Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Rethinking Education: Will It Take More Than Just Funding?

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

In philanthropy we’ve seen Education come under a spotlight with the release of Waiting for Superman and the announcement that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will be donating $100 million to “save Newark schools.”

And yesterday a Huffington Post article by Don Tapscott critiquing the New York Times cover story “Growing Up Digital” intersected with the issue of how digital media impacts education:

“The sad truth, according to the Gates Foundation report, is that most dropouts could have made it. Nearly half who dropped out said classes were either not interesting or just plain boring. So perhaps the real issue is the gap between how Net Geners think and how most teachers teach. Net Geners are not content to sit mutely and listen to a teacher talk. Kids who have grown up digital expect to be able to respond, to have a conversation. They want a choice in their education, in terms of what they learn, when they learn it, where, and how. They want their education to be relevant to the real world, the one they live in. They want it to be interesting, even fun…”

What intrigued me the most about the article was the teaser:

“Rather than kids losing their attention spans there is a stronger case to be made that growing up digital is equipping today’s youth with the mental skills that they’ll need to deal with today’s overflow of information.”

What’s all this have to do with education? Well, it’s interesting how today’s youth are adapting to the digital environment they find themselves living in…so I guess the question is: is Education keeping pace with this new way of thinking?

The public education system has long been refining what they do, trying to be more effective, efficient, with fewer resources…but if the funding is provided, the staffing, the student resources–will that be the solution?

This brings me to RSA Animate’s visualization of a speech entitled “Changing Education Paradigms”, given by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education expert and recipient of the RSA Benjamin Franklin award.

“The current education system was designed and conceived and structured for a different age. It was conceived in the intellectual culture of The Enlightenment and the economic circumstances of the Industrial Revolution…

“The Enlightenment view of intelligence: that real intelligence consists in the capacity for certain type of deductive reasoning and a knowledge of the classics, originally. What we come to think of academic ability. And this is deep in the gene pool of public education, that there are really two types of people: academic and non academic. Smart people and non smart people and the consequence of that is that many brilliant people think they’re not because they’re being judged against this particular view of the mind. So we have twin pillars economic and intellectual and my view is that this model has caused chaos in many people’s lives. It’s been great for some. there have been people who have benefited wonderfully from it but most people have not.”

If our education system was designed for a different age…have we adapted it for the 21st century? Because people and societies are adapting to modern technology, how is the practice of teaching adapting?

Robinson picks up this thread and addresses the issue of the digital age’s influence on today’s youth and on education:

“Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth. They’re being besieged with information and calls for their attention from every platform: computers, from iPhones, from advertising hoardings, from hundreds of television channels. And we’re penalizing them now for getting distracting. From what? Boring stuff. At school, for the most part.”

Robinson calls for a paradigm shift when it comes to thinking about Education:

“We have to think differently about human capacity. We have to get over this old conception of academic, non academic, abstract, theoretical, vocational and see it for what it is: a myth. Second, you have to recognize that most great learning happens in groups. That collaboration is the stuff of growth. If we atomize people and separate them and judge them separately we form a kind of disjunction between them and their natural learning environment. And thirdly, it’s crucially about the culture of our institutions. The habits of institution and the habitats that they occupy.”

He makes a compelling case…especially the part about how the vast majority of kindergarteners score at a genius level on a divergent thinking test, but as they grew up and became more educated their capacity for divergent thinking deteriorated.




It’s Not Your Father’s Revolution: Gladwell Gets an Online Earful

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Last week the interwebs [read sarcasm] burned up with chatter about Malcolm Gladwell‘s New Yorker article “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted.”

Gladwell sets the stage for his argument by first recounting the story of four young men who sat down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and asked for a cup of coffee. If this story sounds familiar, it should. It’s the famous Greensboro sit-in that became part of a growing Civil Rights movement to desegregate the south. Gladwell continues that this sit-in and the movement it was a part of took place without the aid of Twitter or Facebook.

“…we seem to have forgotten what activism is.”

Gladwell spends the rest of the article trying to deflate the importance of social media in contemporary activism. He asserts that strong ties are necessary for activism and social media is not about strong ties, but rather weak ties.

“The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand ‘friends’ on Facebook, as you never could in real life.”

So essentially, Gladwell is arguing that social media isn’t capable of sustaining “real activism.”

This is where the cadre of nonprofit social media bloggers, tweeters and gurus take him to task.

Allison Fine, co-author of the Networked Nonprofit, begins her response by challenging Gladwell’s definition of activism:

“More than misunderstanding the role and power of social media, what I found most disturbing and disappointing about the article was that Gladwell doesn’t understand activism. Activism has come to represent a wide continuum of efforts, voluntary and professional…cannot all fit neatly under one umbrella. The term activism has come to include society changing social movements, political advocacy, and acts of loving kindness, like giving clothes or food to people in need. Gladwell lumps all activism into the social movement category.

Social movement are intense, long-term efforts developed by a core of people and then spread widely because of the moral indignation that galvanizes them…And that’s it, all of the other “movements” since have been advocacy or awareness campaigns (think climate change, recycling, drunk driving, breast cancer) to raise money or change public policy. or direct service efforts like feeding the hungry. They amount to a series of campaigns with very specific, intended outcomes. They are not social movements.

I think that’s a good point. Trying to define all activism as having a specific type of outcome is too restrictive and doesn’t recognize the different types of social change activists are striving for.

And on the topic of strong ties vs. weak ties, Lina Srivastava had this to say:

“The way a campaign engages empathizers, influencers and activists– whether based on what Gladwell notes as weak or strong ties– is really more a matter of strategy– issue identification, context, methodology, desired action, outcome, etc. Use and application of digital tools is a tactical concern– important, but not the endpoint. And so Gladwell creates a false distinction when he claims it is the nature of the tool that creates strong or weak ties. I would argue it’s the content and the context that determines and strengthen ties. The medium is not the message here.”

Beth Kanter agrees, it’s not the tool that creates weak ties, “stories or people do.”

But aside from arguing how to define activism or what creates a strong tie&#151I have to wonder, why does Gladwell think activism exists in a vacuum? That how it’s executed can’t evolve?

Clearly we can all agree that how we communicate has greatly evolved since the 1960s thanks to cell phones, the internet and yes…social media.

Tech blogger Anil Dash explains:

The problem with Gladwell’s premise, though, is that it’s wildly anachronistic to think that the only way to effect social change is to assemble a sign-wielding mob to inhabit a public space…People who want to see marches in the streets are often unwilling to admit that those marches just don’t produce much in the way of results in America in 2010.

However: There are revolutions, actual political and legal revolutions, that are being led online. They’re just happening in new ways, and taking subtle forms unrecognizable to those who still want a revolution to look like they did in 1965.

Want a good example of contemporary activism using social media? Just last week I blogged about’s world-wide day of protest.

Take a look at those images from around the world and then tell me that social media isn’t capable of sustaining “real activism” (whatever that means) or that “we’ve forgotten what activism is.”

No, I think the point is, activism isn’t in a static state. It’s evolving. Like the activists themselves. And to try and discredit the tools used by contemporary activists just because their efforts look different from past activism, is a little like requiring the present to live in the past. And if I recall, the whole idea behind many of the great social movements that Gladwell referenced was that the past was holding us back as a society, that society needed to change.


Read Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article online.

Read Anil Dash’s response online.

Read Allison Fine’s response online.

Read Beth Kanter’s response online.

Read Lina Srivastava’s response online.

Mark Zuckerberg, Superman: What Are We Waiting For?

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

I come from a family of educators. Teachers. My parents taught Earth Science, Texas History and English at my junior high. Both of my sisters are also educators, both teaching in public schools in Texas. So I feel like I do understand the challenges educators face: overcrowded classes, limited resources, pressure to get students to score well on standardized tests that determine how much state funding a school will get…and the list continues.

Teachers are on my mind today for a few reasons:

  1. Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 Million gift to Newark
  2. Waiting for Superman‘s upcoming release in movie theaters

Mark Zuckerberg, one of the co-founders of Facebook and one of the youngest on Forbe’s Richest Americans list, recently announced he was giving the Newark School system $100 million.

And Waiting for Superman, currently showing in select theaters, is a new documentary that takes a critical look at the our country’s public education system.

I guess I’m wondering where these two news items intersect.

Zuckerberg’s gift is establishing a new fund to pump money into Newark schools and Waiting for Superman is shining a light on what it perceives to be the problems that prevent our school systems from improving.

Will these two news items bring much needed attention to the issue of education? Because I wonder, if we aren’t all involved in solving this issue…can the situation really improve?

It’s almost ironic that the situation reminds me of the plight of the individual student themselves.

I happen to believe that it takes more than just a motivated student, or a dedicated teacher, or parents who take time to make sure their child’s homework is finished. Yes, sometimes, just having one or two of these ingredients can lead to a student’s success. But overall, to ensure the success of all your students, you’ll need all three. All three feeding off one another, injecting one another with energy and drive.

So, yes, Zuckerberg’s money will help, how much, I don’t know. And yes, Waiting for Superman will inspire many in society to dedicate more time to solving this dilemma. But I do think at some level, we all have to be involved, that the solution will be more complex than just increasing funding, or targeting teachers.

I’m a big believer in approaching problems holistically. And I think improving our public education system will take a myriad of solutions, all working in concert.


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