The purpose of this blog is to formulate ideas - and as ideas can be molded and refined please feel free to comment with agreement or disagreement, as long as it is thoughtful.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How to deal with terrorism

Terrorism can be defined as non-state sponsored violence intended to publicize or support a position.

As non-state sponsored, nation states have little recourse - if a government or nation state perpetrated violence against properties or territories of another, economic, political and/or military recourses are possible.   As terrorists do not have public bases or cities etc., and are not elected or public officials and do not have an economic system that is open, there are often few responses that inflict an appropriate punishment or serve to reduce the likelihood of recurrance.

The good:
Terrorist acts, while often violent, are not yet sufficient to cause damage on even a small war scale.

The bad:
Terrorists have complete control of timing, logistics and targets.   As they operate in relatively small groups, and tend to be looking at long timeframes to achieve their objectives, they are in a position to wait for targets to become available (e.g. wait until security lessens, or wait until all operation objectives are in place), and have a significant strategic advantage of not worrying about civilian casualties (in fact, they tend to want them to be maximized).  They are not restrained by the "rules of war" or rules of diplomacy or statecraft.

As terrorism is a tactic toward a larger objective (otherwise, it is just random violence), the only tactic that can be leveled against it is to minimize the communications, fear and "advertising" value of any terrorist actions.  By removing the reporting of terrorist actions, the value of the action is reduced to the physical death(s) and destruction of the act.

The destruction of the World Trade Center on 9-11 in New York was a horrific act which resulted in billions in damage and death in the thousands.  However, it did not materially affect the U.S. economy nor did it do anything to reduce the military, political or manpower of the U.S. population.

However, on a larger scale, the 9-11 attack spread fear, caused changes in government (e.g. Homeland Security), changed practice in travel (e.g. airport processes) and caused widespread unease that was much larger and far-reaching than the physical damage of the attacks, including war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is this "terror" aspect that it is possible to control.  There does not need to be media frenzy, reminders, etc. that increase the power and value of terrorist acts.  In no way am I implying that the "behind the scenes" improvements to law enforcement, communications systems etc. be curtailed or ceased - these should be improved to avoid or respond to actions as they are taken.

What needs to happen is that the populous and the media need to re-proportion their responses to a level commensurate to a natural disaster of similar proportions.

By giving it higher public priority (again, increases in the military, intelligence and/or civilian agencies should be enacted as appropriate), the response provides the very value that keeps terrorist activities alive.  Any reports that deal with the terrorist causation of the actions should be very clear about the inappropriateness of the actions, point out other, more productive solutions to the underlying problems and bring in appropriate experts to support these alternatives.  For example, any 9-11 report dealing with the terrorist causes, should involve Muslim clerics who can knowledgeably argue that these types of actions are against Islam and are an affront to the teachings of the Koran.

This type of response works to reduce terrorism on numerous fronts - it reduces the fear and terror of actions, provides alternatives for action for others who may sympathize with the motivations of the terrorists (though hopefully not with the actions taken) and directly undermine the legitimacy and support of terrorism as a mechanism to achieve goals.  Further, this approach educates all sides about the issue(s) in question, which should server to reach appropriate solutions, and to reduce the anger, misunderstanding and hopelessness which provides the breeding grounds from which terrorists are recruited.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why teaching is hard

Teaching is a nice combination of social sciences.  As students come from a wide range of backgrounds, income levels, belief systems, and have differing levels of home support, parental involvement and even parental belief in schooling, it is difficult to maintain a fixed strategy for classes over time.

Thus, successful teaching requires knowledge diverse disciplines: teaching theory, handling groups, public speaking, content knowledge, communication skills & tech.

Sharing and understanding changes or progress in teaching also involves a critical, statistical understanding of research - will that strategy match the makup of my students?  will that strategy match the skills and abilities I bring to the table?  do I have the infrastructure and administrative support to apply that strategy?  How do I know if it works?

How do we prepare teachers?  Nine-month programs.  Very little, if any, research design and statistical skills, scientific method training, post-graduation training (most PD programs seem to involve wasting lots of time to fill a time slot and meet union requirements to have PD - is there any learning going on?).

It is relatively simple to see the problem with the training approach - just ask teachers how they are evaluated in their job performance.  Most will immediately point to union rules that only allow infrequent evaluations and very narrow windows of assessment - primarily attendance in school and at PD.  Assuming teachers behave as adults, go to school and attend their classes, and don't do criminal-level violations involving children, they are unlikely to ever be fired, re-trained, or otherwise identified as problematic.

As a job, great - security and stability.

As a way to actually teach students - not so much.

Discuss with teachers the use of standardized tests, and you'll immediately hear about differences in the composition of each class over time and how the teacher is not responsible for what comes through the door. Correct to a point, but if you think about it, you'll realize it is a re-statement of "the kids are stupid" hypothesis to explain any testing or potential evaluation methodology.

Note how many unions specify the maximum allowable number of minutes that a teacher can be asked to teach - and do the math - not a very large number relative to the stability and salary of the position (remember, summers off, 5 day week, Easter and Christmas and spring breaks reduce the number of days worked).  These restrictions are reasonable fodder for jobs - setting boundaries.  However, these are not a focal point in the theory or profession of teaching - this demands that the appropriate time be spend to discuss issues and identify learning opportunities.  Even coaching and yard supervision offer opportunities for learning in a non-classroom context - good for the profession, bad for the  job.

I think we need to evolve the profession of teaching.  Teaching needs to be a four year program - not a one-year add-on to another degree.  Each year needs to have classroom opportunities - make sure the actual teaching environments are experienced.  Social work, psychology, law all must be discussed in the context of teaching.  Teachers need to learn how assessments are done in the social sciences to understand that it is possible to design assessments that provide information that can be used for professional advancement, and can be separated (perhaps longitudinally) from the individualized characteristics of specific classes.  I'm not promoting this as a job-evaluation for promotion/dismissal discussions, but for legitimate professional development to happen.  If a teacher can be shown deficiencies in mathematics, for example, PD with techniques for teaching strategies, or specialized teaching geared to characteristics of the teacher's classes (e.g. low SES, special needs students) can be used and re-assessed later.

Only repeated failure over time to indicate learning or development from targeted PD, and an inability to create or build an environment in the school that allows for learning to occur for that teacher's students, would any direct job-related intervention strategies be considered.

Teaching is complex.  So is psychology, social work, law, medicine........  They are able to evaluate practitioners and separate legitimate issues with their "customers" from legitimate concerns raised regarding the services rendered.  So can teaching.

Teaching "associations' must support the profession of teaching - a much harder job than the protection of the job of teaching, but much more important.  It is more difficult because it gets into the messy business of evaluating how people are doing their jobs - and for teaching, this comes into how well students are learning.  However, in the absence of a proper support for the science and profession of teaching, what does the protection of teachers' jobs actually mean?