Monday, September 23, 2013

Social Media: Education Enrichment or Digital Opium for the Masses?

It is interesting how school boards are dealing with the ever advancing infiltration of social media into the classrooms of our schools. Some schools have taken the stance that use of social media in the classroom will be okay if we teach students how to use the media as a resource to further their studies. The question here is whether or not this is a realistic stance. It never ceases to amaze me that prospective teachers in the education faculties are constantly taught that they need to understand the mindset of 12 yr olds all the way up to 19 yr olds when it comes to the classroom and then they throw all that out the window when dealing with the issue of the use of social media in the classroom.

Here is a quiz: If you asked a 14 yr old which he/she would rather do, access Facebook or IM to connect with friends and hang out digitally or use IM or Facebook to do school work, how do you think a majority would respond? Second Question: If your teacher said that you had their permission to use social media in class providing it was to do school work only, how many of you would ditch the school work at the first opportunity and IM your friends about other things going on in your life?
This is a reality about typical adolescent behaviour that every teacher as a student has been taught. So the noble gesture of teaching students to use social media in a productive educational manner flies in the face of the reality of adolescence.

Then there are schools who have tried to block cell phone access in the school by putting up signal blockers. This was tried by a principal in a Montreal high school and also by one in Vancouver. Of interest is the fact that major wireless providers such as Bell & Rogers have forced legislators to enact laws that makes it illegal to try to block cell phone signals within an education setting. The rationale is that we are interfering in the providers attempt to fulfill their service responsibilities to their customers. These big companies don't really care if it interferes with the teacher's effort to maintain the focus of the students on what he or she is teaching. Parents have sided with these companies, giving the rationale that their children need to have access to a cell phone in case of an emergency. This argument is absurd because before the arrival of cell phones, students could have the school call home in case of an emergency. Schools still have that ability.

Social media allows youth to keep track of their friends activities when they can't be with them but it does not create true personal connections with others. In fact I would suggest that it actually isolates and makes it difficult for young people to form long lasting personal relationships. The greatest danger is easily seen everyday on the streets of any city. Young people are so entranced with the social media around them that they fail to see what is really going on around them which places them in grave situations.
We use to say that we could tell if a person was hooked on a drug by their eyes and their behaviour in public. Take a look around at those who are entranced by their devices at traffic lights, in shopping line ups or in line at a coffee shop. Nothing else is real except what is happening on their facebook page or in their IM strands. Has social media become the new digital social addiction? If so, who will say something. Remember the story of "The Emperors New Clothes"!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Critical Thinking:Does the Ministry of Education Really Want Students to Excel in This?

The title of this post may seem like an odd question. After all, the Ministry of Education websites all state that students should develop this great skill but the nature of "RealPolitic" suggests a different message.

If students were really to excel in the the use of logic, gathering and evaluation of evidence, the evaluation of issues based upon the evidence and effective argumentation, what would be the impact for our lives as citizens?
Consider first the processes of democracy. How could elections of people to government change? I would suggest that young people of voting age and effective critical thinking skills would see through the superficial glitz of election campaigns and ask real questions that affect the lives of people and demand real answers. They would be able to see the agendas held by different parties and decide based on real  and verifiable evidence whether or not what is being proposed in policy platforms is achievable in a realistic sense and good for the common good of citizens of the country. They would be able to detect deceptive presentations and candidates and take them to task by surgically taking apart what is being offered and make an effective counter case to their peers.

Do politicians really want this type of thoughtful engagement? I would submit to you that they do not. If confronted with such an effective skill reflected in students, they will go into survival mode to protect the status quo. They will try to downplay or discredit the very skill that previously they stated was an important skill for all students to have. It is all about the question of who wins and who loses in this scenario.

I believe that students could make a real difference in the future that they are destined to live in but are governments prepared to give up the status quo and really serve the needs of the people that elect them?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dark Zone Education: What is it?

Dark Zone Education is not a soap opera where actors portray the sad realities of people's relationships. However, it is about tragedy that we see unfolding daily in the lives of young people who are striving to understand the validity and substance of the education that they are receiving in school systems that still base education on an industrial model. The students are like widgets on an assembly line that moves into their future and all along this assembly line, stand workers whose simple task is to impart what they have been told to impart to the student. Upon the fulfillment of each task, quality control takes over and  assessment is done. Those who don't become "just another brick in the wall" as Pink Floyd described so eloquently are re-routed to the retrofit department to receive remediation.

If this sounds like a very cynical view of education today it may be due to the fact that it too often represents the reality in young people's lives today. Dark Zone Education as a blog will be suggesting the following:
  1. The goal of education should be to break free of this industrial model of education and propose a paradigm that includes all stakeholders in our society and not just the corporate elite. It should be a paradigm that is imaginative, inspiring to young people, relevant to achieving the common good for society and one that challenges young people to be creators of new knowledge instead of consumers of knowledge.
  2. It is important that young people be challenged by teaching them how to think effectively instead of teaching them what to think. Teach them how to use logic and sound reasoning before asking them to tackle social issues. Perhaps Howard Gardiner's views on intelligence are instructive but his list of intelligences is not necessary in order of priority for the well being of society as it is in the here and now.
  3. There is a strong drive in school systems to be social engineers of the young people in their care. Many of the ills of society can be traced back to the growing instability of the family unit within society. The responsibility of parenting has shifted more away from parents and more to the school system. The school systems were never meant to be the parents of the students in their care. They were meant to be a support to what the parents are doing with their children. However what happens when parents are not fulfilling their responsibility as parents? The school systems become the parents.
I for one believe that there is a better way than the path that education systems are presently on and there are many like me who feel the same way. If you would like an analogy, consider the story: "The Emperor's New Clothes". The situation that exists in education is similar to that described in this story and all that is needed is that one little boy or girl to say: "No, this is not right.".