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Posts Tagged ‘fear

Youth Day fell on a Sunday. This made Monday a school holiday, the roads less congested at peak travel, and everywhere else youthfully crowded.
 

 
TODAYonline featured Youth Day wishes by our Prime Minister to not be afraid of making mistakes. This is a good message, but one that is difficult to live up to.

Why?

Unlike our evolution-selected fears of snakes and spiders, the fear of making mistakes and failing is learnt.

The most natural way we learn as higher mammals is play. When you unpack play, it has elements of hypothesising or risk-taking, deciding on choice of action, taking action, getting immediate feedback, and dealing with consequence.

Making mistakes is essential to play. Whether joyous in victory or abject in failure, the event is linked to emotions and these cement the lesson in memory. Play might be the quickest and most effective way to learn.

However, the adult human animal devalues play. Play a word association game with “video games” and most adults will say “waste of time” and “fun and games” as if games have no value or are not serious work. The adult learns to fear play as childish, a process to outgrow, or something to not mention if one is to be taken seriously.

This adult way of thinking is taught or caught. Consider a few examples.

A child picks up an insect and a care-giver shrieks and tells the child to let go. There is little or no explanation why and the child learns that discovering, exploring, and making mistakes is dangerous.

Another child travels with a parent in public transport and her parent tells her to avoid certain races of people because of the way they behave, look, or smell. There is no option to find out for herself whether those things are true, but why would she question someone she trusts? The child learns not to question or critique.

Yet another child goes to school and learns processes of enculturation. Some of these processes are good because he learns to socialise. Other processes are bad because they create over-reliance. With the latter, the child learns to not try and to wait for someone else to take action instead.

These lessons entrench themselves in our social norms. Action contrary to social norms is rarely rewarded and is often punished instead. But there will always be a few who will persist and try.

The article concluded with this:

In a more humourous vein, Lionel Chick urged Mr Lee against jumping: “I’m afraid you might sprain your ankle (because you’re) so old already … Do take care.”

That earned the following rebuttal from Mandy Lim Beitler: “That’s the mentality that makes people old long before their time. Thankfully, our PM has a young heart.”

A call to not be afraid to make mistakes is a call to trust our instincts, to take calculated risks, and to try.

Who are you, Lionel (the cowardly lion) or Mandy (who manned up and disagreed)? Will you only talk the talk or also walk that talk by encouraging and even rewarding mistakes?

Do the commonly labelled “new media” bring new dangers? Or are they just old dangers magnified or reinvented? Do “new dangers” actually hide something more insidious?

Put “cyber” in front of any established danger and it becomes “new”: bullying, stalking, theft, crime, and so on. I am not making light of these. I am merely saying the dangers are not that new.

They are new to traditional publishers who wish to spread fear. They are new to those who lack a critical lens with which to read what these publishers disseminate.

Such electronically-mediated crimes might be easier to commit and more difficult to detect, but that does not make them new. You might kill a person by remotely stopping his heart’s pacemaker, but that does not make it new murder.
 

Day 60 - Fear by juanpg, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  juanpg 

 
What “new media” does require is for people to stay informed, keep up, and take action. So it might actually be fear, ignorance, or inertia that are the dangers. When not wanting to try something new, it is easier to call it “dangerous” from afar.

I know very intelligent people who make very poor assumptions or take questionable action because they choose not to know and do. The more frightening thing is that some of these people shape policy in large organizations.

New media use does not necessarily lead to new dangers. But there are many people with old mindsets fueled by old fears. I know which I am more afraid of.

This is a continuation of a rant I started yesterday against an STonline article.

I can almost understand why parents would want to attend a forum on factors that influence early childhood cognition. It is hard for any informed parent to believe what they read in the press and they would rather visit the stable and hear from the horses’ mouths. But I worry when the stable opening is organized by the press.

The answer to the question of letting your child use technology is not yes or no. It is knowing about when and how instead of being blinded by fear.

It is never too early to introduce technology to kids, just as it is never too early to teach them about setting rules, how to self-regulate, the consequences of one’s actions, etc. You do not do one (let kids use technology) without doing the other (learn discipline). If you leave kids unsupervised or unmanaged, you cannot expect good to come from it.

All this sounds like common sense. So why are we allowing organizations to not only take advantage of parental fear, but also get parents to part with money to hear expert opinion?
 

ttl by Stitch, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Stitch 

 
The fundamental problem is that we are shortsighted. We tend not to be concerned about the foreseeable future or choose not to learn from our past.

If we let kids watch videos with a mobile device at meals, they will keep doing so because the videos are motivating. This does not seem harmful over the short term because the child is easier to manage. However, the ease of the here-and-now hides longer term problems like an unreasonable dependency on the device, a lack of discipline or internal locus of control, and selfish or antisocial behaviour.

We are just as myopic looking back as we are looking forward. We do not learn from the history of our fear of technology.

This graphic was originally created by Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham in their book Bad For You. The image was shared here in 2013.

Every previous generation fears what it does not understand about the current one. It treats the current generation’s technologies and preferences with suspicion. Some might call this neophobia, the fear of the new. Such a fear stems from the fact that the old is established and comforting. The new is the exact opposite.

We need to look back and realize that history repeats itself with every major technology. If we do, we learn that such fear is irrational. We have progressed because a few people chose to ignore that fear and even what passes as expert opinion. They relied on an uncommon common sense to do what they knew was right.

I wonder how much glee STonline had when it sponsored a forum and then ran with the headline Curb use of IT devices by the young, say childhood experts.

The title and writeup [archive] conveniently left out what the two experts they featured seemed to be focusing on in shaping early childhood cognition: The importance of play and a rich language environment. This does not mean that one should exclude technology-based play or interaction.

The first expert, Dr Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, briefly mentioned a range of play in his interview: object, body, social, imaginative, and narrative. The last time I checked, well designed and managed technology enhances and enables all those.

The second expert, Dana Suskin, while cautioning against complete reliance on technology for language development, added that “Skype or FaceTime, or similar response-based interactive style communication tools, do help” [quote from video].

Brown and Suskin were the experts because they probably have the research to back up what they say. But when explained plainly to laypersons, it sounds like common sense to let kids play and to develop language humanistically.

If common sense was that common, why pay good money to fly in experts and run an event to validate or reinforce what you claim you already know?

If we had that collective common sense, why are some parents foolish enough to let mobiles replace person-to-person interaction? They deserve what is coming to them if they do. Like one parent with a seven-year-old reportedly said: “My older son sometimes refuses to feed himself and asks that I feed him while he uses the iPad” [quote from article].

It also seems like the article and video editor did not work in sync.

The article was decidedly anti-technology and old-school. On the other hand, a soundbite from Dr Brown in the embedded video indicated that “parents should let children decide how to play” [quote from video]. Parts of the video were decidedly progressive.

Perhaps STonline was submitting a weird General Paper essay where cons were delivered in text and pros in video. Maybe, but not likely. Folks who read the dead tree version of ST or choose not to watch the video will not see the other side of the story.

For me, the article reeks of maintaining the status quo by repurposing progressive expert opinion and research.

One of Dr Brown’s slides on screen (citing Einstein) stated “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”.

  • How intelligent are we when it comes to rolling with change?
  • How much longer are we going to let headlines with “curb use of devices” hold us back?
  • When will we develop enough scientific literacy to find and evaluate such studies so that we make up our own minds?
Day 60 - Fear by juanpg, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  juanpg 

 
Yesterday I reflected on why Twitter was an ideal component of an educator’s PLN. Today I ponder on why some teachers do not want or even like Twitter.

There are several reasons why teachers stay away from Twitter and lose out on valuable unPD as a result. I focus on three.

One, there is a shallow but twisted learning curve. Twitter is not difficult because it is based on texting. However, like learning how to operate a CB radio, there are procedures and standards of practice that only emerge from tweeting.

If newbies do not learn how to select a frequency (use a Twitter hashtag like #edsg), then they might find themselves shouting into the great big ether. Newbies must quickly learn how to follow and create a following or they will be talking to themselves. They need to learn what a retweet, favourite, and @ are. Heck, it can be difficult to understand the difference between replying to @someone and .@someone.

Two, if a newbie overcomes the initial tweeting learning curve, s/he will need to learn how to follow hashtagged conversations. A new user might not know that Twitter’s default web interface and mobile app are not good for such conversations.

Once they learn to use a proper tool like TweetDeck, they might find popular and synchronous chats scrolling by faster than they can read, much less respond to.

Three, a few persistent folks push through the barriers and these tend to be the ones that are already driven to learn and change. These intrepid folks tend to form a peripheral and possibly vocal group. And as long as they are part of the minority, the majority are likely to view them with suspicion.

The first two barriers are technical and relatively easy to overcome, say, by attending a workshop conducted by more experienced peers. Some handholding during and after the workshop also works wonders.

The third barrier is social. This might result in teachers being lurkers in Twitter conversations. While lurking for a while is advisable (to learn if the conversations suit them), quite a few never find their voice. I have followers who have zero tweets but follow several or many people. These teachers consume and do not give back.

Why do some folks choose to lurk even after an extended period of time?

They might be intimidated by the conversations or think they have nothing to offer. They might only want to monitor conversations. They might be asked or told to monitor conversations.

There is hope for teachers who are initially afraid or prefer to listen. Once they summon up the courage to participate, they are likely to find out how fun and motivating it is to be part of local or global conversations about topics they care deeply about.

I cannot say anything positive about the spying group. In some contexts, they patrol just in case they need to police. They create fear. They add to the perception that social media in education is a dark place and not to be trusted. They add to an exaggerated problem instead of being part of the solution. The solution is to be open and social and to break the cycle of fear.

That there is a plethora of educational hashtagged chats on Twitter is evidence that openness and trust beget more openness and trust. These chats are a joy to observe and an even greater joy to be part of. Why don’t teachers use Twitter and jump right in?

 
My open letter to #edsg lurkers received more retweets and reposts than replies on Twitter.

That is part of the problem. It is easy to republish something and not actually say or do anything. I can only hope that I am being premature in my judgement and seeing if people come back next Tuesday night to chat online.

There were just two Twitter responses.

One response referred to Twitter as a means to “enslave” while discussion forums were available “anytime-anywhere”. I do not see how any communication tool traps or enslaves unless you let it. That is like blaming bad human behaviour on technology instead of examining the people who use them.

Another was about the open discussion on Twitter being monitored and participants fearing reprisals. I live in a democracy and the 21st century and not in a police state during the Inquisition. The things we discuss and the tone we use are what bring educators forward and make us vibrant.

One response was driven by ignorance and the other by fear. These are the very things that #edsg chats can drive out by having open conversations.

 
It is not that I take pleasure in pointing out how the local press likes to make the worst of online trends, habits, or phenomena. It is that they do it with such regularity and without a balanced view that I have to point these things out.

A recent STonline headline reads Click. Scan. Search. Scroll: Deep reading is hit as our brain adapts to online scanning and skimming. The headlines points less to the fact that we might be adapting and more to deep reading (a newspaper perhaps?) taking a hit.

I do not know anyone who reads a newspaper from the first page to the last. I wonder how many people read an article deeply as a writer or editor might want.

Skimming is also something newspapers are designed to promote. The long columns and single line paragraphs are not accidents!

The sad thing is that our press has wide local reach and a fair share of conservative readers. These are the same readers who, whether they read deeply or skim, are not aware of alternative points of view. Alternatives published elsewhere at other papers like The internet isn’t harming our love of ‘deep reading’, it’s cultivating it.

These days we have no excuse for not being better informed. Not when the information is so readily available. It is human bias that holds us back, not the the technology.

These days we also have no excuse for ensuring our children are better educated when information is so readily available. In this case it is also fear, indifference, or inertia that holds us back.


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