What interests you?

We live in a world where traveling faster than flight means reaching for a handheld device. Where information is packaged up and sent at two thirds the speed of light, and “making money” ranges from buying fake currency to working more than one job to get by. The importance of education and literacy is cementing itself more as a means of finding happiness and purpose than one of survival. And more importantly, the use of interest in educating is fast becoming an imperative to education’s survival. The idea of national literacy means that literacy is no longer a way to excel. Education has become a combination of standardized testing and a doomed attempt to standardized teaching.

The distancing of students from teachers has thrown our educational system into a harsh light. We’re fatigued. In some cases, we’re failing or supplementing our education with other sources. We learn or we don’t, and that success or failure is more based on personal environment or teacher quality. The differentiation of students from each other may be as important as the learning environment and educator, but it is the teacher’s responsibility to be responsible, to teach -through their own behavior- what it means to hold oneself accountable, especially in the education of K-12 students.

Goody/Watts encourage the idea that the cultures with writing systems were propelled into critical inquiry, of observing history with skepticism, and the developing of logical practices. With the advent of the internet and concept of technological literacy, the benefits (or dangers) of writing have been given weaponry. Given the barest introduction, and a community interested in interests, kids today can learn everything they want through such platforms as TedX, Kahn Academy, or Coursera. People can learn languages from native speakers, game-like applications, or forums. Standardized education isn’t possible in a world where bridges are so small that I can ask a professor working at the University of Tokyo their favorite book on introducing architecture and compare it with a The Ohio State University professor’s favorite in the same day.

Holding the interest of the student should be a teachers top priority in the classroom. Teaching through interest inspires passion for education, and teaching against interests kills the desire to grow. We live in a society where we literally don’t have to pay attention to get by, where we have access to substances, both legal and illegal, that will get us through the day. There’s an infinite universe out there and we’re still teaching like knowing precise information is necessary. Like critical thought is secondary. We’re still teaching kids straight out of a love of writing, of learning, and of growing. It’s a problem I ran into a long time ago, and one that took a long time to find a work around. It took looking at myself, and asking a simple and complex question.
What are my interests?

Tackling Education in the Age of Coronavirus

As we approach the one year anniversary of the Coronavirus upending American life, it’s a good time to reflect on its potential long term impacts on education. For many across the country, students continue to learn either entirely online or through a hybrid model, combining online schooling with some in-person instruction.

Child Learning at Computer

The burden on students, parents, and teachers to keep track of ever-changing schedules is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the multitude of disruptions wrought by the virus. While transmissions appear to be slowing in some parts of the country, some experts are expressing concern about the effects of a year in quarantine on students.

At the end of every school year, parents and teachers alike worry about students slipping in the summer months. This year, this fear is magnified by the fact that many students have struggled to keep up in an online learning environment. For students who were enrolled in tutoring for reading and writing, online learning has proved to be a poor substitute.

Typically, a student who is falling behind would have access to one-on-one instruction or small groups to help them improve their literacy skills. But for many school districts, this has been a difficult task to replicate virtually. Parents worry that the lack of resources through the school will mean their already struggling student might fall further behind.

Adding to this anxiety, parents feel pressure to teach their children themselves but may lack the time and resources to do so. Particularly for families with limited means or single parent households, the achievement gap can feel more like a canyon.

Inequalities in education have long been a source of anxiety in the United States. In their article, “The Right to Be Literate: Literacy, Education, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” Winn, et. al. note that literacy has become “a new civil rights frontier.” In the time of Coronavirus, inequalities in education have widened.

Group of illustrated children reading books on a bench

So what do we do? Colorado school districts are recognizing the issues outlined above by beefing up their summer school programs. Students will be able to catch up via in-person instruction and the goal is to have smaller class sizes to address each child’s specific needs.

The resources needed to undo the chaos brought onto the education system by the Coronavirus will likely be massive. But experts believe that children, naturally resilient and curious, will fare just fine in the long run. In the meantime, patience is a friend to everyone.

Literally Literate: How the idea of literacy has spread beyond the act of writing

Literacy Meme

A literacy meme that says “oh so think literacy is just reading and writing?” across the top and “tell me how that’s going for you” across the bottom.

Whether in class or in the real world, we have all heard terms such as “digital literacy”,  “financial literacy” or even moreAlberta Education defines literacy as “the ability, confidence and willingness to engage with language to acquire, construct and communicate meaning in all aspects of daily living”. In this definition, we see how the idea of literacy has expanded beyond just the act of writing.

Examples of types of literacy

An image depicting types of literacy, such as information, technology, and data literacy.

Literacy has become shorthand for being able to navigate the complex systems that surround us. While in schools we still emphasize reading and writing the most, it is well documented that we need many literacies to become socially engaged citizens. As seen in Scribner and Cole’s “Literacy without schooling: Testing for intellectual effects”, literacy has long been entwined with schooling and therefore cognitive development. Researchers such as Scribner and Cole have pushed back on this, but in the modern American education system, one needs literacy to pursue education.

Student with book

A student being handed a book by a teacher.

So what does the extrapolation of the term literacy say about how we culturally view the act of literacy? First, it emphasizes the connection between literacy and schooling. The idea one has to be “financially literate” in order to grow your financial resources is just one parallel to this theory. With this new definition and new terms, we see an even greater conflation of literacy and schooling. To be literate in a topic is to be educated on it as well as being able to navigate complex situations surrounding a given form of literacy.

Second, we see an increase in the divides between traditionally literate and non-literate persons. As many of these types of literacies still need reading and writing skills to learn and use, one has to be traditionally literate to pursue many of these new types of literacy, especially those lower in socioeconomic status. Digital literacy can be economically uplifting, but one has to pursue knowledge via already established literacy skills, such as reading tutorials or blog posts. With the internet, we see a greater challenge for non-literate people to overcome.

What does this mean for students? Does this evolving definition mean that students who are being taught literacy have more on their plate? In my opinion, I think this rather shows people opening up the “right to literacy” to more skillsets. We all need a complex understanding to navigate our increasingly complex world, and everyone has a right to learn these other types of literacies as well. This is why we see iPad tutorials for elderly populations, or financial advice nonprofits. Like traditional literacy, arming people with these skills allow them to transcend the barriers that keep them down, and become politically and socially aware of the world around them. People have a right to knowledge of the systems around them, and the expansion of the term literacy is just one example of that growing belief.

Let’s be genuine about how we (re)write histories

When I say AAC device what comes to mind? Is it the device? The technology? …Or the human who uses it?

Okay, I admit that was a bit unfair of me. I mean, I literally put “device” right in the question; it’s only natural for you to have thought of that first. But the point I’m making here is poignant nonetheless: that sometimes even the companies who design, make, and sell these pricey communication technologies think about the person second—or third or fourth or last—to the device.

Don’t just take my word for it. Meryl Alper draws attention to this issue in her think piece on the development of AAC devices. Notably, she says,

“[T]he history of AAC sheds light on the inexorable, but understudied links between the history of communication technologies and disability history… Individuals with various disabilities need to be recovered from and rewritten into the history of how communication technologies are designed, marketed, and adopted.”

When she says technologies, she refers to all means of writing and communicating. Not just the ones that are augmentative or alternative.

And when she says history she’s not just talking about days of yore. This is salient—this is now.

But this issue obviously isn’t isolated to AAC. Companies, researchers, and consumers consistently and persistently “forget” the humans behind the technologies.

For anyone who’s accidentally spent hours perusing #wokewashing, you know how real and fraught this product-over-person mentality is. (And just to address the students and teachers real quick, these issues crop up even in the classroom. Check this article out.)

Putting the human back into anything that has been systematically scrubbed of specific people’s presence is no easy job. So how do we go about “recovering” and “rewriting” like Alper suggests?

Talk isn’t as cheap as you think

The idea of physical accessibility isn’t something we are unfamiliar with; we’re all used to the ramps and special parking spaces that inhabit the front of most buildings, a concept known as Universal Design (better outlined here), but what about intellectual accessibility? Something as simple as communicating what you want to eat? How you’re feeling? A great number of people suffer from a number of afflictions, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, or various other physical and developmental disabilities that inhibit their ability to verbalize their desires or feelings, and rely on alternative communication devices to get their thoughts out into the world.

Here is a video showing one example of accessible communication, signage within the home. While decidedly simple to execute and absolutely an affordable communication technique, what about outside the home?

Meryl Alper’s article focused on the accessibility of these technologies being out of reach for many that could greatly benefit from them and even compared two similar devices from tech company Texas Instruments (we know mostly for our graphing calculators) produced in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s: the former designed as a children’s toy, the latter as an adaptive device. The adaptive device retailed for almost four times what the toy did, which meant many couldn’t afford the device and therefore were limited to other means of communication. Over time, the technology behind adaptive communication hasn’t changed much, yet still remains expensive and mainly uncovered by insurance plans; an iPad is not an essential service or device in the way a wheelchair or cardiologist is. I disagree though, because is not communication essential for life? To a non-verbal person, something as simple as sharing their favorite color can be impossible without alternative forms of communication. Pointing or gesturing can work for simple matters, but anything complex requires more communication.

These financial barriers only add to the burdens of persons with no or limited physical speech, creating more obstacles between them and a normal life. Alper shares that not only are the devices uncovered and financially out of reach for many, the apps that are used to communicate are an additional purchase, often several hundreds of dollars- also uncovered by insurance plans.

Communication Devices for Cerebral Palsy Patients a communication app for iPad

The inequality of disability mounts higher and higher with the weight of financial limitations that millions face in day to day life as it is just to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. The idea of spending $1,000 on a communication device becomes a laughable thought due to its non-reality; despite the help it could provide.