general form of the great Confinement, then the plague gave rise to disciplinary projects. Rather than the massive, binary division between one set of people and another, it called for multiple separations, individualizing distributions, an organization in depth of surveillance and control, an intensification and a ramification of power. The leper was caught up in a practice of rejection, of exile-enclosure; he was left to his doom in a mass among which it was useless to differentiate; those sick of the plague were caught up in a meticulous tactical partitioning in which individual differentiations were the constricting effects of a power that multiplied, articulated and subdivided itself; the great confinement on the one hand; the correct training on the other. The leper and his separation; the plague and its segmentations. The first is marked; the second analysed and distributed. The exile of the leper and the arrest of the plague do not bring with them the same political dream. The first is that of a pure community, the second that of a disciplined society. Two ways of exercising power over men, of controlling their relations, of separating out their dangerous mixtures. The plague-stricken town, traversed throughout with hierarchy, surveillance, observation, writing; the town immobilized by the functioning of an extensive power that bears in a distinct way over all individual bodies – this is the utopia of the perfectly governed city. The plague (envisaged as a possibility at least) is the trial in the course of which one may define ideally the exercise of disciplinary power. In order to make rights and laws function according to pure theory, the jurists place themselves in imagination in the state of nature; in order to see perfect disciplines functioning, rulers dreamt of the state of plague. Underlying disciplinary projects the image of the plague stands for all forms of confusion and disorder; just as the image of the leper, cut off from all human contact, underlies projects of exclusion.

They are different projects, then, but not incompatible ones. We see them coming slowly together, and it is the peculiarity of the nineteenth century that it applied to the space of exclusion of which the leper was the symbolic inhabitant (beggars, vagabonds, madmen and the disorderly formed the real population) the technique of power proper to disciplinary partitioning. Treat ‘lepers’ as ‘plague victims’, project the subtle segmentations of discipline onto the confused space of internment, combine it with the methods of analytical distribution proper to power, individualize the excluded, but use procedures of individualization to mark exclusion – this is what was operated regularly by disciplinary power from the beginning of the nineteenth century in the psychiatric asylum, the penitentiary, the reformatory, the approved school and, to some extent, the hospital. Generally speaking, all the authorities exercising individual control function according to a double mode; that of binary division and branding (mad/sane; dangerous/harmless; normal/abnormal); and that of coercive assignment of differential distribution (who he is; where he must be; how he is to be characterized; how he is to be recognized; how a constant surveillance is to be exercised over him in an individual way, etc.). On the one hand, the lepers are treated as plague victims; the tactics of individualizing disciplines are imposed on the excluded; and, on the other hand, the universality of disciplinary controls makes it possible to brand the ‘leper’ and to bring into play against him the dualistic mechanisms of exclusion. The constant division between the normal and the abnormal, to which every individual is subjected, brings us back to our own time, by applying the binary branding and exile of the leper to quite different objects; the existence of a whole set of techniques and institutions for measuring, supervising and correcting the abnormal brings into play the disciplinary mechanisms to which the fear of the plague gave rise. All the mechanisms of power which, even today, are disposed around the abnormal individual, to brand him and to alter him, are composed of those two forms from which they distantly derive.

Bentham’s Panopticon is the architectural figure of this composition. We know the principle on which it was based: at the periphery, an annular building; at the centre, a tower; this tower is pierced with wide windows that open onto the inner side of the ring; the peripheric building is divided into cells, each of which extends the whole width of the building; they have two windows, one on the inside, corresponding to the windows of the tower; the other, on the outside, allows the light to cross the cell from one end to the other. All that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man, a worker or a schoolboy. By the effect of backlighting, one can observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light, the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery. They are like so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible. The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. In short, it reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions – to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide – it preserves only the first and eliminates the other two. Full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which [it] ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap.

Changing Approach to Water

Not that we can sneak up on it, but getting used to dealing with the implications of its scarcity. Even if not directly, though every region will have its bouts with drought and flirtations with conservation, fallout from water shortages range far and wide, as the situations in Kenya and Mexico attest. And voila, it’s not just a shortage of rainfall but a dynamic mixture of poor planning and short-sightedness that builds in non-trivial amounts of waste into our concepts of ‘use’:

Mexico’s hurricane season has been mild, with no major hits so far this summer, though a weak Hurricane Jimena dropped plenty of rain on parts of Baja California and the northwestern state of Sonora last week. The sparse rainfall nationwide has made 2009 the driest in 69 years of government record-keeping, Arreguin said.

Even before the drought, managing water was one of the most vexing issues for Mexico City, which 500 years ago was a big lake. Now paved in asphalt and concrete, the city pipes in much of its water (then, through separate plumbing, expels wastewater to prevent flooding during rainy times).

Since most rainwater pours down storm drains into the sewer network, it is not absorbed into the underground aquifers that are the city’s main source of water. Decades of over-pumping is emptying those deposits and causing Mexico City to sink, in some places by more than a foot a year.

So… just so you know, there’s no sitting back and feeling bad for those poor people in a “but for the Grace of God… ” kind of way. Sorry, all out of isolated, unconnected events. Come back next… time? To recap, we are subject to not just immediate, local effects but larger pressures on surrounding ecosystems and political systems which emerge, gain strength and ripple outward. How do we study, learn about and prepare for how these things work together? Do we? Perhaps a better question would be how can we understand these kinds of long-term phenomena when we’re more concerned with fanning debates about evolution, gay marriage, presidential birth certificates and other ‘issues’ I largely ignore on this site in favor of more problematic, actual problems? Alas, there’s a short answer.

Update: as I wanted or needed further evidence.

What is Design?

The dictum for which Einstein is famously quoted,”You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war,” bears a pointed similarity to the way we are presently enmeshed in a no man’s between an unknown future and well-trodden past. That is, we are generally accepting of the fact that our world has changed from its industrial-model platform; yet we continue to plan, design, build, educate and think as if it has not. The comparison to war and peace is inexact but illuminating. The idea that one will get us the other is a fantasy lived and re-lived throughout the ages. By the same token, new systems for human viability will not emerge from continued industrial machine age thinking.

There is a chasm, therefore, between the way we built our industrial age society and the manner in which we will navigate a post-industrial future. They bare so little resemblance that we have a hard time imagining that future, letting go of some of the major characteristics of the past to grab hold of… what? We’re not sure. And reaching for something we’re not sure of makes little sense to us. We have spent no small amount of energy greatly trying to eliminate uncertainty in many aspects of life. But this situation requires us to orient ourselves in this chasm of great uncertainty – a feat which points to our greatest weakness.

The even greater conundrum, it seems, is that it is up to us to change our own thinking and ways of learning about the world going forward. Instead of honing in on small problems, reductive elimination of unwanted elements and specialization, there is a need to zoom out to a point where can ask very broad questions, like, what is design?

The systems scholar Bela H. Banathy wrote extensively on this subject of societal transformation, asking some great questions and positing some rather intuitive points about changing the ways we live.. The following is from his research paper, We Enter the Twentieth Century with Schooling Designed in the Nineteenth. (Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.)

The design of social systems, such as education, is a future-creating human activity. People in these systems engage in design in order to create and implement systems, based on their vision of what those systems should be. Or, they may redesign their existing system in order to realize their changing expectations and aspirations and the expectations of their environment. Competence in design enables us to create systems that enrich the quality of our lives and add value to the systems in which we live and work.

In general, people in our educational systems are not yet aware of the potential and power of systems design. Education in design and expertise in design are limited to a few technical professions. But when it comes to the design of systems in which we live and work, we are the experts. When it comes to designing educational systems, the right and responsibility to design are shared by those who serve the system, who are served by the system and who are affected by it. It is such collective involvement in design that makes a system authentic and sustainable. Furthermore, each and every community is unique. It becomes the task of each and every community to design its own unique educational system. Nobody has the right to design educational systems – or any social system – for someone else. The age of social engineering by outside experts is over. We have arrived at the age of ‘user-designers’ people designing their own systems. That is what true empowerment is about. But empowerment cannot be given; it has to be learned.

A precondition of engaging in educational design is the development of competence among ‘user-designers’ that enables them to design their own system. Only the attainment of design competence makes empowerment a reality. Without it, empowerment is just an empty word, nothing more than political rhetoric. Thus we have to create opportunities and programs for design learning, for the development of design competence. People empowered by such learning will become competent individually to design their own lives and, collectively, to design the systems in which they live and work, design their communities and design their systems of living and human development.

Emphasis mine.

The college rip-off

This is exactly wrong, and the writer points out why it’s wrong in the very first graph:

One idea that elite universities like Yale, sprawling public systems like Wisconsin and smaller private colleges like Lewis and Clark have shared for generations is that a traditional liberal arts education is, by definition, not intended to prepare students for a specific vocation. Rather, the critical thinking, civic and historical knowledge and ethical reasoning that the humanities develop have a different purpose: They are prerequisites for personal growth and participation in a free democracy, regardless of career choice.

I think reporters and editors sometimes conspire to concoct counter-counter-intuitive story ideas just to see if we’re paying attention (we’re mostly not). The idea that the dearth of importance given to the liberal arts and humanities didn’t have a great amount to do with the present state in which our society finds itself would be laughable on its face if it wasn’t dispicable by its implications. You can’t know what green means when you’re tangled in the artifice and complexities of business jargon and technical rationales. The extent to which the business and engineering vocations have not been more informed by the humanities defines their finite reach, their very lack of sustainability.

If you went through a four-year college, were awarded a degree and were not required to learn a foreign language, you got ripped-off.

If you went through a four-year college, were awarded a degree and were not required to take any history courses, you got ripped-off.

Same with economics, the social sciences, literature and art history. The whole fascination with value in education has been about as wrong-headed as little towns begging W*l-mart to come in and destroy their downtowns. What’s it worth? You tell me. What’s trading how little you know for all the emptiness that comes with things you can be sure about worth?