Politics and Culture in the Era of Self

David Brooks: Politics and Culture

David Brooks

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While the entirety of this hour long video is excellent, I will only be focusing on the time between about 24:30 to about 31:30 (if you use the chapters, it begins with Chapter 8: Self-Importance in the National Psychology).

So I understand that this doesn’t fit perfectly into an education issue but I feel it has many truths to it that are reflective in our classrooms. David Brooks gives a great analysis of the current trends in America. He will touch on everything from generational self-esteem to consumption based on how we view ourselves to the gridlock caused by this movement of self-promotion.

One fact that jumped out at me was the Gallop Poll of high school students and if they saw themselves as a very important person. I happen to grow up more towards the end of the shift as he states it but I was lucky that my Mother kept me humbled and ensured that I never thought greater of myself than I needed to. I believe it was her who made me who I am today. While I know I am special in her eyes, she has always been quick to knock me back down whenever my head got too big. She keeps me grounded to this day and it is her influence that makes me reflect on all aspects of life which leads me to be more accepting of those around me and the beliefs they have.

Finally there is one other key point that I think needs to be discussed more in this nation. It is the identity of what type of society we are, a Republic or a Democracy. I see it year after year where when asked, the students in unison will say a Democracy. This is even moments after studying the Greeks and the pure form of Democracy. What gets me is that even by 10th grade they have never taken the time to really listen to the words in the Pledge of Allegiance. Daily they will pledge to the Republic, for which it stands, and never make the connection.

I believe that Mr. Brooks gives a great explanation of the difference. He will discuss the shift in the national identity from the Republic to the Democracy as we also saw a shift in the culture of self. As he explains, in a Democracy the role and purpose of government is to give the people what they want, when they want it. It is in this ideal that we see the culture of self where we want to know what the government can do for us. A nice reversal from Kennedy’s famous quote. Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs) made a point of this as well in a talk where he discussed his experiences on the Deadliest Catch boats. He noticed that ideas like safety were not the priority of the captains. Their priority was getting their men back rich and if those men wanted to get back safe, that was on them. It was a shift away from expecting others to look out and provide for us all the time to us taking on that role and becoming more self reliant.

So what is the role of government in a Republic then? It is to restrain us from what we want. Our founding fathers, Enlightenment thinkers in their own light, knew the arguments of the role of government and people from Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu and Rousseau. They understood that historically the masses left unchecked will bring themselves down. With that in mind, they created a government that would protect us from ourselves, that would require us to follow a process to evaluate the actions we take so that we don’t find ourselves turning against our own principals and priorities of liberty and justice against any man. As Ben Franklin famously said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

I showed this 7 minute clip to my classes to see what their view of his ideas were and ended up in a half hour class discussion of our nation and historical trends we have studied. I believe his message of humility is one that we have rebelled against but need to begin to revisit. Has education become lost just as politics has in this Era of Self? With IEPs, a litany of educational awards for mediocrity and trend of parents siding with students over teachers, have we already lost the battle? As many teachers are all to familiar with, every child we have is special and somebody and all have the potential to do anything they want, just as long as they have a better teacher. It is then the teachers fault if they couldn’t turn what could have been a great artist or pipe fitter into a Rhodes Scholar.

Just some ideas to think about.

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Richard Dreyfuss: Improving Civic Education

Link: Richard Dreyfuss: Improving Civic Education

Actor Richard Dreyfuss at the Big Apple Conven...

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No, I am not on my trip blogging (but don’t put it past me). I just wrote this last night and scheduled it for later as to not send out two posts right after each other.

However, I wanted to share this great talk. It was filmed at the Commonwealth Club in July of last year. (See link above)

Richard Dreyfuss discusses the need and necessity of civic education and how our society is beginning to disregard its importance. He stands up against the push for facts and memorization (standardized tests) that have begun to get in the way of preparing young men and women for a life where critical thinking and reason are a vital requirement. As Robert M. Hutchins said, “The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.”

I believe Mr. Dreyfuss is concerned, just like many of us who teach the social sciences, that society and public schools in particular, are becoming more apathetic and that has begun in the classrooms where history and government teachers are being forced to teach random objectives that can be quantified on a multiple choice test.

So what should we be doing? I believe Stephen Lazar said it best when he said, “the primary job of social studies teachers is to prepare critical citizens.” He explains that to be a critical citizen:

Students need to know that they need to “read” the New York Post differently from the USA Today, the New York Times differently from the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC differently from Fox News.  Moreover, they need to know to critically evaluate what they find through Google or YouTube.

So with this in mind the talk from Mr. Dreyfuss made a big impact. He speaks with reason and logic. He has quietly reflected on this issue for a great deal of time and it shows. He has evaluated and analyzed his words and thoughts meticulously. He demonstrates the very ideal that he is arguing for in a profound way. I highly recommend taking the time to watch this great talk.

Once done, don’t stop there. Go to the Dreyfuss Initiative to see the ideas he expresses in action.

As always, if you comment the blog, please rate the blog. If you rate the blog something good, please subscribe. This is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

PBL for the history classroom…

Oh, what to talk about, what to talk about…

I should be sleeping.

Tonight I get to stay up late with hundreds of Key Clubbers to rendezvous with thousands of others for their Fall Rally at Magic Mountain. A yearly tradition where I get to not sleep for a couple days but otherwise I always come back with a story. (In 3 years I have had 2 rainy days, a fire and a bus where the door wouldn’t close all the way and froze us for the ride back.)

So here I am, trying to kill time until it is time to leave. Seems like a perfect time to rant.

So for the past two days (Block Scheduling) I have been watching student presentations. A couple years ago I began looking for real world projects for the social studies classroom. I wanted to translate the material into possible future situations. After an exhaustive search I finally found a base idea for some.

Prentice Hall, in their new Modern World History series, came up with a collection of WebQuests. Here is an example of two:

You are political scientists. A group of people who are establishing a new country have come to you for advice. They are interested in learning more about how political systems have risen, developed, and declined throughout history, so that they can make the right choices in governing their country. You have been asked to prepare a comparison study of political systems, including the advantages and disadvantages of each.

You are a curator at the Science and Technology Hall of Fame. The museum director has asked that you nominate an invention or technological innovation from the last fifty years to be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame. You will then design a virtual museum exhibit—An Invention That Changed Your World—to demonstrate why your invention or innovation deserves to be included in the Hall of Fame.

I love these so far because they address possible situations a historian, political scientist or any type of social scientist might find themselves in. It brings a real world feel to the material.

Now, this has just been my first presentation and I have already come up with many tweaks to make it run smoother. Even the students have seen a multitude of improvements to make, taking bits and piece of what has worked in other projects and what hasn’t.

One of the major parts to all this that I am finding to be vital is the debrief. Even the small debriefs after each presentation and another at the end of the day is adding a new level to everything. Getting them past the worry of grades and criticism are the two hardest parts but once free of that, it opens them up to take risks and to think outside of the box.

I think that final part is the most important skill I hope they develop from this. For too many of my students, they have been trained to follow the directions to the letter. They are obsessed with keeping it safe. For the political system project, most gave what could only be described as a government lesson but for a couple, they threw out the “rule book” and just talked and displayed some showmanship. They had fun with it instead of keeping it rigid out of fear it would hurt their grade.

A photo of the Shake Weight product for sale i...

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The same was true for Science and Technology. Most students went with the expected (iPhone or cell phone, video games, etc…) but for one group; the Shake Weight. They had fun with the assignment and I find that selling the Shake Weight will be much more difficult and require more creativity.

The ultimate goal of these projects is to get them to find their creativity, to utilize more than one skill to create something and to become more comfortable with presenting information in a variety of ways to a group. Also, along the way they are getting some content too.

I like the direction and we will have to see where this all leads to in the end.

As always, if you comment the blog, please rate the blog. If you rate the blog something good, please subscribe. This is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

Glitch in the Matrix: Digital Philosophy

Glitch in the Matrix is an ongoing saga of one teacher’s adventures to become more technologically incorporated. This episode we look at a digital philosophy.

Interactive Whiteboard University of Cumbria (...

Image by jisc_infonet via Flickr

I want to be clear in this endeavor. I am not some true believer in the overwhelming power of technology in all aspects of our lives, including teaching. I am openly skeptical of iPads in the classroom if they become nothing more than a $600 textbook and I have found little use for interactive whiteboards.

That isn’t to say they don’t have uses. I have seen some great apps on the iPad for elementary schools, especially for remediation. I have also seen some great math and science apps for high school as well. As for interactive whiteboards, again, great for elementary and secondary math and science but what about English and social studies? (I’m just going to skip all the other subjects and focus on the core to simplify the issue.)

However, I think there is a bigger issue here that is being addressed. We have become an era obsessed with technology. We care more about if we could and not about if we should. We have moved to a point as Tyler Durden said in Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you.” We are controlled by our devices instead of us controlling them. We are plugged in, tuned on and connected in more ways than ever thought possible.

But have we stopped to ask if this is the right direction? We never turn off the connection. It began with cell phones. We could be reached anywhere at anytime without ever questioning if we should. We camp for new devices without even knowing what use it has. We have become digitized.

Worse yet, we have gone to a point where those who create have stopped talking to those who evaluate.  Comedian Patton Oswald made a great skit out of this where he jokes about science creating things we don’t want and shouldn’t have. As he ends it, “We’re science: we’re all about coulda, not shoulda.”

This brings me to a great talk that brought up many of these questions for myself.

Anand Giridharadas, an author and journalist, spoke to the Innovation Forum a year ago. In his talk he brings up a few great points we should all think about before we jump head first into the latest technological trend.

First, Anand makes a point in asking “when should we focus on product instead of distribution?” Much of this has been found in the blogosphere. News has moved to media, dominated by ratings, not truth, justice and facts. Replacing it has been blogs, where facts and truth are shades of grey. We also have pushed more towards the idea of what sells and not what matters.

Next, he asks “to what extent that we can live the quantified life, do we want to live the quantified life?” As a teacher, I have felt this first hand. Can the development of the young mind be evaluated in a simple test? Can the success of a child in their post high school lives be quantified on a spreadsheet? It is bad enough that we Facebook and Twitter the specific details of our lives that we must then obsess over the numbers of every aspect of society?

Finally, he addresses the good and the bad to this digital future. From the opening of the third world and the access to other cultures to how vicious we can be when anonymous online. He addresses that there is nothing intrinsically special to paper verse electronic when it comes to news but has this movement hurt our ability to read long form or to sit down and focus.

As I move forward, I keep these ideas in my head and close to my heart. I need to find the balance in both my life and my students lives. As he ends the talk he mentions that we need more people who don’t know technology to embrace it and those who have mastered it to not all be in favor of it.

To watch the full talk (16min), click here.

Until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

News I find: Putting skills before scores

News I find is a series where in my travels I come across articles that I find interesting and relevant to the current education debate and I want to share them with you all. This episode we look at the goal of education verse the quantifying of a student or teacher.

Putting skills before scores

While this article comes from Ireland, I still find it is relevant. Ireland and the United States score very closely on the PISA evaluations and they are also going through the same debates we are currently going through. While I know there are many factors in the education debate, this might shed some light on if we are going in the right direction.

A highlight from the quick article was a quote from Sir Ken Robinson where the author says:

Robinson argued that education systems were geared not towards producing rounded individuals but college professors, a relentless conveyor belt “educating people out of their creative capacities” starting in preschool and ending at the top of a university department.

Read more: http://www.techcentral.ie/article.aspx?id=17731#ixzz1dQEunuHH

My view is that we have become too obsessed with this idea that every key stroke and every table visit a teacher does needs to be logged and tracked. We are wasting countless man hours on data collection, evaluation and dissemination that it has made us lost to the real goal of education; preparing the children for whatever path they choose to take.

As I have said repeatedly, my job isn’t to make them into mini historians upon completion of my class. If they want to do that, they should go to college and major in history. My role is really to give them the critical thinking skills they will need for life and to help them develop other skills that we have dubbed the Big 11.

  1. by utilizing text reading strategies.
  2. by applying writing strategies.
  3. by responding to historical text/literature.
  4. by utilizing and/or creating maps, graphs, and diagrams.
  5. by conducting research.
  6. by utilizing and/or interpreting primary and secondary sources.
  7. by seeking information from varied sources to develop informed opinions.
  8. by collaborating with peers.
  9. by presenting information orally, in writing, and/or through technology presentations.
  10. by utilizing technology resources.
  11. by providing contemporary examples.

So what is the content? It is just a tool for the above goals. I want them to become better citizens and more well rounded individuals and it is my belief that by studying world history and utilizing the above methods, they will become more successful in life.

Until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

Glitch in the Matrix: The journey begins.

Glitch in the Matrix is an ongoing saga of one teachers adventures to become more technologically incorporated. This episode we look at the back story that brought us here.

Image representing Google Apps as depicted in ...

Image via CrunchBase

For years I have wanted to become more of a technology teacher. For the most part I am considered the younger teacher by both my peers and students. I’m the teacher who loves Facebook, sees the potential for twitter and supports the idea of smartphones in the classroom. I also have seen how more and more jobs require a degree of technological understanding.

So with that I have been pushing my classroom more and more towards this endeavor. In my first year I made a class website through our district but it had great limits. It was held back in what creative control we were allowed and it had few tangible uses. In my next year I pushed the limits of that website, attempting to go a little more paperless, only to find failure but a learning experience.

Once I transferred to my new school, I came into a situation where I wouldn’t have a classroom to call my own so I needed to rely on a virtual classroom more and more. I went to Weebly to create that classroom and I found some success, especially for being a free site. I was able to upload files, create class discussions through a blog option and post resources and classroom announcements.

Unfortunately I was also hit with some security issues. I didn’t like that my student’s names were just published for the world. It was a great start and another great learning experience but it still lacked something. I had many questions and even more ideas than I was able to do. I was also limited in how much I wanted to spend for this, which was a whole $0. Back to the drawing board.

Over the summer I revisited some of the resources I used back in college to start a chapter of the Roosevelt Institute at UNLV. I am currently advising some students on creating the nation’s first high school version and while planning it out, came back across Google Docs and all the new apps they have been creating. Feeling this might be the answer I have been looking for, I dug deeper.

About a month ago I went to a conference on 21st Century Skills where I was able to talk to many teachers who had already gone through the same trials and tribulations and were able to answer my concerns, help with some hurdles and clear up some of the confusion I was having. I’ve also begun to work with a fellow teacher who is currently completing a master’s degree in Educational Technology.

This whirlwind of resources has caused me to drop my Weebly adventures and I am currently pushing through bringing in many Google apps into my classroom such as Sites, Docs, and Groups. As I venture into the unknown I will continue to keep you all updated on my progress, failures and successes. I will also be evaluating the different elements to see what works in all schools or just certain schools. My goal is to come up with a basic list that would work in all schools.

Until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

News I find…

Linda Darling-Hammond

Image by tbfurman via Flickr

In my travels I come across articles that I find interesting. In the past I have just posted them to my Facebook to share with the world. While I will continue to do this, I am going to move the more education focused ones to here. Plus, I have a sister-in-law who demands twitter posts for these articles and WordPress was kind enough to auto post there since I seem to lack the capabilities to understand twitter. (I know, unconscionable for someone as young as I am.)

Well, here is one article I found. At the Washington Post they have two competing education blogs; the Answer Sheet by Valarie Strauss and one by Jay Mathews. I tend to lean towards Strauss and as for Mathews, I disagree with many of his ideals but every now and then will give him a look to see how the other side lives.

Good thing I checked him out recently. He wrote an article which I hope will be the first steps in a reevaluation of his beliefs similar to what Diane Ravitch when through before The Death and Life of the Great American School. Mathews has never been a fan of Linda Darling-Hammond as he will say but he does admit success when he sees it. (Which is why I still read him. He is reasonable and thoughtful, even when I completely disagree with his ideas.)

So I encourage all of you to check out his article: Alma mater’s improvements knock me sideways.