Monday, December 17, 2007

Simon Fraser Dean Paul Shaker Supports Teacher's Refusal to Give Standardized Test

Paul Shaker, an active member of the Dewey Society and Dean of education at Simon Fraser University, has supported teacher Kathryn Sihota, who refused to administer a standardized exam to a child who appeared overly stressed by the prospect of taking it.

The teacher's refusal to administer the test has made national and even international news. Now Shaker's support for her is at the center of the storm.

Shaker stated at a college collquium that:

Teachers, having exercised due process, like other professional persons, have an obligation to act on the basis of their professional ethics, even when such behaviour requires non-violent civil disobedience and personal sacrifice by the teacher. The safety and nurturance of students is a sacred trust that assumes the highest priority.

We know that when an individual exercises the right to resist written law in response to a higher sense of morality that they assume a serious responsibility. In my understanding of the principles of our democratic social contract and moral tradition, however, I follow the convention that this option is available to us. Our democracy is an amalgamation of many individuals, making choices that matter for good or ill. Professional persons carry such responsibility to a greater extent than others due to their role in society. In and outside professions, we have seen that great issues of peace, human rights, and the environment have been advanced by courageous individuals standing up in this way, often at great cost to themselves

Google's Knol

As noted in Business Week on December 14, 2007, Google has invited a select group of 'authorities' to write authoritative articles, to be called knols, on a wide variety of topics. Google's driving idea is to create an on-line reference source that competes with wikipedia as a first go-to source for reference knowledge. Instead of a 'neutral' wiki, which can be endlessly modified by a community of readers, knols will have a single authorial slant, much like an entry in a standard encylcopedia.

Rumors are floating around that there will be opportunities to comment and initiate dialogues about knols. So maybe the knol will evolve as a genuinely new form of reference material that takes advantage of the best features of traditional published reference (authorial credibility) and the web, including next-to-no-cost space and storage, and community interaction.

Here is Google's post on knols, from VP of engineering Udi Manber, from December 13, 2007:

Earlier this week, we started inviting a selected group of people to try a new, free tool that we are calling "knol", which stands for a unit of knowledge. Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it. ...

The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors' names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors -- but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content.

The worry, as many commentators have already noted, is that Google the search engine may slide into ranking knols above other reference sources such as wikipedia, essentially driving web trafiic to itself!

The Dewey Society and Social Issues

Yesterday I blogged on Next Things about Google's Knol as an important new reference source. You will find this post cross-posted above because I see Knol as a useful channel for progressive scholarship on today's pressing educational and social issues: from NCLB, to Darwin and evolution in science education, IQ testing and intelligence, charter schools and public-private partnerships, school resegregation, to anti-racist education and many others.

Because Google will be inviting authoritative articles for Knol this appears to be an excellent vehicle for progressive scholars to claim and achieve credibility. Some members can probably position themselves with Google in such a way as to get invited to contribute.

I also recently blogged about the 'manifestos' published by Change This Newsletter as a kind of model for a publication series on pressing issues.

Now I want to share a vision about Dewey Society members, these issues, and this blog and other on-line publications.

Most active members of the society claim serious expertise in one of the listed issues or others. By joining the author team for this blog, Social Issues, a member can lay claim to a particular issue -- can be, in short, our main man (or woman) on IQ or NCLB or Resegregation.

In that way, when other members seek guidance on these issues, for teaching or social action (for example, when preparing letters to editors or Op Ed articles) they can find a valuable archive of informed progressive comment whether on the blog or in something like an on-line version of the Insight books published regularly by PES-GB. Further, by commenting on the blog posts of our main authors, our members can help over time to shape a clear progressive consensus where one is there to be shaped, or to establish a band width of progressive positions.

Then, by linking actively to other blogs and websites, the views of Dewey Society members can enter into a larger progressive discourse.

We will have a workshop at the Dewey Society meeting held in conjunction with AERA in the Spring of 2008. The goal will be further to develop the Society's capabilities in addressing pressing issues through this Blog, its other publications, and its meetings.

I invite comment by all members of the Society.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Letters to the Times on Genes and IQ

This is one post in an on-going series on writing letters to editors.

The New York Times today (December 16, 07) publishes a series of letters in response to Richard E. Nisbett's Op Ed article " All Brains are the Same" from December 9th. The original article and the letters focus on the relations between genetic endowment, intelligence, and IQ.

These letters are exemplary (with the exception of one which is flat out stupid, accusing Nisbett of political correctness). They are worth studying because they demonstrate how informed comment can cut to the heart of issues discussed in the public arena and really make a profound contribution.

Stephen Murdoch, a historian of IQ, writes:

I.Q. tests were created in the early 1900s before scientists had sufficient understanding of the brain or genetics. They were cobbled together with no real intelligence theory — and they have changed very little over time.

If we want intelligence tests, we need to devise new ones based on actual scientific theory rather than Victorian and Progressive Era puffery.

Paul Coleman, a senior Alzheimer's researcher, writes:

It is not the genetic DNA in a cell that determines what a cell is and how it performs; it is, rather, which genes are turned on and when. Turning a gene on or off can be controlled by a wide variety of factors in life: toxins, learning, disease, hormones, drugs, diet — the list is numberless.

We now know enough about the fine structure of the brain, the proteins involved and the roles they play in learning, cognition, memory and other components of intelligence to understand that the DNA of genes are, generally, many steps removed from determining these capacities.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Change This Newsletter

The Website Change This newsletter has a nice idea about how to use a publication platform to spread ideas about social change.

The site publishes Manifestos in copyright-free form, and encourages their distribution. The manifestos are well written and beautifully formatted, and are limited in length, so that they are suitable reading for policy makers and influencers.

A good sample manifesto is Change the Way to Change the World

Readers are invited (no, make that strongly encouraged) to copy them, e-mail them to everybody, put them on their web sites, print up their own editions to pass out on the street. The costs to Change This and their authors are contained: no costs for paper, ink, postage, etc.

The manifesto authors include many of the 'coolest' people: Tom Peters, Seth Goodin and their ilk. They include educational ideologues like Michael Strong and Chester Finn. However, the pages of Change This are open to many others: there is a proposal process similar to what one might encounter from a print publisher.

The Editors state their goal as follows:

ChangeThis is creating a new kind of media. A form of media that uses existing tools (like PDFs, blogs and the web) to challenge the way ideas are created and spread.

We're on a mission to spread important ideas and change minds.

This idea has a very direct relevance to the Dewey Society's mandate. Here's why:

Some years ago the Philosophy of Education Society UK initiated a publication series called Insights. The various volumes, all authored by card carrying philosophers of education, have been devoted to specific 'hot' policy issues in British education. They have been widely distributed to policy makers, legislative staff personnel, educational administrators, and the press. They have served to maintain the visibility and credibility of philosophy of education there.

Since I read the first Insight volumes I have longed for an American version. Given the mandate of the John Dewey Society, I have considered the Society to be the natural publisher of such a series. Budget limitations, however, have crimped the Society's ability to move ahead with this form of publication.

Change This offers an alternative model. Building from the Change This template, the society could move forward with web-based Insight-like publications on a limited budget.

What would this involve?

The creation of an editorial board by the Board of the JD Society or alterrnatively, byu the members of the commission on Social Issues;

An RFP (similar to that of Change This that could be distributed through the publications of the Society;

The distribution via e-mail alerts to members of the Society + a list of policy makers and staff, influencers, thought leaders, administrative personnel, and the press.

Please take a moment to look at Change This and Change the Way to Change the World then comment on this idea.