Friday Notes – 24 MAY 2013

I have a longer post in the works about education technology (edtech). It’s taking longer than expected because, well, it’s longer. Heck, even this post should have been titled “Tuesday Notes” or “Wednesday Notes,” but I’ve procrastinated on it as well.

Anyway, the below are a few short things I’d like to point out this Friday evening:

“I think that the act of contributing, whether it is mandatory or whether it is voluntary (I think it ought to be mandatory), does something for the individual. When you contribute to something, you put more value on it. If I made you pick up trash on the street out front, you’d be more upset with people who littered, and you would own that street more. I think paying taxes to a nation is not enough. That’s too clinical. Having the opportunity to actually go and do things for the nation that are inconvenient or unpleasant or even unsafe binds you to the larger group more deeply than before.

America suffers right now from the fact that many Americans don’t meet or deal with anybody outside their social or cultural circle. It may be economic, it may be geographic, it may be religion. I think one of the great things about forced national service, like World War II, was that it blended people across the different parts of our country, made us a better melting pot than we would have been otherwise. I think mandatory national service would have a huge effect to help us in that direction.”

I would join a new WPA or CCC. Absolutely. (I’d rejoin the Air Force if I could.) This recession and unemployment has decimated my family. No matter how hard we try. If I could use my skills or even different and new skills to help my country, at a living wage, I’d do it. Sign me up.

I don’t want to be unemployed. So give me a living wage and a problem to solve and I’m in. I don’t care if the problem or position is pollution-related (litter even!) or upper-level governmental relations or communications or policy staffer (more in line with my skills). It could even be physical labor, to the extent I am capable, and the employers’ willingness to train.

But, most important, I have never felt the camaraderie from shared hardship and experiences that I did in the military. I think a concern for the community can be borne from national service (military or otherwise). Unfortunately, AmeriCorps — like the Peace Corps — doesn’t pay a living wage to families (unlike the way the military and Foreign Service take care of their personnel’s families). Until such benefits can be matched by community/national service programs, we will never attract enough volunteers to be an effective community builder. But draftees into such programs (and their parents) would demand better treatment.

All that said, I agree with a post-high school national service requirement. Maybe of two years — one for training and another for service (military or domestic). Free college and other benefits for those who don’t attend college should be offered afterward in return. This should not be used as an incentive, however. The program must still be mandatory. You invest in your nation and your nation invests in you.

  • Regarding edtech, you can see two of my snarky comments on this article about tech leaders needing to build “thought leaders” in education. To expand beyond those comments linked to above, it is exactly sentiments like the ones on display in the article that get me riled up about edtech. There are thought leaders in education. Thought leaders at both the state and national levels. We don’t need edtech entrepreneurs molding people into “thought leaders.” The tech (and edtech community, in particular) industry fails to engage with education thought leaders or doesn’t even know them because they’re too busy commending themselves at conferences lacking any teachers or professors (like this one).

And that’s why they are really only building playthings for wealthy whites. As C.Z. Nnaemeka writes in The MIT Entrepreneurship Review (courtesy Misty):

“When I look at the bulk of startups today – while there are notable exceptions (Code for America for example, which invites local governments to request technology help from teams of coders) – it doesn’t seem like we’ve aspired to something nobler: it just looks like we’ve shifted the malpractice from feeding the money machine to making inane, self-centric apps. Worse, is that the power players, institutional and individual — the highflying VCs, the entrepreneurship incubators, the top-ranked MBA programs, the accelerators, the universities, the business plan competitions have been complicit in this nonsense.

Those who are entrepreneurially-minded but young and idea-poor need serious direction from those who are rich in capital and connections. We see what ideas are getting funded, we see money flowing like the river Ganges towards insipid me-too products, so is it crazy that we’ve been thinking small? building smaller? that our ‘blood and judgment’ to quote Hamlet, have not been ‘so well commingled?'”

Once again, the corporate world will set out to solve an education problem without the input of teachers. At $500 for registration, the US News STEM Solutions Summit is out of reach for K-12 educators or their campus budgets.

I have worked in STEM education my entire career and seen industry support come and go. A company starts an interesting program but doesn’t create anything that can be scaled up. The Manor New Tech High program is fantastic, but it is exceedingly difficult to find the time for a project that spurs interest when the legislature has saddled us with a set of standards that are “a mile-high and an inch deep.” When so much content is required, administrators are unwilling to take a chance on project-based instruction for the fear students will not be prepared for the latest product from Pearson. And few people discuss where most students check out of math and science – elementary school.

Until teachers and parents who are not wealthy and well-connected become part of the conversation, STEM will continue to be an area with enormous potential that is never quite realized.

7:28 a.m. May. 20, 2013

Okay. Enough of that until the longer edtech post.


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