Output focussed policies and education technology

I read an old article today that got me thinking yet again of the problem with output focussed policy frameworks. Then just as I was about to move on to the ‘next article’ I noticed a tweet from @edutweetoz (this week Jarvis Ryan) about the very topic used as an example in the old article – use of ICT and equity. This one is for you Jarvis.

In the article by Valerie  Bockstette she writes that a colleague had relayed to her that he’d seen a study that says that the good news is that these days low income children have more “screen time”….The bad news is that these days low income children have more “screen time” than their more affluent peers.

He argued that research shows that, in general, kids across all groups are spending too much time in front of screens, and that low income kids now spend more time than their more affluent peers. Yes, the good news is the bad news in this case.

Bockstette goes on to say that:

“If we articulate the problem only as “bridging the digital divide” – aka ensuring “access to information technology” we’ve done ourselves a favor as access is somewhat easy to count …and… for a long time, there was a problem with the digital divide with low income households and students of color unable to participate in the digital age, and the problem was ensuring access. So at that time, measuring access was actually okay. But of course, once you ensure access, you have to ensure that use is of quality.”

In other words, as you get closer to the finish line, you better move the goal post again. If we stick to the original measures of success around access or usage (screen time) as a proxy for success, we’ve gone down a dangerous path.

More screen time is not necessarily good.  More access to iPads wont of itself deliver better learning outcomes.  They can be used to foster curiosity, research skills, critical literacy and collaboration or they can hamper creativity, interpersonal interaction and self-directed exploration. The problem should have been articulated differently: “low income children aren’t able to experience the personal and academic benefits that can come from access to information technology.” Then the measurement would not have been number of children reached, but the actual personal and academic benefits. These benefits could include improved educational achievement, ability to lead healthier lives, increased economic opportunity, and participation in their communities. Harder to measure of course, but avoids the trap of declaring success just by posting high usage numbers.

This is a good example of the danger of outputs or the trouble with wrongly defining the problem.

Measuring results is hard. For this reason we often settle for proxies that are more pragmatic. Things we can count. However, more and more I see this as a dangerous method in the long-run.


For white teachers teaching white kids: in the shadow of the Zimmerman case

When my oldest child was about 3 we had an African family over for lunch who had a child about the same age.  Now we were a white family and this was a family with black skin.  I naively assumed this was an irrelevance.

Imagine my embarrassment when my usually friendly child flatly refused to let our visiting child into the sandpit.  I thought I would die of shame and embarrassment.  Somehow I had managed to bring up a racist in my midst.

Oh how naïve I was about race, about difference.  It was, of course, a naivety no non-white parent would ever have had.

I read a really useful blog recently by Jennifer Harvey which brought all this back to me.

Dear Parents of White Children, it began:

“I vote that we strike the following from our parental lexicon:

1. “Everybody is equal.”

2. “We’re all the same underneath our skin.”

I realize this is counterintuitive. But I’m completely serious.

These statements, she argues, are “stand-ins for the actual conversations about race, racial difference and racism we need to be having with our kids” – and of course with our students

Harvey, a professor of religion, gets her students to write racial autobiography papers. They are asked to describe the impact of racial identity in their life, including any significant experiences, teachings and thoughts pertaining to that identity at various life stages. They also have to interview 2 family members about their experiences.

Now anyone who has tried anything like this (and I do encourage you to give it an age appropriate go)  will know what comes next – white kids find this almost impossible

Time and again, my white students write that “everybody’s equal” is the “most important” thing their parents taught them about race. Time and again, a not-insignificant number of them then proceed to describe their present trepidation about a.) telling their parents they date interracially; b.) bringing home a Latino/a or black classmate; c.) Thanksgiving break, when everyone will silently tolerate the family member who makes racist comments; or d.) something else that reveals how deeply and clearly these students know this “most important teaching” doesn’t mean a hell of a lot to their actual white experience.

She goes on to say that

I know “everybody’s equal” means “we all deserve to be treated with fairness.” And when we tell kids we’re all the same underneath skin, gender, sexuality, physical abilities and other differences we’re trying to tell them we share human dignity and worth.

Obviously, I believe these things.

But, have you ever actually met a “generic” human? Someone without a race or a gender?

Well, guess what? Neither has your child.

And by the age of 3, our kids are aware of this fact, even though they don’t yet use adult categories to talk about it.

As teachers and parents, rising to the challenge to do better is not going to be easy – its not an easy matter.

If white children grow up in a world where simplistic platitudes pass for conversations about this deeply important and complex matter, is it any wonder white students are so racially baffled and behind and so ill equipped to join their non-white peers as allies in building more racially just futures.

As teachers and parents, rising to the challenge to do better is not going to be easy – its not an easy matter.

But as Harvey notes:

If we want our white children to live in a world with more racial justice than the one we live in now, we need to figure out how to have conversations with them as real, thick, painful, resilient, strategic and authentic as the conversations … parents [in non white families] had to have. So that our kids can help build that world.


Note: I realize that if you are reading this and you have not been deprived of tough conversations about race from an early age, chances are you did not grow up in an all white family.  This will all sound far too obvious to you – insultingly so.  But you need to give the rest of us a chance to catch up.


In the 1990s all Australian Governments had policies around gender equity in schools. Somewhere along the line this died and now education systems seem to act as if issues related to gender justice are no longer of relevance to education – the battle has been fought and won

How it died is a story in itself for another time.  In this post I want to suggest that it should never have died and that with the issues of relevance to women now being played out all around us – in the US elections, in the application of provocation laws in murder cases, in the Anglican church, in the comments about high performing female journalists and our PM, campaigns about Target’s clothing range, and even, or especially, in the world of comedians you would have to be living under a rock not to notice that women have not won the battle to be treated as full human beings worthy of respect.

Everywhere I look I see evidence of women’s hard won rights under serious attack – rights to contraception, to access to abortion – even in the case of rape and incest, rights to equality in the church and in marriage, rights to justice in the courts, rights to respect and rights to have our experience our insights our contexts and our histories taken seriously.

I found out today that the female Republicans in Tampa for the GOP convention have been catered for with a pop-up hair and beauty salon near the convention hall that promises to help them “woman up” (their language)[1]  while the men of the GOP gear up to talk policy, debate the merits of their platform, and listen to speeches about the Republican vision for America. I must admit I had a bit of a chuckle over this.  But it is not funny, not really.  Its message is powerful and scary.

I also came across an article by Clementine Ford about slut shaming[2] which shocked me.  She talked about being involved in a TV based discussion with men where the issue of sexy clothing for young girls came up.

Well I thought I knew where this was going – should we worry about young girls being pressured to adopt highly sexualized identities.  It’s a topic that has come up for discussion in the tweet-o-sphere quite regularly and it can be quite divisive.

But it wasn’t about whether it was bad for girls growing sense of themselves at all.  It was about the effect of this clothing on men”

“……should we be concerned about the kind of message 12-year-old girls are sending when they ‘dress up like prostitutes’? I listened as the kind of opinions generally offered on talkback radio and in the letters pages of tabloid newspapers were bandied around unchallenged without proper interrogation of their validity. An all too familiar consensus was reached regarding clothes and their multi-talented capacity for meaning and unspoken invitations – essentially, we need to educate young girls about dressing in a way that might give people the wrong idea.”

Ford reminds us that this kind of talk has a powerful message

 And I thought to myself, congratulations team. Well done. Because if statistics are anything to go by, you’ve just reinforced to one-third of the women present in this studio something they’ve always been afraid of – that they were responsible for their own rapes. That if they’d just dressed differently, acted differently or resisted differently, they might not have sent the kind of message that says, ‘I’m looking to be raped tonight. Any takers?’ …

At their heart, they betray an unconscious belief that men cannot be held responsible for the ways in which women tempt them – nor should they be forced to.

These are just two of today’s examples of what s out there.

So here is my question to teachers and education policy makers.  As teachers/policy makers you engage with the same media world I engage with – you hear the rape myths, the rape apologies, the attacks on women’s hard won reproductive rights, the use of the word cow and slut.  You hear similar things or worse – daily weekly or more often.  You also have advanced critical literacy skills, so are capable of critiquing these media messages and understanding their harm to women, girls, boys and men.  Given this, why is there no campaign to ensure that we systematically and comprehensively equip our students with the ability to engage critically with this sexist misogynist soup?  Why do we no longer highlight and question the gendered dimensions of classroom and school life? Why do we talk about bullying in schools but rarely sexual harassment or homophobia?

If you respond by saying of course we do that – you just don’t know about it I will be pleased not offended.  But please tell me more.  As a grandmother – fourth one born today  – I want to know that schools will equip my grandchildren and their peers reject sexism, homophobia and misogyny in all its manifestations.

Lock up your daughters: Will the National Curriculum address this kind of sexism?

This article Lock Up Your Daughters. written by Melissa on the PigtailPals website http://blog.pigtailpals.com/ is one of a growing number of articles one can find searching through blogs and tweets written by inspiring young feminist mothers trying to bring up their children in a culture riddled with sexism and worrying portrayals about what it means to be a boy or a girl.

This one is unusual because 95 per cent of what I find in my travels through these writings are concerns about the construction of femininity – the princess pinkness, the secondary status, the focus on body size and looks and the sexualisation – and rightly so.  But we all know that gender is relational and there is a growing awareness of the ways in which the war and rape culture of hyper-masculinity is increasingly part of the messaging for quite young boys.

In this article Melissa tells the story of being given a black t-shirt with the message ‘Lock-up your daughters’ and a picture of a padlock.  She did not use it until one day when all other t-shirt options were exhausted, and she knew she was not leaving the house.  She later found herself face to face with another sweet young child wearing this same t-shirt in the supermarket and was hit over the head with the power and horror of the message:


“On someone else’s baby, it was so obvious to me why that shirt had always made me feel uneasy.

It promotes Rape Culture. I stood there horrified I had ever put that on my son. My beautiful son, who loves his mama and his big sis and whom I am trying to raise to be a man like his father: intelligent, kind, caring, respectful, and strong. The shirt sends the message that the boy will be out on the prowl, and your daughters are not safe around him as he looks for prey. Best lock them up. It sends the message that girls are responsible for preventing sexual assault, as opposed to, you know, boys being taught never to rape.

This shirt’s message as: If those girls don’t watch out, the fault is on them. They were fairly warned, their parents were told to lock them up. Don’t keep them under lock and key, they become fair game.

On a physical level, it is making a joke of sexual assault with the “boys will be boys” attitude. That in and of itself, the excusing of rape based on caddish behavior assumed to be natural to boys, is vile. On an emotional level, it is saying your daughter will be manipulated and used, just before the boy moves on to the next girl. What an awful message for both boys and girls to get.”

My questions – to principals, teachers, curriculum writers, education policy officers, regional directors, professional learning leaders and others – who influence what is taught and how, are: as follows.

  • How are preschools and schools at all levels supporting the growing number of parents who do not want to stand idly by and let the world of commerce and marketing influence children’s sense of who they are, what can be, and how they understand and relate to each other?
  • Will the new Australian National Curriculum give guidance and support for teachers on how to provide students with the knowledge, understanding and skills to interrogate, discuss and co-construct different narratives about being a boy or a girl growing up today?

Source: http://blog.pigtailpals.com/2012/05/lock-up-your-daughters/

Writing for Justice – Persuasion from the Inside Out

Writing for Justice – Persuasion from the Inside Out

I highly recommend this article by Mark Hansen because it doesn’t just talk about how to engage students in issues related to social justice.  This teacher has thought hard about how to connect the sense of passion students feel when thinking about social issues to their communication / writing / school work.

Hansen shows that this sort of work requires careful thinking  and a period of time to develop the connections between social justice and students as actors in their families and communities.

“The Lorax” and critical literacy

I have just stumbled upon the Rethinking Schools Blog-site and read an article by Bill Bigelow called Rethinking The Lorax[1]Unlike most of the twitter feeds on this topic, his article does not focus solely on the shoddy, cynical and hypocritical marketing partnerships designed to coincide with the release of the film.

He points out that the book itself  is not without its problems:

The book reduces the causes of environmental ruin to individual greed, which does not help children think clearly about the roots of today’s ecological crises. This narrow single-greedy-bad-guy focus does not help readers think about the much scarier prospect of an entire society organized around the quest for profit. And the chief environmental exploiter, the Once-ler, hires all his brothers, uncles, and aunts as workers, which makes it appear that the interests of workers and owners are identical, and that they are all inherently part of the problem. Again, this is not a helpful message for children. Instead of allowing his Swomee-Swans and the Bar-ba-loots to fight for themselves and for their environment, the only opposition comes from the Lorax—who advocates for, but actually disempowers other creatures by sending them off. Finally, in the end, the Once-ler repents, suggesting that there is hope for today’s rapacious Once-lers of the world—if only we can make them see the light.

This reading of the book gave me pause because I did not read all this into the book at all.  This may be because I was reading this book in the early 80s to my quite young children at the height of the ‘Save the Franklin Campaign’ (Tasmania).  For me it was an easy entre into a discussion of this issue and my biggest concern was that I might be brainwashing them.

Reading this article has prompted me to think about going to this movie when it gets here and to ponder how complex understandings of why we are in such a perilous state re the environment can best be introduced to vulnerable and enquiring young minds.

Clearly, whatever ones take on the adequacy of the message underpinning ‘The Lorax’, it makes for a great teaching resource for children at all levels

[1] http://rethinkingschoolsblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/rethinking-the-lorax/