Experiencing Homeschooling

Image result for homeschooling
Source: Metroparent

In the past twenty years, there has been a significant rise in the number of students following the homeschooling model all over the United States (Gould, 2011). This growth has fueled the debate about the pros and cons of the homeschooling model and how it compares to the traditional schooling model. These debates are often emotionally charged due to the strong beliefs of the proponents of each side. Many researchers attribute the growth of the current “homeschooling movement” to various reasons including the deterioration of the public schooling system, moral and religious beliefs that oppose the traditional schooling model, and the parents’ beliefs that homeschooling nurtures their children’s ability to achieve a prosperous future (Cogan, 2010). This week, I had an opportunity to interview Edward (Ned) Burnell who is a proud product of both systems. Burnell, a current Ph.D. student at MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, attributes part of his success in academia to his upbringing in a homeschooling system.

AM: Can you tell me more about your typical day when you were homeschooled?

EB: My parents prepared a daily schedule for me and my sister that was divided based on the subject. They would choose a workbook that matches a particular subject and then ask us to go through it and complete some exercises. We were also allowed to play a fair number of educational computer games that were mainly focused on math and grammar. The important approach that my parents followed was giving us the relative flexibility to decide what we wanted to learn and when to learn it. For example, if we were provided with a workbook that was not interesting to us, we would skip it and choose a different one. My sister (who is three years younger) was mostly using the same workbooks and games I was using so there was no grade level in the traditional sense.

AM: Why do you think some parents choose to homeschool compared to the traditional schooling model?

EB: I believe that there are three camps of homeschooling the Christian fundamentalist, the camp that is morally opposed to the structure of the traditional schooling model and believe that their children deserve better, and the camp that wants to spend more time honing their children’s skills and knowledge so that they can thrive in the real world.

AM: How did you spend your summers during your homeschooling years?

EB: I generally spent my summers hanging out with friends in my neighborhood. My mother would also motivate me to draft a research paper every summer. This was not a structured research paper in the academic sense, but it offered me the opportunity to research a topic I’m interested in and visit the library in search of answers to my research questions. A highpoint in middle school was emailing a researcher on the Bubonic plague and getting a response about an argument in his research paper that I did not understand.

AM: In what ways do you think your homeschooling experience helped you during your transition to the traditional public high school system?

EB: I remember in high school, it was relatively easy for me to explain content to other students as I was very comfortable explaining things to myself; this has been a valuable survival skill. Also, the time I spent during my homeschooling learning about diverse topics and nurturing different skills helped me during my high school years.

AM: Did you face any challenges transitioning from the homeschooling to the traditional model?

EB: I think discipline was something I had to learn. For example, I never learned to write about something I didn’t care about. I had to learn that in high school and college. I was very confident. If I had something to say, I said it. This was really challenging when I was forced to write about a topic that I wasn’t interested in.

I was also never pushed to challenge myself in ways that I didn’t want to, and I was never punished by an external source or by myself for failure to overcome a certain challenge. Another challenge was sometimes suffering from social anxiety, especially during my first year.

AM: Do you feel that your upbringing in a homeschooling model helped you garner your current passion for using design to improve human experiences?

EB: I think the freedom offered to me within the homeschooling environment helped me learn how to experiment with objects and think about answers to questions that are interesting to me. When I grew up, I realized that those experiences had supported how I handled design challenges and made me more comfortable in experimenting with unconventional methods.

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Source: Medium

AM: Having had the chance to learn through both models, what do you think are the benefits of the traditional schooling model compared to the homeschooling model?

EB: I think the traditional schooling model offers children more opportunities for developing their social skills. It also makes them more comfortable adhering to the traditional rules of schooling academia which may support their success within the system. Traditional schooling is also essential for parents who have jobs and cannot afford to homeschool.

AM: What do you think are the main challenges of the traditional schooling and the homeschooling models?

EB: I think that the traditional schooling model has several challenges. First, schools force students to fit into certain archetypes and molds, and this limits children’s creativity and freedom to express themselves. I also think the “factory model school” may force children to learn certain topics without spending time understanding them and applying them. People often think of school, as unpaid labor. We have these kids perform for us certain tasks; these tasks are called “Homework,” even the name is problematic. The school helps students prepare reports that will never be used which is a preparation for a white-collar lifestyle.

As for the homeschooling system, I think that the difficulty with homeschooling is that takes it a lot of time and attention from the parent, it might be hard to homeschool if you have to pay rent and have jobs. So, I believe it is circumstantial. The parents’ presence for a significant portion of a child’s day may also impact the children’s interest in their parents’ experiences since by time parents have fewer stories and experiences to share due to their constant presence in their children’s lives.

Homeschooling may also make it hard for students to follow the traditional academic system and to follow its rules as they were not exposed to it from a younger age. For example, it was hard for me to get used to the taking exams, but I was lucky enough that I had a photographic memory that helped me achieve high scores with less effort.

When I asked Ned about the system he would choose for his children, he mentioned that he might be more inclined towards a traditional system that has some of the merits of the homeschooling system such as freedom of expression and the ability of children to learn by performing activities and tasks that they are interested in. It was fascinating to get to learn more about Ned’s experience when Ned asked me about the schooling system I would prefer; I found myself struggling to make a choice. I guess it is hard to choose an educational system that might significantly influence the future of another individual!

References

Cogan, M. F. (2010). Exploring Academic Outcomes of Homeschooled Students. Journal of College Admission208, 18-25.

Martin-Chang, S., Gould, O. N., & Meuse, R. E. (2011). The impact of schooling on academic achievement: Evidence from homeschooled and traditionally schooled students. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement43(3), 195.

Environmental Activists as Free Marketers

Robert F.Kennedy Jr. during his opening remarks

Start: 6:00pm 2/25/2019; End: 9:20pm 2/24/2019

CAMBRIDGE, MA— The Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School hosted Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. for a lecture titled “The Environmental Activism, American Economy, and Democracy.” Kennedy, the President of the Waterkeeper Alliance and one of the most prominent environmental attorneys in the US gave an impassioned lecture on the importance of protecting the environment as a means to achieve economic prosperity and protect ideals of democracy.

Kennedy started with the story of how he began his career as an environmental attorney by working with the fishermen communities living along the Hudson River. After many members of the community grew tired of the government indifference regarding the pollution caused by corporates along the river during the 1980s, Kennedy worked with other lawyers to galvanize these communities to protect their fishing resources by pursuing a legal solution. Kennedy and his team brought several lawsuits against New York City and several corporates including Consolidated Edison, and General Electric. According to Kennedy, the success of his team in winning several major lawsuits, and their ability to close all the major factories contaminating the Hudson River had a significant impact on saving the Hudson River and in helping them establish the Riverkeeper non- profit environmental group.

As stories about their success started to gain traction, several communities facing similar water contamination challenges started reaching out to Kennedy and his team to find solutions to their contaminated water sources. As a result, Kennedy founded the Waterkeeper Alliance, a non-profit environmental group that aims to protect rivers all over the US and around the world. According to Kennedy, the Waterkeeper Alliance is now the fastest growing water protection agency in the world, with three hundred- and five-member organizations.

Economic prosperity vs. Environmental policy

Kennedy argued that it is wrong to think that environmental policy prohibits economic prosperity. “An investment in our environment is an investment in our infrastructure, in our assets. These assets such as water can help us achieve sustainable economic prosperity” Kennedy added.  Kennedy believes that “The free market can be used as a tool to solve all of our environmental problems if used in the right way.” Kennedy believes that a free market system functioning in the right way should punish pollution and promote efficiency. “If the cost of pollution is added to the bills of the companies, they would find ways to pursue more environment-friendly strategies. The problem is that those companies do not pay the cost of their pollution, and at the end, poor communities disproportionately shoulder the cost.”

Free marketers, not environmental lawyers

The perception of the community towards environmental lawyers is another aspect that Kennedy believes needs to change. Kennedy sees his role as a “free marketer who helps improve the efficiency of the free market capitalism and protects democracy.” According to Kennedy, because democracy, the environment, and the economy are so intertwined, he believes his role encompasses working on solutions that address all these fields together in a way that supports the prospects of future generations.

Robert F.Kennedy Jr. during his lecture

The media’s role in supporting our environment

In his opinion about the role of the media in promoting environment-friendly policies and highlighting the atrocities of polluting companies, Kennedy added “Unfortunately, most of our legal cases and environmental campaigns do not get covered by the media except if they have a direct impact on Wallstreet” Kennedy added. Kennedy believes that this is because of the huge amount of money being poured by many polluting corporations to control media coverage. Kennedy asserted his belief that of these corporations, pharmaceutical companies currently “own the press.” “Currently news shows air around 24 ads per show, 17 of these ads are for pharmaceutical companies. These companies control the content, and they are doing so unapologetically. Just look at Anderson Cooper’s show, it proudly mentions that it is brought to you by Pfizer.”

The legacy for future generations

Kennedy believes that the fight for protecting our environment is “a fight for leaving a legacy for our children and future generations. They should not have to live in a miserable environment because we were selfish and were only thinking about making short term gain.” According to Kennedy, “We are facing a critical moment in time. The current president is anti-environment policy and is currently working on a bill that would kill the Clean Water Act. Not only that, but we also have the most anti-environment Supreme court in history. Kavanaugh’s mother clearly showed her position during her time as a prosecutor, and Neil Gorsuch’s mother reign as the Environmental Protection Agency administrator was filled with scandals.”

Kennedy concluded his speech with a call to action. “All these challenges should drive us to organize and act to protect our environment. We need more grass-roots organizations to work together to support our environment and the future of our planet.”

Amin’s Media Diary

For me, this exercise was a wake-up call. I’ve always thought that I was a moderate consumer of media, and that is why realizing that I spent around 8 hours per day consuming media this week was a revelation.
The diagram below shows my consumption per media outlet. I spent a significant portion of my time (3 hours per day) using Microsoft Outlook, which is the application I use for work. This diagram made me realize the amount of time I spend sending and receiving emails. I also noted the number of times (12 times per day) I used the Outlook app on my phone to check if I have received any new email. Social Media is another outlet that takes a significant portion of my time. This observation can be attributed to the fact that most of my family and friends live abroad, so social media offers me the best method to connect with them and know their news.
The other observation I noted was that I only spent 10 minutes per day on articles that I’ve opened through Facebook and Twitter. I honestly excepted this number to be higher.

Consumption per media outlet per day

I was also surprised to realize that 51% of my media consumption was done through my laptop. I think it might be because during my work day I sometimes take some mental breaks by reading some news and entertainment articles. I also sometimes use my laptop for viewing videos which might have attributed to my consumption pattern.

Another revelation for me was the significant number of mediums I consumed that are being tracked third-party data-tracking applications. By using “Ghostery” a web extension which allowed me to monitor and block these applications, I realized that third parties are tracking 45% of the media I consume.
I have created the sculpture below to express my feelings regarding being continuously tracked by third party providers and by the media outlets I consume online. In the middle, there is the eye of the user being monitored by different digital eyes (representing the tracking of information) that are surrounding the user from everywhere, designed to make the user feel that the experience is as natural as possible so that the trackers can continue to mine data.

Overall, this exercise was eye-opening for me, and it allowed me to notice specific patterns in my consumption that I did not expect. It also prompted me to reconsider the way I consume media.

Artificial Intelligence-supported journalism

Image result for ai news    The meteoric rise of the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has had a remarkable influence on various aspects of our lives, and this influence is only expected to rise. AI has already disrupted the field of journalism with the introduction of “Algorithmic journalism” (Dorr,2015). Algorithmic journalism involves a “software that automatically produces texts in natural language from structured data.” Various economic reasons are driving the rise of AI within journalism. First, AI spares journalists the time to draft articles and news pieces that are relatively uniform such as daily news reports about the performance of the stock market. AI’s use in editorial tech helps writers and journalists review their pieces promptly. There’s also an argument that AI may help reduce the biases in certain stories, but given that the algorithms drafting the content may itself include the biases of the person who coded them, this argument still has its flaws. In its bid to enhance its ability to reap the fruits of AI in journalism, Reuters has introduced an AI tool called Lynx Insight (Kobie, 2018). This tool aims to augment journalists and writers rather than replace them by providing them with analytical tools that synthesize big data in a way that nurtures their journalistic role. Lynx Insight will analyze a vast amount of data to identify any interesting patterns or topics that can allow Reuters the opportunity to publish content that is innovative and pioneering, and at the same time fits with the readers’ interests. Lynx Insight aggregates the data and sends the journalist a message with a brief about any interesting patterns with some background about the story or topic. The App associated with the tool provides journalists with a live feed of updates regarding any possible breaking news stories. AI’s growing influence in the field of journalism may have significant implications on the future of news and media. AI may help journalists personalize the news according to the interests of their audience, which may enhance the appeal of the news and its readability. Its ability to reduce the cost may allow new news and media outlets to enter the field which supports the democratization of the field and may provide a competition that can support the quality of the content. Unfortunately, this competition may also lead to the deterioration of the content with news outlets fixated on competition and monetizing content rather than nurturing the field and improving its appeal. Over-dependence on AI tools such as Lynx Insight may reduce the journalist’s sense of agency and innovation ability. This dependence may be destructive to the field of journalism if there are issues with the algorithm, or if the data used by AI has significant flaws. Kobie, N. (2018, March 10). Reuters is taking a big gamble on AI-supported journalism. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://www.wired.co.uk/article/reuters-artificial-intelligence-journalism-newsroom-ai-lynx-insight Seth, C. (2016). Mapping the human–machine divide in journalism. The SAGE handbook of digital journalism, 341.

Bio:Amin Marei

I work at the Harvard Graduate School of Education as an Associate Director for Professional Education and as a Teaching Fellow. I am responsible for managing and developing professional education programs and strategies for K-12 teachers, with a special focus on international audience. I also lead the Middle East Professional Learning Initiative, which is an initiative that aims to support teacher educators and system-level leaders in developing practices, programs, and structures to help improve student opportunities to learn and achieve productive sustainable lives.

My research focuses on civic education, using informal learning to support education in low-income communities and teacher professional development. I earned my Master’s degree in Education in 2017 at HGSE.

I am from Egypt and I actively participated in the Arab Spring which was the highlight of my experience with the impact of participatory media in politics. The Arab Spring also influenced my decision to co-found Mashroo3 Kheir (The Good Deed Project) NGO that focuses on promoting civic education among youth in Egypt.

I’m really excited to join the course and learn from everyone’s diverse experiences.