Sunday, 22 September 2019

Books, The Internet or School?

The week of the School Climate Strikes and the Rugby World Cup (The relevance of this will become apparent) a good time to pose the following question:

If you could only choose one... 

1) Books? 
2) The internet? 
3) School? 

Which would it be? For me I think it would be books.

I never picked up a book for pleasure until I was 29 years old and was thanks to the Open University. I got my first computer at around the same age (Although did have games consoles when I was younger). 

As per, Jack Dorsey's Ted Talk, I do indeed try to use the internet to share the ideas that I've learnt from the books that I've read for pleasure... and have done since my first blog post in 2012.

School didn't do much for me... nor has it done much for my 16 & 18 year old sons. 

When reading about many successful people they seem to take the same view with school at various stages.

So what needs to change to ensure that 'Every Child Matters' the 'Attainment Gap' is realised and where 'No Child is Left Behind' ...All of which were the catchy soundbites of UK & US politicians not so long ago. 

The few lessons that have remained with me from my school days include:

1) When the Rugby World Cup was on and the front page of the papers had some controversy about the England team.

The revelation happened to come the day before the England Vs Australia match... and the papers that were reporting the story was Australian Media Mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Who's telling the story and why? 

Is what our English teacher at the time encouraged us to ask?

This is a VITAL skill today - One which Finland is successfully teaching - in the world of #FakeNews, speedy news cycles and 'bad actors'... Which, because with or without technology some things never change, includes self interested political 'leaders'. 

Who Trended It and Why? 

Is a vital lesson that we don't always appear to be teaching... and is affecting the lives of some of our young people.

2) There's no such thing as an atheist on the battlefield - again my English teacher re Wilfred Owen's poems, back when there was a more coherent and/or less divided national identity.

3) My Geography teachers' passion for the subject leading me to do my Human Geography OU Course and discovering thought leaders like Jane Jacobs.

(School may have not done much for me, but the teachers who had passion for their subject most certainly did! I enjoyed the topics even though I sucked at the tests they gave. "All the good teachers leave" my 16 year old son in a depressed, resigned tone to his 8 year old brother).

4) My biology teacher telling us

"The only thing you'll remember about my class is that it takes 6 hours to boil an ostrich egg" 

He wasn't wrong, but a great statement to make if you want to get a fact to stick in your students heads! Couldn't he have divulged the secrets of the philosophers stone or something as useful through? Lol!.

That's about it from my unispiring school days. 

One of the biggest crimes of my school years was making us dissect to death one of the dourest books I ever had the misfortune to ever come across - which successfully killed off any enjoyment of reading for a decade. 

Thank you Sunset Song and whatever geniuses existed at SQA at the time... Nice job!

What's this got to do with anything? 

My head is buzzing with ideas from books that I've read in 1999 (Esp Jane Jacobs) and mashing them up with more recent ones, which include: The Choice, Bad Blood, Siege Trump Under Fire, Ten Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Accounts Right Now, The 5 People you Meet in Heaven & Permanent Record (To name a few). 

The ideas from these books are then supplemented with all the people I've met online and the articles and videos that they have shared and my attempts to re-skill from sales to community management.

But the 'laggard' and what Adam Grant calls the 'Gisagreeable Giver' in me is so sick of what the internet has become... that I came very close to taking Jaron Lanier's advice and delete my social media accounts at the end of last year. I didn't for similar reasons to the second extract in this post.

Here's some super important lessons I've learned through following people in my network and my books... I hope it helps education leaders make better use of all the resources currently available to keep our kids safe.

The first extract is from Twitter CEO and how he feels Twitter needs to change.

"What we believe now to be the most important thing, which is healthy contribution back to the network and conversation to the network, participation within conversation, learning something from the conversation. Those are not things that we thought of 13 years ago, and we believe are extremely important right now.

…we want to incentivize healthy contribution back to the network, and what we believe that is is actually participating in conversation that is healthy.

You have to balance and look constantly at what is actually going to create a healthy contribution to the network and a healthy experience for people. Ultimately, we want to get to a metric where people can tell us, 

"Hey, I learned something from Twitter, and I'm walking away with something valuable" 

That is our goal ultimately over time, but that's going to take some time" Jack Dorsey, How Twitter Needs to Change

In Feb 2014 I wrote a post called 

At the end of the post I wrote the following:

With regard to my agreeing with Rands assertion that "politicians need victims" please allow me to play devils advocate for a moment... 

How many adults leave school with a reading age of 5 or the inability of critical thought? 
Do these factors then make certain newspapers their news source of choice?
Are such a newspapers capable of getting our politicians into No10? 
Do politicians get all cozy with the owner of these publications? 
If "yes" why would any politician from any party want to change any situation that delivers power in such a straightforward manner?

This might be especially true if you then consider the implications if politicians were committed to ensuring critical thought was a priority in our young people. After all people may start to wonder;

What is it exactly that politicians do? 

If "we're in this together" can you let us the last time a politician had to visit a food bank? 
If political action is indeed making "people's lives better," who for? Where do they live? 
Why does every encounter with the public need to be stage managed and filled with party political drones, stooges and yes men?
Who is John Galt?

I think the way that politicians have both used and dumbed down social media to the same level as 

'It's the Sun wot won it'
Along with Trump's 2016 campaign team saying 

"It was social media and Facebook that won the election"

There is some merit to these comments.  

The second extract? Well let's just say if this person was online today as a teenager who's to say if they might have found themselves living in exile with their citizenship revoked because their extremist comments about taxing games might have seen them be befriended by Scottish School Girl and ISIS recruiter, Asqa Mahmood, and join people like Shamina Begum and Jack Letts in Syria?

However, then they were a teenager and decided to log on in the 1990s a familiar theme I see is that 'The Bar was High' 

Whether to log onto 'The Well' or other forums, so the people these kids met were tech savvy and intelligent... and helped these teens to learn and assisted with their careers.

Today, with the bar being a bit lower to enter the discussions today means that idiots from extreme groups (Whether ISIS or the far right), makes it a little harder to keep our kids to safe if there are no adults in the room... Just like the White House: More adults in the room are needed. 

And I think we'll get there too. Jane Jacobs teaches us that attempts to create order leads to chaos... and chaos of the city can lead to order:

"When Jimmy Rogan fell through a plate-glass window (he was separating some scuffling friends) and almost lost his arm, a stranger in an old T shirt emerged from a bar, swiftly applied an expert tourniquet, and, according to the hospital’s emergency staff, saved Jimmy’s life. Nobody remembered seeing the man before and no one has seen him since. The hospital was called in this way: a woman sitting on the steps next to the accident ran over to the bus stop, wordlessly snatched the dime from the hand of a stranger who was waiting with his fifteen-cent fare ready, and raced into the Ideal’s phone booth. The stranger raced after her to offer the nickel too. Nobody remembered seeing him before, and nobody has seen him since" Jane Jacobs, Life and Death of Great American Cities

Our kids will help clean up the mess that the current generation have made of the toxic internet just like they did on Friday in our physical spaces to protest about the toxicity in our oceans and climate change during the school climate strikes... Even if they do make the odd mistake online.

"My worries [about getting security clearance] were more personal, or felt more personal: the endless conveyor belt of stupid lingoistic things I'd said, and even stupider misathropic opinions I'd abandoned, in the process of growing up online. Specifically, I was worried about my chat logs and forum posts, all supremely moronic commentary that I'd sprayed across a score of gaming and hacker sites. Writing pseudonymously had meant writing freely, but often thoughtlessly. And since a major aspect of early internet culture was competing with others to say the most inflammatory thing, I'd never hesitate to advocate, say, bombing a country that taxed video games, or corralling people who didn't like anime into reeducation camps. Nobody on those sites took any of this stuff seriously, least of all myself.

When I went back and reread the posts, I cringed. Half the things I'd said I hadn't even meant at the time - I'd just wanted attention - but I didn't fancy my odds of explaining that to a gray-haired man in horned rimmed glasses peering over a giant folder labeled PERMANENT RECORD. The other half, the things i thing I had meant at the time, were even worse , because I wasn't that kid anymore. I'd grown up. It wasn't simply that I didn't recognise the voice as my own - it was that I now actively opposed its over-heated hormonal opinions. I found that I wanted to argue with a ghost. I wanted to fight with that dumb, puerile, and casually cruel self of mine who no longer existed. I couldn't stand the idea of being haunted by him forever, but I didn't know the best way to express my remorse and put some distance between him and me, or whether I should even try to do that. It was heinous to be so inextricably, technologically bound to a past that I fully regretted but barely remembered.

This might be the most familiar problem of my generation, the first to grow up online. We were able to discover and explore our identities almost totally unsupervised, with hardly a thought spared for the fact that our rash remarks and profane banter were being preserved for perpetuity, and that one day we might be expected to account for them. I'm sure everyone had an internet connection before they had a job can sympathize with this - surely everyone has that one post that embarrasses them, or that text or email that could get them fired.

My situation was somewhat different, however, in that most of the message boards of my day would let you delete your old posts. I could put together one tiny little script - not even a real program - and all of my posts would be gone in under an hour. It would've been the easiest thing in the world to do. Trust me, I considered it.

But ultimately, I couldn't. Something kept preventing me. It just felt wrong. To blank my posts from the face of the earth wasn't illegal, and it wouldn't even have made me ineligible for a security clearance had anyone found out. But the prospect of doing so bothered me nonetheless. It would've only served to reinforce some of the most corrosive precepts of online life: That nobody is ever allowed to make a mistake, and anybody who does make a mistake must answer for it forever. What mattered to me wasn't so much the integrity of the written record but that of my soul. I didn't want to live in a world where everyone had to pretend that they were perfect, because that was a world that had no place for me or my friends. To erase those comments would have been to erase who I was, where I was from, and how far I'd come. To deny my younger self would have been to deny my present self's validiy.

I decided to leave the comments up and figure out how to live with them. I even decided that true fidelity to this stance would require me to continue posting. In time, I'd outgrow these new opinions too, but my initial impulse remains unshakable, if only because it was an important step in my own maturity. We can't erase the things that shame us, or the ways we've shamed ourselves, online. All we can do is control our reactions - whether we let the past oppress us, or accept its lessons, grow, and move on." P96 & 97

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