You're encouraged to join and participate in what I hope will be an on-going conversation. Your participation will make this effort a much more worthwhile endeavor. Be sure to click on the "Comments" tab below to read what others have written in response. I look forward to hearing more from you.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wanted: Civility Engineers

Let's be honest.  Surely you've heard someone mention in recent years what they do for a living and you've wondered - Huh?  What exactly is that?  Well, where there's a will, there's a way.  And it seems like where there's a need there's a niche.  So, people are carving careers out of problems that need solutions, although I guess you could say it's always been this way.  Maybe you're looking to spruce up your living room but you're short on cash.  No problem - just hire an interior redesigner.  No need for new purchases - S/he'll take what you have and rearrange it.  And what about social media strategists or user experience analysts?  Thanks to the web, several careers like the aforementioned have evolved that weren't even imagined a few years ago. And lots of careers have sprouted from fertile opportunities in seemingly barren land.  Here's one we desperately need - civility engineers.

Civility in this country seems to be in short supply and the mechanisms that typically safeguard it are structurally deficient and even functionally obsolete.  The shortage of civility is threatening our civilized world.  Indeed, just a few weeks ago we witnessed a Congressman calling the President an outright liar while the latter was delivering a speech, although some might give the Congressman kudos for at least insulting the President to his face and not in cyberpace.  What's worse, the Civility Project, an initiative launched that was designed to bring more awareness to the need for civility in the political process, is shutting down after only three of 585 sitting representatives, senators, and governors agreed to sign a simple pledge that included the following - "I will be civil in my discourse and behavior;"  "I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them;"  I will stand against incivility when I see it." (Hope does remain alive, however, as the Civility Initiative at JHU continues to pursue its objectives - see http://krieger.jhu.edu/civility).

We all know that web-based incivility has gone viral, with no boundaries to the attacks launched.  What's often overlooked, though, is that workplace incivility has penetrated environments in such subtly insidious and even blatantly invidious ways that its toxicity is now impairing output.  How does incivility manifest itself?  Below are just some examples;
  • sending an insulting email.
  • asking for input and then ignoring the reply.
  • "forgetting" to share credit with colleagues for work done in collaboration.
  • interrupting or being verbally abusive in conversations.
  • giving the "silent" treatment.
No doubt, you could add more.  In the process, incivility is making us less productive by adding stress to our lives and subtracting engagement from our work (a case could easily be made for incivility doing the same to students in school).  A video to the right of this page (The Hidden Costs of Workplace Incivility) summarizes some of the research that reveals the toxic nature of incivility.  And then, of course, there are the random acts of unkindness to which we are subjected almost daily in our own personal lives.

Clearly, we face a growing problem.  So, maybe it's time for civility engineers to sprout up and get to work...on building "bridges" that connect human beings in healthier ways, on paving "pathways" that will enhance civil discourse, on designing "infrastructures" that will ensure constructive communication, on planning "dams" that will stop the flow of toxic incivility, on any project that will limit the damage caused by vitriolic spills and outbursts.  Human relations managers, you might be thinking, are charged with these responsibilities, arent't they?  Well, it seems they have other issues to contend with these days.  We need a radical intervention.  We need a new corp of civility engineers.

Sound far-fetched?  My guess is that interior re-designers once did, too.  And so did social media strategists and user experience analysts, and even search engine optimization specialists.  As Rodney King implored back in the '80s (remember?), "Can't we all just get along?"  It seems like we all can't anymore.  It seems like the civilized world has become so devisive and communication so derisive that a solution will need to emerge that doesn't now exist. 

Could civility engineers be that solution?  If someone has the will, perhaps one can find a way.  Clearly, there's a need.  Let's be honest.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

One If by Land, Two If by Sea...and Too Late If by Cyberspace

Nothing personal.   That's just the way cyber-bullying can be.  Except that, for the victim, it is.  And hurtful, too.

Warfare has been revolutionized since the days of Paul Revere perched high in the church tower. Technological advancements have brought tactical enhancements.  One way it's now conducted is with military personnel controlling drones flying over places like Afghanistan and launching missiles in designated locations, with all of this controlled via remote access back in the USA.  When the work day is done, "air traffic controllers" head home for dinner with their families.  It resembles a video game.  Nothing personal.  That's just the way it can be.

Kids can conduct their own warfare at home as well...and from a distance outside the physical reach of the intended target, too.  They can launch missiles via text, email, Facebook, Formspring and the like.  And the missiles, once exploded, can form viral mushroom clouds that go far beyond the original point of attack. Once done, these kids can move into the kitchen for dinner with the family.  It looks like virtual bullying.  It's also virtue-less.  Nothing personal.  That's just the way it can be.

When you don't have to "see" the target, the inclination to launch is less of an impediment.  The blow delivered, however, is no less severe.  And there is no early warning device, either.  Log on and ...boom.  You're hit.  You never see it coming.  And you may never know who launched it because the missile could be wrapped in anonymity.   Home used to provide a safe haven from harassment.  No more.

Below are some facts related to this potential peril;
  • Around half of teens have been the victims of cyber bullying.
  • Only 1 in 10 teens tells a parent if they have been a cyber bully victim (many are afraid they'll lose their tech privileges if they do tell).
  • Fewer than 1 in 5 cyber bullying incidents are reported to law enforcement.
  • 1 in 10 adolescents or teens have had embarrassing or damaging pictures taken of themselves without their permission, often using cell phone cameras.
  • Girls are somewhat more likely than boys to be involved in cyber bullying.
  • Boys are more likely to be threatened by cyber bullies than girls.
  • Mean, hurtful comments and spreading rumors are the most common type of cyber bullying.
How can one defend against this?  Here are some suggestions.
  • Make a rule that teens may not send mean or damaging messages, even if someone else started it, or suggestive pictures or messages or they will lose their cell phone and computer privileges for a time.
  • Encourage teens to tell an adult if cyber bullying is occurring. Tell them if they are the victims they will not be punished, and reassure them that being bullied is not their fault.  It's not easy to manage this as a parent when texting and Facebook and even emailing are controlled by the child.  Open lines of communication between parents and children are vital.
  • Teens should keep cyber bullying messages as proof that the cyber bullying is occurring. The teens' parents may want to talk to the parents of the cyber bully, to the bully's Internet or cell phone provider, and/or to the police about the messages, especially if they are threatening or sexual in nature.
  • Teens should never tell their password to anyone except a parent, and should not write it down in a place where it could be found by others.
  • Keep the computer in a shared space like the family room, and do not allow teens to have Internet access in their own rooms.
  • Encourage teens to have times when they turn off the technology, such as at family meals or after a certain time at night.
Sources:  Hartford County Examiner and Cyber-Bullying Research Center 

In order to minimize vulnerability to surprise attacks via cyberspace, it's wise to take necessary precautions and be prepared to respond appropriately if attacked.   It's never too late to do either.  It only invites harm to do neither.

Nothing personal.  That's just the way cyber-bullying can be.

More web sites for information are below.




Thursday, April 7, 2011

End Readicide

Watch Kelly talk.  Talk, Kelly, talk.

See Kelly run.  Run, Kelly, run...

Well, you can watch Kelly Gallagher talk in two very short videos (to the right) about his book called Readicide.  Gallagher is a longtime educator who argues that schools are performing mass destruction on the joy of reading.

You can also see Kelly "run" with this argument in the attached interview.  Click on the link below.


I could summarize it for you in Sparknote fashion, but then you wouldn't be able to see Kelly run.  Hopefully, the short videos will spark your interest to read more - starting with the attachment (it should take fewer than five minutes to read).

Mark Twain once said that there is really little difference between someone who can't read and someone who won't.  According to Gallagher, too many of us simply won't.  It's already disheartening enough that some can't.  For the many who won't, the joy is gone.  And the consequences of this are now upon us.

It's a problem, at least in Gallagher's view.  He says that the solution clearly rests with all of us.  It's not a problem for the English teachers alone to solve.  Rather, all teachers own it.  And so do parents.

If you've made it this far, perhaps you'd be willing to share your thoughts.  Do it in a few short sentences - like the ones you encountered when you first learned to read. 

Can reading be saved?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

False Hope

I learned during a meeting last week conducted at Manchester Community College (MCC) that the state and federal governments will soon be redefining the term “college readiness”.  It has several implications for high school students and for their larger school communities.  Although the proposal is still being discussed in the legislatures, it’s likely that what it means to be ready for college will change quite significantly.

Here’s the quick take.  Not surprisingly, money allocated to community colleges is shrinking while enrollment is expanding.  Something has to go and that something looks like remedial classes.  So, before students are accepted to MCC, they’ll need to reach established benchmarks on the ACCUPLACER (I asked about the “placement” of these benchmarks but couldn’t get a definitive answer – probably because it hasn’t yet been established).  If they don’t grab hold of the benchmarks, but reach an accepted (but, again, not yet determined) level below them, these students will be allowed to take a VERY limited number of courses available to them and will only be allowed to matriculate as part-time students (this will affect insurance coverage on them relative to their parents' policies).  If they fail to even reach the aforementioned, they’ll be DENIED admission to MCC, required by the state to return to their local communities and enroll in adult education programs to prepare for the ACCUPLACER and get ready (college readiness) for college. So, community colleges will no longer be an option for anyone with simply a high school diploma or GED if this proposal becomes reality.  And the burden for remediation will be shifted back to local communities.

This shift in thinking is really based upon a concept known as "ability to benefit", which means that students need to demonstrate an ability to benefit from being enrolled in college (read: successfully complete college-level work).  Anything less will no longer be considered college.  Having said that, it will end the false hope that some students have of moving on to higher education without first taking sufficient care of what needs to be done in high school.

The link below will bring you to an article that addresses this issue in Arizona but sounds strikingly similar to the discussion being heard in Connecticut.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Teaching to the Text

Teens text often.  They should learn how to write in a concise, coherent, and cohesive manner. 

Define.  Describe.  Conclude. 

It's about sound bytes, isn't it?

Hit send.

The attached piece, written by a college professor, addresses this issue.
(Of course, you can hit delete, too.)



Monday, March 21, 2011

Rival Philosophies About Education From Two College Dropouts

Hear from and read about two college dropouts and their rival views on education.  You may be surprised to see who they are.  Also, take seven minutes to view the video imbedded in the link below (you'll need to click on "Read the Discussion").  And, while you're at it, take a few more minutes to click on the links to the left of the NY Times piece.

What's the primary purpose of education in today's world? 


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Boys Will Be Boys...As Girls Race Past Them In the Classroom

Below is an article I wrote in March, 2004.  Nothing really has changed.  If anything, it's become worse.  Read on and, if it sparks an interest, then read three articles on this issue that appear below and watch a brief video that speaks to it as well.

If the pursuit of academic achievement in high school were viewed as something resembling a long-distance road race, girls would be out-pacing boys at a considerable rate.  And the latter would be losing ground as more distance was covered.  At least that is what mounting evidence is revealing.  What this means down the road, as experts debate the issue, could have sociological and economic ramifications.

It has been known for years that girls in general outperform boys in the elementary school classroom, and that a gap in achievement usually diminishes by the time they move through middle school.  What has the experts scratching their heads lately has been the sustainability of this achievement gap well into the high school years.

The Southern Regional Education Board (SRED), a consortium of 16 states committed to improving education, recently conducted a survey that revealed surprising information.  Among the 40,000 males and female students polled in over 1000 high schools, all of whom were considered typical in that they were neither stellar performers nor slackers, boys clearly placed less value in school than did girls.  Whereas 84% of females surveyed reported that it was important to pursue higher education beyond high school, only 67% of the males felt similarly.  This bears out in the data released by the U.S. Department of Education - at the end of the last decade, 133 women received bachelor's degrees for every 100 men, and the former is expected to rise to 142 by 2010.  Moreover, 70% of these "average" girls surveyed by SRED see a direct relationship between school success and achievement of life goals while 57% of the boys hold to the same view.

Skeptics might point to verbal aptitude as a function of gender and that that these differences might reverse themselves in the quantitiative domain. Well, the data doesn't support this notion.  Across just about every measure, girls are outperforming boys.  Why?  Would anyone like to offer an explanation that appears to be perplexing to the experts?

Of course, what happens in the employment world, understandably, is another story, and perhaps for another time.  But, for school, falling back on the argument that "boys will be boys" is falling down in the face of a growing problem.

Fast forwarding to 2011, the rate of matriculation to college by gender is at about 57% for females and 43% for males.




Be sure to read the comments left by readers of these articles.  And feel free to post your own comments here.

 Look under Short Videos to the right - "Where Have the Good Men Gone?