The war on data

Most citizens have moved on beyond the issue of the election polls. If pollsters really failed in this case in contrast to their accuracy in such a high majority of previous cases, those who work in such fields really need to understand, consider, and adjust. Social scientists need to take a hard look at their methodologies.

Here is why? Republican pundits have begun explaining away the abysmal (don’t dismiss me as an elitist I sometimes use low frequency words – substitute really bad if necessary) Trump approval ratings as just another example of the failure of the pollsters to access true sentiment (translation – the way people feel).

Were the pollsters wrong? Well, I remember the final prediction was that Hillary would win by 4%. She won by 2%. The statisticians would say this was an accurate prediction as the difference was within the margin of error. It gets far more complicated when it comes to combining the predictions from multiple states.

Whatever. Still, the overall pollster prediction was accurate. Hence, claims that an overall assessment of Trump performance as the lowest for any new president is somehow inaccurate because the previous election prediction was inaccurate is simply not true (translate – it is a lie). Neither election vote totals nor approval ratings have been proven wrong.

Translation – The people have concluded that Trump sucks no matter how you try to spin it.

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Expectations of secondary education

I think many people have little insight into the complexity of secondary (high school) education – the diversity of students and the ever increasing expectations for what is to be accomplished on limited budgets. This recent Washington Post article indicating that quality manufacturing jobs exist, but U.S.-born workers are not available in sufficient numbers to fill them.  It was the comments made in response to this article that resulted in these comments about the unfair expectations placed on our public schools.

How many high schools would be able to offer the sophisticated curriculum and have the equipment to prepare high school students to take sophisticated welding and robotic assembly jobs. What would this cost if appropriate for high school students and how many students in a given school would be interested.

I certainly agree as a college professor teaching some freshman classes that many students are not prepared for college and maybe would never be suited to the courses we offer. However, what is it that critics expect. Students want to attend and they have certain goals in mind. It is not our role to deny them the opportunity to try. There is great pressure from parents to allow their kids the chance to try. I know the odds of success, but if the parents want to spend the money the public kind of determines that many unqualified students be allowed to give it a shot. Denying access based on high school GPA or test scores brings all kinds of criticism.  We deny access to students with a likely high failure rate and we are wrong. If a high percentage of such students do not survive the first year, we are wrong. We can’t claim students know things and can do things when they can’t. We can’t win.

My university offered an Industrial Technology program with resources that were quite sophisticated. A couple of faculty members were friends of mine. I knew their struggles and despite the rise of the oil industry in North Dakota a decision to close the program for lack of interest.

So, it annoys me when uninformed critics of education place the blame on secondary schools and higher education. Educational institutions are big on allowing students to make decisions that end up determining what their preparation for work will be. If students are not interested in certain fields (e.g., computer science, industrial technology), you need to take a look at the values that cause those who might be involved to make other decisions.

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Thanks for making America GREAT

Thank-you scientists for making American great. You seem shy and unwilling to be self-promoters so I will try to help. I suppose you are introverts by nature. Without your discoveries and the efforts of educators to bring these advances to the general public, this country would not enjoy the competitive advantage that it does. We seem to be entering a time when your discoveries are being discounted because the truth can be inconvenient to certain segments of the economy. Taking advantage of short-term benefits at the cost of future problems is shameful. Hang in there – reality has a way of making itself evident sooner or later. Let us hope this happens before efforts to recover are no longer possible.

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Is real world knowledge inert when acting politically?

I have come to the use of the concept of inert knowledge as a way to understand political thinking and conceptual change theory as a remedy. I recognize that these ideas may be foreign to most, but if you are willing to tolerate a little background information I will get to my application of these ideas.

Different settings serve as memory retrieval cues for different information and conceptual models. This claim has been most thoroughly investigated when it comes to “common sense” understanding of various scientific phenomena versus formal science as taught in school.  So, think of the “real world” as a retrieval cue and “the classroom” as a retrieval cue.  One cue activates common sense and one formal knowledge. The interesting thing and frustrating thing to those of us who study learning is that inconsistent beliefs can be held by the same person and the beliefs that seem to be in play outside of the classroom are not those that reflect what might be described as the best representation of “the truth”. In other words, people can act in the real world in a certain way even though they “know better”. This is not necessarily a purposeful thing as might be implied when truth does not serve personal needs (e.g., climate change representing an inconvenience to actions a person wants to take), but rather that relevant information is simply not available to consciousness when it might be applied. The phrase inert knowledge is sometimes used to describe this situation. A person has relevant knowledge but fails to think of it (remember it, be aware of it) when it should be applied.

Researchers demonstrate some of these issues in interesting ways. If people are approached with a real world science problem without reference to what they have learned in school, they might give an incorrect response to a related question. If, however, they are simply told that “you might have studied this when you discussed electricity in high school or whatever the appropriate field of study might be” and then asked the same question, their answers change to be more accurate. So, it is clear they knew better but failed to use the information they have when it would have been appropriate.

So, one of the problems in education is that it is not enough to teach accurate information and ways of understanding the world. You have to somehow get rid of the flawed information and models that may exist because of personal experience and personal interpretation of such experiences. This clearly does not happen just because more useful information is provided. This is where the idea of conceptual change theory becomes useful. This theory proposes that it is necessary to activate existing flawed information before presenting contradictory information. If learners are not forced into a situation that makes clear their flawed existing knowledge, they will likely continue to held such flawed beliefs and if this flawed information is more likely activated by real world situations continue to apply such flawed beliefs.

I think these concepts can be applied far more broadly than science education. I started thinking about inert knowledge and the lack of conceptual conflict as a way to understand political behavior. For example, how could “conservative Christians” possibly accept a candidate with sexist, racist and misogynistic attitudes and behavior. Would they be willing to exhibit such behaviors themselves or tolerate them in their spouse or children? Would they even be willing to utter the phrase “I grabbed her by the pussy”? Would they be comfortable should such comments come up in conversations with their friends? Would they dismiss such attitudes as irrelevant in family members or friends or would the openness of such attitudes change the nature of their relationships?

Trying to work this out for myself, I came up with two options. The first is a willingness to ignore such traits and to assume such traits have nothing to do with values that influence political action. Taking this position implies a willingness to tolerate and accept such behavior because there are bigger and more important issues to consider. The political opponent represents such a terrible set of personal characteristics and proposed actions that a person with attitudes of a sexist, racist, misogynistic person is still the lesser of two evils. This makes no sense to me personally because even if I could ignore the personal behavior I believe the core values such behavior indicates are quite troubling and will be related to actions taken. Personal values predict behavior.

The second option is the inert knowledge model I have attempted to explain. This proposes that politics represents one mind set and real life another. Activating the political perspective brings with it values and priorities that are different than the values and priorities that are personally applied in daily life. This interpretation allows a way to interpret such behavior, but like the flawed belief systems educators must address in the classroom, this interpretation does not suggest that this separation is ideal. It may be personally useful as a self-protection mechanism, but I believe that personal beliefs and political beliefs should be consistent. Again, raising flawed beliefs and showing the inconsistencies with real life beliefs would seem the appropriate approach to change.

I do think like a psychologist and this influences how I understand and explain issues. Still, we all need to understand rather than avoid important issues and challenging others to explain the basis for their behavior seems a good way to start. Your explanations may be quite different than mine, but my challenge to you is that you generate some explanation you are willing to express.

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People like me

Educators are into talking about the importance of their PLN. Their personal learning network (PLN) is the folks they interact with to learn new things, share ideas, etc. I get the value of ed jargon – it makes common folks wonder what you are up to, but an obscure label applied to your group does not by itself accomplish much.

I think PLNs are self-forming and as a consequence are typically actually PLMs. A PLM is my clever take on the PLN but in grabe-speak stands for People Like Me. If your group is really a PLM, you are likely having a good time, but not really changing much about how you think about your profession.

Groups with a common perspective tend to move toward a more extreme view of that perspective. This is social psych conclusion of what happens when groups consist of people like me rather than a mix of people with different knowledge and assumptions. Two groups made up of individuals with internally consistent, but externally inconsistent beliefs grow further apart rather than find ways to integrate what is good about their initial positions. This how a group bias generates extremism. To be heard within a group with common beliefs, you have to argue for a more extreme position of the existing belief systems. Sorry for getting all science of group behavior on you, but this is the way things work.

Piaget, that champion of constructivists everywhere, might explain it this way. A PLN that is a PLM is for assimilation. Real change comes from accommodation – challenges that cause you to change your core models of the world and not just add more to an existing way of thinking.

Ask yourself, does your PLN ever engage in argumentation? Does your group have individuals who challenge your beliefs and not just whether you have read the same book they are reading? Do they get you to use the same motivational phrases they use? Are they into innovation, teaching like a pirate, or hacking this or that?

It is a PLM isn’t it?

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Maybe the answer is simple – nobody really cares

I continue to be troubled by the DeVos appointment. It makes no sense. I cannot come up with a justification for putting an amateur in this position no matter how hard I try. Shake things up if offered as an explanation by some, but if you wanted to shake things up come up with a candidate with a plan for at least a couple of relevant issues. Kids are important is not a plan. Pretty much everyone sees things that way. Some think it is worth an investment, but that is a different issue.

I do think I have an explanation. I had to fall into complete depression to realize what is most likely the truth. Politicians don’t really care about education. Of course, it is about kids and our future as a nation and all, but education is complex, nothing seems to make much difference and everyone complains about the cost. So maybe the conclusion is that no one can really make a difference one way or another. The economy – that is important. The military – that is important. The environment (sorry bad example) – oil is more important. Most positions require someone with a clue. Why not use the ed position to reward someone who has been loyal and gives a lot of money? Why risk the ire of the party for going against the POTUS for such an unimportant post?

Am I right Senator Hoeven?

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#POTUS on Twitter

I posted the tweet appearing above to Twitter kind of hoping I would get a response. Maybe someone would tell me to “cool off” or at least “respect the office even if you cannot respect the person”. No luck. All I can say is that ever since I have switched spending all of my time writing about technology and education and spending part of my time writing about politics, my number of friends and followers has grown substantially. I can see how this gets addictive.

I hoped someone would respond so I could thank them for asking me to tone it down a bit, but also wanting to ask if they were willing to make the same request of potus. I certainly do not have the same audience nor are my tweets and comments likely to be as influential. This is my concern witht he behavior of the president and his Twitter commentary.

Twitter allows blanket and sweeping statements without the requirement of explanation. This is also kind of the problem I have with those who share without comment things on Facebook. The value of critical interaction is in taking a standing and being willing to be precise regarding what you see as evidence for your position. It is far too easy to take a stand or be willing to offer a caustic observation without evidence.

The thing I find useful about following Trump tweets is that his words become my evidence. I can point to a tweet and say – this is offensive, this is a conflict of interest, this is racist, etc. So, I do recommend that Trump stop with tweets because such documentation is so easily turned to show his lack of leadership skills. However, since I find his positions unacceptable, I guess what he has to pronounce gives me plenty to write about and more data are always a good thing.

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Remembering dead dinosaurs

I agree this is a strange title, but there is a back story. I was in bed last night thinking about my frustration with the failure of republican senators to challenge the lack of experience or background in the Trump Dept of Ed nominee. My frustration focused on ND senator Hoeven. This is what made me remember dead dinosaurs.

I lived in North Dakota for a long time. For most of this time, the citizens of North Dakota had a great scam going. The would elect all republicans to state office and send democrats to DC. This translates as low taxes in state and lots of fed money coming back to the state. It is not really supposed to work this way. You either believe in paying taxes for the common good or you do not.

Unfortunately, the republicans whom have always controlled the state got greedy. Senator Conrad (D) retired. Representative Pomeroy (D) was defeated. However, times were still good. North Dakota was held up as an example because under the brilliant leadership of the republicans, ND was one of only a very small number of states adding jobs and making money post 2008. Then Gov. Hoeven was rewarded by being allowed to quit his job as governor and move to DC as a state senator.

This is the time when my series of posts focused on dead dinosaurs appeared. I was frustrated with the ND republicans congratulating each other on their brilliant leadership in avoiding the financial problems facing the rest of the country. I remember that doing nothing was not really something I thought you should take credit for. I could see the outcome (low unemployment, etc.). It was the decisions made that were supposedly responsible I could not identify.

At the time, the only decision I could think of to credit Hoeven and colleagues with was the heady move to position the state on top of a huge pile of dead dinosaurs. Who knew this would ever prove useful. You can search my blogs for “dinosaur” to find my comments – I think my way of explaining the issue began in 2010/2011. I noted at the time that aside from anticipating the benefit of oil, it was probably not wise to also lower taxes of those coming into this wealth. Depending on the Canadians who flocked to the state because of the weak dollar or the farmers to continue to bring in big bucks because commodity markets have a way of swinging on you whether you produce a good crop or not was not really much of a strategy. I suggested that instead of lowering taxes those in power should take the opportunity to improve the infrastructure of the state and invest in programs (I think wind energy was my personal favorite) that would diversify opportunities for the future.

As we are learning more and more, one of the interesting things about a public record – on the Internet or recorded statements recorded in the news media – is that you should be willing to stand behind what you claim because you will end up being reminded of what you said.  So when the state is in financial crisis when others states are now enjoying recovery those who congratulated each other for being brilliant and offering their public this brilliance as justification for continued and increasing support should continue to take credit for the present as well as the past.

North Dakotans – remember what I said about dead dinosaurs. One more related suggestion. How about changing the mascot for the state republicans? Elephants are out and dinosaurs are in. I really like this idea – the dinosaur that symbol of great brain power and adaptability.

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DeVos is in

DeVos is in. I guess I am not surprised, but I am disappointed. Of the various candidates, some of whom I thought were poor choices based on past performance or ethics issues, I thought Betsy DeVos was clearly the weakest. Not only does she have no credentials relevant to the field, she has views on vouchers and how school finance works that are a danger to K12 education. The Department of Education has long been disparaged by those who see it as having no meaningful purpose, but at least this lack of respect did not translate into a position that could do damage to such an important field. I just can’t see politicians making a choice of this type for a position they regard as important.

I tend to view political issues from my own perspective. I live in Minnesota and the two Senators from Minnesota both opposed the nominee making comment on the same issues I find to be relevant. I spent most of my working life in North Dakota. This state is strongly republican and while the state claims to value education it has very little experience with the kind of issues that are important in populated and diverse states. Sen. Hoeven must know DeVos is a weak, but rich candidate. I am guessing he decided the extreme positions she holds can do limited damage in his state because of the small population and saved his political chips for another day. Weak, but understandable. I know he was under pressure even in North Dakota. He had very little to say to explain his vote. He claimed he was a friend of education (hard to know what that means) and said he had spoken with DeVos who said she would respect the decisions of states. Taking such a narrow position allowed some cover and might have been acceptable to the citizens of a state who simply do not get out much.

Rewarding unqualified, big contributors with party favors makes a mockery of draining the swamp, but did anyone really think that slogan carried any weight.

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The BUDWEISER is for the republicans

Evidently, Anheuser-Busch decided to ditch the horses and go with a Super Bowl ad focused on the story of their immigrant founder Adolphus Busch. Republicans interpreted the ad as a  Trump slight (they are pretty thin skinned) and decided to fight back. Their idea was to include a hashtag in tweets discouraging the purchase of Anheuser-Busch beers. Fortunately, the Republican geniuses responsible for the hashtag campaign were unable to master the spelling of Budweiser raising more questions about the voting patterns in the past election.

So, for all my republican friends out there in need of a spelling tutor – this BUDWEISER is for you.

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