Concluding Robert Putnam’s _Our Kids_, asking “What is To Be Done?”

Robert Putnam, _Our Kids_Today we finish up our online reading of Robert Putnam’s new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

The book’s final chapter reflects on the problems diagnosed so far, and asks simply, classically, “What is to be Done?” As with previous chapters I’ll summarize its content, then offer some reflections, followed by questions.  There’s also a PS on this reading process.

1. Summary

The chapter begins by quickly summarizing the book so far, then extrapolating from those points.  Increasing inequality may actually cost the American economy, in terms of opportunities lost (231-4).  On top of that, the widening class gap may lead to decreasing political participation and civic engagement, which could further split the classes (234-7).  Which would then become intergenerational – in other words,

Inherited political inequality brings us uncomfortably close to the political regime against which the American Revolution was fought. (237)

Perhaps things will get worse still.  Putnam evokes demagogues and fascism, linking civic disengagement to totalitarianism via Hannah Arendt (239-40).

So what is to be done?  Our Kids wants national experimentation with local variations, sounding like FDR’s early New Deal but referencing instead the prior Progressive Era (243-4).  Details: Continue reading

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Teaching the Future

Teach The FutureI’d like to announce the launch of a project I’ve had a small role in.  Teach the Future is a new effort to help teachers at all levels, K-16+, introduce futures thinking into classes.

TtF is developing starter kits for instructors in K-12 and higher education.  There’s a broad-ranging social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TumblrGoogle+, and a blog).  TtF leads are already working with teachers and schools.  And the project is raising funds for next steps.

Teach the Future is led by Peter Bishop, who founded and led the University of Houston’s futures masters program for many years.  Watch him explain the idea and his plans:

My role?  I’m on the board, and help out how I can.

It’s an impressive, ambitious effort.  Check it out.


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The age of disintegrated computing and thoughts on education

Is our computing environment shattering into disintegrated swarms of devices and functions?

This good article on search and hardware makes me think so, and that “disintegrated computing” describes where we’re heading.  But let me back up a bit to set the stage, first.

I’ve been studying the mobile technology world for a while, ever since helping do some research for Howard Rheingold’s Smartmobs (2002).  It became clear to me that we were moving away from computing focused on a single device, be it desktop or laptop. The next stage would include many competing and complementary hardware platforms.

The mobile phone was the first major step in that direction, followed by PDAs, mp3 players, ereaders, then tablets.  Handheld game machines predate those.

14 mobile devices

A swarm of mobile devices **in 2009**.

Now we have added a smattering of other portable and often networked devices, including fitness trackers (I wear a Jawbone UP, my wife a Fitbit), Nike’s shoe devices, head-mounted video cameras, Google Glass, Bluetooth headware, the  Livescribe Smartpen, various Leapfrog devices, classroom clickers, and more.  Laptops keep mutating into new forms, extra-light, Chromebook, tablet hybrid, and so on. Plus there’s the ecosystem of tiny necessary digital tools, from thumb drive to SD cards. Not to mention robots, which we can’t carry, but are portable on their own terms.

Mobile computing grew with support services, starting with WiFi, mobile phone networks, and Bluetooth.  Now it depends on additional supports, most prominently the cloud for storage, shopping, and connections with other users.

So to wrap up the familiar picture: we’re heading into the Internet of Things.  More importantly, we’re achieving the vision of ubiquitous computing. Continue reading

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Reading Robert Putnam’s _Our Kids, chapter 5, “Community”

Robert Putnam, _Our Kids_Let’s continue our online reading of Robert Putnam’s new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

In this chapter we change focus from individual families and schools to broader social networks, addressing “Community”. As with previous chapters I’ll summarize its content, then offer some reflections, followed by questions.

1. Summary

Once again Our Kids changes location, this time removing to the Philadelphia area, in and around the Main Line.  Once more there are two contrasting families located not far from each other.  The book also changes its racial focus to white families.

The wealthy family is very well off.  Marnie and her two daughters live in a world of Ivy League education, “private schools, horseback riding, and an extensive household staff” (194).  Non-economic stresses occur, including divorce and ADHD, but money and supportive people see the women through.  Some of those people are connected to Marnie’s family through weak ties, a major point of this chapter (198).

In contrast Molly and her daughters live far down the socio-economic scale, surrounded by crime, illness, addiction, unplanned and early pregnancies, and social disintegration. The local church is able to help Molly’s family, until it was “closed down for sexual abuse” (201); later, another church was helpful (202-3).  Instead of the elite private schools Marnie’s daughters enjoy, Molly’s children endure public schools staffed by people convinced the girls were “not going to end up being anything” (201).  One, Lisa, takes post-secondary classes, “but that led to no job and left her with a daunting $50,000 student debt.” (204)  Summed up, “Molly tried to save her daughters from alcohol, drugs, and pregnancy, but she was unsuccessful.” (205) Continue reading

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The end of Corinthian Colleges, or resigning the game utterly

Corinthian Colleges logoThis morning the Corinthian Colleges system shuts down.  That means 28 for-profit “ground campuses” stop teaching.  “more than 16,000 students and employees” are hit, according to Wikipedia.

Campuses closed include Corinthian’s 13 remaining Everest and WyoTech campuses in California, Everest College Phoenix and Everest Online Tempe in Arizona, the Everest Institute in New York, and 150-year-old Heald College–including its 10 locations in California, one in Hawaii and one in Oregon.

Note the word “remaining”.  Corinthian has been closing campuses and units for the past couple of years, under pressure from the United States federal government, lawsuits, a student debt strike, and a wave of bad publicity.  Things were supposed to wrap up with CC units purchased by others, but the last ones fell through.

Corinthian Colleges market collapse_Jeff Benton

Falling shares. Chart by Jeff Benton.

What does this mean for higher education?

First, we could see this as a datapoint in a broader decline or, or crisis within, for-profit higher education.  Numbers are required, though, to see if there’s an ongoing net decline in student numbers and overall dollars.  Corinthian is a recently established entity, coming out of the mid-1990s.  It reminds me of those Russian campuses scheduled for closure, as that nation’s education minister announced: young for profits with, ah, not so hot reputations.  So are we seeing a market shake-out as it matures, or a sharp decline as the model doesn’t prove out?

“Finally, we see the end of this rotten company,” Senator Durbin said in a statement issued on Sunday… (source)

Continue reading

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Is Louisiana State University preparing for “academic bankruptcy”?

LSU president F. King AlexanderThe president of Louisiana State University announced that he had started planning for “financial exigency.”  This follows that state’s governor’s call for major cuts to public higher education, which I noted two months ago.

Louisiana’s flagship university began putting together the paperwork for declaring financial exigency this week when the Legislature appeared to make little progress on finding a state budget solution, according to F. King Alexander, president and chancellor of LSU.

“We don’t say that to scare people,” he said. “Basically, it is how we are going to survive.”

Other Louisiana public campuses might do this as well:

[Sandra Woodley, president of the University of Louisiana system] said several of her campuses — though she would not specifically mention which ones — would have to file for financial exigency if no additional state funding is found.

The Times-Picayune explains what this means:

Being in a state of financial exigency means a university’s funding situation is so difficult that the viability of the entire institution is threatened. The status makes it easier for public colleges to shut down programs and lay off tenured faculty, but it also tarnishes the school’s reputation, making it harder to recruit faculty and students.

“shut down programs and lay off tenured faculty”: yes, exigency makes it easier to perform a queen sacrifice.

Here’s the magnitude of possible state funding reductions: Continue reading

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Reading Robert Putnam, _Our Kids_, chapter 4, “Schooling”

Robert Putnam, _Our Kids_Let’s continue our online reading of Robert Putnam’s new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

In this post we move on to chapter four, simply titled “Schooling,” a topic central to this blog and my work. As with previous chapters I’ll summarize its content, then offer some reflections, followed by questions.  Because this subject is so important, I’m going to spend more time and more than 1700 words on this chapter.

Warning: if you care about education, this is a rough chapter.

1. Summary

As the twenty-first century opened, a family’s socioeconomic status (SES) had become even more important than test scores in predicting which eighth graders would graduate from college.(189)

It’s educational apartheid, a caste system driven by economic class.*

This chapter argues that schooling does not provide a level playing field for kids from different economic classes, but reflects that divide.  “The American public school today is as a kind of echo chamber in which the advantages or disadvantages that children bring with them to school have effects on other kids.” (182)

Once again Our Kids establishes a setting for stories, this time in California’s Orange County, where extremes of wealth and poverty can now be found in close proximity.  The characters in this venue aren’t white, as with many in chapter two, or black, as in chapter three, but Latino.  Once again Putnam sees economic difference trumping race: “economic inequality within the Latin community in Orange County has grown significantly during the past four decades” (136).  Characters include Latinos wealthy  (Clara, Ricardo, and their children Isabella and Michael) and poor (Lola and Sofia).

The upper-class family’s parents focused intensely on education, picking neighborhoods based on SAT scores (142) and sending their child to a very competitive magnet school (“15 students get 2400 on their SATs”, 144).  The school was – presumably is – very intense, with long hours, challenging curricula, plentiful extracurricular activities.

The poor family’s schooling experience is enormously different.  The older sister was not able to take high school seriously, since she had become, in effect, her younger sibling’s sole caregiver (151-152).  Which made her typical for students in that school, in a way:

“What were academics like in your school?” we ask.

Lola: There wasn’t any.

Sofia: [Laughing] What’s “academics”? (154)

Continue reading

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