Education, Power & Wealth

The subsummation of 21st century education into an advanced capitalist framework reaches its Zenith in Jose Ferreira’s recent polemic on The Hollywoodization of Education. Ferreira is CEO of Knewton, a self-described ‘adaptive learning company’. It’s actually a euphemism for edutainment in education rather than any serious attempt at marketing the pedagogical understanding of how children learn and what kinds of knowledge and skills they need to acquire in the 21st century.
His opening observation adulating the large amounts of money that Harvard Business School Professor’s make set the tone for his comments. Yet, he purposefully ignores the average monthly teacher salaries, and the terms and conditions of teachers in countries like India, Nepal, Bangladesh to name a few of the developing countries with outdated, and under resourced educational systems (and poor internet/online infrastructures). He also neglects other more developed countries like New Zealand, Australia and Ireland where teachers seldom earn up to $50,000-60,000 annually.
Ferreira offers no coherent argument in affording celebrity status to online teachers and his views and opinions tend to reflect other well-meaning (but misguided) Digital entrepreneurs who preach with an evangelical zeal that the all children (including the 70 million who do not get an education) will be better off if they are schooled via an online medium or through a digitalized curriculum. Ferreira’s claims, like so many other well intentioned, non-educationalists that the internet and other digital tools will bring about ‘star quality teachers’ whose salaries will equal that of movie stars and other notable (and unknowable) celebrities. Quite a claim to make given the lack of evidence over the last 20 years of online learning and educational technologies in our schools and universities
His polemic is a bit of a ramble because he uses the language of education without really understanding what it means. For example he says that a ‘teachers effect on learning outcomes will be much more difficult to measure than that of materials’. It’s a confusing and unreliable claim to make given the multiple variables in measuring teacher effectiveness per se. On the other hand his claim that ‘teachers do much more than textbooks do’ is correct. Teaching and learning is by its very nature a social communicative process, and requires human, 3 dimensional, interpersonal interaction, NOT of the virtual reality kind.
He bases his claim on the very shaky, popularized notion that online and digitalized learning will create a kind of neo-classical, digitalized Mr. Chips (computerized of course!) He argues that “with online courses comes a new yardstick: popularity. Acting ability is only one part of being a movie a movie star: charisma, luck, and project selection matter too. Similarly, teaching ability will only be one part of being a superstar online teacher…showmanship, clarity, mass appeal, production values, etc. will all matter too”
Popularity is a highly questionable quality in the teaching profession today-some of the best teachers we ever learn from may not be popular because they do their job-those that are popular often are not the best teachers.
His claim that the “Hollywoodization” of teaching will facilitate the distribution of “star teachers” and that they will receive salaries of “ millions of dollars” is a fantasy born out of the Hollywood movie tradition about a mis-guided educational experience-we know some them: ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, ‘To Sir With Love’ ‘Dead Poets Society, Black Board Jungle, to name a few. His ideas may attract the “Bad Teacher” type AKA Cameron Diaz, but in the day-to-day life of teaching and learning, the good to great teachers will continue to be motivated out of their own passion for learning and for making a difference in the lives of the children and young people they teach. They will develop in them a critical awareness of the false promises and sophistry of the profiteer entrepreneurs of the 21st century who seek to exploit education for their own gains.

Living In No-Where Land

Since the 1980s the use of anti-depressants has increased by 400% in the United States of America. The total sales of anti-depressants worldwide are over $20 billion. That’s making some pharmaceutical companies very rich and happy, but not many users of anti-depressants eternally happy-given the side effects of the drugs, which include outbursts of rage, deeper, more severe depression and suicidal thoughts. Yet, the global depressed population seems to increase exponentially yearly with children as young as 7 years of age being given some kind of mind altering drug to make them conform to the existential conditions of 21st century living. In a recent article on global mental health, The Guardian’s health editors (Boseley, Chalabi, & Rice-Oxley, 2013) provided an overview of the way we manage our chemical dependent lives in the 21st century. They report that:
“The use of antidepressants has surged across the rich world over the past decade, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, raising concerns among doctors that pills are being over-prescribed…Figures show that doctors in some countries are writing prescriptions for more than one in 10 adults, with Iceland, Australia, Canada and the other European Nordic countries leading the way” (Boseley, Chalabi, & Rice-Oxley, 2013)
In addition to the easy accessibility of these legal mind altering substances a number of States in the USA have legalized marijuana for medical purposes with two states-Colorado and Washington State legalizing the drug for recreational use by people over the age of 21. Here’s some of what we know about the body- mind altering capabilities of marijuana to date. The chemical ingredient of the drug THC remains in the body for weeks after any initial use. In addition regular medical studies of marijuana users indicate that one joint contains 60% more cancer causing substances than a tobacco cigarette. Long time marijuana smokers suffer from regular bronchial and upper respiratory tract illnesses. One study undertaken in Australia linked heavy marijuana usage with the development of brain abnormalities and other clinical studies link continued marijuana usage with the development of medium to long term psychosis and loss of memory. Marijuana is known to change the structure of male sperm leading to sterility as well discombobulate a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Given this knowledge why would any government or any other regularity body deem the drug suitable for recreational use? Is it too cynical to suggest a tax on marijuana sales will boost the coffers of a cash strapped government? Dulling a population’s senses through any mind altering substance is going to create a complacent and compliant citizenry living in no-where land content on going no-where.

References
Boseley, S., Chalabi, M., & Rice-Oxley, M. (2013, November 20). The Guardian-Life Style. Retrieved July 10, 2014, from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/20/antidepressant-use-rise-world-oecd

Are we as mad as hell and are we going take this anymore?

While a UK regulator is investigating whether Facebook broke data protection laws when it conducted a psychological study on users without their consent, another more serious ethical issues resides in the behavior of the two Universities who collaborated with Facebook.
Cornell University and the University of California at San Francisco seemed to have by-passed their own ethics committees while participating in the study. Any undergraduate, Master’s or Ph.D candidate knows and understands the rigorous process undertaken to get permission to conduct research which involves human subjects and/or animals-especially in the social sciences and psychology and medicine/psychiatry disciplines.
Cornell University has a 17 page document outlining a set of ethical standards to be followed while conducting research, while The University of California at San Francisco has a human research protection program in place.
The disinhibtion effect is a lack of regard for social and ethical standards in personal behavior while online and it seems to have infected the ethical standards of the two learning institutions that collaborated with Facebook. In flaunting their own ethical guidelines while collaborating with the social media website, the universities have let down their respective student populations and may have undermined their own credibility as research based institutions. Unsurprisingly, the social media website seems to have missed the ethical issue all together by wondering what all the fuss is about given that people’s data wasn’t compromised! We all should be mad as hell!

The Serpent’s Egg

The disappearance and subsequent murder of 3 Israeli teenagers on 12 June sparked a huge search operation in Palestinian towns and cities across the West Bank and resulted in the deaths of several people, including two Palestinian teenagers one only 15 years old.

During the search more than 300 Palestinians were arrested in an operation the Israelis ironically called ‘Brother’s Keepers’. Aren’t all followers of the Abrahamic religions brothers & sisters?
It’s a terrible thing that happened to the three Jewish teenagers, but it is also equally a terrible thing that happened to the Palestinian teenagers. It is an equally terrible thing that Jews and Arab Muslims are stuck in their bitter intransigence some 6 decades and more since the founding of the Jewish state.

Israel must also accept responsibility for the deaths of the three Jewish teenagers for they are just as guilty as the Palestinian men who carried out this terrible cowardly act. Both sides are caught up in a bitter cycle of violent hatred of one another despite PM Netanyahu’s attempt to take the high moral ground while speaking at the funeral of the murdered teenagers.
The West’s covering of the story has been biased in favor of the Jewish state and the continued plight of the Palestinians is by and large ignored by the Western media. Ordinary Palestinian men, women and children continued to be stereotyped as terrorists when in fact they suffer under an Israeli occupation in addition to being collectively punished because of the madness of fanatical organizations like Hamas.

Yet equally fanatical are the hard line Israelis who are determined to displace and remove all Palestinians from occupied Palestine and reclaim the land as a modern day Judea for all Jews.

A little over 600 miles away as Iraq fragments and falls apart another fanatical hard-line Islamist group has established a Caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq, calling upon all Muslims to migrate there and establish their homeland. Is there no end to this madness? Sadly not-our fragile little blue planet lost in the universe, seems to slide nearer to the precipice of oblivion with each passing day.

The tit for tat killings and murders by both Palestinians and Israelis brings shame upon the goodness inherent in religions which have evolved since antiquity to help us to seek a better life- one characterized through meaning based on an ethical and moral vision to counter the hopelessness propagated through the distorted vision of a few mad mullahs, corrupt priests and rabid Rabbis who have usurped the goodness inherent in a religious world-view. The battle between Israel, Palestine and between the mad men of all religions is a quarrel
“That will bear no color for the things they are,
Fashion it thus: that what they are, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities;
And therefore think them as a serpent’s egg,
Which, hatch’d, would as their kind grow mischievous,
And kill them in the shell” (adapted from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Act 2, scene 1, 28–34 )

Is Facebook Somewhere Over the Rainbow?

The illusion of anonymity which surrounds online activity and social media has been shattered in a recent US court ruling. Facebook has had to comply with a court order and hand over data to assist investigators seeking evidence in a social welfare fraud case. Hundreds of people were claiming disability pensions when in fact their face book accounts revealed that they were perfectly healthy. Fraud has been around for eons, but Facebook hasn’t. The court subpoenaed data which included private messages, pictures and personal details.
The judge defined Facebook as a ‘digital landlord’; a rather clever definition really because the company controls vast amount of personal data from over a billion users world-wide, as well as drawing income from those who use its websites and server facilities. The court defined the social media website as “as a digital landlord, a virtual custodian or storage facility for millions of tenant users and their information… the search warrants authorizes the search and seizure of digital information contained within the Facebook server.” (Miller, 2014)
While the seizure of the data will have ‘free-speech’ and privacy advocates up in arms, the fact is no-one’s personal data on Facebook, or any other social media website is completely private. Facebook trawls its own user database daily for profiteering purposes, which many users could define as the “unreasonable seizure” of their personal data, and so Facebook crying foul under the fourth amendment is somewhat hypocritical.
But, it’s the legal definition which is intriguing and perhaps will wake-up the digital vox populi to the reality of living a life in someone else’s data-base, and within the strict confinement of a digital landlord’s server. Those who choose to live their personal and social lives through any kind of digital medium have very few rights, but clearly a number of legal and ethical responsibilities along with any number of unseen, or unknown legal liabilities. It seems that 21st century living in a cloud holds anything other than a silver lining.

References
Miller, J. (2014, June 27). BBC News Technology. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28055909

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, world!

Trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) sounds like it’s straight from the laboratories of a mad scientist-well in some respects it is. The exclusive, somewhat secretive world of psychiatry has used electricity as a form of ‘therapy’ for decades. Through applying electrical current directly to the brain Psychiatrists attempt the reconstruction of reality as experienced by their ‘patients’. The late Professor Thomas Szasz, himself a psychiatrist was a fierce opponent of such practices arguing that mental illnesses are not real diseases, except for those with quite specific physical symptoms like Alzheimers and Dementia. He claimed-rightly so I think-that there are no objective, verifiable approaches to identifying whether a mental illness is present or not. It is almost impossible to falsify the research findings of psychiatry, for the most part they become lost in a maze of data and statistical analysis with meaning hard to locate when applied to standardized views of acceptable human behavior.
Most if not all psychiatric diagnoses are based upon a perceived understanding of what is real and what is considered acceptable thinking as acted out within the realm of private, personal and social behavior in a culture or society. In his classic book on self-development and independence, ‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him’, Sheldon B Kopp tells the insightful, witty and perceptive story about a man dressed in a white sheet and a funny pointed hat, speaking gibberish, being arrested by the police in a US town. He is taken off to a psychiatric institution, evaluated and assessed as quite mad. The following morning a dozen or so other similarly dressed persons appear at the institution while speaking the same strange language and seeking their lost friend. The captive man was eventually released into their custody. The moral of the story, according to Kopp, is that one man exhibiting strange behavior is a lunatic while a group of them represent an acceptable, if not slightly odd, community. And this seems to be the ever present danger within 21st century humanity today.
A recent online report (Young, 2014) claims that neuroscientists are able to change the brain function of healthy people through electric shock stimulation. Furthermore, the US military are testing this on their soldiers to improve and enhance their ability to react especially under stress and when deprived of sleep (Young, 2014). Researchers into this brave new world of mind-body manipulation observe the reactions of the brain through infra-red imaging. They stimulate the motor cortex and inhibit the prefrontal cortex to manipulate human cognitive processes and the accompanying physical responses. It is claimed that the results are extraordinary and improving performance and researchers maintain the effects last long term. According to the report researchers are also investigating ultrasound and laser light to manipulate brain wave patterns. This kind of research on human subjects raises serious ethical as well as medical concerns, especially around the long term effects and whether or not as the subjects age any long term damage will emerge. And whether the very essence and nature of a human being-our consciousness-should be manipulated to the extent that our actions are predetermined and we lose our capacity to exercise our free will. Perhaps we’ll find out in a similar fashion as we did when we had humans observe those nuclear tests in the deserts of the US and Australia during the 1950s when a horror was unleashed on humanity. It really is a mad, mad, mad, mad world!

References
Young, E. (2014, June 3). BBC Future. Retrieved from BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140603-brain-zapping-the-future-of-war

Breaking Bad or Mad in Santa Barbara?

As I listened in disbelief to the aired YouTube clip of the wealthy, middle class young man who went on a killing spree in Santa Barbara California recently, I was outraged more so by the rehearsed nature of his script, his choice of quite specific language along with the scene from which he chose to record this moment of cold calculated madness. It was life imitating art in its most gruesome and callous genre-reality.
It mirrored a movie set; the sun set reflecting on his face and plush car interior as his carefully chosen words told the world about his coming ‘day of retribution’ and his inability to form social relationships, particularly with young women of his age.
I thought “and this is his reason he gives for killing 6 young people whose lives were just beginning to experience the joy and excitement of independence and autonomy around making their own choices in life.”
A family lawyer of the killer suggested he might have been bullied at some point, while the police found him to be ‘polite and timid’, when they went to investigate family concerns about his threats posted via social media. Others have been quick to point out a relationship between his mental state and access to weapons of mass destruction.
Nobody knows now-because he killed himself-we can suppose and speculate, but we’ll never know if he was mad, bad or both.
Many wealthy middle class young people in the USA have access to guns. Most, if not all do not suffer from mental illness. Most, if not all manage to navigate their way through the difficult waters of puberty and adolescence in order to form social and intimate consensual relationships with their chosen others. Some more easily than others. Growing up in any culture/society is never easy.
Yet, as a society we in the West are quick to find excuses to assuage our guilt over heinous crimes committed by the ‘worried well’. The attacker quickly becomes a victim: a traumatic upbringing, some years of bullying, and some kind of abuse in their early years etc. Yet, the reality is that some people are just bad. They make clear choices based on sound reasoning to commit harm against others. Their choice is to hate rather than love and to be bad rather than good.

Elliot Rodger was bad in every way. His actions were executed out of a hatred and vindictiveness towards others’ joy and happiness. The world marvels and extols the resilience of children and young people who overcome appalling family backgrounds to make good their lives. Many do. In other instances we also understand why children can develop problems in their adult years too, but help is never far away if the warning signs are read in time. However, it is essential that we must accept that sometimes good parents have bad children.
Stephen Pinker, the Canadian Linguist and Experimental Psychologist says ”genetics and neuroscience are showing that a heart of darkness cannot always be blamed on parents or society”. In addition Cambridge psychiatrist Professor Simon Baron-Cohen proposes that evil is the absence of empathy, and that narcissists, borderline personalities, psychopaths possess no empathetic responses (Griffen, 2011). In other words like Elliot Rodger they are born bad and must take responsibility for the choices they make-even if that has to occur posthumously

References
Griffen, M. (2011, September 19). Bad to the bone – Some children are just born evil. Retrieved from Scott.Net: Signs of the Times: http://www.sott.net/article/235158-Bad-to-the-bone-Some-children-are-just-born-evil