Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Post-Truth and Fake News - Half an Hour

Half an Hour
Link

Yes, by all means, do something about the fake news that is propagating through Facebook and Twitter. But let's not forget that we have been in the post-truth era for some time (indeed, one wonders whether we ever entered the truth era in the first place).

After all, the rise of the post-truth era is made possible by the failures of the education system to prepare people to identify truth for themselves, and the failure of traditional media to present the news in an honest and forthright manner.

It's true, Facebook could easily cut down on the torrent of fake news stories circulating through social media simply by blocking access to a few sites. We could begin with the obvious: the

Beaverton

, the

Onion

, the

Manatee

. That would prevent sites like

Infowars

from portraying their parody as

fact

. And we could also cut off blatant miscreants like

the Rightists

.

Some of the more prominent election memes were instigated by

abcnews.com.co

for example: "I was paid $3000 to protest a Trump Rally"). No, it's not the ABC network. That's

abcnews.go.com

- the 'go.com' is in there because the news was lumped in with Disney's other properties for cross-promotion purposes.

But these 'fake news' sites are actually pretty funny. And it would be a shame to censor them. And if people can't tell the fake news from the real news, it's mostly because the real news does such an excellent job of parodying itself.

We would

like

to believe the real news can be trusted. But time and again it proves the opposite. Let's look at exactly the sort of thing we are faced with when truing to fine the 'truth' in traditional media:

  • Polls and Surveys. Yes we all love 538 (and in Canada, 308). But that doesn't make up for the plastering of almost-daily poll results in every media outlet in the country (along with the usual made-up 'expanations' of why the polls went up or down). Polls are not news; punditry about pools is barely disguised fiction.
  • Anniversaries. How much of traditional media 'news' content is filled with the observation that it was '50 years since...' or '100 years ago on this day...' and so on. We have holidays for that! But of course, the traditional media also reports that it's a holiday, same time, every year, as though it's news.
  • Endorsing the corporate candidate. In an article quoting Barack Obama as criticizing fake news the Providence Journal does not even not the irony of its lede: "Hillary Clinton was the choice of nearly every American newspaper editorial board. It didn't matter." In Canada, we had a similar case where every newspaper endorsed former prime minister Stephen  Harper. These newspapers are looking out for their corporate owners - and their readers see it plainly.
  • Uncritical reporting. It's not just Donald Trump who was allowed to say pretty much anything without correction. The news media is full of people making preposterous claims. Where is the filter that allows us to screen out claims that Mexico will pay for the wall, or that corporate tax cuts will create jobs? 
  • Reliable sources. They aren't. When factcheck.org analyzed the election, it found that the sources of most of the lies weren't the campaigns themselves, but the supposedly trustworthy institutions like the parties' national committees. We have to learn that institutions lie, they lie frequently, and they lie very well, and the traditional media actually helps them do this.
  • Media hype. Why do we even have a hype cycle?  It's driven by the traditionmal media's propensity to make (or repeat) outlandish claims for often dubious technologies. Even inventions of some value fall victim (and are therefore unfairly criticized). The hype has a predictable pattern than should make it clear it's not news: "a hotbed topic; a sexy, futuristic, ‘cyberpunk’ technology; and the potential for financial returns."
  • Fear. Irrational fear. I just got email from Forbes saying "what are you going to do when you lose your job in 6 months?" Never mind that this will happen to a small percentage of us (and that Forbes readers are generally able to bounce back). The purpose here is to make us terrified and afraid. Just as are the crime stories, the immigrant stories, etc.
  • Supermoon and other misleading trivia. To read the traditional media, it was a once-in-a-lifetime event to see a 'supermoon'. Not counting the supermoons of 2011, 2013, and 2014, to name a few. Glorifying even the most trivial (non-controversial) thing seems to be what the traditional media do. Even then, they get many of the details wrong. But it's far easier than reporting the news.
  • Advertorial - not to be confused with advertisements that look like news stories, these are news stories that are advertisements. You see them on your evening television news every day - a promotion for a new restaurant, a plug for a movie, a story about the next new Christmas toy 'craze'. Or those Black Friday stories (which are really odd coming from Canadian television).
  • Obsessively chasing non-scandals. For example, spending more time talking about Hillary Clinton's emails than all policy issues combined.Even it it were a scandal (and it genuinely wasn't) it wouldn't have deserved this much coverage. What wasn't covered? Anything to do with policy.
  • Unnamed sources. As Jeff Jarvis says, "the source matters". Yet in so many cases, the source in the traditional media is not named. We don't know whether it's a campaign insider or someone posing as a campaign insider.
  • The echo chamber. We hear many complaints about social media being an echo chamber. But traditional media are the biggest echo chamber of them all. We hear from the same sources, the same spokesmen, the same suits and the same pundits. 
  • Fake experts. Who are the experts called upon by traditional media? Often, they are sources provided by lobbyists and speakers' bureaus. As this article notes, "Being published in the media sometimes provides commentators with “expert” status even if they lack expertise on the subject matter being discussed and have no relevant research on the topic." 
  • Reposting press releases - when I ran the Moncton Free Press I would see the exact same content coming from the local newspaper site and Canada NewsWire. There's nothing inherently wrong with a press release, but the newspaper was attributing it to 'STAFF' and passing it off as news, which is blatantly dishonest. The practice never slowed, not even when they were called out on it.
  • Sloppy sloppy sloppy reasoning. The traditional media commits logical fallacies on a regular basis. Surprisingly, when I pointed this out to them, they changed nothing.
  • Poor design. We get reams of old articles shared through social media pretending to be articles from today. OK, sure, it was wrong of the conservative news site to promote this article on changing the electoral college vote in Maryland. But if NBC News made the date much more prominent, it would be impossible to fool people. But that would cut down on archive views.
  • Nationalism. Being Canadian, I am exposed to a lot of nationalism in media - not only our home-grown nationalism, but also from the U.S. (of course) and even from places like Britain, China and Russia. It just underlines to me how far at odd are nationalism and truth.And just how much it is relied upon by traditional media.
  • Think tanks. These supposedly 'independent' voices are not. They are funded by various interests (historically from the far right but now from across the spectrum) to spead misleading research and (sometimes) outright lies. In Canada we have the Fraser Institute, the C.D. Howe Institute, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and many more. These should never be given an uncritical platform. But this is what the traditional media gives them every day. 
  • Institution envy. There are a few sources that make the traditional media go gaga. Thus we get 'The Harvard Study...', the 'Oxford report...', a 'Yale analysis...' and so on. There's nothing about the source of these items that makes them more likely to be true, nor more important, yet traditional media can't get enough of them, even though they collectively exhibit a pronounced slant.

As Jessi Hempel

writes

, "In the past, the sources of accurate information were recognizable enough that phony news was relatively easy for a discerning reader to identify and discredit. The problem, (Snopes managing editor Brooke) Binkowski believes, is that the public has lost faith in the media broadly — therefore no media outlet is considered credible any longer"

We won't solve our problems with the truth by suppressing fake news. We see this in less democratic regimes, and it's never successful. We solve the problem only by having some news agencies that

get it right

- that are trustworthy, and can be

known

to be trustworthy.

And note: it's not enough to create a news media that

I

think can be trusted. The disaffected inhabit all sides of the political spectrum. The media needs to win back the Sanders supporters, the Trump supporters, and sceptical readers in Moscow and Beijing.

Yes, the failure of education and growth of inequality have been reported elsewhere. As Ben Williamson writes, " the statistics from the EU referendum indicate that the vote for leaving the EU was concentrated in geographical areas already most affected by growing economic, cultural and social inequalities, as well as by physical pain and mental

ill-health

and rising mortality rates."

And as he notes, "

Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller

of the think tank Demos wrote a report 5 years ago that highlighted a need to teach young people critical thinking and scepticism online to ‘allow them to better identify outright lies, scams, hoaxes, selective half-truths, and mistakes.’"

But let's not blame the less-educated. The most educated people in society have

made

this the environment we're living in.

Reading

Backchannel -

According to Snopes, fake news is not the problem

Code Acts in Education -

Social media and public pedagogies of political mis-education

Digital Digs -

Pluralism and the nonmodern, nonliberal society

FactCheck.org -

How to spot fake news

Fast Company -

How We Got to Post-Truth

Fast Company -

Fake U.S. News is a Global Problem

Medium -

A Call for Cooperation Against Fake News

Quartz -

Oxford Dictionaries declare 'Post'Truth' the word of the year

.

the Conversation (

Andina Dwifatm)

-

Everyone’s an expert: in the digital era, fakes need to be exposed

Washington Post.

Donald Trump is crashing the system. Journalists need to build a new one


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Monday, October 3, 2016

Scholars Review the Funding of the Common Core - Diane Ravitch's blog

Diane Ravitch's blog
Link

This post is a scholarly analysis of the funding of Common Core: Who put up the money, who benefitted. The paper (which can be downloaded

here

) was written by three scholars at Pennsylvania State University: Mindy L. Kornhaber, Nikolaus J. Barkauskas, and Kelly M. Griffith.

They track where the money came from and where it was spent.

The biggest problem for the Common Core standards was that they were released based on a hope, not on evidence or experience. They were never tested in advance, so no one could say with assurance how they would affect students, the achievement gaps, teachers, classrooms.

Their closing paragraph is chilling:

An analogy to the Gold Rush may be useful here: The claim stakers are the federal government and philanthropies that have staked out the Common Core for public policy. To work that stake, they incentivize states and school districts to mine the Common Core and get higher measured achievement. To do so, the miners need equipment. The vendors who sell the equipment profit in the short term, even if their tools rarely enable the miners to get the sought-after results. In essence, those who set directions for the Common Core and those who provided resources for its implementation have benefitted, even as potential benefits to schools, educators, and students are elusive, and the entire claim may ultimately be empty. 



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Friday, September 30, 2016

Bankers and Teachers: Scandals and Accountability (Part 2) - Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice
Link

Part 1 described how Wells Fargo bank and the Atlanta public schools defrauded large numbers of customers and students. At the bank, over 5,000 employees were fired. The bank’s CEO admitted responsibility for the fraud before a U.S. Senate Banking Committee yet the fine levied by federal regulators ($185 million) wasn’t even a slap on the wrist, given the $80-plus billion in revenues that the bank took in last year. Nor did the bank admit in that agreement to pay the fine any responsibility for for their actions. The CEO is still CEO.

The Atlanta public schools cheating scandal found evidence of 178 principals and teachers in over 40 schools tampering with student scores on state tests. Eleven teachers were indicted, tried, and convicted (over 20 other educators took plea deals).  Those 11 are in prison.

Two questions occurred to me as I read and pondered these instances of corruption Wells Fargo and the Atlanta public schools.

First, why did employees scam customers with bogus bank accounts and educators tamper with test scores?

The familiar answer is: some bad apples caused the problem–which is basically saying it was individuals acting badly not an organizational problem. Over 5,000 fired at Wells Fargo is a lot of “bad apples, however.” Over 40 schools and 178 educators is also a lot of “bad apples.” The “bad apples” answer side-steps the pervasive culture in Wells Fargo and Atlanta public schools that top leaders shaped and drove unrelentingly.

Top officials created an organizational culture of producing results at any cost. Ample evidence exists of top managers  setting very high performance goals that were difficult to meet; the company and district created fear among employees who didn’t meet those goals. Penalties for low performance and retaliation for those who complained fostered a culture of fear. Compliance to do what expected even if it disadvantaged customers was a powerful reason to keep a job. In short, the culture caused employees to peddle bogus accounts and fix test scores.

But–you knew a “but” was coming–not all of the lowest paid employees engaged in the fraud. While cultural pressures can be strong and influential, they do not always determine individual action.  Sure, 5,300 Wells Fargo employees were fired but many more retained their jobs by figuring out ways to perform and not defraud customers. Similarly, all Atlanta  educators experienced the same intense pressure to raise students’ test scores but many principals and teachers followed the rules and did what they were supposed to do in administering and scoring tests. Yes, organizational culture surely shapes behavior but it does not determine how every individual acts.

Top officials were greedy; they thought they could get away with the fraud and cheating and boost the reputation of their organizations.   Over the years, bipartisan policies deregulated industries (e.g., financial companies, airlines) creating a climate where profit seeking is highly prized. Billionaires become American heroes dispensing donations, advice, and encouragement to aspiring millionaires. The  language describing unvarnished greed has softened, euphemisms abound describing the unceasing chase for more and more money (e.g., “being entrepreneurial,” “individual enterprise”). Not only in the corporate sector, this profit-seeking culture has now spread across public institutions such as schools, hospitals, and prisons (see here, here, and here).

None of this should surprise any reader since individual profit-seeking is in the DNA of a capitalist democracy. From John Jacob Astor to John D. Rockefeller to Cornelius Vanderbilt, billionaires made their money in trade and real estate, oil, and railroads. They became legends in their own time. They were admired, inspiring their fellow Americans whether they were poor, working class or just got a hand-hold in the middle class to get rich In the U.S., the job of curbing the unrelenting search for profit has been the role of government, as it has in most developed countries. We have lived in a mixed economy where both business and government have interacted constantly checking and balancing one another for nearly two centuries.

When that partnership breaks down or one side becomes too powerful—too much government regulation or too much business influence on governmental policy then shifts in political power  occur to correct that imbalance. Consider the New Deal following the Great Depression  of the 1930s. Or deregulation of industries since the 1980s and reforming the tax code to benefit the wealthy. The U.S. is in such a moment now of inequalities in wealth that call for restraining the richest of the rich from re-shaping government policies to make it easier for them to become even wealthier while leaving middle class families trail far behind in increasing their salaries.

Second, why are there differences in holding public and private employees accountable for their crimes?

Since the late-1970s, The U.S. is in a moment when business success, corporate entrepreneurs, and keeping government regulation at arm’s length has dominated public policy. “Government is the problem,” as Ronald Reagan put it. Getting rid of government rules and bureaucracy, conservatives argue, will unleash business owners to invest and create more jobs for Americans. Anti-government rhetoric morphed into state and federal laws–e.g., tax cuts, incentives for investors to locate their monies in off-shore accounts and not pay taxes, low interest rates, fewer IRS audits– that benefited those who ran companies and had large investment portfolios.

Corporate leaders, backed by large sums of money, hired lobbyists to influence legislators to deregulate airlines, banks, pharmaceuticals, and other industries so that more money would flow to the already rich. To the rich, public institutions were  feeding at the tax-payer trough and were not as efficient and effective as private sector companies. Accountability was needed, business leaders said, to hold public officials in schools, hospitals, and prisons to be responsible for student outcomes, curing illnesses, and punishing criminals.

And that is how I explain why no CEO of a company heavily involved in the chicanery of the Great Recession of 2008 has gotten convicted while some Atlanta school employees went to jail.

 



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Friday, September 9, 2016

'What About Tutoring Instead of Pills?'

Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan is one of the world's leading experts in child development. In a SPIEGEL interview, he offers a scathing critique of the mental-health establishment and pharmaceutical companies, accusing them of incorrectly classifying millions as mentally ill out of self-interest and greed.

http://m.spiegel.de/international/world/a-847500.html

SPIEGELWhat does it mean if millions of American children are wrongly being declared mentally ill?

KaganWell, most of all, it means more money for the pharmaceutical industry and more money for psychiatrists and people doing research.

SPIEGELAnd what does it mean for the children concerned?

KaganFor them, it is a sign that something is wrong with them -- and that can be debilitating. I'm not the only psychologist to say this. But we're up against an enormously powerful alliance: pharmaceutical companies that are making billions, and a profession that is self-interested

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Heartfelt Tribute to Seymour Papert by Gary Stager | Children's Technology Review

A Heartfelt Tribute to Seymour Papert | Children's Technology Review: "Papert’s ideas are not so much controversial as they are ignored by the education technology “community.” Papert was bad for business, If you’re a school system hell-bent on compliance or standardization, a message of student agency, creativity, and intellectual freedom threatens the status quo. When kids build, maintain, and program the software for their own personal computer, fewer gadgets and apps will be purchased. Such views are a menace to a profit-centric edtech industry and an education system Papert described as idea averse."



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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Papert - in his own words - Learning with 'e's

Learning with 'e's
Link
Seymour Papert passed away this week aged 88. His efforts to reform education through advancing social-constructivist theory will be perhaps one of his most important legacies. Papert has been widely acknowledged for developing the theory of constructionism. He saw learning as an active process that involved not only social interaction, but also constructing artefacts. Learning by making became an important component of learning in the digital age, and has been used as an explanation of the rise in user generated content.

He also encouraged meta-cognition as an important pedagogical method. In his own words: "You cannot think about thinking, without thinking about thinking about something." That 'something' was clearly the object that could be created through thinking about thinking, about problems, about knowledge.

His work around the early computer programming language LOGO was also ground breaking - introducing an entire generation of learners to the idea that coding could cause direct action with objects and space. The ability to command a floor robot to do one's bidding added a new level of engagement to maths and science lessons. Seymour Papert understood that fundamentally, people learn because they are interested - and that engagement with a problem, construction of an object or exploration of a space was essential for deeper forms of learning.

He was a stern critic of instructional and didactic forms of education, and was a champion of student centred learning, active engagement and creativity. These ideas will continue to inspire generations of educators to come, and his influence will not be dimmed by his passing. In memory of Seymour, here are some of the most significant (and inspirational) quotes from his illustrious career as a thought leader, developmental theorist and influential pedagogue:

On video games: "Every maker of video games knows something that the makers of curriculum don't seem to understand. You'll never see a video game being advertised as being easy. Kids who do not like school will tell you it's not because it's too hard. It's because it's boring."

On student centred learning: "I am convinced that the best learning takes place when the learner takes charge."

On the role of teachers: "The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready made knowledge."

On transferable skills: "We need to produce people who know how to act when they are faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared."

On the purpose of education: "The principal goal of education in schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done."

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Creative Commons License
Papert - in his own words by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's


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