Archive for the 'Education' category

Inclusion is a challenge all over. The Ada Initiative has resources to support women in *your* community.

Note that we haven't really reached our goal until we've hit 250 donors!
Ada Campaign Progress

Real inclusion of women in a variety of professional and public spheres in a continuing struggle. We hear a lot about this struggle in the tech sector, but it's a problem well beyond tech. The Ada Initiative has awesome resources to support women and their meaningful inclusion. You might assume that these resources are just for women in tech, but you'd be wrong. I want people in my communities -- the scientists and science communicators, the philosophers, the academics, the freelancers, the parents -- to discover, use, and support the Ada Initiative's resources.

Let me tell you why, and then I'll tell you how.

I have spent most of my life dealing with the default assumption that stuff I'm interested in -- stuff I'm passionate about -- is not for me, because I'm female. I've dealt with this in math and science, in philosophy, and online. I have dealt with harassment (in academia, online, in the wider world) that my male colleagues don't face and often don't even see when it's happening right in front of them. I have grappled with my impostor syndrome in a cultural climate where others are already doubting my competence simply because I'm female.

This state of affairs is not OK with me.This is not a situation my daughters should have to deal with.

The Ada Initiative has resources we can use to make things better.

For example:

  • The Ada Initiative has been tireless in advocating for the adoption and enforcement of conference anti-harassment policies. They offer sample language that organizations can adapt as needed, plus guidance on implementation so a well-intentioned policy doesn't become mere words on a page.
  • The Ada Initiative offers Ally Skills Workshops to teach men simple ways to make their workplaces and communities more inclusive of women.
  • The Ada Initiative offers resources and training to address impostor syndrome, that pervasive feeling so many women have, nurtured by our dominant culture, that they don't have the expertise, intelligence, or skills to do the work they are doing.

These are awesome resources for the tech and open source communities, but they're awesome resources for the rest of us, too! If you are a scientist, a philosopher, an academic, a freelancer, an educator, a parent, anyone who cares about meaningful inclusion in your profession or community, these resources are for you.

These awesome resources didn't just pop into existence, though. They are the result of the work of dedicated people and an organization focused on making meaningful inclusion of women a reality. So I'm asking you to support the Ada Initiative with a donation.

Donate Now

To encourage you to give, and to spread the word, I'm putting up two challenge grants.

Challenge #1: When donations to the "Ada Initiative for All of Us" drive reach $1000, it will unlock $500 of challenge funds. (Watch our progress on this goal!)

UPDATE: CHALLENGE #1 UNLOCKED! We've crossed the $1000 threshold!

Challenge #2: When the number of distinct donors to the "Ada Initiative for All of Us" drive reach 250, it will unlock another $500 of challenge funds.

If you can't donate, you can still help by spreading the word! Tell people in your workplace or community about the resources the Ada Initiative provides and point them to my drive.

If you can donate $128 or more, you can also score a cool sticker, pictured here!

Ada F-word sticker

Deadline to unlock the challenges and lighten my wallet by $1000 is 11 PM (Pacific Time) Friday, September 19, 2014. But, if Challenge #1 and Challenge #2 both fall much before the deadline, we may figure out a third challenge…

Edited to add:

If you are a scientist, a philosopher, an academic, a freelancer, an educator, a parent, you can use the resources that the Ada Initiative provides -- but you may not be as flush with cash as the folks in the tech sector. So, on the donation page for the "Ada Initiative for All of Us" drive, you may be freaking out a little that $128 is the lowest donation level listed.

If $128 is too rich for your budget but you still want to kick some financial support to the Ada Initiative, don't freak out! Click the radio button next to "Other amount" and fill in a donation amount that works for you -- maybe $64, or $28, or $16, or $8, or $4, or $2.

Any amount that's a tile in 2048 will do the job. We'll put them together and make something bigger. (You also can choose a dollar amount that's not a power of two. Who am I to stop you?)

And, of course, if you're tapped out, you're tapped out. Boosting the signal on the drive helps, too!

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Why I can no longer donate to Wellesley College.

Because the undergraduate education I received at Wellesley College has been so important in my life, and because I believe all college students deserve the intellectual engagement Wellesley gave me, I can no longer donate to Wellesley College.

The education Wellesley College gave me has been central to how I understand what it is to learn and to participate fully in the world. It helped me see knowledge as more than a fixed list of things-to-know but rather as a body that was always in flux, always under construction, always in contact with the wider world. It engaged me seriously, as an individual and as a member of a coordinated learning community with my Wellesley classmates, with professors who were building knowledge, not just describing knowledge others had built.

As a professor at San José State University, a teaching-focused institution in the California State University system, I am teaching a very different student population than Wellesley's. Approximately half of our students are first-generation college students. Many of our full-time students work 40 hours a week or more to pay for college (and, frequently, to support their families). A heartbreakingly large proportion of our students arrive at our university with the expectation that a college degree will be of merely instrumental value (to help them get a job, to secure them a better salary at the job they have), having never encountered a teacher who believed in their ability to learn broadly and deeply -- or who believed that they were entitled to learning for its own sake, for their own enjoyment.

These are students who need an educational experience like the one Wellesley provided for me. My mission as a professor is to give them as much of this experience as I can.

This is not an easy task, when budget crises have meant ballooning class sizes and dwindling resources to support instruction. It is even harder when administrators, looking to cut costs, decide it it appropriate to replace live, engaged, expert instruction in the classroom with packaged massive online courses from private vendors like edX.

Courses like those Wellesley College has created and licensed to edX.

I recognize that the faculty involved in creating these courses probably did so with the best of intentions, hoping to share their enthusiasm and expertise with people in the world with no access to college courses other than the internet.

However, the MOOCs they have created have become tools for other purposes, used to "save money" (by eliminating faculty) and to replace meaningful classroom instruction that is working for our student populations.

This serves not to increase access to higher education but to reduce it, at least for the students served by public university systems like mine. At this point in the grand disruptive online experiment, all indications are that MOOCs "work" for self-directed learners, the "ambitious autodidacts" who seems always to be the prime beneficiaries of educational innovations, but that they don't work well for "students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives" -- that is, for students like mine.

Private entities like edX are distributing MOOCs that are being used to replace classroom instruction that strives to give students just a taste of Wellesley's intellectual engagement with an online experience that Wellesley faculty would (I hope) never dream of substituting for their own classroom engagement with their students.

A hallmark of my education at Wellesley was that the subject matter was never just confined to the classroom. Whatever the subject, we were challenged to think hard about its real impact in the world. I implore Wellesley's faculty and administration to think hard about the real context in which the MOOCs they are creating are deployed, about the effects, intended and unintended, that follow upon their use.

By participating in edX without attaching conditions to their MOOCs that prevent their use to replace classroom education that is working and to undermine meaningful educational access, Wellesley College is hurting my students and my ability as a professor to give them some of what Wellesley gave me.

So long as Wellesley College continues to participate in the weaponization of education through edX, I cannot in good conscience contribute another dollar to Wellesley College.

Janet D. Stemwedel
Class of 1989

25 responses so far

Reasonable reactions to kids messing up in dangerous ways.

Kiera Wilmot, a 16-year-old Florida high school student, was expelled from her high school last week for mixing toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in a plastic bottle on school grounds, creating some smoke and enough pressure to pop the cap off the bottle.

No property was damaged. No one was hurt.

Kiera described what she was doing as "conducting a science experiment" while the police described it as "possession/discharge of a weapon on school property and discharging a destructive device" -- both felonies.

While there has been a general increase in "zero tolerance" enforcement of policies by school systems, it is maybe not unimportant in the reaction in this case that Kiera Wilmot is African American. (For more on that, check out DNLee's post and the discussion at Black Skeptics.)

Schools, obviously, have reasonable concerns about students doing "freelance science" on school grounds, without supervision and without sufficient attention to issues like safety. And, there are sensible arguments that messing around with science (even the explode-y kind) outside the constraints of a lesson plan (and the inevitable standardized test question that follows upon that lesson plan) is precisely the kind of formative experience that gets kids interested enough in science to pursue that interest in their formal schooling. There's a challenge in finding the middle ground -- the circumstances where kids can get excited and take chances and discover things without doing permanent damage to themselves, others, or school property. In olden times, when I was in high school, some of our teachers managed to create conditions like these in the classroom. I don't even know if that would be possible anymore.

Meanwhile, we desperately need to figure out how not to read a 16-year-old's momentary lapse of judgment as a sign that she is a criminal, or a dangerous person to have in the classroom alongside other 16-year-olds whose lapses have not (yet) been so publicly observable. Smart kids -- good kids -- sometimes make decisions with less thought than they should about the potential consequences. Imposing draconian consequences on them isn't necessarily the only way to get them to be more mindful of consequences in the future.

My thoughts on this kind of case are made complex by very slight personal involvement with a similar case almost 20 years ago. In 1994, I lived near Gunn High School in Palo Alto, where a "senior prank" in the canter quad led to an explosion, a 15-foot plume of fire, and eighteen injured people, including two students seriously injured with second and third degree burns. The three seniors who confessed said they were trying to make a smoke bomb, but they had gotten it wrong. They all pled guilty to one felony count, were placed on probation, then had their felonies reduced to misdemeanors after they met particular conditions. They also faced a civil lawsuit brought on behalf of the injured students.

And, if memory serves, at least one of the students had his admission offer at an elite private college revoked.

I know this because I was teaching chemistry courses at a nearby community college that summer and the following fall, and one of the "mad bombers" (as they were being called in town) was my student. He was a good student, smart, engaged in the lessons, and hard working. In the laboratory, he took greater care than most of the other students to understand how to do the assigned experiments safely.

He wasn't, when I knew him, someone who seemed reckless with the welfare of the people around him. He definitely didn't seem like a kid looking to get into more trouble. He seemed affected by how wrong the prank had gone, and he gave the impression of having internalized some serious lessons from it.

None of this is to argue that he or the others shouldn't have been punished. They harmed their fellow students, some of them quite seriously, and the civil suits struck me as completely appropriate.

But approaching kids who mess up -- even quite badly -- as irredeemably bad kids (or, worse, as bad kids treated as adults for the purposes of prosecution) just doesn't fit with the actual kid I knew. And, possibly, going too far with the penalties imposed on kids who mess up is the kind of thing that might turn them into irredeemable cases, rather than giving them a chance to make things right, learn from their screw ups, and then go on to become grown-ups who make better decisions and positive contributions to our world.

4 responses so far

Lancaster follow-up: the Antelope Valley Press gets it.

You'll recall that the Lancaster(California) school district has recently adopted a "science philosophy" that calls for critical thinking about evolutionary theory ... but no other scientific theory in the curriculum.
You'll recall that the school district trustees didn't seem to view this as having anything to do with opening the door for the teaching of creationism or intelligent design.
If you read the comments, though, you've discovered that Alex Branning, the entrepreneur who spearheaded this new policy, and who claimed to have no truck with creationists or ID proponents, is the registered owner of the domain evolutionisimpossible.com.

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If you really want critical thinking, why restrict where you're calling for it?

Hey, guess what? A California school district has adopted a new science policy aimed at getting students to think more critically ... about evolutionary theory. It is not entirely clear whether members of the Lancaster School District board of trustees recognize that the policy effectively singles out evolution for scrutiny, or whether they were duped. But I'm pretty sure I've heard this song before.

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Serving two masters is sometimes impossible.

The last two meetings of my ethics in science class have focused on some of the history of research with human subjects and on the changing statements of ethical principles or rules governing such experimentation. Looking at these statements (the Nuremberg Code and the Belmont Report especially) against the backdrop of some very serious missteps (Nazi medical experiments and the Public Health Service's Tuskegee syphilis experiment), it's painfully clear how much regulation is scandal-driven -- a reaction to a screw-up, rather than something that researchers took the time to think about before they embarked on their research. Worse, it's clear that researchers are perfectly capable of ignoring existing moral codes or standards to get the job done.
What some of these researchers may not have understood (but my students seem pretty well attuned to) is that in ignoring the norms that one ought, as a physician or a scientist, to be committed to, one comes perilously close to choosing not to be a physician or a scientist.

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Please don't call that philosophy!

Jan 11 2006 Published by under Education

Here in California, I had hoped we might be safe from the high school Intelligent Design follies playing out in other states. Turns out, not so much.
Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, California, part of the El Tejon Unified School District, offered a class called "Philosophy of Design" which has prompted a lawsuit from the parents of 13 students arguing that the course violates the separation of church and state.

"The course was designed to advance religious theories on the origins of life, including creationism and its offshoot, 'intelligent design,'" the suit said. "Because the teacher has no scientific training, students are not provided with any critical analysis of this presentation."

I don't want to take up the merits of the lawsuit on the separation of church and state, in part because I know others are doing that even now as I type. Instead, I'm going to get worked up about the claim that the class in question is at all respectable as a philosophy course.

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