Like Wiesel’s study [of the effects of covering a cat’s eye from birth to observe developmental impact on vision], the research on stimulating environments [for rats] is often cited by advocates of early schooling or of the optimal stimulation of three-year-olds. I myself suspect that the rats’ enriched environment is more like the habitat of a wild rat. If this is so, the results should be interpreted as the effect not of stimulation but of negligence contra a normal upbringing. It is thus more like a parallel to the impairments observed in the children from the Romanian orphanages [detailed earlier in the chapter as an example of deprivation in early childhood — especially between six months and two years], not what can be expected of children placed in hyperstimulating preschools. The effects of early childhood environment are analogous to those of some vitamins: a lack of vitamin C leads to scurvy, but taking three times the recommended daily dose has no extra benefits as the surplus is merely excreted in the urine. In fact, some vitamins can even be harmful in excess amounts. The validity of this analogy remains an open question; and even if it did hold, we would still have no idea what the recommended daily dose of stimulation would be.

(Emphases mine.) This is a passage from Torkel Klingberg’s The Learning Brain: Memory and Brain Development in Children. It’s a very accessible (and very simple, which isn’t to say simplistic) overview on children’s cognitive and other mental development, with a bias toward the impact of working memory (the author’s area of study).

I’ll add something about his thoughts about AD(H)D and its connection to working memory in a subsequent post, but for now this is just one of those metaphors that blindsides with its seeming obviousness after the fact, especially since many assumptions about childhood brain and cognitive development are (necessarily) drawn from controlled animal studies. Another area where this has been really fascinating is the account of flaws in “inborn gender characteristic” research in the seemingly essential (but unfinished by me before it was due back to the library) Brain Storm by Rebecca Jordan-Young. This book, like Brain Storm finds no gender differences in most of its explorations of working memory and other brain and cognitive research.

To get back to the “deprivation” vs. “stimulation” debate, it’s interesting that much of the original research in this book was done in Sweden, where issues like childhood poverty aren’t nearly as much of a problem as they are in the States. (Later in the book, he very directly discusses studies of American poverty that show how poverty conditions increase stress levels and reduce working memory and cognitive function, etc.) It’s instructive to think of how institutionalized poverty creates a de facto deprivation environment for so many children born into it. I’m reminded again of the conceptual inability to consider poor families meaningfully alongside working class and middle class ones in Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods (with its theories of “accomplishment of natural growth,” among working class kids, and “concerted cultivation,” among middle class kids) — Lareau boggles at the cruelty of life in poverty without “theorizing” much about it.

Facebook Breaks The Fourth Wall

blackbeardblog:

People know Facebook is dodgy - it is not an especially well trusted brand, it rarely gets the benefit of the doubt. But people imagined they knew fairly well the ways in which it was dodgy: it spies on you to sell ads, and it is constantly trying to get those ads in front of you. This is tangible dodginess, dodginess you can counter or at least feel superior to - look at this dumb shit Facebook thinks I’m into! Knowing about it gives you the same feeling knowing about supermarket tricks and tips - bread smells near the deli and so on - does: you might not like this trickery, but you can get wise to it.

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A great post from Tom about his own surprise, as a market researcher, that this was the scandal that really got traction from lay-users re: Facebook and privacy.

This particular point underscores something I’ve noticed about teaching something like “advertising literacy,” as absorbed from c. 90s critical media literacy traditions, to college students — their cynicism about how eyeballs are sold to advertisers is so pervasive that they seem genuinely surprised when I talk more about how sophisticated (and omnipresent) data collection really is. Everyone knows how they feel about product placement, commercials, and (to a lesser degree) targeted advertising. But bring up data aggregation and the profiling of people from disparate streams of information and faces are blank and mildly horrified. The most I really got in a discussion about privacy with undergrads last semester was a strong but inchoate anger about it; so when it came time to formulate an argument or opinion they had a lot more work to do just to figure out not only where they stood, but what “standing” even was.

This is clearly the new frontier for media literacy education; I suppose my question is how this direction squares with or complements or even vaguely opposes previous iterations of media deconstruction.

(Reblogged from blackbeardblog)
It is incredibly easy for these new instructional approaches to look good on paper or to work well in pilot classrooms in the hands of highly skilled experts,” said Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, “and then to turn into mushy, lazy confusing goop as it spreads out to classrooms and textbooks.

Here is the only tweet-length treatment of how educational reform fails that I’ve ever seen (via).

I actually like the new math approach from what I’ve seen of it. It’s taken me years of doing taxes and calculating bills and tips to unlearn the hidden machinery of the math algorithms we memorize (at a very young age) — at the expense of doing things like counting change. But it’s a heavy lift for the millions who learned math in ways that, in hindsight, are quite cumbersome and ineffective.

Teaching as Emotional Labor

I’m enjoying, though that isn’t the right word, Simon Head’s Mindless, which despite its stupid post-Gladwellian subtitle (“Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans”) is mostly about the “working class-ization” of white collar and service work via Computer Business Systems (CBS’s), and the eroding of protections in traditionally blue-collar work via those same systems. Anyone who thinks of Amazon as a progressive company should learn more about their abominable labor practices, which often veer into cruelty and systemic abuse.

But I thought more about teaching when I got to his chapter on “emotional labor,” the term coined by Arlie Hochschild to refer to the performance of self necessary for service positions, and the accompanying psychic damage that constant performances can wreak on service workers. Head draws a line between Hochschild’s critique of this practice (she discusses how Reagan-era deregulation of the airlines pressed flight attendants toward a break between the job they had to get done and a cheerful disposition while doing it) and Orwellian HR scholarship that tries to determine the best ways to encourage employees to “emotionally labor” more effectively and efficiently.

Usually, the way HR imagines coping with the emotional stress of service work is to simply put on a performance — in other words, to fake it. But the HR literature also notes that faking it leads to rapid burn-out, often precipitated by a meltdown in the course of doing work, which in turn reflects poorly on the company. The question for the HR specialists becomes, how do we prevent burnout and (ideally) get employees to stop “faking it?”

The two main lines of thought in the HR literature both revolve around changing the mindset of the employee, either through distraction or by re-framing their perception of their work. (Each of these strategies have a cumbersome jargon-y name that I won’t bother reproducing here.) In the former strategy, a cashier might be encouraged to hum opera arias to take his or her mind off of unpleasant thoughts at work (distraction). In the latter strategy, a flight attendant might imagine his or her passengers to be “wayward children” in need of parental care (re-framing).

Head’s critique, informed by Hochschild, is that these two strategies for the management of one’s emotions on the job can lead to workplace harassment (consequences for strategies of distraction) or alternatively can warp an employee’s sense of the work they do, and, e.g., the kinds of abuse from customers that should be acceptable in the workplace (Head points out, from the real example of the “wayward children,” that a first-class passenger, with a strong motive to report all slights to corporate management, is not a child!). The word “brainwashing” appears, eventually.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about the work of teaching while reading these passages, because so much of teaching is a negotiation between needs of self and needs of the job. “Emotional labor” is a useful lens through which to think about the basic work of teaching, with the added twist that the “customer-service worker” relationship is indirect. Usually parents, not children, are the “customers” of education, to the extent that there are customers at all. (This becomes truer the closer education services get to “concierge services,” in private and independent settings, where demands of parents are likely far more intense than the administrative pressures, which tend to be more acute than parental pressure for public school employees.)

In this framework, when teachers “fake it” — when they experience a split between their own personality or values and what is expected of them in the work they do — they’re prone to burnout. And I wonder what, in this analogy, the equivalent of distraction and re-framing strategies are. The distractions may fall under what Mary Kennedy calls a need for an “aura of tranquility” — classroom rituals that primarily serve to center and calm the teacher, whether or not they include students. And in terms of re-framing, I can’t help but think immediately of disciplinary strategies used in some schools that treat students as kinds of proto-prisoners, presumed to be on thin ice upon entry and hyper-regulated to prevent getting out of line (and here, students themselves are being taught how to cope with the emotional labor of being a student, with the “no excuses” model mirroring the HR literature in unnatural strategies for denying students opportunities to express their messy, authentic selves).

Head’s solution (of sorts) is simply to note the ease with which workers in concierge service environments manage to navigate their public and private identities, because they are paid well, are given space to rest, are given opportunities for professional development, and because — ironically — it turns out that when these material conditions are in place there is no need to dramatically repress one’s “real” attitude to competently complete one’s work. That is, better material conditions for service work don’t require service workers to “cope” with their work. They just do their work.

koganbot said: I once read a brief paperback overview of the Cultural Studies field and noticed the lack of any mention of people like Lester Bangs and Tom Wolfe; not only weren't they in the canon, they weren't even in view. Seems wrong to leave people who do a good job of studying culture out of ones idea of Cultural Studies. What about media literacy? Although those two didn't write about how to teach kids about media, they sure were the ones, when I was young'un, teaching *me* about media. Thoughts?

Media literacy is pretty wildly interdisciplinary, and there’s not really a set “canon” of thinkers in it, though lots of names reoccur, from pedagogy theorists (John Dewey, Paolo Friere) to media theorists (Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman) to the large field of currently-publishing folks. A colleague of mine is working on a “Media Literacy Grandparents” project that runs the gamut from community and local access media production to Wittgenstein.

But more generally I would say that ML is a field where a lot of people mingle, but few consider it a “home base” discipline. You’ll find rock critics in it — I already know a bunch of people I would consider in the orbit of ML that assign Carl Wilson’s Celine Dion book, say — but you wouldn’t necessarily say that “Carl Wilson is part of the media literacy field.” In my mind, rock criticism as a “field” has some of the same benefits and challenges of ML — there are a lot of important figures in it that aren’t hemmed in by academic jargon and norms, but also it’s not always taken seriously by self-identifying academic fields and seems to fall between the cracks of different disciplines. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if people who teach cultural studies do read/assign/use rock critics. But there’s never really been a place where rock critics are obviously “part of the team” — they come in as needed, and aren’t wrapped into the foundations. Certainly rock criticism is part of my intellectual foundation, but I’ve never figured out where it “fits” in terms of the intellectual foundations of entire fields of study. Media literacy has its own intellectual foundations and is its own field, but it sits uncomfortably in the foundations of other related disciplines. 

EDIT: The one exception I can think of here, actually is Simon Frith, who coincidentally (or not) is as close to the media literacy community (by way of cultural studies) as any critic I can think of.

elplacebo said: How someone with a media studies background but not affiliated with an academic institution get involved teaching media / information literacy?

Wow, I missed this question, which was probably asked a long time ago! I haven’t been blogging much recently, so this is a good way to dip my toes back into the online content production waters…

A lot of folks who teach media and information literacy don’t have conventional backgrounds in academia. The media literacy community as “big tent” includes practitioners, scholars, researchers, enrichment educators who tend to identify somewhere between media studies (and media arts practice, which happens to be my background — the intersection between media studies and media arts) — and education, along with an assortment of other professions — medicine, law, psychology. 

I had a lot of help from collaborations with academic institutions — especially Temple University and the University of Rhode Island through the field-building work of my fearless leader and co-author Renee Hobbs — but there are lots of examples of folks who operate outside of academia who do fantastic work in media literacy enrichment, professional development, and field-building. My friends and colleagues Rhys Daunic of the Media Spot and D.C. Vito and Emily Long of the LAMP (both in NYC) are two examples. 

The best way to dive in is to figure out where folks are doing work that is either formally or informally MIL-related locally, and to work, volunteer, or at least get in touch. In Philadelphia, we have some great resources for collaboration in the media literacy field. One of the best is the Philadelphia Youth Media Collaborative, which is a consortium of youth media enrichment providers, and runs the gamut from public media institutions to smaller arts organizations. (There are similar consortiums, some formal and some informal, in Chicago, the Bay Area, New York, and the Twin Cities, to name a few big centers for youth media and media literacy work. The re-launched Youth Media Reporter and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture are both good places to learn more about these organizations — NAMAC’s job bank is also useful for browsing paid positions in the youth media and media literacy field.)

If you’re interested in working with K-12 schools, a lot of times making connections with individual teachers who are passionate about media and information literacy, either “officially” or in terms of their practice (without necessarily calling it MIL) can get your foot in the door. I do lots of guest visits to K-12 classrooms, for instance, and these can be just as beneficial as formal partnerships. 

And finally, I can provide a shameless plug for the National Association for Media Literacy Education, of which I’m a board member. We have a student leadership council and committee work that connects media literacy practitioners with larger initiatives, networks, and organizations. The important thing to remember is that the media literacy field doubles as a movement that is fundamentally populist and interdisciplinary in its approach, so there are lots of points of entry.

(Reblogged from barthel)

The Peak-End Rule: Good for Sandwiches, Good for Learning

My friend Tom Ewing wrote a post this year on his market research company’s blog about Daniel Kahneman’s “peak-end rule” and its application to sandwich eating.

The peak-end rule tells us that when we have an experience, we tend to think of its overall quality by averaging the peak amount of quality and the final memory of quality. In the realm of pain, colonoscopy patients will report having a less painful procedure even if it is many, many times longer than usual so long as the peak pain they feel is low and the transition out of the procedure is as painless as possible.

I think of this metaphorically as “reduce turbulence, stick the landing.” The point is that both of these attributes — peak X / final moment of X — comprise a huge component of how we remember an experience.

With sandwiches, this means you eat from both ends (in the case of a baguette) or crust to middle — your peak enjoyment, eating a tasty well-balanced middle bite, averages with your final bite, which switches from the typical “all crust” to the less common “all middle-y goodness.”

This is one reason why the engagement and reflection cycle in media education is so important as bookends to the messy but rewarding work of “in the thick of it” learning. Satisfying reflection is, when done well, a lot of aha’s and affirmations. The difficulty or messiness of a particular task or concept is given some breathing room and re-contextualization. And the process honors phrases like “I liked,” “I learned,” “I wonder,” etc. — activating metacognition in a way that is satisfying to the overall lesson goal.

An interesting way to frame this might be to think about engagement as a “call-back” whose reappearance at the end of a lesson is inherently pleasurable. We return to the “hook,” providing a kind of narrative conclusion to the lesson.

Building in this time for the engagement/reflection book-ends also helps minimize the turbulence of learning. Imagine an art project where everything has gone wrong — the drawings don’t look right, the materials didn’t do what they were supposed to, there’s a bunch of glue everywhere, including on a shirt you liked. Often the accumulation of details like this leads to frustration, followed by (say) cleaning up and leaving the room. But when the goal for the day is not so much the thing you’ve accomplished but they way you’ll be able to reflect on that accomplishment, you re-frame the “peak pain.” The idea here is that the lows aren’t as low when we don’t remember them as the final word on the matter.

(Alternatively, you could prime the pump by giving out pieces of candy and sending kids on their way. But I’ve found this, among other obvious problems, has diminishing returns.)

EDIT: Frank points out that “lessening pain” isn’t really part of the Kahneman experiment — in fact, easing out of painful procedures makes people think they have experienced less pain after the fact. Don’t want to confuse my own thoughts here with the actual experiments/ideas I’m riffing on.