A House Divided

If this was clickbait, the headline might be “Is America More Polarized Than Ever?” But I dislike clickbait and especially titles with questions in them. Discussions of polarization in American political life seem to be trending. Nonetheless, while our society may feel more polarized now than in recent decades, taking a longer view calls that claim of exceptionalism into question. Since the nation’s founding, Americans have disagreed, at times violently, over political issues. The Civil War, the Gilded Age, the Civil Rights era, the Vietnam War: all come to mind as examples of when society faced intense divisions. The intent here is not to define an objective benchmark against which to measure present polarization. Rather, history can inform our discussion of it, who it includes or excludes, and what we stand to gain or lose by attempting to lessen it. In Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America, James Campbell defines polarization as “the condition of substantial and intense conflict over political perspectives arrayed along a single dimension — generally along ideological lines”.[1] If that is the case, then oppressed or marginalized people throughout American history must live in another dimension. They have existed, and continue to exist, largely beyond the the poles of power, which concentrates in the hands of the white, male, and wealthy, regardless of political party. The exclusion of women and people of color, despite their centrality to the nation’s history, is inherent in contemporary discussions of political polarization. Only as the poles shift and we see in more than one dimension — a black president, a female presidential candidate — do racism and sexism get described as “polarizing,” because they impinge on the status quo. White men in positions of power have a long history of claiming that they could represent the disenfranchised, from enslaved people under the 3/5ths compromise to women prior to suffrage. Insist otherwise, and suddenly the nation is “polarized”.
Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis - with George McClellan between them - pulling a map of the nation apart.

Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis – with George McClellan between them – pulling a map of the nation apart. Currier & Ives, 1864 (Library of Congress).

The Civil War era stands out as an extreme example of polarization with resonance today. A series of political compromises failed, and in 1858 the then Senate-candidate Abraham Lincoln asserted that “a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. ” His election prompted southern secession and as president he would oversee a war to reunify the house without the stain of slavery. However, while no one conducted opinion polls of enslaved people, I highly doubt they were polarized over the issue of their freedom. That conception could apply only to those with a modicum of power. The Civil War’s aftermath also leads to the question of what we may lose by returning to an agreed-upon center. In Race and Reunion, historian David Blight argues that achieving national reconciliation involved a tacit acceptance of white supremacy to bring the South back into the fold. Unity depended on historical amnesia, forgetting the true reason for fighting the war: slavery and emancipation. As Reconstruction failed and segregation deepened, the nation found it more comfortable to believe that the Second American Revolution had completed what the first had not and created a unified nation. Though Blight focuses on how historical memory evolved in the fifty years after the war, it’s possible to see the later ramifications of this process. Many Americans still seem to think it’s up for debate whether slavery caused the Civil War. It’s not. The historical consensus is well established on that front. The persistence of the myth of the Lost Cause and nobility of “both sides” was the price paid for national reconciliation. The continued ‘debate’ over insidious racism in American society is a price we still pay. As Blight wrote more recently, “not only is the Civil War not over; it can still be lost.” None of this is to say that contemporary divisions do not exist or do not matter. Rather, seeing contemporary America as uniquely divided rests upon a particular vision of history, one that has more in common with myth than reality. The stable world imagined to have existed in the past (presumably back when America was “great”) was built upon silencing and oppression. It was a world more devoted to order than justice. While social media has given more people today a voice, the power to be heard remains unequally distributed along intersecting lines cut by class, race, and gender. The only comfort, perhaps, is that those resisting systems of oppression can tell their own stories, and those stories matter. The poles can only shift if pushed, and they still may shift back again. History is not linear. Progress is not predestined. Lincoln predicted, “I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” The reality, which he did not live to see, proved more complicated. There are questions we still need to confront: What price will we pay for the perception of unity? Do we want “balance” (in the media, in politics) if that means normalizing extremism? Or, can we move beyond partisan outrage and the politics of resentment? Can we hold our society accountable to the truths of history? How can we ensure that more voices are heard, and valued? Can we foster empathy and build on it to create meaningful change? What might that look like? Following the recent midterm elections, Nancy Pelosi said “we have an obligation to try to find common ground”. As the 116th Congress prepares to take their seats, it remains to be seen whether they will usher in an era of greater or lesser polarization. What may be the price of unifying our house now? These questions have no easy answers. We need to ask them regardless, and repeatedly. And we need to insist on answers that may not be answers at all, but that embrace complexity. Any form of reconciliation in the present will depend on reckoning with past wrongs, not on the papering over them. We cannot avoid arguments, because “America is an argument”.[2] What we can do is strive for better conversations and better journalism. Clickbait will not save us now. — [1] James E. Campbell, Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America (Princeton University Press, 2016), p.16. [2] Liu’s article prompted the development of the Better Arguments Project, which provides one possible model for more meaningful civic engagement.

Too Critical, Not Critical Enough

Reading Time: 7 minutes This post is a response to the work of 3 great people I respect. I’m going to link all the things now so I can focus on writing my response freely. The first is danah boyd’s SXSW keynote, Renée Hobbs’ response and Benjamin Doxtdator’s response. There’s also been a Twitter thread that’s… Probably unmanageable at the moment but with notable contributions by folks like Mike Caulfield, Frances Bell, Benjamin, myself and George Station who started the thread (I’m the one who linker danah boyd before watching her video to the end, someone, i think Leo Havemann, linked Renée and I think Sundi linked Benjamin’s article). I apologize in advance for all unreferenced anything else in this post. But all of the refs are probably in the reference list of my thesis. If you missed any of these… I’m going to offer a partial summary of key points. To me, danah boyd’s keynote has two main threads. One identifies a problem which reminds me of something Mike Caulfield had mentioned recently and which many of us who teach encounter: critical thinking turning into unstoppable skepticism such that everything seems equally questionable to people, particularly young people. I had responded to Mike that William Perry’a model of intellectual development calls this Multiplicity and it is a stage of “anything goes” that precedes the more mature Contextual Relativism. Perry’s model is problematic, however, given it’s based on mostly white male Harvard students and has been extended and modified by many folks including Baxter Magolda who modifies it with Belenkey et al’s work on Women’s Ways of Knowing – finding pathways to mature critical thinking that aren’t based on skepticism but rather on empathetic understanding of the other, connected knowing, on the path towards constructed knowing. Back to danah. Her keynote included several statements that struck a chord. But the most important ones, I felt, related to how traditional ways of teaching critical thinking and media literacy are about asserting authority over epistemology. It’s… A strange phrasing imho, but I kind of think I get what she means… I think overall, critical thinking, North American model, focuses on technical skills of detecting fallacies and constructing rational arguments… In order to “win” an argument (an instrumental end). And because there are no social justice values linked with this, one could use one’s critical thinking for good or for bad (Richard Paul calls the bad “weak sense” critical thinking which only confirms our own biases/worldviews, vs “strong sense”, which involves seeing multiple world views. Something like that). Now danah boyd’s solutions to the problems she poses are… A little less than impressive, which I think is what Renée and Benjamin detail in their responses. But danah also makes a strawman out of media literacy, because she seems to be saying things like the critiques of fake news are meant to make us go back to trusting mainstream media…. Whereas my (limited) understanding of critical media literacy is that it does in fact encourage us to question not only how messages are represented and how images/words are chosen to pass particular values/impressions on, but also to question the power structures behind anything in any media, and so of course, just as fake news is fueled by powerful corporate and political interests, traditional media has always been fueled by these, to a certain extent. Just perhaps different in magnitude and more accountable than the complete fakeness that is more common now. Meaning, news was always biased, but completely untrue news was held accountable. Although, really, don’t get me started on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq which the US used to invade Iraq but were never found… But you know. Renée calls this out directly ” those who teach media literacy as a valorization of mainstream media or who present it as merely making simplistic distinctions between fact and opinion.” and she also makes an excellent point here: “it’s important for young people to learn about the economics of news as an industry and as a political force without promoting either blind trust in mainstream news media or cultivating debilitating cynicism.” To me, Renée’s post is really good in pointing out what media literacy is. Because danah boyd’s talk was unfair to media literacy as a whole. But Renée recognizes that some people are taught a dumbed down version of it, and that’s probably what danah was talking about, and I’m wondering if that’s what is taught in schools – because many people won’t go on to college and that’s all the formal media literacy they’ll get. But Renée mentions also empowerment via media literacy and gives examples that seem to be targeting k-12…so I don’t know. One word I don’t see in Renée’s post is justice or social justice. I found oppression once. I’ll circle back to this. But it’s not a shortcoming of her post. It’s just something I want to add. Benjamin’s post (which Renée points to) mainly critiques danah for her simplistic/individualistic/psychological take on the matter because of several things
  1. She does not mention the role of platforms in perpetuating these problems, nor does she critique the power they hold or the values behind their designs
  2. She ignores power structures and focuses instead on working on students’ minds.
Benjamin critiques danah’s call for cognitive strength training – which in her keynote entails promoting in young people, abilities to understand different epistemologies (a call to empathy?), to look at things outside their context (presumably to be objective?) and to work on overcoming confirmation and selection bias. Like Benjamin, I agree these are good and needed but not enough. But they’re good and needed and important not just because working on individuals is within our circle of control as educators, but because I do believe if more human beings in the world had more understanding of the other and more awareness of their own biases, we might go towards having fewer programmers who created algorithms which took biased training sets and gave us back injustice in the form of algorithms claiming to be neutral but were really algorithms of oppression as Safiyya Noble calls them. But what is altogether missing from danah boyd’s talk is that any kind of literacy, if taught as a technical thing, including her list, without teaching about
  1. Values of social justice
  2. Deep consciousness of the ways in which power and oppression work in the world and have historically worked in the world
Teaching literacy without these can always backfire. The solution to this issue is much larger than a set of steps. What Benjamin emphasizes in his post about recognizing the power of oppression the platforms hold is in itself a dimension of critical literacy youth and all of us need to develop. Benjamin writes this very clearly here :
We’re not fighting a misunderstanding between two parties with the same amount of power. We’re fighting active disinformation fueled by hate groups and spread by algorithms outside of our democratic control. boyd, who works for Microsoft Research, never once mentions a tech company or platform. At a minimum, we need to be literate about how those platforms shape our understanding of the world.
But I’m going to circle back to something. Maybe it’s not directly there, but checking our own selection and confirmation bias is in itself helpful to developing a social justice orientation. As are danah boyd’s other recommendations (and I have no idea why she refers to them as cognitive strength because I’d never heard the term before and it sounds a bit off to me). Yes the platforms have power and it is oppressive power. But if the recipients of all the platforms produce are critical, empathetic individuals who care about social justice, and who also understands how platforms work… Wouldn’t those platforms wield less power over us? Danah boyd’s solution is missing the questioning of oppressive power structures while overly inflating the importance of individual agency. The problem with people who focus on agency is that they don’t keep in mind what Martha Nussbaum calls “combined capability” which is the ways in which the environment can restrict someone’s ability to do what they are capable of. Given what we know about algorithms and platforms, individuals’ agency is limited. But it’s not zero, and it’s worth working on. On the other hand, focusing only on the power of the platforms can make us despair because they are outside our circle of control and sometimes even sphere of influence. The platforms reproduce oppression because
  1. Oppression and injustice are already the status quo
  2. Algorithms and platforms sometimes mirror the status quo
  3. Algorithms and platforms sometimes exacerbate and amplify the injustice in the status quo
  4. People who work on these platforms and people who hold them accountable don’t have social justice as their bottom line
  5. Society has huge chunks of people who don’t have a problem seeing oppression and social injustice – as long as it’s mainly happening to someone else
I am no scholar of media literacy or propaganda or any of those things. But I don’t believe Hitler could have brainwashed people if they had no seedlings to start with. I don’t think Trump made Americans more racist. I think (and I know Tressie Mcamillan-Cottom has said this) America already harbored lots of racism. Trump just kinda made it OK to be overtly so. Platforms are helping normalize what is unacceptable. But they’re not creating human cruelty and violence. What am I getting at? Let me try to summarize this…
  1. I think there’s a key difference between critical or literacy as a technical thing which can absolutely be used “wrong” vs critical as critical pedagogy meaning conscious of oppressive/unjust power structures
  2. We cannot work on individuals and ignore the broader power structures
  3. BUT ALSO we cannot just stop at critiquing the broader power structures. We need to also work at the individual level to nurture agency that can stand up to this broader injustice at the individual and colletive level, not just for advocacy. Otherwise, the power of the platforms becomes debilitating.
Benjamin cites Chris Gilliard’s recent article:
Silicon Valley is literally built on segregation, which makes white supremacy a feature rather than a bug as Chris Gilliard argues: “design of these platforms, well-aligned with their racist history, promotes notions of free speech and community that are designed to protect the folks in society who already benefit from the most protections.”
Big yes to this. But what are we doing to combat the racism and injustice in the world itself? How do you create a society that is both deeply aware of historical and current injustices within it, but is also working to actively do something about it? Neither psychology nor sociology alone will fix this. Criticality does have a cognitive dimension (which can include some technical skills, but also digging deep into power structures), but it also has an interpersonal dimension (how we behave towards others) and it has an attitudinal dimension (where inclination towards social justice and empathy come in) – and it should also have an action dimension (clear in critical pedagogy texts, but not critical thinking; see also Barnett’s work on criticality as well; rarely mentioned in US literature). I’ll give a quick nod to Mike Caulfield’s Three Acts which go through the basic fact-checking, down to questioning broader power structures, and into possible action students can take – this latter really important so students don’t feel frustrated by what they’ve learned and don’t turn into mere perpetual skeptics. I think!!  

In the End…

  • How can digital media that enables connection, creation, and collaboration enable us to better fulfill a school/ campus/ organization’s mission/ enact our values?

Digital media that enables connection can help people build a better understanding of one another. In Engagement in a Time of Polarization, we discussed how difficult it can be to create meaningful connections in this political climate especially with digital media. But through discussions and videos there was an emphasis on deep listening; listening to develop a deeper understanding of someone’s perspective/experiences instead of listening to immediately respond. This is something I truly believe UW Bothell could benefit from. With UW Bothell’s core values and mission statement emphasizing inclusive culture- building an inclusive and supportive learning community, UW Bothell could utilize digital media to build better connections and collaboration especially with students. This utilization could also lead to better communication and transparency between students and administration. One recent example at UWB that I feel is the start of better understanding of students is the social media campaign the Diversity Center had that welcomed UWB students to share their identities with the hashtag #ibelongUWB. Though this campaign didn’t get the most engagement, I thought the idea and message around it were great. I think the engagement was low because UWB doesn’t do many social media campaigns and students are still learning about the Diversity Center itself. But this type of use of digital media could potentially help build better bridges between students and the administration.

  • What are some limitations in the potential of digital media for enacting our mission and values?
Some limitations in the potential use of digital media in enacting the mission/values are definitely the high risk of miscommunication and messaging mishaps. I feel some of the biggest problems especially for UWB have been through the messaging especially via email. When I think of this issue I think of intentions versus impact. I truly believe may the intentions of the messages are good but the impact the messages have with students is not realized and then students become distrustful of the administration and it become a vicious cycle. If digtal media is utilized in the future, the administration would need to provide technical training and training non equity and inclusion specifically on how to converse with students from marginalized and diverse backgrounds. As much as I feel digital media could potentially build better connections between students and the administration, the implementation and utilization of it would have to be thoroughly throughout. But I strongly feel UWB needs to work on their messaging and impact with students before exploring the uses of social/digital media.

Polarization at UWB

This is the prompt for my last discussion of the #engageMOOC online class: What does polarization currently look like in YOUR workplace, or campus, or community…online and off? What resources are you turning to in order to try to deal with it? Is there anything you are currently engaged with that you can share with us? I was mostly interested in this course because the polarization at my campus has been so visible. In the last month there have been two hate crimes against Muslim students and it has created a lot of tension between our students and our administration. The students, especially Muslim students, have expressed their concerns of safety and their disappointment in response from the administration. This was publicly discussed during a town hall meeting after one of the incidents. The administration was very dismissive and defensive when students expressed their opinions. This is what bothers me; the lack of empathy, listening and understanding from the administration. When administration acts like this the students don’t feel heard and feel ignored. I feel this is what creates the tension and the increasing polarization at UWB. How I try and help build a bridge between students and administration I’ve talked to students like the Muslim Student Association, engaged with my departments’ Diversity Committee on how to listen to students needs while working with administration, worked with faculty who have talked to our administration to try and help each group come together and openly talk about the issues- create transparency. The Diversity Center at UWB also created a social campaign to let students tell their stories and help build community. The campaign was called “I Belong at UWB: Narratives of Identity, Hope and Community.” I really loved this response because it gave an opportunity for students to share their stories, identities and show the campus who goes here. I hope we can create an environment where students and administration can have open discussions and deeply listen to students concerns. Below is the poster for the campaign: IBelongUWB

Engaging Your Local Community Online: The Overlooked Hard Work of #EngageMOOC

“What does polarization currently look like in YOUR workplace, or campus, or community…online and off? What resources are you turning to in order to try to deal with it? Is there anything you are currently engaged with that you can share with us?” These questions from the last week of #EngageMOOC are a bit difficult for me to answer. When most people read these, they probably think of things like block walking, or soup kitchens, or community groups, or things that are in our physical communities around us. I certainly find those things important. My whole family climbed in a car to travel in the pouring rain to the meeting of local chapter of a political party in the new town we just moved to temporarily… only to find it canceled due to rain. What a bunch of snowflakes! (it was actually pretty heavy and we should have known better ourselves) Our attempts to get connected with people in our area have been a bit of a bust, as we just miss finding out about activities the day after or they get rained out. However, even once we find those activities, they will still be events for a specific political party. Polarization in our area currently looks like everyone doing political stuff with those that they agree with, and then not talking about political issues the rest of the time to avoid arguments. Oh, sure – you ask any Republican if they know any Democrats and they will respond with “I have plenty of liberal friends!” or vice versa for Democrats. This will usually be followed by some statement that indicates they really don’t understand the other side. A few weeks ago I saw our local HOA representative raving all over Facebook about “silly liberals.” I decided to message him about his activities, how public they were, and how they may make the few liberals in our community feel. Nothing accusatory, just asking him to consider their viewpoint. It was not a hostile conversation through DM, but he was pretty assured there was no harm in his words. Mostly just “liberals do it too” and “I have lots of liberal friends are okay with it” and so on. I don’t really think I got anywhere with him. He is now leading a grassroots “community task force” to take a look at security at our community schools – and he has been clear he wants to push for armed teachers like neighboring school districts already have. You see, the “arming teachers debate” is not theoretical to us in Texas. We already have schools that have armed teachers for years now (many of the “staff” that are armed there are teachers). This is the school district next to ours. People in my child’s school district are now asking “why can’t we have armed teachers like Argyle ISD?” People in Argyle ISD are also not content to just keep it there:

“I see a future where schools will be lumped into two categories. Gun free zones and ones that are not.”

“Argyle ISD and the Chief have done exactly what is needed to protect against the evils and evil people of this world!”

“Where Argyle is now, and where they started, and where they are headed is the future of safety in our world. They are not following, they and leading by example and showing everyone what must be done to protect our children at school.”

“Arming teachers is safety – they will not shoot without reason! Grow up people!!! Welcome to the millennial generation!!!”

To be honest, there really isn’t much I can do to change these people’s minds. But I have gotten through to some through debates on Facebook. Yes, I said debates on Facebook. Look, I know I am not going to change the world by debating on Facebook. I know that it is not for everyone. But so many people are so rarely exposed to ideas outside of their comfort zone – that silently reading a debate on Facebook might be the only time they are exposed to opposing viewpoints. You see, I bring up different points not to win the argument, but to expose the larger number of those reading the posts to different viewpoints. Of course, I am not talking about arguing with “that uncle” on my private Facebook wall. I go to local newspaper and community groups and pages to bring up different views for consideration – from pro-vaccination to stricter gun regulation to transgender bathroom access to Black Lives Matters. Yeah, its not exactly what anyone would call “fun.” Usually it goes nowhere. But then there is that random DM from someone that tells me I have changed their mind on something. So I know it is getting through in some ways to some people, even though they might not let me know every time. Look, if my strongly pro-Trump cousin can suddenly come out and post a rant on Facebook about how he is tired of Trump and will no longer vote Republican until they clean up their act… and he is quoting some ideas that I know I posted earlier… you know that I or someone else he is following on Facebook are getting through to him. We can’t just write these people off as extreme viewpoints that will never change. I get that it is hard work to get through to people, especially in online environments. It is not for everyone. But if that is something you feel you can do (and I wouldn’t recommend doing it constantly – I frequently will just get off social media for days at a time to recover from debates)… don’t feel bad for doing it. Don’t feel like your part is “less than” or “not as hard.” We need people to engage with different viewpoints, especially those where we are standing on issue of equality or safety that should be the baseline middle point (but has been labeled as “polarized” by others).
Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Quick thought on #engageMOOC

Reading Time: 1 I’ve heard #engageMOOC will stay live for a year.. But in case I want to keep using it in my classes, I’m gonna ask my students to point out to me and each other.. And vote… On which readings and videos and activities resonated with them most and why. And what kinds of things they wish there was more of… And hopefully next year if there’s no access to #engageMOOC itself, those would be readings in the pool of readings – or perhaps in a year, a more up-to-date reading list that is either by same authors or same topics or same type of topic. For example. Last year, I divided Mike Caulfield’ s book Web Literacy for Students among 4 groups to read and present. This semester the engagemooc reading kinda does this more succinctly and we can spend more time practicing the four moves. Just one idea..

“Engagement in a Time of Polarisation

I have just taken part in my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on the theme of Engagement in a Time of Polarisation. Firstly, let me tell you that I did not know what MOOC stood for, I had to look it up and the main reason I joined the course was because the incredible Bonnie Stewart organised it, a woman who I have met and worked with on the conference circuit. I was also intrigued and curious about the course title as I believe story is a powerful way of engaging all people.
The course was split into four main components, Public Engagement, Understanding Polarisation, Navigating Participatory Engagement and Engagement Across Perspectives and involved people from across the globe who worked in many different areas though there was a focus on digitalisation and it's role in creating polarisation.
As soon as I started the course there was a battle within myself as I do not have an academic background and I found much of the language difficult to understand. It reminded me of my experience in learning Swedish, where it all starts with the grammar. I was not taught English grammar when I was young so I had nothing to hang my new knowledge onto. There is a problem if you are trying to tell me about the verb form coming in a different position after the sentence starts with a temporal condition, if I have no idea what a temporal condition means in any language! My frustration was the same with #engageMOOC with the word 'agnotology' being used (meaning culturally induced ignorance,) and written pieces like this:
Some ways to promote such engagement are annotation tools. Given the rise of tools like hypothes.is for text and EdPuzzle/VideoAnt etc. for videos, it seems there are ways to invite contextualization/credibility checks of many types of digital artifacts. These tools can be clunky or confusing but suggest one path to remediate the issue of decontextualization Shaffer cogently identifies.
I have no idea what these annotation tools are and never knew 'remediate' was a word! Help!! This was all compounded by the irony of the Course being about engagement, as I was feeling a little un-engaged because it was taking so long to understand the concepts and language. Sometimes when I read articles or information and it is written in accessible language I feel like I am in a kayak, darting through the fast waters of a deep river, excited, exhilarated, enjoying the rapidity and dexterity of the content. Often with #engageMOOC I was in the kayak but the waters did not hold me up and I clunked into rocks and had to get out and occasionally push. However this is not to say I did not thoroughly enjoy it and gain a lot of new information and insight from it, not the least being how language is vital for engagement! My ignorance in some ways was a blessing because it enabled me to feel like I was stupid and 'uneducated' when I know I am not. How many times do we unintentionally put people into that position when we rely on language that is not accessible to all? This is nothing to do with dumbing down, it is to do with opening up the doors to complex ideas by ensuring the key can be used by everybody.For me
, language is the first key to opening the doors of engagement.
So, if language is the first key to engagement, what comes next? I believe this is where curiosity steps in, there must be a desire to know something that we do not already know about 'the other.' Often this is generated by finding out something that goes against the story we already have, an 'I didn't know that' moment. In my work this often comes from the sharing of stories, cultural or personal, that challenge the overriding narrative in mainstream media. (more on how they become the main narrative later thanks to the MOOC!) I remember when I first worked with men in a high security prison. I was curious about what 'they' would be like. When I heard their stories, my whole view on these men changed and although I could not condone much of what they had done, I absolutely had a better understanding of what systems had been in place that caused them to do what they had done. So curiosity is the second key in opening the doors of engagement.
And as I am a storyteller and in stories '3' is the magic number, we need the third key to open the doors to engagement. In her book, The Story Factor, Annette Simmons states "Objective data does not go deep enough to engender trust." I agree with this. If you look at my previous blogs we know that if we purely give data it only impacts on the language processing area of our brains, (very simply put.) If we want people to emotionally connect, we need rich language, metaphor, story. To trust someone or something, we need to know them, we need to know their story. Thisvideo is a possible example. The CNN reporter is giving the woman the facts but she is not engaging with them at all. Perhaps if he told her the story of how and why she would understand better.Thus, story is the third key in opening the doors to engagement.
The next big question is how do we give everybody a copy of the keys? In our wonderful digital world, surely we can make them accessible to everybody. This is very much what the #engageMOOC was about, how the digital world is manipulating the story and offering us keys to false treasures. In the old days a hypnotist could hold his fat, gold watch up in front of a theatre of people, swing it from side to side and create false realities for them whilst he took the money from their pockets, now the hypnotists sit behind our computer screens and hold up algorithms that swing information from side to side and distort our realities until we believe the truth is a lie and a lie is a truth. They are expert storytellers with powerful, powerful tools. For me the most useful component of #engageMOOC came in the form ofMike Caulfield -who gave simple techniques that allow us to track news items/images to their source and find if they are true or false. In a world where children are exposed to the internet daily, surely we are beholden as a society to train them to become detectives of the truth in the vast forest of the world wide web. They need to be able to recognise whether that is their granny or in fact the big bad wolf wearing the granny's clothes!
I truly believe the internet is an amazing tool and it promotes the sharing of stories. I often smile when I hear 'adults' saying that young people do not talk anymore as they are always on their phones - what do you think they are doing on their phones? They are talking! In his book 'The Story Wars'Jonah Sachsuses the phrase 'digitoral' to describe the next main phase that is coming in terms of communication. There is no longer a single source of news or information that comes from the BBC, CNN, The Times, The New Yorker, Al Jazeera; now there is an amazing array of voices to be heard and images to be seen. Our job is to ensure that we can share with others how to identify those voices (or bots) that would seek to drive us apart with false narratives. Our job is to show how we can build bridges of engagement between those that have been driven apart by their belief in those false narratives. Our job is to introduce a narrative of hope, of peace, of understanding and reconciliation. Our job is to use accessible language, promote curiosity, provide platforms and tools for the sharing of 'true' stories and I believe #engageMOOC was one of the ways to do this.

Kick the Ballistics

The other day a gun lobby spokesperson said that the media love mass shootings. This predictably caused some controversy, but the main point is true: if it bleeds, it leads. Stories of tragedy draw attention, and attention is monetized in advertising. What interested me about the statement was that it is exactly what I often think of the gun lobby. Mass shootings are followed by spike in firearm sales, because some people worry that this time there will be legislation. Mass shootings are like xmas for gun sales.
…the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim 6:10)
But the truth is no one loves it when children get murdered. Owners and investors love profits. That doesn’t mean they are particularly happy about the circumstances. The profit motive impacts how they respond. The way news media reports on these tragedies sensationalizes them. It inspires copycats. A more moral course would be to downplay the sensationalism, like they do with reporting on suicides, but that raises the spectre of a loss of market share, and lower profits. Similarly, the firearm industry response to these tragedies is that people should buy more guns. That won’t make people more safe or less tense, and it makes weapons more available to those who would misuse them. Making weapons less easily available would have a negative impact on profits though. For the love of money… I’m no scholar, but even I knew that was a quote from scripture. The context is interesting. Prior to the verse is an instruction to stay away from snark and polarization, and those who would profit from them. Later in the chapter is a commandment to the rich to share their wealth – a highly polarizing proposition in the US today.
Give me a nickel, brother can you spare a dime Money can drive some people out of their minds (O’Jays)
Going back to the start, my main takeaway is that I am just as inclined to contribute to polarization as anyone else, apparently. Something I should watch out for. If we want to be healing and unifying, we shouldn’t try to be united against others, but rather united for something. Us, rather than us vs. them. Easier said than done. Anyway, here’s Troop and Levert to kick the ballistics:

Real vs Fake: Information Literacy

For the #engageMOOC class, we were challenged to use Mike Caulfield’s Four Moves and a Habit which helps readers discern what the truth is in what they are reading online and help with their digital literacy (steps below).


For this challenge I went to his blog and chose an activity to show how the four moves worked. The activity I chose was to verify if a photo of Vladmir Putin was surrounded by other leaders including Trump at an international conference (see below).


My first instinct was to reverse Google image search the image and see where the image came from. The first thing that comes up from this is a suggested word search for the image which is “g20 trump putin fake” which made me instantly realize this picture was fake. When I first saw the image on the blog it definitely looked suspicious, the biggest clue for me was the closeness of Putin’s head to the guys leaning behind him- I felt it was fake from the get go. But I was curious to see what came up when seeing the origins of the image. With the reserve image search, the first link that came up was a link to CNN regarding that G20 summit but did not include the image itself but included other images with Trump and Putin but cited them from Getty images which is a trusted source. The five links under that link were all regarding the circulation of the fake photo and how it was going viral. The links regarding the image being fake also provided the original image from Getty image which did not have Putin in the middle but instead just an empty chair. After finding the evidence that the photo was fake from sources like BusinessInsider and CNN, I decided to do a regular google search with “g20 trump putin fake” which came up with the altered photo in the images section and with similar links stating the image is fake. It also provided links and images with Trump and Putin’s actual conversation at the summit. While doing this research I thought about the Four Moves and it really helped me think about the sources and to dig a little deeper when looking at images or stories online.

Building Local-Global Problem Solving Connections

I've been connecting with people and ideas via Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook for the past 10 years. I currently find Twitter chats more valuable than either other platform so I created this hashtag concept map so others could connect via the same groups I've found. For the past two weeks I've been part of an on-line #EngageMOOC course focused on "Engagement in a time of Polarization".  The content (videos, articles) for the course is hosted on #EdX, so you need to be logged in to read. However, some materials are also available on YouTube and Hypothes.is.   I put the 2/12/18 YouTube hangout video on my Vialogues page, so others could view and offer comments.  I read and commented on the article titled "Power, Polarization and Tech" using Hypothes.is The course content will remain on line for at least one year, in archive format, but without the chatter on Twitter, I'm not certain how many more people will find the information, read it, and engage with others. Furthermore, after a year all of this may disappear. The problems we focus on will extend much longer than that. I've been building a web library for the past 20 years (which before that was a paper-based library hosted at my office in Chicago).  If you view tweets I've posted about #tutor #mentor and #learning, you'll see that I point to this regularly, as a resource for anyone in the world who wants to get involved in reducing poverty, which includes building and sustaining non-school tutor, mentor and learning programs that reach k-12 youth in every high poverty neighborhood of Chicago and any other city. I created the cMap shown below today to illustrate the need to archive information and keep it available for decades and to motivate growing numbers of people to spend time learning from the library to support ways they use their own time, talent, dollars and civic engagement, where ever they live, or in what ever issue they focus on.
Yesterday I attended a lunch event at the Chicago Hyatt Regency in Chicago, along with at least 300 others. I sat between the General Consul from Japan and the General Consul from South Korea. We listened to Senator Tammy Duckworth describe 21st century threats and opportunities. As I listened I tweeted out a wish that all these people were connected and engaged via Twitter chats and other social media platforms, the way I've been growing my engagements. Furthermore, I hoped that more and more of the on-line interactions would point to reading material and videos the way the #engageMOOC course has been doing.
The Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) is an "information based 4-part problem solving strategy, visualized in the cmap at the right, and in this article. It uses information to support decisions and actions, including the flow of resources into high poverty areas. I hope that my conversations on-line and with people I sit next to at lunch will lead them to look at what I'm writing, and will lead them to engage youth as intermediaries, like myself, in bringing more people to on-line forums and on-line libraries.  The video below is an example of what's possible. It was created by an intern from South Korea and it shows work that previous interns did when they were working with me. This is one of many visualizations created by interns between 2005 and 2015.   On this page you can see a list of interns who have worked with my organization, and the universities they came from. I've been reaching out to universities since starting the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) in 1993, with a request for shared ownership that involves students, faculty and alumni. While I've been fortunate to have many interns take short term roles, up to one year, I've not been able to embed a Tutor/Mentor Connection/Institute program on any campus, where it shares the goal of the university and many different departments of the university, as well of many different alumni. I've never been able to bring money to the table, thus my ideas get polite nods and "go find a younger professor" suggestions. Many of the people who I'm meeting in on-line communities come from high schools and higher education.  Here's an article where I invite universities to form an on-campus program that duplicates what I've been trying to do, and does it better, and for many more years into the future. I think this could be happening at the high school level, too.
Learning Communities Graphic created by Intern
At some point in the future a #clmooc that I point to should be one where students and alumni from different universities, in different countries, are sharing work they've been doing to learn what I've been trying to do and to apply those ideas to help reduce poverty in their own communities. Interested? Connect with me @tutormentorteam on Twitter or on Linkedin or Facebook. Or introduce yourself with a comment on this article.