27 November 2013

Please Mayor DeBlasio... Please Governor Malloy... Please Governor McAuliffe... Please...

It is time to stop the abuse of children for profit. I cannot say it any more clearly than that.

It is time to stop the abuse of children for profit.

Perhaps, if you are an American political leader, say a President or something, you personally have not walked through enough schools and watched enough children...

...though I suspect that Mayor-in-a-month DeBlasio and Governor Malloy and Governor-in-a-month McAuliffe all have in recent years. And so, if you walk through those halls, you know what we've been doing to children, you know the harm we have been doing to children, over the past 30 years, and especially the last 15, and especially the last five.

We haven't just been making children cry. We haven't just been scaring them. We haven't just been stealing their resources to enrich a few adults. We have been limiting their educations, and thus, their opportunities.

What is the definition of child abuse? I'm not going overboard here to suggest that the policies promoted by ALEC, Pearson, the Gates Foundation, and implemented by Arne Duncan, Mike Bloomber, Jeb Bush, and others do indeed constitute emotional and psychological abuse and denial of equal opportunity.

The testing which has destroyed our schools, and which has crushed the spirit of our children, and which has wrecked, in many cases, our children's love of learning, has no actual validity... it measures nothing of consequence. The imposed, even scripted (in New York City's case), curricula of the Common Core and its relatives, does nothing to build an educated society, but rather, limits the engagement and interest and intellectual diversity of our children. The attacks on those of us who are "different" - especially those of us who are dyslexic and ADHD (I'm looking at you, Common Core advocates and Virginia leaders) - are cruel and in my mind, constitutionally unfair.

Now what should school look like? This isn't rocket science Mr. Mayor, Governors. We know that first, we need to engage learners. Unengaged learners are, definably, not learners. Second, we need to toss our "grade level standards," and every test which goes with them, out the window. Grade level standards are designed - from the very start - to fail children, not help them succeed. They are based in the absurd fiction that all humans learn all things at the same rate. And that fiction is why those who created grade level standards and age-based grades at the start, did so in order to flunk out 80% of children before ninth grade began (five part series).

Ninth Grade English learning plot development

Then we need to Universally Design our schools, so we are assessing - and yes, we are smart enough to assess without bad tests - abilities and capabilities, not disabilities and human differences.

Through contemporary technologies and loads of free software choices (consider just the Freedom Stick Suite, it's free), with One-To-One computer initiatives based in student choice, with contemporary learning space design, and with teacher professional learning aimed at the creation of creative, informed, empathetic professionals. we can - we have proven that we can - develop schools which maximize the potential of every child, and that we can do that without breaking any banks (the savings on Pearson et al will get us half way there, the stopping of worksheet printing will generate the other half of the money we need).

Third Grade Writers

So this is a desperate plea to our leaders. New leaders and continuing leaders. Let's put a stop to more than a century of Industrial Education. Let's stop treating our children as the raw materials ready for the "value added" assembly line which will turn them into identical widgets for jobs which no longer exist. Let's stop assaulting our children with tests which do not help them learn and which do not help us help them learn.

Let us remake education as something humane and holistic. As something inspiring and committed to real human development.

You are leaders, please, lead. Starting right now.

Sixth Grade Writers
"Schools should be factories in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products. . . manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry." - Elwood Cubberley's dissertation 1905, Teachers College, Columbia University

"We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks." - Woodrow Wilson at the University of Virginia, 1905, and in various other addresses

"Richard Allington, a professor of education at the University of Tennessee and one of the country's most recognized experts on early literacy, calls the accommodation [use of Text-To-Speech technology for dyslexic students] "cheating." - EducationWeek
 - Ira Socol

24 November 2013

Wiping Yourself Out of History

Yes, I am old enough to remember the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. And yes, as with almost anyone who remembers that day I believe that remembering the event matters a great deal.

With that in mind, I joined in the creation of a Kennedy Assassination Resource Site for our schools, as we begin the modeling of how to collect digital resources, and as the 50th Anniversary of that Friday in Dallas approached.

But we had one recurring problem. We kept trying to link two critical YouTube video clips to the site: one of the interruption of the soap opera As the World Turns for the first CBS News bulletin, the other, legendary CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite wiping away tears as he confirmed the news of the President's death. Now, I saw neither of these "live." I was in school when, probably, both happened, and we were an "NBC News family" anyway, pretty firmly committed to getting our news from Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. And yet, in national memory, those CBS clips have prettu much defined getting that awful news that day.

Walter Cronkite breaks the news to America,
November 22, 1963
"Three-quarters of the people in this country today are not old enough to remember the tragedy, but Baby Boomers forever will recite where they were and what they were doing when they got the news from Walter Cronkite," said the Boston Globe in an article about the National Football League's bizarre decision to play football games that weekend in 1963. CBS was the top rated television network (there were only three then), and CBS News was the most watched news source in the nation. Cronkite was so powerful that he is largely credited, five years later, with turning the majority of Americans against the Vietnam War.

So, we figured Cronkite and CBS were important parts of the story of that awful weekend. But CBS thought differently. Every time we tried to link to either of these videos the links would vanish, taken down because of "copyright claims by CBS," so eventually we gave up. What our students see is instead, my family's preference, NBC News. NBC (and ABC) aggressively embracing YouTube sharing.

 NBC News, November 22, 1963

Now eventually, on Sunday morning, November 24, 2013, CBS did post a contemporarily-edited version from CBS Sunday Morning to YouTube. But this is not the kind of source material we want our students to begin with. So CBS News and Cronkite are gone, and Huntley-Brinkley are in. In 20 years, if these policies remain the same, no one will write, "where they were and what they were doing when they got the news from Walter Cronkite," because Cronkite will have vanished from history, hidden from view by the CBS attitude toward copyright.

This is not just about the Kennedy assassination, of course. This is about the massive mistakes so many are making a decade or so after the Gutenberg Era ended.

"It is a sobering fact that some 90% of papers that have been published in academic journals are never cited. Indeed, as many as 50% of papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, referees and journal editors." notes an Indiana University researcher (PDF). To which my response is "duh." Hidden behind paywalls, limited to the research strategies of bored graduate students, it is clear that no one gives a damn about what you have written if you choose to severely limit your audience from the start.

My blog's statistical analysis suggests that more people have read my blog post - in one month - criticizing Dr. Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville than have probably read all the academic papers by all of Allington's grad students. My post being public, and their research being, not.

Closed for business: Allington's Google Scholar results list all sorts
of research that will cost you dearly in you want to read it.
Why is he choosing to avoid the national conversation?
In fact, if I use Google Scholar to search for Allington's work, I find links to $25 books and $15 journal articles, and I'm not paying for either, and neither are teachers. I don't know, maybe he assigns his books so his students have to buy them. If I use "regular" Google I find a few "light" pieces available, alongside many costly ink-on-paper books. Again, sorry, no thanks.

RIAA caught stealing copyrighted web code as they pursue
kids who download a song.
Do you want to be part of the conversation or not? That is the question. Many, university faculty, grad students, the Authors Guild, the MPAA, the RIAA, would rather not be. In pursuit of pennies, they are actually seeking irrelevance.

These groups all think they are benefitting their "members," but that's obviously not true. They are all choosing to drive their audiences away. It is not even a tough prediction to suggest that university attendance will nose-dive over the next 20 years, better information than many post-secondary courses offer is available free and in much more engaging forms... That "film" and music distribution will look completely different in five years: Straight to YouTube has become the path for many of our most creative new musicians and film makers... That authors will be publishing free but making money via contribution and performance in less than five years: Free stuff to read is all over the internet, and its a much better collection than you'll buy at your local Barnes&Noble. This is neither "good" nor "bad," it is just inevitable. The distribution system of the 20th Century makes no sense to most anymore. It was clumsy and expensive and enriched the wrong people anyway. The copyright system of the 20th Century makes no sense anymore - it really never did make sense to protect a cartoon mouse as "intellectual property" for ten times as long as a life-changing medication. It also enriched the wrong people - corporations and attorneys rather than inventive minds. So both will go away, and soon.

So, you have your choice. Hide behind paywalls and attack lawyers, or share your works with the world. Be part of the global conversation or confine your thoughts to an increasingly irrelevant elite.
Figure out how to live via a culture of sharing and communication or sit back and imagine royalty checks rolling in.

But realize that the sides are forming now. CBS may eliminate itself from the understood history of global journalism in pursuit of a few cents. Just as the RIAA killed the music CD by charging $14 instead of $3 for that format in 2000. Just as university faculties sit back proudly as their work in "peer reviewed" journals gathers dust and has zero impact on anyone. And if you choose the wrong side you might become the next AOL - remember? They had this brilliant business model...

- Ira Socol

03 November 2013

The Wilful Ignorance of Richard Allington

Initials after your name don't make you smart, or worthwhile to society. That's always been the problem with the credentialist society of the past 150 years. People with doctorates, for example, hand out doctorates, and maybe they do so in ways which limit intellectual and career competition.

Anyway, this is largely my case against our colleges and schools of education. Credentials trump knowledge, credentials trump experience, credentials trump value to our children in many of our "hallowed halls" of academe.

This fact appeared again - powerfully - in an EdWeek story about that impending bane of children of America, the Common Core test and its refusal to treat read-aloud - Text-To-Speech - as a fully equal testing regime for students with dyslexia. The key part of the story for me was a stunning ignorant and offensive statement from, yes, a professor of education:
"Richard Allington, a professor of education at the University of Tennessee and one of the country's most recognized experts on early literacy, calls the accommodation "cheating."

'"What special education does best is create illiterates," Mr. Allington said. "I know why they don't want their kids tested on reading activity. It's because they've done a terrible job of providing those kids with high-quality reading instruction."' - EdWeek
So, in a national educational publication, this "Doctor," this "Professor," is willing to call me - and millions like me - an "illiterate cheater," and he thinks that's a perfectly reasonable thing to say about a person, about people, he knows absolutely nothing about. In response, on Twitter, I called him a "moron" in the best slang use of the term - but here's the difference. From these quotes, I know a great deal about Richard Allington, and I know he is dangerous.

Dangerous because he is willing to mix his position of credentialed authority, and control over who becomes a teacher (and perhaps PhD) from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, with his desire for fame, with wilful ignorance and a firm disrespect for humanity.

Dr. Richard Allington:
Please take his glasses away,
accommodations are cheating

Whatever Allington's credentials - and he claims an awful lot on his web page and - I'm sure - his office walls...
"Dick Allington is professor of education at the University of Tennessee. Previously he served as the Irving and Rose Fien Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Florida, and as chair of the Department of Reading at the University at Albany – SUNY.
   "Dick has served as the President of the International Reading Association, as President of the National Reading Conference, and as a member of the International Reading Association Board of Directors. He is the co-recipient of the Albert J. Harris Award from IRA in recognition of his work contributing to the understanding of reading and learning disabilities and the William S. Gray Citation of Merit for his contributions to the profession. In addition Dick has been named to the IRA Reading Hall of Fame.
  "Dick currently serves on the editorial boards of Reading Research Quarterly, Remedial and Special Education, Journal of Literacy Research, Journal of Disability Policy Studies, and the Journal of Educational Psychology. He has previously served terms on the editorial boards of the Review of Educational Research, Elementary School Journal, and the Reading Teacher, and as associate editor of the Journal of Literacy Research."
... he has proved to be an irresponsible person to have within the field of education, because he is willing to hurt children in the pursuit of his career.

In order to make the statements he made, this "Doctor" has to be willing to ignore almost all the actual brain research of the past fifteen years, everything we now know from genetics research around the world and fMRI research. This is probably OK with him because if there is one thing most education graduate programs teach it is to pick and choose research which supports your initial biased guess (called a "hypothesis" in the Alice in Wonderland research paradigm of education). And he probably believes he can get away with slandering a wide group of people because his "credentialed status" labels him as an expert.

Now, "Doctor" Allington, who appears to cheat using accommodations daily (if photos can be believed), also proves himself a hypocrite of the first order, accepting a solution for his inabilities as "normal" - his prescriptive eyeglasses - but seeing solutions for the inabilities of others - the digital reading support and audiobooks I use - as "cheating" and proof of illiteracy.
This "illiterate cheater" will be happy to debate the issues
of contemporary literature with "Doctor" Allington
Now, "Doctor" Allington and I can agree on the shortcomings of much of Special Education - it does, all too often, breed dependence. But the difference is that while my response is respect for, and the attempt to empower those students within the Special Ed-Industrial Complex, his solution is to blame them for their genetically differing brain structures, and to insist that they become just like him.

Now, since "Doctor" Allington has called me a "cheater" and "illiterate" - let me list my credentials - and I will argue that these are contemporary - post-Gutenberg - credentials. Sure "Doctor," I struggle mightily with decoding alphabetical text, and sure, unless I am drawing my letters, copying them in fact, my writing is just about useless, and - well, to go further, I've never learned to "keyboard" with more than one finger. So yes, "Doctor," by your standards I can neither read nor write. And to get around that I do indeed "cheat." I use digital text-to-speech tools, from WYNN to WordTalk to Balabolka to Click-Speak and I use audiobooks all the time, whether from Project Gutenberg or LibriVox or Audible. Yes, I "cheat" by writing with Windows Speech Recognition and Android Speech Recognition and the SpeakIt Chrome extension.

Hey "Doctor," we put these "cheating" tools on computers for every child.
And "Doctor," I not only use them, I encourage students all over the United States, all around the world in fact, to cheat with these tools as well. I've even helped develop a free suite of tools for American students to support that "cheating."

But beyond that, I'll match my scholarship with "Doctor" Allington's anytime, including my "deeply read" knowledge of the history of American education, and my "actual" - Grounded Theory Research - with real children in real schools in real - non-laboratory, non-abusive-control-group - situations.

And beyond that, I tend to think I'm as "well read" as any non-literature major around. So if the "Doctor" wants to debate James Joyce or Seamus Heaney or current Booker Prize shortlist fiction, or argue over why American schools often teach literature and the real part of reading, the understanding - so badly, I think I'll be able to hold my own.

Finally, in terms of recognition and accomplishment, well, for over 15 years I've been making real differences in the lives of people - from creating one of the earliest universally designed university campus computer networks at Grand Valley State University in the last century, to working for over a decade with children and adults through Michigan's Vocational Rehabilitation agency, to supporting the universal design and assistive technology initiatives of many K-12 schools, to research and teaching at Michigan State, to my present work in Virginia, and I have shared this work and knowledge base freely, never putting anything behind paywalls which might limit the access of teachers and students to essential information. And thanks to contemporary forms of social media, people know what I do.

Perhaps I should mention the books this illiterate has written - cheating with Speech Recognition, and oh yeah, spellcheck too, and WYNN for editing help - but, that's just extra...

I list my credentials not to compete, but to suggest that I have a deep kind of knowledge of these issues which is quite different from the knowledge listed on the "Doctor's" CV. It is a kind of "street," on-the-ground knowledge not available to university office researchers. And a prime part of that difference is that I deal with humans, and human brains, and human learning, and not just data points.

And with that knowledge, I would like to challenge "Doctor" Allington to a debate. We can do it in person or we can do it via those contemporary technological affordances, but we should do it in public, with the largest audience we can get.

I will ask the "Doctor" to explain and defend his definitions of "cheating," "illiteracy," "literacy," and "reading." And he can ask me whatever he wants. I will challenge his knowledge of contemporary research, and he is welcome to challenge mine.

I will ask him about his willingness to assault children in public by labelling them as he has done, and he can surely challenge my use of the term "moron" as it relates to him, and my use of "quotation marks." But I think that "Doctor" Allington should answer me before he steps back into any University of Tennessee classroom, or talks to any more future teachers.

Reading and Writing - "Reading is getting information from a recorded source into
your brain in a way which allows you to work with it. Writing is getting information
from your brain into a form which can be accessed asynchronously."
In the end our children deserve not just our respect but every opportunity we can give them. They also deserve respect for their differences, and must not be forced into conformity. Perhaps they need this most from those who claim the right to prepare our future teachers. Perhaps they do not need "credentialist experts" insulting them and attempting to deny them opportunities - especially those "experts" who have actual power over what the user experience of our students will be.

So, "Doctor" Allington, join me on an international stage, and let's let the world understand your argument, and let's let the world decide whether you get to keep using technology to fix that eyesight of yours.

- Ira Socol