Monday, March 12, 2018

The New Pro-Choice Movement: What is Betsy DeVos Talking About?

By now, you've probably seen at least portions of Betsy DeVos' mostly incoherent, completely embarrassing 60 Minutes interview in which she seemed to be utterly unprepared for hard-hitting questions like "what is a school?" 

In fact, the whole thing could have just been deleted scenes from this parody video and made perfect sense. 

Despite all the incoherent rambling, there is a theme that can be pulled out from a close look at the transcripts, and I'd like to take a moment to try to figure out what's going on here. 

DeVos doesn't seem to be able to answer any questions about her plans to improve schools, her understanding of what problems schools face, or what exactly her job is, but there is one topic that she speaks about with more clarity than others: she's pro-choice. 

No, no. Not that kind of pro-choice. She's pro school choice. Let's take a look at her own words to try to get some idea of what that might mean to her. 

Here are some parts that really stood out to me. 
"we should be funding and investing in students, not in school — school buildings, not in institutions, not in systems." 
"I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them." 
In response to questions about anti-discriminatory practices to keep minority students from being disciplined more harshly than their white counterparts: "Arguably, all of these issues or all of this issue comes down to individual kids."  
When asked if a false rape accusation and a sexual assault are the same: "I don't know. I don't know. But I'm committed to a process that's fair for everyone involved."
Okay. The woman is a horrendous speaker who can't keep a sentence straight to save her life, but setting that aside, there are some themes that have come up again and again. She promotes "choice," which is her shorthand way of pointing to a voucher system, one where public school dollars are allowed to be used in other ways. Not all school choice advocates believe in the same things, however. As this article explains:
"The choice movement is not monolithic; all choice supporters don’t support all forms of choice and all do not have the same motivations behind their advocacy. Choice critics are not monolithic; some, for example, accept some charter schools but not other forms of choice. A key fissure is between the free-market believers who want very little regulation — who are mostly libertarians and Republicans, including DeVos — and those who believe in heavier regulation and more accountability, and tend to prefer charters over vouchers. The latter includes some Republicans and many Democrats, including former president Barack Obama."
DeVos' brand of "choice," as evidence by her excessive use of the term "individual" during her rambling, is one that demonizes public institutions. The narrative is that public school teachers are lazy, overprotected by unions, and committed to an outdated system rather than individual student success. As this piece from The Atlantic explores, though, throwing our hands up on public education is a dangerous way to try to "fix" our educational problems:
"Our public-education system is about much more than personal achievement; it is about preparing people to work together to advance not just themselves but society. Unfortunately, the current debate’s focus on individual rights and choices has distracted many politicians and policy makers from a key stakeholder: our nation as a whole. As a result, a cynicism has taken root that suggests there is no hope for public education. This is demonstrably false. It’s also dangerous."
I'm a homeschooling mom whose public schools did not meet her child's needs, so you might think that I would be invested in DeVos' notion of "choice." Sure, being able to reallocate my tax dollars into building my private home library might sound nice, but what's the point in educating my daughter if there isn't a world worth sending her into?

Public schools are at a moment of transformative crisis. And here I mean crisis in the original Greek sense. A krisis was a turning point, a moment of decision. Our public schools are trying to face a very difficult challenge of meeting the needs of an unknowable future while simultaneously battling a war on many fronts for their very existence.

I wrote recently about diverging paths in education, how elite members of society are opting for schools that look very, very different from our public schools. I wrote then that this is a troubling sign for me. While private education has always had more resources than public education, the drive to turn private education into a completely different philosophical endeavor seems especially sinister as we sit at the cusp of a technological revolution that is likely to disrupt entire economies and possibly even what it means to be human.

When DeVos talks about individuals and turns her back on "institutions," on "systems," what she is really saying is that those who already have the means should climb while those who do not should be damned to fall not to the lowest rung of the ladder but off the ladder entirely.

And this woman is the head of our educational system. This would be like the person running the hospital saying that she doesn't believe in allowing greedy doctors to operate in an institution of healthcare and that we should instead shut it down and be allowed to individually spend that money stocking our own medicine cabinets. All you could afford was a band aid and some cough drops? Too bad. Hope you stay healthy.

Individuals matter. They matter a lot. But systems exist because humanity is more than the sum of its parts. We have become the species that we are not as a series of individuals operating in successive boxes but because we overlap, learn from, and grow with one another. That requires institutions and shared knowledge. That requires intermingled value systems that, yes, are messy and sometimes undergo painful transformations.

I believe we are at that moment now, and it is that vulnerability that has allowed someone as patently unqualified as DeVos to sit at such an important position at such an important time.

No matter how disenchanted you may be with public schools, no matter how alluring the siren call of "individual choice" may sound, please remember that we are all in this together. There can be no winning the game if the board is thrown in a dumpster fire.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Diverging Paths in Education: Someone Else's School (Part 2)

I recently wrote about the converging trends in education that make it seem increasingly likely that we're on the edge of a major shift in educational philosophy. I want to jump off from that point to look at how all those trends converging together to make a change seem to be leading to two divergent paths becoming visible.

As many public schools seem to be doubling down on standardization (especially using technology tools to get lots of standardized data on students), those who have access to elite private education seem to be moving in not just a different direction, but one that is diametrically opposed to these trends.

Consider some of these trends:

  • Reading Levels- Many public school kids are being told that they can't read anything outside of "their level." Schools use standardized tests to determine a child's "Lexile level" and then force children to read only within that narrow band. This is despite the fact that "Lexile levels" aren't particularly good at gauging the appropriateness of content and that evidence shows reading both below and above reading levels is important for developing solid reading habits.
  • iPads Replace Teaching- Many public schools are also turning to online, standardized curriculum like Moby Max to provide "individual" instruction. This Louisiana school boasts about its lower costs and higher standardized test scores as a result of switching to a Moby Max curriculum. Moby Max itself brags that the site is in use in 73% of public K-8 schools. Anecdotally, I can tell you that my daughter was enrolled in a "hands-on, project-based" public charter school that handed her an iPad (often with Moby Max on the other side) multiple times a day, even during "sensory breaks," which she got to combat her ADHD symptoms. Yes, they handed my hyperactive daughter a screen during the time she was supposed to be getting rid of excess energy so she could focus on learning. Even at the college level, automation is becoming a common trend with companies like Pearson offering instructor-less general education classes.  
  • Class Size- Public schools are under pressure to do more with less money, and that means larger classes. For elementary schools, the US average is 21 students per teacher, with some states getting over 30. We get report after report about how sitting still isn't conducive to learning, but what is a teacher who is responsible for 30 elementary-aged kids supposed to do? 

Meanwhile, let's take a closer look at how the other half* (*way less than half) lives:
  • Class Size- Private school class sizes are significantly smaller than public school. The US average is 18 students per teacher, with some individual types of private education averaging as few as 14. 
  • Technology Limits- While public school kids are getting an iPad shoved in their faces even during their "sensory breaks," many among the elite are opting for tech-free or tech-limited educations for their own children. A Business Insider article recently headlined the fact that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both raised their own children with strict technology limits. Many of the parents working in Silicon Valley have chosen a Waldorf school for their own children, a philosophy that avoids technology use in the classroom. Elon Musk said that schools were teaching "to the tools" rather than teaching how to solve problems, so he started his own school for his kids.
  • Freedom for Some- Other experiments with educational freedom are popping up. The Sudbury model is a democratic experiment where there are no teachers or grades and students get to participate in creating the rules through democratic vote. Then there are a growing number of people like me, people who are homeschooling for non-religious reasons. Most of us are doing so because we couldn't find affordable educational settings that met our children's needs. Still, homeschooling is a position of privilege, and it's one that many people cannot afford (literally) to undertake. 
The trend is clear. While public schools get more and more standardized, churning out cookie cutter educational outcomes that allow students to score well on multiple choice tests while struggling to think outside the box, private schools are focusing on curricular choices that privilege creative thinking and creation, problem solving and freedom. 

I cannot help but think that the timing of this divergence is telling. Most experts think that automation will take up to 800 million jobs in the next 10-15 years. Among the most vulnerable jobs are those that are the most standardized. The safest jobs are those that require the very skills that the elite are seeking out for their children's educations: creativity, human interaction, and problem solving. 

There have always been deep inequities in private and public schools, and these have at times been codified in our educational practices. However, since the 1960's or so, we have at least paid lip service to the idea that education should be equal and fair, that everyone deserved the best education available. While we have never been able to deliver on that promise, I fear we aren't even going to try to deliver on it in the future. The trends don't look good. 

Photos: Jens LelieJehyun Sung 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Adventures of a Planner (Why I Can't Get My Life Together)

Follow my blog with Bloglovin Perhaps it is a side effect of my anxiety and the tendency to project multiple possible intersecting outcomes into the future, but I am a really organized person, and nothing brings me calm like looking at my multi-colored electronic Google calendar.

It makes sense, then, that when I was plunged into insurmountable uncertainty by abruptly losing a job I thought I would have the rest of my life the first thing I wanted was a really complicated planner to fill up with goals that could be methodically crossed off. There's a very thin line between the illusion of having control over your life and actually having control over your life, and I planned to walk right down the center of it. 

After reading some reviews, I headed over to Plum Planner (this isn't a review or an affiliate post. As you'll see in a moment, I haven't even used the thing, so I can in no way speak to its quality or impact on my life). I spent some time clicking through the plethora of options to customize it to my exact specifications. 

Even that customization was a little traumatizing. What categories do I want? Who knows? I have no idea what my life will look like. Will I be working at one place with some kind of stable schedule, or am I going to be hopping from freelance gig to freelance gig with no sense of what day it is? 

Eventually, I picked some key categories I knew I would need to address each day and left a couple of them vague. I hit "Submit" and was told that I would have my shiny new planner by the second week of January, perfectly timed to start with going back to teach for my final semester. Filling out all those neat little boxes would be a welcome distraction from the pain, anger, and frustration that a semester spent as a "dead woman walking" would bring me. 

I got the shipment confirmation and clicked to track delivery. All was looking good. It made it to St. Louis (where I live). It should be there any moment. Then the tracking started doing something weird. It was being bounced around from post office to post office in the city. I couldn't figure out what was happening until I looked closer. I had, in my bleary-eyed-haven't-slept-might-be-having-a-breakdown-cause-I-just-got-fired state typed in the correct street number but my old street name in the shipping information. 

I tried everything. I called all the post offices where it had been. I emailed the seller. I placed a hold on the package. I secretly hoped it would show up at my old address even though the number was wrong. I waited and waited and waited.

About two weeks after it was supposed to have arrived, the shipment activity said it had been returned to the sender, so I contacted them, paid for shipping again, and waited some more. 

My planner vanished. Talk about a metaphor for your plans not going the way you thought they would. Somewhere between leaving St. Louis and arriving back at Plum Planner, the package fell off the face of the earth. I emailed them again, and they, obviously seeing the desperation behind my words, took pity on me and reprinted the entire thing and shipped it again. 

Well, ladies and gents, after several mis-deliveries, wrong turns, and lost ways, it's here.

Will this be the turning point? Will this be the moment when my attempts to juggle homeschooling, teaching, and launching a burgeoning freelance career come together in one beautiful tangle of ink, hopes, and best laid plans?

I don't really believe that a planner is the answer to all my problems, but I do think that the patience I was forced into finding as it was delayed over and over again was a nice little reminder that I don't necessarily have to get my whole life back together in a single day.

It will come . . . eventually, and maybe to the wrong place a few times. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Converging Trends in Education: Is It All Coming Together Now?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the history and the future of education. I feel like I’m sitting at a particularly strong vantage point as a parent who has chosen homeschooling because of the limitations I faced in the traditional education options set before me and as a community college faculty member whose full-time position as a professor just got eliminated in what is clearly a move to change the fundamental nature of the school’s purpose. Add to this the fact that my expertise is in studying the historical trajectory of education through the lens of rhetoric, and I feel like I have a pretty good sense of how this particular stew of factors starts to come together. 

This is going to be a two-part post. In Part 1, I will examine some trends that I see converging together at this historical point in American education. Part 2 will discuss the way that education is likely to diverge into separate paths as a result of this convergence. 

Here are the different trends that I see coming together at this particular moment: 
  • On-the-job training: Many companies have decided to supplement or (in growing numbers) circumvent traditional certification and degree requirements by bringing their training in-house. Employees like these options because it takes the guesswork out of trying to get the skills necessary for a future, hypothetical job, and employers like the option because it allows them to make sure their workers have the exact skills necessary to meet their needs. 
  • Online education demand increases: Traditional education is being displaced by online options. Even in traditional classrooms, online work is often being used as a supplement (or sometimes substitute) for face-to-face instruction. In the name of individualization, producing easily analyzed standard results, and increasing the number of students who can be reached, everything from elementary school classrooms to alternative online high schools to graduate courses has seen an increased demand for online options. 
  • A distrust in higher education: Some of this is political. There’s a growing sense of distrust for expertise in general as the Age of Information has brought us the ability to find answers to complex questions in seconds instead of decades. Some of it is economic. As the cost of college increases and the number of jobs available for the degrees sought declines, people just don’t see college as worth the investment. Together, these influences have resulted in a general skepticism about the value of higher education. 

The point that brings all of these converging trends together into a holistic pattern is technology, especially automation. Existing automation and advancing technology has made on-the-job training possible, increased the development of and access to online courses, and been responsible for the rise of a gig economy that further deepens the distrust of education as a wise investment. 

With the promise/threat of automation looming in something between the immediate and quasi-near future, education has been placed in a precarious position. 

Education is necessarily future-focused. Education (from pre-school to graduate school) makes promises about preparing students for what the future holds. While no one has ever been 100% sure about what exactly the future would look like, we are facing an unprecedented sense of uncertainty. All the way back in 2011, Business Insider was considering the ways that a college degree was outdated in the face of an uncertain future workplace. Now, seven years later, those warnings feel even more relevant. Training for a specific technical career over the span of four or five years feels futile. Who knows if the career is even going to exist? And if it does, what guarantees are there that what you learned four years ago will still be relevant? 

It’s a tough time to be in charge of organizing, planning, and marketing education. I can understand why administrators are in a panic, and I don’t envy their position. However, too many of them are responding in exactly the wrong way. Many have decided to focus on the juiciest career options through specialization and hyper-focused “pathways” to specific careers. Just like the dog chasing the tantalizing mechanical rabbit, they’re never going to catch up. Those specific career needs will always remain just out of reach, and in the meantime, companies are finding their own way to meet their actual needs, making education look less and less relevant for those fields every day. 

Pearson recently announced a partnership with Brinker International (the owner of restaurants like Chili’s and Maggiano’s) to offer no-cost education options for employees who work at least 24 hours a week. On-the-job training is being heralded as a savior for the manufacturing industry, which has struggled to match skills with need. While manufacturing already has a very low education demand (with 80% of production workers holding neither an Associate’s nor Bachelor’s degree), we can expect this trend to make traditional education even less necessary. 

I don’t think these initiatives are necessarily a bad thing. They offer people the opportunity to get to work faster and receive the training they need to potentially move up the ranks of their place of employment and receive higher pay and a better standard of living. Not everyone needs to go to college, and I do think that some of these trends are helping to balance out the over-reliance on Bachelor’s degrees as the key to middle class access. 

The problem comes from the reaction to these realities. Instead of recognizing that technical training might be done somewhere else, too many schools (especially those serving low-income and minority students) feel the need to directly compete with these new methods instead of differentiating themselves and offering a different kind of education for different kinds of careers or (and this is the part that's been lost completely in too many discussions) for the sake of learning and being an informed citizen capable of critical thinking. Trump's State of the Union calls for community colleges to be converted into vocational training points directly at this kind of short-sighted, damaging thinking. 

Let’s go back to Pearson. Their partnership directly with corporations should come as no surprise, and they’re happy to take a large slice of as many pies as they can. They’re also working to automate higher education course delivery with self-paced (and mostly instructor-free) general education options. The economic benefits of online options have long been touted, and some see them as a way to make sure that everyone has access to a quality education. Utopia usually isn’t as simple as it first appears, though, and we’ve also known for quite some time that access alone isn’t enough and online options don’t successfully reach everyone. Predictably, it is the most vulnerable student populations (the ones our utopian dreams promised to save) that are being harmed the most. As the New York Times reported earlier this year: 
“But in high schools and colleges, there is mounting evidence that the growth of online education is hurting a critical group: the less proficient students who are precisely those most in need of skilled classroom teachers.”
Pressure to standardize online courses to make them infinitely replicable further eliminates the elements of teaching that reach students who are hard to reach. The result of online education can be meaningfully-crafted online courses that reach extremely motivated students who wouldn’t have access to education otherwise, but that doesn’t negate the fact that putting all of the emphasis on online education cuts off the only viable pathways that many at-risk and just-average students have to meaningful education, and many of them don't see the pay-off as worth the risk in the first place.

So where does that leave education? What will come out on the other side of the space where all of these converging trends come together? I have some theories, and I’ll explore them in Part 2. 

Photos: Photo by Mark Duffel on UnsplashJason Leung on Unsplash 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Well, What Was She Doing There Anyway? (On Buying Cars and Owing Sex)

By now, you've probably read all about "Grace" and her unpleasant encounter with Aziz Ansari. You've likely also read, or at least heard snippets of, the responses, many of which revolve around tried and tired tropes like "Well, why did she go to his apartment if she didn't want sex?" "What kind of mixed signals was she sending?" "Why did she give him a blow job if she didn't want sex?" "Why didn't she just leave?" (Even though she did, um, leave guys. That's literally what she did.) 

Writer Ann Glaviano had a reaction to these reactions that she published on Facebook. The whole post is worth a read, but I want to specifically focus on one part that really resonated with me. Glaviano wrote this:
it sounds to me like she was expecting some sexual encounter to take place, but at a pace that perhaps included her own arousal (!), and with some amount of skill (!). when he made it clear that he wasn't about those things, she perhaps had second thoughts about continuing to have what sounds like objectively terrible sex. (not terrible because of his moves - terrible because of his complete refusal or inability to notice his partner and how she was responding.)
So many of the conversations about whether or not Aziz's behavior was acceptable (it wasn't) or indicative of a larger problem (it was) ignore this crucial point: Grace didn't owe him sex even if she initially wanted to have sex. Grace could have gone into his apartment with every intention of having sex all night long, and that doesn't make what happened once she got there any less disturbing. All those "Well what was she doing there anyway?" questions are really saying, "Come on! She wanted sex!" as if that somehow makes it all okay.

I have been vocal in the past about the problems with analogies that turn bodies into physical property. I stand by those assertions. That said, I'm going to give an analogy here that veers into that territory just because it seems like the kind of thing that might make this understandable.

Let's say I see an ad on the internet for a used car. The car looks awesome. The pictures are taken from just the right angle. It lists the amenities like a sunroof and a Bluetooth-enabled audio system. I decide to go check it out in person and show up at the dealership.

Now, I want to buy a car. I have every intention of buying some car. I might want to buy this car, but I haven't decided yet. I have certainly walked into the dealership in a way that communicates the possibility of buying a car.

The car dealer comes out. He's rude. He's pushy and aggressive and not very friendly. He rolls his eyes when I tell him which car I would like to see and huffs as he goes and gets the keys for me to test drive it. When I get to the car, I see that it is not as advertised. There's a huge dent that those pictures conveniently hid. The sunroof isn't operational. The engine doesn't turn over right away when I try to start it, and the whole thing reeks of cigarette smoke.

At this point, I'm going to leave the dealership. If the dealer cornered me, pressured me, tried to force me to sign a check, he'd be wrong. I am not going to buy that car.

"But why did you even go in the dealership if you didn't want the car?!" "Why did you ask to test drive it if you weren't going to buy it?!"

Do you see how silly these questions are?

Maybe if I really, really want a car and the dealer changes his attitude and starts showing me better cars, I'll stick around and consider a different purchase, but at some point, I'm likely to realize that this isn't the place for me. They don't have the car I want. This whole dealership is full of shitty cars, and I am under no obligation to buy a shitty car.

We are under no obligation to have shitty sex. Even if we have made plenty of indications that we were considering having some sex, we are under no obligation to have this particular sex. We are probably likely to reject this particular sex if the signs start to demonstrate it is likely to be particularly shitty sex.

I'm not going to presume to know what "Grace" intended to do when she went to Aziz's house, but there are plenty of Graces in the world, and there are lots and lots of Azizes. That's the problem. This is a very common story, and our collective reaction to Grace is a very common problem.

We are still operating under some Puritanical ideal that women's virtue is the foundational reason that rape, sexual assault, and rape culture are a problem. If we can demonstrate that a woman was not quite as virtuous as we thought, then we can excuse whatever else happens to her.

Rape culture isn't bad because it sullies virtue. Rape culture is bad because it promotes rape. Rape culture is bad because it violates another person's autonomy and boundaries about what happens to his/her body.

Wanting to have sex is not an obligation to actually have sex, and indicating that you might want to have sex does not excuse anything else that happens after that if it become non-consensual. When we can fully wrap our minds around that apparently very difficult concept, I think a culture of consent might start to emerge. Until then, we'll be hearing a lot more people saying "me, too."

Photo: Michel Curi

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Signs Pointing Toward the Future of Education

Laura McKenna has an excellent article at Edutopia about the shift away from letter grades. Here are some key takeaways from the article, but if you have a minute, you should go read the whole thing:

  • Assessment policies don't match modern workplace demands. "Somewhat independently, schools and lawmakers have come to the same conclusion: The old models of student assessment are out of step with the needs of the 21st-century workplace and society, with their emphasis on hard-to-measure skills such as creativity, problem solving, persistence, and collaboration."
  • The changing of the guard will result in major changes to education as a whole. "The emerging alignment of K–12 schools with colleges and legislators builds on a growing consensus among educators who believe that longstanding benchmarks like grades, SATs, AP test scores, and even homework are poor measures of students’ skills and can deepen inequities between them. If the momentum holds, a century-old pillar of the school system could crumble entirely, leading to dramatic transitions and potential pitfalls for students and schools alike."
  • The new methods could cause even deeper educational inequities for marginalized student groups.
    "Some critics have suggested that the new transcripts may be a way for wealthier schools, especially private schools like those in the MTC, to give their students an even greater advantage when competing for limited positions at the best universities."
Watching what is happening in higher education right now (from the very front row, in fact, you could even say I'm watching it from the stage, and my character is about to get killed off), I have a personal stake in this game. Of course, you can never really tell when you're at a watershed moment until time has passed and you can look back with the clarity of hindsight to connect all the dots, but I have both the sinking suspicion and the cautious hope that this is one for education (and maybe also our economy and our cultural values since those things are pretty tightly braided together). 

Assessment is important because the evaluation of the final product shapes the process by which the product is created. This is what we mean when we complain that standardized testing forces well-meaning teachers to "teach to the test." It results in a school environment where "covering" the material is more valued than "mastering" it. Most importantly, standardized testing leads to standardized thinking. 

If the answer can be boiled down to a multiple choice question on a test that everyone takes, then the information isn't novel or creative or probably very interesting. Most of being successful on standardized tests (and I say this both as someone who is very good at standardized tests and who has spent many years helping other people do well on them) is a combination of short-term memorization and being able to break down language patterns and use process of elimination to figure out likely right answers. 

The type of reading you do when you are preparing for a standardized test is superficial. You spend a lot of time skimming for key words and definitions, thinking like a test writer rather than a researcher. In fact, if you read the text in a way that no one else has, you will fail the test because that means no questions will arrive at your answers. 

The bottom line is that standardized testing makes for standardized thinking and standardized performance. And here's the thing, if the way that you think and perform can be standardized, it can be automated, and if it can be automated, in the next five to ten years, it will be automated. 

We don't need to produce human cogs for the machine anymore because we now have robot cogs for the machine, and they don't need vacation time, sick days, or overtime pay. They don't get distracted from the task because they are in a fight with their sister. They don't get tired because they were up all night with a sick baby. They do routine tasks better than we do with more consistency while costing less. We cannot compete. 

Some schools (*cough* I'm looking at you STLCC), see the change coming and are reacting by doubling down on standardization. They're turning higher education into course-in-a-box cookie cutter classes that can be easily automated. Eventually, they'll likely replace (or at least greatly reduce the need for) flesh-and-blood teachers and turn to automated grading software and self-paced courses that require very little teacher interaction. I can't tell if this motivation is made in earnest and they really think this is the wave of the future or if they are just short-term thinkers who are trying to make as much money as possible while the making is good. Either way, it's a bad plan for all the reasons pointed out in the Edutopia article. We're going to shift away from standardization and automation in education, not toward it. 

I'm going to make a prediction. If schools don't operate with some foresight and reject standardization and automation as the models for their underlying philosophies, we will soon see a complete de-coupling of credentialing from institutions. 

Think about it. The students coming out of these course-in-a-box programs will not have the skills necessary for the only jobs available, jobs that require creative thinking, flexibility, and independence. When those doing the hiring recognize (as many already have) that a college degree doesn't mean much in terms of matching the skills they're seeking, they'll turn to in-house training and accepting more and more non-traditional methods of demonstrating "education." 

The rise of unschooling homeschoolers, online class platforms like Udemy, Outschool, and Coursera, and a host of other fledgling trial runs demonstrate a likely future. People will be able to get educated in whatever way they see fit: online classes, one-on-one instruction, apprenticeship models, etc. All they'll need to do is demonstrate that they have the skillset necessary for the job, and when the transcript full of A's doesn't do that anymore, the employers will stop asking for it. 

I think it is very likely that we're entering a period where educators will all become independent contractors. The adjunct crisis is already a sort of model for this, albeit one that was arrived at through cruel exploitation rather than innovation. Adjunct instructors, who now make up the bulk of the higher education workforce, have very few formal ties to an institution and instead are free to take their skills anywhere (or to several anywheres simultaneously). If the decoupling of credentialing and institutions continues, we will soon return to an education model much like the Ancient Greeks. We'll all be Plato or Quintillian standing outside the gymnasium trying to convince people to train with us. Except now we'll have Facebook and YouTube to help us.

Photos by Vita Marija Murenaite and Steve Halama 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Postpartum Depression: The Recovery

A friend of mine shared one of my old posts today, and when the page views made it pop up in my blog stats, I re-read it and thought back on the experience that led to writing it.

It was this post about suffering from postpartum anxiety and depression after the birth of my son a year and a half ago. It made me think about what my life has looked like since writing that post, and the truth is that it took a long time to stop feeling the way that I felt the day I described there: 
Even as it's happening--the panic, the shaking, the breaths that catch in my throat--there's a part of me that's outside of it all, watching it. There's a part of me screaming, "This isn't a big deal! Get it together!" But I can't hear her. In that moment, I feel like I am in fight or flight, but the threat is me. How do you run from yourself? 
With a quick glance or in the right light, I still seem like myself. I still make wry jokes and plan to meet with friends. I still smile. I still love and enjoy both of my children. 
But like a copy of a copy of a copy, if you look closer, the picture isn't quite right. I'm not quite me. The edges break down and the lines start to blur.
In the first weeks following my son's birth, I felt like this all of the time. Every single thing in my world overwhelmed me. I was particularly frustrated with myself because my son was such an easy baby (especially compared to my high needs daughter who, for the first four years of her life, never slept more than an hour or two at a time).  This newborn was sleeping for three hours, waking up to nurse, and going right back to sleep for another four hours. He was the infant that they use to write those parenting books that make all the rest of us feel like we're failing at everything. Even when he was awake, he was just as happy to coo quietly in a bassinet as he was to be held in my arms or swaddled up in a carrier. He just went with the flow.

And I still couldn't handle anything.

The microwave would beep and I'd fall into hysterics because the thought of dealing with finishing lunch would be too much. I'd have to call to pay a bill over the phone, and it would feel like someone was asking me to climb a mountain barefoot while juggling fishbowls that I couldn't spill. Everything was just too much.

At the worst moments, I would fall into a heap on the floor and sob until I had nothing left to sob. At most moments, I walked through my day with my muscles tense, as if I were permanently braced for a blow that never came.

It got better . . . slowly. It was like a pendulum swinging wider and wider with each arc. My normal was on one end, and the terror of being completely consumed by daily living was on the other.

At first, the pendulum would swing from one to the other every couple hours. Eventually it would swing back and forth only a few times a day. Then a few times a week. Then a few times a month. Then once a month. All told, I have only felt like the swinging stopped (fully rooted in my normal world) within the last few months. Part of me wonders if it is really done or if it is just on a particularly long arc.

As time went on, I learned to treat the anxiety like a monster that would sometimes escape a cage but that I knew couldn't actually hurt me. I just had to let it wear itself out until it was too tired to resist being led back into the cage. It was always there, waiting and growling from the darkness, but as long as I could keep it contained, it couldn't ruin my day.

Looking back now, I think the thing that hurts the most is that it feels like time lost. My memories of my earliest weeks with my wonderful son are of terror punctuated with tiny moments of love and joy. I am so glad that I have pictures and videos from his earliest days now that I can look back on them with a clearer mind, without a monster snarling in my face.

Postpartum anxiety and depression is very common. The chances are high that someone you know and love has suffered through this roller coaster of emotions . . . even if you don't know about it. The fear we have about being open and honest about our mental health holds us back from getting the help and support we need.

Monsters are strongest in the dark. Once we turn on the lights, they never look quite as terrifying. Let's make sure we shine them brightly.

Photo: Shannon Kokoska