August 7, 2010
As of tonight, the blog has moved over to a Wordpress installation. Go back to http://www.shermandorn.com for newer entries.
August 3, 2010
Anthologize: a blog-to-book tool
Thanks to the folks at George Mason U.'s Center for History and New Media, who put on the One Week | One Tool "digital humanities barn raising" last week, and the dozen digital-humanities coders and other scholars who worked hard last week, the world now has Anthologize, a Wordpress 3.0 plug-in that will allow someone to pull together blog entries for a book or book-like project.
This entry will discuss both the tool and the process I watched from afar (at least through the #oneweek Twitter entries).
Anthologize as tool
I've had the URL for Anthologize since this morning, and I've had other tasks today, so I didn't get around to installing Wordpress and Anthologize on a directory of a server until this afternoon. WP took a few tricks to install (and about 10 minutes, the double the advertised time but who's counting?), but Anthologize was activated in one click. It's a simplified tool without too many options at the moment, but here's roughly what you do to turn blog entries into one of several output formats:
- Create a project entry (title and author)
- Create parts within the project
- (Optional:) Provide a URL for another blog's feed to pull in entries from the external blog
- Slot individual blog entries into the parts of the project
- (Optional:) Edit individual entries within the parts
- Tell Anthologize what you'd like for dedication, acknowledgments, etc. for the whole project
- Tell Anthologize what format you want the project exported into (PDF, ePUB, RTF, or TEI) and what size paper (letter or A4).
That's all: 5-7 steps. I gave it a run with two external blogs, one MovableType and one Wordpress, and it pulls in whatever text is in the feed RSS, a file with the latest N entries in a format that the blog administrator chooses. So if you pull in material from an external blog where the RSS feed is only a teaser of longer entries, you don't get the full text. The blogs I chose didn't have images, so I couldn't test the formatting of images, but the tool handled both blogs reasonably well, given that one RSS feed was only teaser text rather than the full entries.
There is a user group available in Google groups, and I suspect various issues will be picked up within the first week of availability. For example, apparently one of the requirements is that the server have PHP5 (a recent version of one of the underlying tools that Wordpress uses). We'll see what else pops up very quickly, since I suspect some people are going to try this for real work projects. Some of the things this could be useful for:
- Publishing one's own blog that already exists
- Remixing a set of other blogs in a theme, such as a "current-event instant book" to capture what people were writing about a current event. Because one of the output formats is the Text Encoding Initiative, which is one tool for analyzing text, I can imagine some research projects being assisted this option.
- Setting up a book-length project. Example: writing a first draft of a text during a semester, bit by bit, and then sending the output to RTF, which can be edited in a word processor, or to PDF for less formal projects (such as making the compilation available to students for free). Yes, this would work for math and other technical fields, since there is a LaTex plug-in for Wordpress.
I'm a little surprised that the group chose a blog-to-book tool since there are other, similar tools for this task compared with some of the other options they were considering. But the alternative that I've tried (Feedburner) is more difficult to manage and doesn't allow the reformatting/importing/remixing that Anthologize makes available. And it's available to anyone who runs a Wordpress site without too much additional technical knowledge. Another feature I think is specific to Anthologize: TEI as an output format.
One more item: Because of the community of coders that this team is connected to, I suspect that it will become more polished and useful over the next year or so. (My personal request: a checkbox-and-arrow system to allow group selection of entries to move to the book's catalog of items.) That community is available because of the social environment of its creation.
One Week | One Tool as proof of concept
The weeklong work to create Anthologize was possible because of funding from the National Endowment of the Humanities and its Office of Digital Humanities, organized by one of the best-known digital-humanities centers as a summer institute/workshop. In some ways, it was a proof of concept: can a short-term gathering produce a useful tool? The answer is obvious to anyone who knows individuals or small teams who have produced software in a short time. But this was done on a different theory of action, not knowing what might be produced, a get them to come, and they will build IT model. Was it wise for NEH to bankroll a humanities BarCamp with a mission? I think you can consider the concept proved in the Christopher Marlowe sense if not a mathematical-proof sense.
There are a handful of blog entries written by One Week participants, but because they kept the tool under wraps until today, the entries are less detailed than I hope to see in the next week or so. One critical question: how did the group make the decision to create this particular tool? The first day was apparently devoted to brainstorming ideas, which the participants narrowed to six finalists and then the eventual project. I know the other finalists, and I thought three other possibilities were equally viable: a timeline tool (or extension of existing software to create timelines), geotagging for archival databases (such as the Omeka online exhibit package), or a "Ken Burnsish video in 5 minutes" tool, the multimedia equivalent of Anthologize. You'll see outsider/nonparticipant feedback last Tuesday morning on the finalists in the Twitter feed (#oneweek), which appears split between academic and public historians, with the academics more interested in the blog-to-book and timeline possibilities, and the archive/museum world interested more in the others. Maybe my heart is partly in the public-history world, but I thought the group would go for the geotagging or Burns-o-matic options, if only because there were well-known tools for the other tasks. In particular, I was guessing that an Omeka geotagging plug-in would be the choice, or maybe something to add timelines to .kml files. So I'm intensely curious: what was the reasoning of participants to make Anthologize rather than the other finalists?
Another question, which Tom Scheinfeldt has been writing about: how do you manage an impromptu team for an urgent task, and how does the team work? In some ways, this is the micro-question to match the macro-politics of open source (see Steve Weber's 2004 book, The Success of Open Source). Suggestion for the next One Week | One Tool workshop (and, yes, I'm betting that there'll be a second edition): invite an urban anthropologist. (Anyone written an anthropology of a physical barn-raising recently? I vaguely recall there being an article from the late 1950s on Amish barn-raising, but I suspect its authors are no longer available.)
Bottom line: Anthologize is interesting both as a package in itself and as a test of academic short-term projects in the humanities.
December 19, 2009
What can graphic novels teach us about verbs in static displays?
I'm in my office this afternoon for a few hours getting some work-related puttering done.
While I'm procrastinating on the puttering for a few minutes, I want to talk aloud (or write publicly) about some thoughts I had in the last few days about how graphic novels convey verbs. Here's the problem: most forms of visualizing information are all about nouns--whether points on a graph or text inside chart boxes. In a few cases (such as with the wonderful gapminder.org), visualizations have implicit verbs (in Gapminder, changes). But for the most part, the existing "grammar" of concept mapping is all about nouns. I realized this in June when attending a digital-humanities unconference and someone who worked on Internet 2 was running a show-and-tell about a number of visualization tools. Great stuff! And then I realized why I was so uncomfortable: where were the verbs? Where do you get to show what the implicit model of the world is?
This issue is important because however useful visual representation of stuff (i.e., nouns) is, it is enormously hard and rare to put verbs in the picture. Minard's famous graph of Frenchmen dying throughout Napoleon's invasion of Russia is the exception, not the rule. But we think about the world with verbs as well as nouns, and those of us with some quantitative skills need to figure out how to (and help others) put verbs in visual representations, else we will be stuck with cryptic, largely useless concept maps as the default, too-often-brainless attempt to visualize ideas.
That challenge has been nagging at me for half a year now, and probably because it's the end of the semester, a few days ago I realized something obvious: what visual medium is able to convey verbs in what is ostensibly a static representation? Oh, duh, yeah: comics. Graphic novels. Whatever you call them, they've got action. Oh, boy, do they have action!
I am not sure exactly where to go with this. I don't have anything clear in mind except a few fragments: something that's the reverse of Edward Tufte's sparklines (reduction of visual information to stick in a line of text), or maybe something like the xkcd stick figures dancing within and on the margins of graphs, talking about what's happening. This is one of those times I wish I had wasted months of my adolescence reading comic books, because if I had, I would know exactly how graphic novels represent verbs.
October 10, 2009
One Blog Schoolhouse: the PDF
Should've been done a few months ago, but if you want to read the entire text of One Blog Schoolhouse, it's now available as a nonprinting PDF. (I recommend that you click the "PDF" link in brackets, since I don't know if scribd will convert a nonprinting PDF.) The entire thing. Absolutely free to read.
September 30, 2009
The Child has arrived!
This week I received my contributor's copy of The Child: An Encyclopedic Companion. I have a single entry (on dropouts), and it's clear there's lots of good stuff in it on a range of topics, including a substantial section with historical and social-science perspectives on families. I think the cost is about on par for academic encyclopedias ($75), and there's a 20% discount right now (or an after-discount price of $60). Disclosure: No royalties for me if you buy it, or don't. But you can definitely ask your library to buy it.
June 30, 2009
Find the typo! and other national-stage blogging
March 6, 2009
Kindle version of "One-Blog Schoolhouse" available!
The Kindle version of One-Blog Schoolhouse is now available, for approximately half the price of the paper version. (Yes, I get less money per copy for the electronic version. That's okay. You don't get the cool blurbs that are at the front of the trade paper version.) The trade paper version is also available at the online Barnes and Noble store.
August 25, 2008
Eduwonkette is a graduate student
Who says that students are powerless? Eduwonkette is Jennifer Jennings, a doctoral sociology student at Columbia University. In retrospect, it makes an enormous amount of sense, and "grad student at Columbia" was one of the categories Leo Casey and I tossed around this spring as a possibility for Eduwonkette's identity. Jennings has worked with demographer Andy Beveridge of Queens College, and on the blog she's used maps to illustrate the relationships between social class and various measures of educational opportunity in New York. Her first article (several years ago) was about focusing on the "bubble kids" in Texas, and she's written consistently with the same concerns on the blog. (It's a very good article, and I cited it in Accountability Frankenstein.) I suppose I could say, "Yes, of course I knew it was her! I was just being polite by not mentioning it!" But that would be stupid.
For a variety of reasons, her becoming public/non-anonymous now is good timing. She's poked at the soft underbelly of the Klein et al. publicity/power machine, and I don't think there's anything the machine can do to her. And if it tries, it'll look very silly. Welcome to public blogging, Ms. Jennings. I think you'll find you enjoy it as much as being the caped crusader.
July 9, 2008
Can reporters raise their game in writing about education research?
I know that I still owe readers the ultimate education platform and the big, hairy erratum I promised last month, but the issue of research vetting has popped up in the education blogule*, and it's something I've been intending to discuss for some time, so it's taking up my pre-10:30-am time today. In brief, Eduwonkette dismisses the new Manhattan Institute report on Florida's high-stakes testing regime as thinktankery, drive-by research with little credibility because it hasn't been vetted by peer review. Later in the day, she modified that to explain why she was willing to promote working papers published through the National Bureau of Economic Research or the RAND Corporation: they have a vetting process for researchers or reports, and their track record is longer. Jay Greene (one of the Manhattan Institute report's authors and a key part of the think tank's stable of writers) replied with probably the best argument against eduwonkette (or any blogger) in favor of using PR firms for unvetted research: as with blogs, publicizing unvetted reports involves a tradeoff between review and publishing speed, a tradeoff that reporters and other readers are aware of.
Releasing research directly to the public and through the mass media and internet improves the speed and breadth of information available, but it also comes with greater potential for errors. Consumers of this information are generally aware of these trade-offs and assign higher levels of confidence to research as it receives more review, but they appreciate being able to receive more of it sooner with less review.
In other words, caveat lector.
We've been down this road before with blogs in the anonymous Ivan Tribble column in fall 2005, responses such as Timothy Burke's, a second Tribble column, another round of responses such as Miriam Burstein's, and an occasional recurrence of sniping at blogs (or, in the latest case, Laura Blankenship's dismay at continued sniping). I could expand on Ernest Boyer's discussion of why scholarship should be defined broadly, or Michael Berube's discussion of "raw" and "cooked" blogs, but if you're reading this entry, you probably don't need all that. Suffice to say that there is a broad range of purpose and quality of blogging, some blogs such as The Valve or the Volokh Conspiracy have become lively places for academics, while others such as the The Panda's Thumb are more of a site for the public intellectual side of academics. These are retrospective judgments that are only possible after many months of consistent writing in each blog.
This retrospective judgment is a post facto evaluation of credibility, an evaluation that is also possible for institutional work. That judgment is what Eduwonkette is referring to when making a distinction between RAND and NBER, on the one hand, and the Manhattan Institute, on the other. Because of previous work she has read, she trusts RAND and NBER papers more. (She's not alone in that judgment of Manhattan Institute work, but I'm less concerned this morning with the specific case than the general principles.)
If an individual researcher needed to rely on a track record to be credible, we'd essentially be stuck in the intellectual equivalent of country clubs: only the invited need apply. That exists to some extent with citation indices such as Web of Science, but it's porous. One of the most important institutional roles of refereed journals and university presses is to lend credibility to new or unknown scholars who do not have a preexisting track record. To a sociologist of knowledge, refereeing serves a filtering purpose to sort out which researchers and claims to knowledge will be able to borrow institutional credibility/prestige.
Online technologies have created some cracks in these institutional arrangements in two ways: reducing the barriers to entry for new credibility-lending arrangements (i.e., online journals such as the Bryn Mawr Classical Review or Education Policy Analysis Archives) and making large banks of disciplinary working papers available for broad access (such as NBER in economics or arXiv in physics). To some extent, as John Willinsky has written, this ends up in an argument over the complex mix of economic models and intellectual principles. But its more serious side also challenges the refereeing process. To wit, in judging a work how much are we to rely on pre-publication reviewing and how much on post-publication evaluation and use?
To some extent, the reworking of intellectual credibility in the internet age will involve judgments of status as well as intellectual merit. To avoid doing so risks the careers of new scholars and status-anxious administrators, which is why Harvard led the way on open-access archiving for "traditional" disciplines and Stanford has led the way on open-access archiving for education, and I would not be surprised at all if Wharton or Chicago leads in an archiving policy for economics/business schools. Older institutions with little status at risk in open-access models might make it safer for institutions lower in the higher-ed hierarchy (or so I hope). (Explaining the phenomenon of anonymous academic blogging is left as an exercise for the reader.)
But the status issue doesn't address the intellectual question. If not for the inevitable issues of status, prestige, credibility, etc., would refereeing serve a purpose? No serious academic believes that publication inherently blesses the ideas in an article or book; publishable is different from influential. Nonetheless, refereeing serves a legitimate human side of academe, the networking side that wants to know which works have influenced others, which are judged classics, ... and which are judged publishable. Knowing that an article has gone through a refereeing process comforts the part of my training and professional judgment that values a community of scholarship with at least semi-coherent heuristics and methods. That community of scholarship can be fooled (witness Michael Bellesiles and the Bancroft Prize), but I still find it of some value.
Beyond the institutional credibility and community-of-scholarship issues, of course we can read individual works on their own merit, and I hope we all do. Professionally-educated researchers have more intellectual tools which we can bring to bear on working papers, think-tank reports, and the like. And that's our advantage over journalists; we know the literature in our area (or should), and we know the standard methodological strengths and weaknesses in the area (or should). On the other hand, journalists are paid to look at work quickly, while I always have competing priorities the day a think-tank report appears.
That gap provides a structural advantage to at least minimally-funded think tanks: they can hire publicists to push reports, and reporters will always be behind the curve in terms of evaluating the reports. More experienced reporters know a part of the relevant literature and some of the more common flaws in research, but the threshold for publication in news is not quality but newsworthiness. As news staffs shrink, individual reporters find that their beats become much larger, time for researching any story shorter, and the news hole chopped up further and further. (News blogs solve the news-hole problem but create one more burden for individual reporters.)
Complicating reporters' lack of time and research background is the limited pool of researchers who carve out time for reporters' calls and who understand their needs. In Florida, I am one of the usual suspects for education policy stories because I call reporters back quickly. While a few of my colleagues disdain reporting or fear being misquoted, the greater divide is cultural: reporters need contacts to respond within hours, not days, and they need something understandable and digestible. If a reporter leaves me a message and e-mails me about a story, I take some time to think about the obvious questions, figure out a way of explaining a technical issue, and try to think about who else the reporter might contact. It takes relatively little time, most of my colleagues could outthink me in this way, and somehow I still get called more than hundreds of other education or history faculty in the state. But enough about me: the larger point is that reporters usually have few contacts who have both the expertise and time to read a report quickly and provide context or evaluation before the reporter's deadline. Education Week reporters have more leeway because of the weekly cycle, but when the goal of a publicist is to place stories in the dailies, they have all the advantages with general reporters or reporters new to the education beat.
In this regard, the Hechinger Institute's workshops provide some important help to reporters, but everything I have read about the workshops are usually oriented to current topics, providing ideas for stories, and a matter of general context and "what's hot" rather than helping reporters respond to press releases. Yet reporters need the help from a research perspective that's still geared to their needs. So let me take a stab at what should appear in reporting on any research in education, at least from my idiosyncratic readers' perspective. I'll use the reporter's 5 W's, split into publication and methods issues:
- Publication who: authors' names and institutional affiliations (both employer and publisher) are almost always described.
- Publication what: title of the work and conclusions are also almost always described. Reporters are less successful in describing the research context, or how an article fits into the existing literature. Press releases are rarely challenged on claims of uniqueness or what is new about an article, and think-tank reports are far less likely than refereed articles or books to cite the broadly relevant literature. When reporters call me, they frequently ask me to evaluate the methods or meaning but rarely explicitly ask me, "Is this really new?"My suggested classification: entirely new, replicates or confirms existing research, or is counter to existing research. Reporters could address this problem by asking sources about uniqueness, and editors should demand this.
- Publication when: publication date is usually reported, and occasionally the timing context becomes the story (as when a few federal reports were released on summer Fridays).
- Publication where: rarely relevant to reporters, unless the institutional sponsor or author is local.
- Publication why: Usually left implicit or addressed when quoting the "so what?" answer of a study author. Reporters could explicitly state whether the purpose of a study is to answer fundamental issues (such as basic education psychology), applied (as with teaching methods), attempting to influence, etc.
- Publication how: Usually described at a superficial level. Reporters leave the question of refereeing as implicit: they will mention a journal or press, but I rarely see an explicit statement that a publication is either peer-reviewed or not peer-reviewed. There is no excuse for reporters to omit this information.
- Content who: the study participants/subjects are often described if there's a coherent data set or number. Reporters are less successful in describing who are excluded from studies, though this should be important to readers and reporters could easily add this information.
- Content what: how a researcher gathered data and broader design parameters are described if simple (e.g., secondary analysis of a data set) or if there is something unique or clever (as with some psychology research). More complex or obscure measures are usually simplified. This problem could be addressed, but it may be more difficult with some studies than with others.
- Content when: if the data is fresh, this is generally reported. Reporters are weaker when describing reports that rely on older data sets. This is a simple issue to address.
- Content where: Usually reported, unless the study setting is masked or an experimental environment.
- Content why: Reporters usually report the researchers' primary explanation of a phenomenon. They rarely write about why the conclusion is superior to alternative explanations, either the researchers' explanations or critics'. The one exception to this superficiality is on research aimed at changing policy; in that realm, reporters have become more adept at probing for other explanations. When writing about non-policy research, reporters can ask more questions about alternative explanations.
- Content how: The details of statistical analyses are rarely described, unless a reporter can find a researcher who is quotable on it, and then the reporting often strikes me as conclusory, quoting the critic rather than explaining the issue in depth. This problem is the most difficult one for reporters to address, both because of limited background knowledge and also because of limited column space for articles.
Let's see how reporters did in covering the new Manhattan Institute report, using the St Petersburg Times (blog), Education Week (blog thus far), and New York Sun (printed). This is a seat-of-the-pants judgment, but I think it shows the strengths and weaknesses of reporting on education research:
|Criterion||Times (blog)||Ed Week (blog)||Sun|
|Why||Implicit only||Implicit only||Implicit only|
Remarks: I rated the Times and Sun items as weak in "publication what" because there was no attempt to put the conclusions in the broader research context. All pieces implied rather than explicitly stated that the purpose of the report was to influence policy (specifically, to bolster high-stakes accountability policies). Only the Times blog noted that the report was not peer-reviewed. All three had "weak" in "content what" because none of them described the measures (individual student scale scores on science adjusted by standard deviation). Only the Ed Week blog entry mentioned alternative hypotheses. None described the analytical methods in depth.
While some parts of reporting on research is hard to improve on a short deadline (especially describing regression discontinuity analysis or evaluating the report without the technical details), the Ed Week blog entry was better than the others in in several areas, with the important exception of describing the non-refereed nature of the report. So, education reporters: can you raise your game?
* - Blogule is an anagram of globule and connotes something less global than blogosphere. Or at least I prefer it. Could you please spread it?
April 20, 2008
Sketching a course 6
Habits and experience
Today I'm trying desperately to finish a paper that is far too late. Part of the delay is the craziness that is my professional and union life, but another part is that I am delving into two subjects that I have not been diligent in keeping up with. I am keenly interested in them, but they are on the margins of my main research interests, and when one's time is short...
The consequence is that I now have to play catch-up. If I weren't pressed for time in other ways, I would enjoy this process more, because over my life I have repeatedly been required to undergo a "drink from the firehose" experience in reading. It is an exhausting short-term experience, and it challenges me to engage all sorts of skills simultaneously, with the mental effect nothing quite so much like keeping a number of balls in the air at the same time. No, not juggling balls: more like a lit torch, a chef's knife, a soap bubble, and a ceramic bowl filled with yogurt. All of them. If you can keep them up there, it's quite a thrill.
Usually, graduate students have these experiences in high-stakes environments, as major papers at the end of a course. Or, rather, if they do have drink-from-the-firehose feelings, they're not likely to be successful. Is there a way to give them that experience in a strongly positive sense, with far lower stakes?
In more mundane news, I've been suckered into a new exercise regime. No, not suckered: quite enjoyable. But it's another thing I need to schedule. Anyone have a working Time-Turner I can borrow?
December 21, 2007
Guesting on Edwize!
And he's the guy who prosecuted Microsoft for antitrust violations.
November 27, 2007
E-book versions of "Schools as Imagined Communities"
November 3, 2007
American Journal of Sociology review of "Schools as Imagined Communities"
I just found online the book review of Schools as Imagined Communities that Scott Davies wrote in the American Journal of Sociology. It's positive, and it includes the following in the conclusion:
As a whole, the book offers sociologists several themes to ponder, such as the uneasy relation between ideals of school community and formal equality, the tension between legal initiatives and subjective experiences of belonging, and the meandering path from political battle to institutionalized practice. This Canadian reader was particularly alerted to the tacit influence of the American Civil Rights movement and its legal landmarks, such as Brown v. Board of Education, on contemporary notions of educability and rights that are spreading around the globe.
For a variety of reasons, I'm very happy with this review: getting some confirmation from academics you've never met is always pleasant (the ego part), I can see about putting it in my promotion file (the professional part), and the visibility in one of the top sociology journals means that it is more likely to be purchased and assigned in courses, which will propagate the ideas and lead to royalties going to the non-profits that are benefitting from the book (idea and professional society nachas part).
October 30, 2007
Social annotation and the marketplace of ideas
David Rothman has a wonderful idea from the growth of social annotation tools and the development of an open e-book format:
How long until savvy writers pester publishers to let them do interactive e-books? -- where readers' comments can appear in relevant places in the texts or elsewhere in the books. Imagine the possibilities for smart nonfiction writers and those in dream-with-me genres like romance fiction.
I am experimenting this semester with using Diigo to show students in one course my annotations on Supreme Court desegregation opinions. I've been able to provide translations of legal terms (certiorari, de jure, de facto, etc.), tell students where they can skip (e.g., issues of standing, which are tangential to the topics at hand for the course), what passages to read in depth, and some questions to think about specific passages.
There is already BookGlutton's idea for Unbound Reader, based on the epub standard. For those wondering what the One Laptop Per Child initiative is for, imagine an eight-year-old reading a copy of a story and seeing and replying to the comments of other eight-year-olds around the world on the same passage.
For those who wonder about the monetization of this -- how can anyone make money off free books? -- Rothman has an obvious answer:
A community approach is worthwhile in itself, but along the way would reduce losses to piracy. You're less likely to steal from someone whom you and your friends respect. What's more, forum participation could be among the rewards for those who paid voluntarily for books distributed under Creative Commons licenses.
I suspect that savvy musicians think of mp3-sharing in similar ways, and if we're headed back to the days when vinyl records were the a way to get musicians concert gigs, maybe free books are a way to draw people into other ways to remunerate authors. For those in genre fields (romance, science fiction and fantasy, mystery, etc.), midlist authors might find that approach enormously attractive. And those of us in academe? There are some obvious possibilities that appeal to me to provide access to reading but some possibility for revenues where appropriate, such as books that are free online but that carry a Creative Commons license requiring a "binding license" fee, so anyone can read a book but where publishers or copy shops need to pay to distribute bound copies. This idea adds to that imaginary repertoire.
As Rothman notes, this potential requires a standard for annotation to be folded into the next generation of epub standards.
October 19, 2007
The first entry for this blog is dated March 24, 2001, with 2400 days between that entry and this one. (For those who check permalinks, there are two reasons why this entry is number 1053 instead of 1000: some entries get uploaded twice by mistake, so one copy must be deleted, and there is another, rather quiescent blog using the software and database, and those entries are part of the count.) When I started blogging, I was a tenure-track assistant professor and one of a handful of historians or education folks writing in this new online journal form. It started on Livejournal and then moved here a few years later, when I decided an eponymous domain was useful. Now, everyone and her brother has a blog, and I am but one voice of hundreds of thousands, and that trend is just fine. On average, I have written something every few days on topics ranging from my classes and research to education policy, academic freedom, and various bits of my academic life, and while I am not Samuel Pepys, some of you would surely disagree.
Ivan Tribbles of the world aside, blogging fulfills the commandment of Russell Jacoby, Go thou into the world and speak, lest thy thoughts waste in the vault of academe. He didn't quite say that, but he did call for academics to spend more time as public intellectuals, and I cannot think of a more public and accessible forum than a blog.
August 6, 2007
Framing NCLB debates
Matthew Yglesias has a point about the the details of NEA's No Contractor Left Behind flyer passed out liberally at YearlyKos this weekend. Yglesias notes that the message of the flyer relies on sloppy reasoning and is more sensationalist than sensible.
I'm worried by something else about the flyer: it's irrelevant to NCLB policy debates. As I've argued before, you can agree with the conflict-of-interest argument 100% and decide that the appropriate response is to build in more procedural safeguards against such dealings, not change the structure of NCLB. Fundamentally, it's a waste of NEA's resources to push this, and as a member, I'm ashamed at the poor decision-making.
But I think I understand why NEA staff have still diverted it: it holds a certain appeal for those of us angry with the Bush shenanigans. Mike Klonsky's entry on the matter demonstrates the appeal that the flyer holds for some.
(Incidentally, for those who know of Yglesias's relationship with Sara Mead, this isn't a devious insider plan to discredit the NEA. If I were really devious and wanted NCLB to be reauthorized intact, I'd encourage the NEA to waste even more resources on this nonsense. There are real conflicts of interest, but that's not a wise political focus if you want to change policy structures.)
And now, back to editing a 104-page manuscript for EPAA. It's a good one, but as I've discovered the efficiency of giving suggestions on accepting a manuscript, it's labor-intensive. I need to take breaks from the close reading/editing, and the blog will get the benefit of that.
July 19, 2007
After crunching through three rounds of papers, it's time to take a break and review Edward Tufte's Beautiful Evidence (2006), the fourth in a series of coffeetable books on presenting information: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983), Envisioning Information (1990), and Visual Explanations (1997). Tufte's website is a cornucopia of fascinating discussion of graphics and shameless huckstering. As Tufte's reputation for sharp-witted analysis has grown, I wondered whether his latest book would be as effective as Envisioning Information or cement his reputation as a true info-guru, the Font of Wisdom for followers but all too clay-footed for the rest of us.
Tufte walks along the ground. With the exception of one serious contribution, this book is largely superfluous. Go to Envisioning Information, drain it for all it's worth, and then read up on sparklines and find tools for creating them online. But you can safely skip Tufte's latest book.
Tufte's central point in the book is that one can present quantitative information effectively, elegantly, and even beautifully while making arguments. To this task he brings a lifetime of knowledge, a catalog of famous displays of information and infamous corruption, and odd examples that show Tufte's skill in spotting and explaining technique. So you will find in the book Galileo's drawings of Jupiter and its moons, a horrifically clinical depiction of slave galleys, and an effective demonstration of Cezanne's multiple-perspective cubism, as well as Tufte's praise of a skiing manual, an 18th century dancing diagram, and a NYC police departmental poster showing how to spot hidden handguns. Tufte brings Galileo's dispersed drawings together to show the moons' path through several dozen observations, something Galileo didn't do (and Tufte implies he could have, though he admires Galileo's integration of text and image).
Given the intervals between the books' publication dates, one should neither be surprised nor too distressed that many of Tufte's ideas recur in the various books. So too do some images. Charles Joseph Minard's heart-stopping graph/map of how Napoleon's army disintegrated in the Russian campaign appears once again... in part because Minard's image deserves such study (and has been reworked by several statisticians and others). In itself, such repetition is neither surprising nor disturbing.
Nor is Tufte's true contribution in the book, a chapter introducing a type of condensed charting he calls sparklines. Tufte's idea is interesting and a legitimate contribution, even if I think it is better suited to data-rich time-series that one wants condensed for small multiples than a panacea for presenting data. Fortunately, even for us crass users of Excel, there are add-ins to create sparklines where appropriate.
Beyond the introduction of sparklines, however, the book contains nothing new for those who care about presenting information clearly. The book has some odd sequences that are distracting rather than informative and at least one ill-informed screed that consists largely of overblown rhetoric. First and briefly, the bizarre bits: In a chapter putatively about the integration of text, images, and numbers, Tufte includes an interlude discussing the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a 15th century erotic novel with woodcuts, and a 2006 prosecutorial sentencing memorandum used in the bribery case against Randy Cunningham. In the same chapter, Tufte interrupts his discussion of Galileo with a two-page spread from Matisse's Poésies Antillaises. He finishes the book with unexplained color plates of his own sculptures. Beautiful? Some of these. But a reader must wonder what this is all evidence of. Certainly not information design.
The last substantive chapter is a 29-page jeremiad against powerpoint that was put better in a three-panel Dilbert cartoon August 16, 2000, where one audience member succumbs to "powerpoint poisoning" after seeing slide 397 (search for the phrase to find probably-copyright-violating images of it). Okay, so we know presentation software is often abused. But Tufte takes a ludicrous leap from the banal uses of presentation software to the claim that the overuse of PowerPoint doomed the Columbia shuttle in 2001. Tufte spends seven pages on this argument.
The central theme of all the journalists reporting on the Columbia accident investigation was that the problem was a NASA culture that put safety behind all sorts of political and bureaucratic considerations. How much did the Columbia Accident Investigation Board spend on the topic in their first report volume? The accident report included a sidebar on p. 191 of Volume I that includes Tufte's analytical text, wording similar to what eventually appeared in Beautiful Evidence. The board's conclusion in the sidebar is important enough to quote in its entirety:
At many points during its investigation, the Board was surprised to receive similar presentation slides from NASA officials in place of technical reports. The Board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical communication at NASA.
The word illustration is important here. NASA culture killed the Columbia astronauts. The same culture had existed 15 years before, when Challenger exploded. PowerPoint had not. Why should we blame PowerPoint when its use is a symptom and not a cause?
That sin of commission is matched by a sin of omission: Tufte did not explore any redesign of visual presentation software. In his decades-long fight against chartjunk, Tufte advises redesigning the presentation of information. Lighten the lines, reduce obnoxious color contrasts, eliminate shadows and other distorting 3-D effects, keep quantities visible, etc. Those are specific steps to take. Tufte's advice on PowerPoint? Don't. That's all. Just don't. Use handouts instead (though too many handouts and the audience sleeps through a talk). Forget that you have 50-70 square feet of visual space you could use to help communicate. Just fuhgeddaboudit.
My advice on Tufte's latest book? Fuhgeddaboudit. Go read up on sparklines and get his other books instead.
May 26, 2007
I'm a fan of Edward Tufte in terms of information design, even if he did clash with Jakob Nielsen in an OK/Cancel superhero spoof of HCI gurus. Every year or so I dip into the website to see if there's more stuff I need to learn. Tufte hates PowerPoint and Excel with a passion, though many of us don't have the time to climb the learning curve of alternative programs.
But to the point: if you work with Excel, check out Juice Analytics' wonderful writings about improving charts. I don't have time to work with them at the moment (too busy with other items this week), but I will create beauty using these tools someday.
May 6, 2007
Pithy wisdom will wait
Last night as I was driving around on a few errands, I listened to part of This American Life's 10 Commandments episode. This morning, a clever idea from that popped into my head, but I'm afraid I've been spending time on journal editing tasks--reading reviewer reports and sending out some disposition letters, starting with the easy ones (easy decisions in either direction or revise-and-resubmits where the reviewer remarks converge and where I remember the manuscript clearly enough to write them without a painstaking rereading). No, I'm not afraid at all: It's necessary and pleasant.
So I have other things to do today, both professional and personal, and clever lists will have to wait.
April 16, 2007
I'm a serial blogger!
In the mail today, I received back the ISSN application form for the blog. That's right: Bloggers can download the International Standard Serial Number application form, fill it out, and send it in.
From now on, you'll seen the ISSN in the left navigation scroll: 1936-6701.
April 3, 2007
Book geography thanks to Google
Google Books now has an interesting feature: in one page, you can find all the places mentioned in a book displayed on a map. I just discovered it for Education Reform in Florida.
April 2, 2007
Notes from the underground academic
Tidbits from the last few days:
- I've been so busy with various things that I forgot to note that two days after Accountability Frankenstein appeared on my doorstep, Education Reform in Florida appeared at my office. Two books in three days: not bad.
- Tomorrow I head to Atlanta and a talk Wednesday at Emory. Gotta finish the PPT slides and transfer to a thumb drive! (Going to go security-blanket-less... I mean, travel without my laptop.)
- I got jury service postponed, so I'm going to AERA... for one day. Yikes! Wednesday at noon I'll be at the Information Age Publishing exhibit (booths 508 & 510). Two one-day trips in two weeks. Definitely the way to punish my body, but longer would be punishing my family.
- Some positive stuff in my program area (curriculum-wise) is just over the horizon, a good thing.
- I picked up business cards for the journal and hope that they can appear before AERA in the mailboxes of the editorial-board members who sent me their addresses. (There were two other business-card orders, too, one for Accountability Frankenstein and the other for the hat I now wear as faculty union chapter president. But it was the EPAA/AAPE card order that was urgent.)
- My daughter appreciated the unit-circle explanation of sine and cosine tonight (which I always thought made more sense than the opposite-/adjacent-leg definition).
- My son and daughter each had public music performance opportunities this weekend.
- Second day of being chapter president, and I drafted a more serious agenda. And I prepared the last of the materials for the new chapter treasurer. We need to get her on the signature card for the account, something that I've given myself a good incentive for: I have some receipts, but I didn't make the check out myself. So I only get reimbursed when I get the transfer done successfully. Agendas, getting rid of old responsibilities... as long as there are no politics involved, my time in office will be a complete success! Oh, darn, ...
- And I even cleaned my office a tiny bit. My desk is now in organized piles of junk instead of disorganized piles. (The disorganized piles have migrated elsewhere in the office.)
March 24, 2007
Accountability Frankenstein is now printed!
(Yes, it's available at Amazon.com, but for small publishers, I understand that Amazon is much like Wal-Mart, and I want to make clear that I'm putting the link in for convenience, not because I prefer you use Amazon. Certainly, the publisher would prefer you use his site!)
February 28, 2007
I'm currently providing advice to some colleagues on a manuscript, and 90% of the changes I'm suggesting are the elimination of commas that come in the middle of a clause between the subject and verb or between the verb and the object. In almost all cases, the commas separate parenthetical comments that would be more effective at the beginning of the sentence. The following is an example I've drafted (not taken from the paper):
The defendant's lawyer, who later became a well-regarded judge at the circuit level as a result of the publicity from the case, argued vigorously, despite the emotional circumstantial evidence, that his client was innocent.
Despite the emotional circumstantial evidence, the defendant's laywer argued that his client was innocent. Using the case's publicity as a springboard, the lawyer later became elected as a circuit-court judge, enjoying a popular reputation.
Some humorists such as Douglas Adams made great use of parenthetical remarks, many of which in Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide series or Dirk Gently books were longer than the clause which they interrupted. But in most instances, parenthetical comments and apostrophes are interruptions of the flow. This lesson is probably the most important one I've learned from Joseph Williams's Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. And I'm still having to go through my own writing and edit out the, what do you call them again?, parenthetical remarks.
Why do we interrupt ourselves so in writing? I suspect it's the old temptation: we've taken some effort to become accomplished at reading difficult prose, so we think it must be better.
February 27, 2007
Of Diane Ravitch and presentism
In an amended entry earlier today, I noted my being a Michael Katz student and somehow still not having fits at the sight of Diane Ravitch's name. (As far as I'm aware, Michael doesn't, either.) That doesn't mean that I agree with her substantive scholarship, and I'll repeat here a 2004 contribution I made to the H-Education e-mail list on H-Net. While its intended topic is the historiographical concept of presentism and not Ravitch's Left Back, I do make my views of the book clear:
I've just read Derrick Aldridge's commentary in the December 2003 Educational Research, and in it he describes how he's wrestled with the issue of presentism after being warned about it at a conference. What he describes afterward (on pp. 27-29) is a plausible professional approach, but I'm becoming more and more dissatisfied with the term itself. Ravitch used the label many years ago to criticize what she called revisionist historians [Katz among them], and John Rury then pasted the same label on Ravitch's book Left Back.
I think we should ban the term presentist from our vocabulary as a red herring, full of sound and professional jargon and signifying nothing of substance. Good history has the same characteristics, whether it's making an argument about the development of educational policy in the late 20th century or witchcraft trials of the late 17th, and I challenge anyone to show me differently. Yet presentism is one of the chief bogeymen of historiography. This is especially true with educational history, where we're often caught between educationists who want everything to be immediately relevant and our colleagues in regular history departments who can be skeptical of our subfield.
So what does the term presentist refer to? Most historians would define presentism to include taking events and materials out of context, stretching the interpretation with an eye to the modern implications of the argument. It is a close cousin to teleology, and its red flag sits at our disk right next to the warning flags ready to be waved at the first sign of Whiggish history or the myth of the Golden Age. Maybe an example will illustrate my discomfort. Take John Rury's lambaste of Left Back:
[I]t is largely a history without context, and one that telescopes past ideas about education into a single-minded concern about educational standards, one of Ravitch's pet peeves in current debates about educational policy. In this work we find a classic example of history turned to the purpose of supporting a political agenda.
But that larger description hides more substantive concerns of Rury's: Ravitch's oversimplification of Progressive advocates, the limiting scope of her mini-biographies, the focus on just a few locations, the inconsistency between her critique of Teachers College as an institution and her hagiography of William Bagley (a Teachers College faculty member), the misleading use of a statistic about Kilpatrick's teaching, the exaggeration of evidence about classroom instructional practices in the 20th century, and the inconsistency between her championing disciplinary approaches early in the 20th century and then ignoring the professional judgment of historians in the war over the history standards.
Now, I could add some additional criticisms after wading through the book last year. She acknowledges in the prefatory matter that there was no Golden Age of education (p. 13), and then proceeds to describe the justifiable pride of earlier ages on pp. 19, 21, 25, 30, and 89 (and probably elsewhere). She describes the Committee of Ten report as the first to make curriculum recommendations on secondary education to the country (p. 42), ignoring the legacy of the Yale Report earlier in the 19th century. She claims that the book focuses on the curriculum, but she has a large chunk of material on the reading methods wars in the last few decades. She complete[ly] ignores David Labaree's work on high schools, and while she notes Tyack and Kliebard's work, they appeared to have no influence on the book (either shaping it actively or as serious arguments to counter). The margins of my copy is filled with specific comments, and I found it as frustrating a read as I expect John Rury did, from his review.
And yet I am reluctant to slap a label on it. It is frustrating in part because of the sloppiness of the historical argument and the handling of evidence. But it is also frustrating because I can see the construction of a popularly-appealing book. She mixes detail inside each chapter and the patina of careful history with overblown rhetoric at the beginning and end of most chapters. But that's my fear that many readers will pay more attention to the rhetoric than to the rest of the book.
The problem with Left Back is not that it is "history turned to the purpose of supporting a political agenda," as Rury claims. There is plenty of wonderful, provocative history motivated by political or social beliefs; my favorite is C. Vann Woodward's Origins of the New South. Those good works are just as presentist as Left Back. They're just better at handling evidence and the nuances of writing an historical argument. I've decided that presentism is a label, not a useful analytical concept in historiography.
Someday soon, I'll tackle another perennial bogeyman of history, the number of history doctoral programs in the U.S.
February 17, 2007
Shameless book plugs
- Creating the Dropout
- Schools as Imagined Communities*
- Education Reform in Florida*
- Accountability Frankenstein
If my guess is right, the latest two books will be appearing in press less than a month apart, so I'm polishing the blog and web space a bit.
*Royalties from the two anthologies go entirely to non-profit organizations.
(Disclosure: I'm a member of Amazon.com's affiliates and a Powell's Books partner, but the links on the anthologies are affiliate/partner-code free, and if you don't want me to get the referrals for the other books, you can use the links to the main bookstore web pages which I've just provided and search for the books.)
February 16, 2007
We're expecting an Arctic mass coming through the Gulf and to Florida overnight, so it might be freezing overnight, but right now it's a Florida-freezing but everywhere-else-toasty 50 F. In sympathy with everyone who's reading this from snow country, and because I have a head cold while trying to ignore my e-mail and finish a manuscript today, it's time to fill our covered mug with the type of cocoa that can be justified as Good for You:
- 2 heaping T. cocoa
- 3 T. milk powder (mine is nonfat)
- sweeteners to taste (none for me this morning)
- a healthy sprinkling of chipotle chili powder
Yes, it should be chipotle, if you want a liquid version of Moonstruck Chocolate's ocumarian truffle. Trust me on this. The key to making cocoa with dried milk powder is to add just enough hot water at first to make a smooth paste. Get all the lumps out in the paste stage. Then add enough water to fill the regular-sized mug.
February 7, 2007
First page proofs of Accountability Frankenstein corrected
I misunderstood some of the directions on sending back corrections of page proofs, so finishing the first set of page proofs took a few extra hours I didn't anticipate today. But I've sent the corrected PDFs back to the publisher, so Accountability Frankenstein is one more step to publication.
December 24, 2006
Expertise tackled; the world is next
Whew! I've split up the former chapter 2 into two chapters, expanded the analysis of expertise and the political drives for test-score accountability in the new chapter 2, and polished the new chapter 3 a bit. The rest of the revision checklist is now much narrower:
- Change chapter summaries in preface and new chapter 6
- Expand section on the outcomes of high-stakes accountability in chapter 5
- Cite in-press MS and other materials on consequences of high-stakes testing; find Jones, Jones, & ?.
- Insert more from Frankenstein itself
- Explain technocracy in the preface
- Be clearer on how the goals follow A Nation at Risk in chapter 4 section, "From expectations of schools to..."
- Better citations for historical material
- Check that each excerpt is < 150 words
- Complete marketing questionnaire
- Tie child-saving better to the overarching argument in chapter 5, perhaps switching it to appear later in the chapter
- In Chapter 5, watch the conflation of working-class with immigrant
- Chapter 6, explain Lake Wobegon phenomenon better (more?)
- Chapter 6: revise "no illusion" passage
- Look for substitute Webster quotes in 1965 volume.
Time for me to head home (I'm currently in a chain cafe). We don't celebrate Christmas, but I think my family will want to see me sometime today. For those who do celebrate it, have a safe and merry Christmas.
December 23, 2006
180,000 words served
Taking a brief break from polishing the new chapter 2 of Accountability Frankenstein, I copied and pasted every entry of this blog and then counted words. It's 210,000 words in about 720 entries... but it's less than that, because some entries are in more than one category, and the copy/paste job included the tags around entries, etc. A conservative guesstimate is about 180,000 words that I've written in this blog since the first entry in March 2001 (an even 2100 days ago), or just about 86 words per day (the conservative guesstime, remember). It adds up.
Some of this writing is informal, of course, but that small exercise shows how clearly blogging creates an avenue for any academic to become a public intellectual in the way that Russell Jacoby asks us to. And I'm not even among the more prolific academic bloggers! (See Michael Bérubé for the most obvious example.)
So can you write an average of 100 words a day? If so, you can write the equivalent of 2 books over 5 years. It's not hard.
December 22, 2006
To every task there is a season... (and a state of health)
Polishing a 65-page (double-spaced) references section isn't the most thrilling job in the world, and I've been pecking away at it in odd moments for the last few weeks, but when I'm healthy there are too many other, far more rewarding activities to draw my attention.... until I woke up from too little sleep this morning thanks to my cold. "I don't feel like doing anything too energetic," I thought to myself, and headed to page 24 or 25 of the section.
It's now done (or at least all the entries currently in it are reasonably acceptable).
I guess there are some things that one can do better when sick.
November 21, 2006
The last chapter problem
In Improving Poor People (1997), Michael Katz wrote:
Historians and other social scientists who offer interpretive accounts of social issues always face a "last chapter" problem. Readers expect them to extract clear lessons from history, offer unambiguous recommendations, and foresee the future. My standard responsemy role is to analyze and explain the problem; I have no special expertise in devising solutionsalthough honest, rarely satisfies. When historians tack on a set of conclusions, more often than not they appear utopian, banal, not very different from what others have suggested, marginally related to the analysis that precedes them and far less subtle. The reason, of course, is that no set of recommendations flows directly from any historical analysis. Understanding the origins and dimensions of a social issue can lead in very different policy directions. (p. 7)
As someone (Groucho Marx?) once said, I resemble those remarks! I've spent 80% (or more) of my current book-in-progress analyzing high-stakes accountability from different perspectives (often historically rooted), and I'm now in the last chapter. Do I repeat what Katz said and wash my hands of any specific recommendations? I can't. I'm too deeply into this and, what's more important, a significant part of my argument is that test experts have no business trying to decide what a democratic process should craft. To say that I demur because I am not an expert would be hypocritical! So I will take a citizen's and not an historian's right to make recommendations, however rooted they are in my sense of humanity's quirks and the institutional and political legacies we have inherited.
However, Katz's warnings about utopianism, banality, and the disconnect from the rest of the book are well-warranted. I have no magic charms against banality, but I can take a few steps against the others. After returning home bleary-eyed after 10 pm last night, I told my spouse I had just spent a few hours skimming over the chapters already drafted so I could be consistent. She nodded, "Readers might have a few concerns if you're essentially making a new and completely different argument in the last chapter."
And to make sure that I don't step towards utopianism, I will describe three utopian accountability mechanisms that will not appear in the book. Correction: One does appear in the book, largely to explain why it wouldn't work. (Why these are utopian is left as an exercise for the reader.)
- A recursive system based entirely on formative assessment: teachers analyze student data formatively, then principals analyze teachers formatively using how teachers use data formatively, and those over principals analyze principals formatively using... you get the picture.
- A high-tech way of finding out what students are working on: sample the written work of five students in each grade daily. Have a random draw of students in the morning, get them to turn in the previous evening's homework and anything completed that day, cover up their names and the teachers' names, scan their written work, and upload it to a central server that's entirely public.
- TeacherCam: A video camera in every classroom and in the hallways, allowing the public to see what happens anywhere in any school.
Now that I've gotten that out of my system, it's time to write about something that's workable.
November 6, 2006
Student suggestions on writing
This semester, I promised my masters-course students that they'd see every draft chapter of Accountability Frankenstein, and I've given them credit for ripping the chapters apart as they've come to them.
It was one of the best things I've ever done in my career.
Not only has the pressure pushed me to write faster than I otherwise would (and think of it as part of my teaching load), but I've had some wonderful suggestions. I've peeked at the comments this week (some students have finished writing them though they're not due until tomorrow night), and one student suggested I put chapter 3 at the start of the book. I've skimmed through the chapter and apart from one passage that I'll have to shift to another chapter, it works better in the sequence of presentation. Wow. Thanks, C. P.
October 31, 2006
Errata week: mundane typo
I'll end Errata Week here on the blog by noting one embarrassing typo in Creating the Dropout (Praeger, 1996):
Changes in the proportion of nineteen-year-olds dependent on relatives cannot account for the drop; a higher proportion was dependent in 1980 (86 percent) than in 1970 or 1980 (80 and 81 percent, respectively). (p. 20)
This is just a boneheaded proofreading mistake. The first 1980 should be 1990. It's not my usual type of mistake, either; I'm far more likely to mismatch the number of subject and verb than to get a number wrong. (Often, I ha
sve to edit my blog entries to correct such mistakes, after publicat oion.) But for the thousands of you who were wondering if they were going a bit crazy on p. 20, no, you weren't.
Oh, you weren't kept awake by my typographical errors? I hope that by ending on the mundane, I've made a bit of a point about issuing errata as a professional process: it is not so much the typo (though we should be careful with that) as the sloppy interpretation and omission where we are most likely to make errors that last.
Update: One more (embarrassing) typo from a column July 6 on the Spellings Commission: I typed Barmak Nassirian's name as Barnak. My apologies, Mr. Nassirian.
Errata week: Primary-source misinterpretation
Sorry for the gap in writing about my mistakes: I needed access to my office for today's entry. In my dissertation, Creating the Dropout (U. Penn, 1992), I wrote the following in a discussion on the silencing of race in the construction of dropping out in the 1960s:
In 1962, Georgia's Deaprtment of Education cosponsored a conference on high school dropouts whose participants included the state superintendent and several representatives from the Atlanta public schools. According to a newsletter written by a consultant for the Georgia Association for Mental Health and distributed to counselors and other mental health professionals, "We succeeded real well [sic] in blocking off any consideration of Negro dropouts, in the conference." (p. 174)
The original was a memo from Frank A. Smith to Frank McFall, 20 July 1962, p. 4, in the Georgia Archives, record series 12-6-71, box 11, in the "Dropouts 1962-63 Summary" folder. (The minor error was describing the quotation as part of a newsletter.) At the time, I read that sentence as a straightforward racist comment about complicity in silencing racial differences in educational outcomes.
Over the next few years, though, I reconsidered my reading to some extent. Yes, Atlanta counselors and psychologists were tools of segregation when they facilitated pupil-placement regulations, and they were willing to talk openly about differences in graduation by race in private, even though the public policy starting in 1961 was to be completely silent on race. Yet I decided I was wrong in interpreting that passage as a straight racist comment. In the end, I think, the school staff and other officials realized they were playing a publicity game (and a losing one, in the long term) rather than just boldly trying to suppress information. It doesn't make the larger picture any better (still public silence about differences in outcomes), but here's what I wrote in the book Creating the Dropout (Praeger, 1996), with the changed text in italics:
In 1962, Georgia's Deaprtment of Education cosponsored a conference on high school dropouts whose participants included the state superintendent and several representatives from the Atlanta public schools. Frank Smith, a consultant for the Georgia Association for Mental Health, wrote Executive Director Frank McFall after the conference, on July 20, 1962. According to Smith, educators could not "much longer refuse to consider the implications of inferior Negro education." Nonetheless, he thought it more important to keep racial inequality out of the discussion: "We succeeded real well [sic] in blocking off any consideration of Negro dropouts, in the conference." (p. 103)
One interpretation is of school and other public officials suppressing any discussion of race and dropping out. The other interpretation is of school and other public officials aware that the time of silence was going to end in the near future and still recognizing that their job required complicity in silence. Does the change matter? It may be a matter of subtle shading more than broad interpretations, but I was bothered by my earlier description of Frank Smith as a heavy-handed manipulator. He described manipulation of the conference but was well aware of the changing circumstances in the South.
In the end, I think that makes him and others in a like position more culpable. It is one thing to be complicit in a regime you think is inevitable. It is another thing entirely to be complicit in a regime you know will end at some point. Do you choose to help end it, or do you help prop it up a few more days or years?
October 26, 2006
Errata week: acknowledgments omission
Today's entry is the second in a week of acknowledging professional errors I have made. A few weeks ago I was looking at one of my co-edited volumes, Schools as Imagined Communities, and I noticed something about my chapter on special education and communities.
Or, rather, it was what was not there: "This work was partially funded by U.S. Department of Education Award H023N60001. The funding agency is not responsible for errors of fact or interpretation."
Yikes. It's standard practice to acknowledge grants, and I completely blew it. So to Lou Danielson and every other program officer in the Office of Special Education Programs, please accept my humble and public apology. I goofed.
September 16, 2006
Excerpts from a note to a class after grading one set of quizzes:
There were two reasons why the quiz scores were lower for this quiz than for the others. First, the material is more difficult, and most of you haven't had experience with legal opinions. I wouldn't be surprised at all if this quiz had the lowest measures of central tendency in the entire semester. (I hope so!)
In addition, many of you turned to quoting chunks of the opinion, ... Reading an answer that is mostly a quotation frustrates me, because my obligation is to evaluate your understanding; did you understand it and select an appropriate excerpt, or did you get lucky? It's also very hard for me to give you any constructive feedback if you don't use your own words; if we agree that quoting is appropriate, then any feedback would consist of, "Well, select a better quotation next time." I hope you'll agree that wouldn't be very helpful!
Because of my experience reading the quiz answers this week, I strongly advise you to avoid quoting in your answers for the rest of the semester.
I can't mandate the no-quotation rule for quizzes (though I will next time!), because I didn't put it in the syllabus. But does anyone else get frustrated with the fallout of coming after teachers who do reward the extensive quoting of source materials in lieu of paraphrasing?
One well-known writer in education (whom I'll call Dr. Overquote) has a habit of quoting other sources for a good chunk (sometimes more than half!) of the typical Dr. Overquote article. Dr. Overquote is a nice soul and does a very nice job of synthesis when it's Dr. Overquote's own words, but, sheesh, it's sometimes as frustrating to read a Dr. Overquote article or book as the student answers that prompted my note quoted above. Some years ago, Dr. Overquote was lured away from Grand University to Big State University, and Grand University then proceeded to bid him away from Big State University, to return to their genteel and loving climate. Since then, I've had the idea to prepare a joke article manuscript that would be a ransom note in Dr. Overquote's style, if just a bit exaggerated.
"Dear" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "Grand" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "University" (Overquote, 200x, p. n),
"We" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "have" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "Overquote" (Overquote, 200x, p. n) "and" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "will" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "not" (Overquote, 200x, p. n) "return" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "your" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "perfesser" (Overquote, 200x, p. n) "until" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "you" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "give" (Overquote, 200x, p. n) "either" (Overquote, 200x, p. n) "us" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "or" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "Overquote" (Overquote, 200x, p. n) "3.2" (Overquote, 198x, p. n) "gazillion" (Overquote, 199x, p. n) "dollars" (Overquote, 200x, p. n).
"P.S."* (Poobah1, quoted in Overquote, 198x, p. n) "Don't" (Poobah2, quoted in Overquote, 199x, p. n) "go" (Poobah3, quoted in Overquote, 200x, p. n) "to" (Poobah4, quoted in Overquote, 198x, p. n) "the" (Poobah5, quoted in Overquote, 199x, p. n) "fuzz" (Poobah6, quoted in Overquote, 200x, p. n) "or" (Poobah7, quoted in Overquote, 198x, p. n) "you" (Poobah8, quoted in Overquote, 199x, p. n) "will" (Poobah9, quoted in Overquote, 200x, p. n) "be" (Poobah10, quoted in Overquote, 198x, p. n) "sorrie" [sic] (Poobah 11, quoted in Overquote, 199x, p. n).
The key, of course, would be that the references section would be about seven times as long as the "article."
*I'm doubtful that I could find a "P.S." in an article except as first and middle initials, and I'd have to be lucky. Everything else I'm sure I could find some version of.
September 1, 2006
Emergency! Abstract needed!
The first author of a piece I'm third or fourth author of e-mailed me with an urgent request to shape the abstract before it's sent off, tonight, to an editor. This is a long MS (88 pages), and he hoped to have the abstract in an hour "or so."
I leaned on the "or so" heavily.
It's an important piece to me, or I wouldn't have seen it as an urgent request, but occasionally you can drop everything else without going nuts. (And there are other considerations I won't describe.) I'm glad he didn't e-mail in the middle of my make-up chat to take care of students who were absent from Wednesday's chat thanks to Ernesto.
But it's an act of relative concentration to review a MS that you've seen most (but not all of) in a prior draft and try to squeeze the ideas into 250 words in a short time. I failed: my abstract draft was 350 words. And I still cut out many of the rather cool small points (that other coauthors wrote).
I think I just experienced what writing on a deadline is like. I haven't done that since my stint as Junior Journalist in high school. I can do it, but it's not my joy.
August 24, 2006
Comparative studies in special education: a brain-bursting exercise
This evening, I'm finishing up my reading and note-taking on non-U.S. history of special education placement for a review article on inclusion. I'm writing a small section, and I know it would come to this: someone who knows just about the U.S. (me!) has to search for and read the secondary literature on comparative perspectives. And it was just as I feared: big enough that I couldn't quickly grasp it, and small enough that I really could read the entire field or close to it. I'd been hunting and pecking away over a month with moments stolen here and there, but the primary author came down with the hammer (properly so) and told me, Thou shalt redo your section and do it quickly. That means now or yesterday, whichever is earlier. (Un)fortunately, I found an extra book or three today and also realized I needed to scavenge a three-volume reference work to really flesh it out. (The problem with wonderful online resources is that when a field is mostly journal, you sometimes forget to check books... silly historian who should know better: me, again.)
You didn't think it would be simple, did you?
So I headed to the library this afternoon to do that. Shortly after I entered the library, I realized a few things: I had forgotten my laptop for notetaking in the reference section, I didn't have an umbrella, and the skies had just opened. Great, just great. Oh, yes, and I had forgotten my reading glasses, so I had about an hour of useful reading time before a headache was inevitable.
So I tried a technological crutch I've never used before: the cell phone. Scrounging through the encyclopedia, I'd find and read an article and then call my own voicemail and leave a minute-long message: author, title, pages, and the bit I wanted to extract. I left the reference section sometime later having made 10-11 calls. So far, so good. Then I headed up to the stacks and gathered the volumes and brought them down again. Still pouring. Okay, check out the books, extract cash from the in-library ATM, and get a latté in the foyer Starbucks. (I get the decaf, nonfat version, or what one wag barrista tells me is the "why bother" drink there.) I sit down, skim through a third of one of the books, and realized it's down to a drop every 10 seconds and so it's time to rush to my building. Whew!
... until I got to my office realizing I'd have to transcribe my own dictation. Note to self: never torture a dictation secretary with your talking. Please. By the time that was done and I had finished notes on all but one volume, I headed out (with that last volume) to pick my son up from school. The poor guy had started a headache at 1 and didn't know he could go to the school nurse and beg the nurse to get approval from me to dose him with ibuprofen. So we stopped by a pharmacy, came home so he could rest (which worked, in combination with the Motrin), and after I told the story of the parent-teacher conference that morning (at my daughter's high school), I realized I still needed to finish that reading. Off to local ChainCafé (where I sit tonight almost, almost done).
And so, after all is said and done, I'm left with about 4-1/2 single-spaced pages of notes on various countries and a few broader models. I suspect I'll need to condense this to about 2 pages of double-spaced text (and also delete some of the U.S. material that was in the earlier draft). And I hope to return it to the primary author tomorrow, while there are two meetings.
The practical problem is that this has sufficiently engaged me that I want to puzzle the patterns out. The most sophisticated comparative model I've read, by Rosemary Putnam in 1979 (Comparative Education, vol. 15, pp. 83-98), addresses the generic size of special education, not placement issues, and suggests that different looks suggest either a stage theory of national development or a wealth effect. (The data is a little different, suggesting by the relationship with health expenditures that it may be a matter of state welfare development as well.) A book by Mazurek and Winter in 1994 (Comparative Studies in Special Education) specifically suggests a stage theory of inclusion, except for some pesky countries that have well-developed, "mature" special education systems that are largely segregated (or were at the time): Japan, Russia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Czechoslovakia. So that throws a wrench in the comparative developmentalist (i.e., stage) model.
All right: time to get another drink, ponder my notes, and think of a way to organize this material.
August 20, 2006
Smooth work satisfies
Took a little bit of time to go out of the house to ChainCafé this afternoon to finish preparing an EPAA article for this week. Smooth... a few minor editorial changes, then the usual format issues (change hyphens to en-dashes where needed, expand the italicized text a bit) and send it off to the author for vetting. There are no questions that he needs to answer, just check the 'galley' for goofs.
And last night, I did the first check on the galleys for Education Reform in Florida. I found a few goofs but not many. The index is virtually all the work left.
Just saying, I like when things go smoothly. I could use smooth more often in my professional life.
August 19, 2006
Galleys of Florida education reform book, take 2
Just arrived at my house: second set of galleys for Education Reform in Florida. Time to start checking them against the first set of galleys and then finish the indexing.
June 5, 2005
Educational Reform in Florida
Educational Reform in Florida: Diversity and Equity in Public Policy, a collection of essays edited by Kathy Borman and me, has been accepted for publication by SUNY Press. The collaborative work was supported for several years by the Spencer Foundation, and with sociologists and historians as the authors, it covers a broad range of perspectives on the last six years or so of school reform in Florida. The chapters:
- Issues in Florida Educational Reform (Kathryn Borman and Sherman Dorn)
- The Legacy of Desegregation in Florida (Deidre Cobb-Roberts and Barbara Shircliffe)
- The Legacy of Educational Finance Reform in Florida (Sherman Dorn and Deanna Michael)
- Accountability as a Means of Improvement: A Continuity of Themes (Deanna Michael and Sherman Dorn)
- Diversity, Desegregation, and Accountability in Florida Districts (Tamela McNulty Eitle)
- Equity, Disorder, and Discipline in Florida Schools (David Eitle and Tamela McNulty Eitle)
- Competing Agendas for University Governance: Placing the Conflict between Jeb Bush and Bob Graham in Context (Larry Johnson and Kathryn Borman)
- One Florida, the Politics of Educational Opportunity, and the Language of White Advantage (Larry Johnson and Deidre Cobb-Roberts)
- Florida’s A+ Plan: Education Reform Policies and Student Outcomes (Reginald Lee, Kathryn Borman, and William Tyson)
The book does not cover every possible topic, and I wish we had a chapter covering vouchers, among other things. But I'm happy to have this accepted, and I look forward to its publication (I assume towards the end of the year or, more probably, early in 2006).
March 20, 2005
The value of the blogosphere
Jonathan Dresner is wrong when implying that a key value of the blogosphere is in its quick turnover of factual criticism that leads to clarification and new evidence. In this case, he was using the fuzzy (some said apocryphal) story David Horowitz was touting about a University of Northern Colorado student forced to write that Bush was a war criminal. Within a few days, there were accusations that Horowitz was touting an urban legend, then some details came out about some incident, and then the professor in question responded, and ... (for details, see Dresner's post and the relevant links). A bloggish postmortem by Corie Schweitzer brought a short debate between him and Dresner in the comments, and I want to focus on Dresner's broader claim in those comments that the hours-long "blog cycle" results in factual clarification
It means that we draw the most plausible conclusions from the available data and revise those conclusions when more data is made available. Mr. Barnett (whose name you also misspelled) did not find the case I was interested in on his own: David Horowitz and SAF posted new materials documenting their claims, which is precisely what I wanted them to do, if those materials existed. It means that we can now have a discussion of the facts of the case, instead of wondering whether the case is a case at all.
as opposed to the discussion of philosophy and logic, which Ralph Luker points to regarding the Volokh bloodlust blog entry and the way that Mark Kleman's response pushed Volokh to change his mind (also see Volokh's later post on the topic).
In the Horowitz story-telling case, Media Matters made a row not because of its incredible accuracy but because it was rude and widely read. Here I mean rude in the sense of being raw and forceful, and I'll stand by that term as a description both of David Brock's blog project and also of the blogosphere's relationship with reality. Academic and other intellectual bloggers are at their best when exploring perspective and logic, as evidenced in the Volokh torture-execution controversy. Blogging allows writers to get ideas in circulation in a far faster time-frame than even electronic journals allow (and I say that as the editor of Education Policy Analysis Archives, the elder sibling of education-research electronic journals). And part of what makes great researchers and teachers is the ability to provide expert perspective. In many ways, I think of myself as having been hired and given tenure for my professional judgment.
But that perspective is only part of the story. Great researchers and teachers are also careful about facts and the genealogy of ideas and factual claims. That care is only rarely exercised in the rough-and-tumble world that the blogosphere currently is. Don't mistake my meaningin many ways, I love the bare-knuckles arguments when they focus on ideas and issues. But as historians like Dresner and myself should know from all our experiences in archives and other research environments, getting a sense of the factsor, given the paucity of information all too often, a sense of a bare outlinerequires time.
The desire for a quick retort is often the enemy of both accuracy and perspective. Yet the blogosphere careers on. In this case, we still don't know the whole story about the incident at UNC. In the case of Ward Churchill, we still don't know the whole story. Bloggers can be wonderful at poking holes in stories and tracing a conversation, but documenting a factual record is something entirely different. Dresner is right in needing to focus on facts but wrong that bloggers are currently doing much more than poking holes and patching together information from other dubious online sources.
March 13, 2005
I've now committed syllepsis unintentionallyin my entry yesterday on Ward Churchill, I meant to explain separately that fraud allegations are not all honest and that institutions and colleagues must therefore be careful, but I was sloppy and out came, "Academics can lie about each other and requires some care in investigation." Does this now put me in the class of Flanders and Swann?
She lowered her standards by raising her glass,
Her courage, her eyes and his hopes. (Have Some Madeira, M'Dear)
And would I want to be?
February 28, 2005
There are two types of monster days, though maybe I should call them bear days (as in "some days you get the bear, and some days ..."). One kind of monster day eats you aliveequipment breaks down right, left, and center, there are seven phone calls that need urgent attention right before class starts, nothing works in class dynamics, a student points out a horrendous error you made that will take days for you to fix, you get dumped with stupid bureaucratic tasks, and if the university president happens to pick you out personally to insult, it doesn't actually make things any worse. The other monster day is where you accomplish huge amounts of work or at least finish sizable chunks, and while it's not visible to the world yet, there is a sizable weight lifted off your shoulders.
No, I haven't quite had the second type of day today, but on top of finishing my annual review, getting my blood drawn for a lipid panel early this morning, and picking up a key from the campus key shop, I almost finished revising the introduction to an edited book, and over the last two days I did get my own chapter in almost-ready shape (need to recontact some sources first) and finished all of my own work on the other edited book. So the two days combined make a monster day. (Whew!) It probably would be a monster Monday by itself if I had another three or four contiguous hours left, but the day is broken up by picking up children (for which I need to leave campus in a few minutes).
February 9, 2005
The "bits and pieces" stage
I have to get my head back into a few pieces of writing I haven't seen in several months, disparate chapters from two books I'm co-editing. For one, Schools as Imagined Communities, I volunteered to add material to the introduction on a semi-chronological overview of what we could say about schools as communities, before the monographic chapters. Then I need to fix a few items in my own chapter. For the other book, about Florida's education reforms, I need to update our first chapter, make sure the citations for the chapters I'm a co-author on are tight, and hope that a mostly-revised chapter comes in shortly. Each book has been in the works for a few years, and I'll be happy to shepherd them into the hands of editors.
The first book is a set of historical perspectives on the notion of schools as communities, using Benedict Anderson's framework as a springboard for more detailed (and historically nuanced) discussions of how we have defined school communities. (Anderson's framework is provocative, and while historians have a number of arguments with it, we see it as useful primarily for the questions you can ask about communities.) The second book is the collaboration of historians and sociologists of education providing perspective on and evaluating Jeb Bush's education reforms.
But the process of finishing each manuscript will be detail-heavy. My brain will feel like I'm slogging through mug, even as I attempt to cut back drastically on caffeine...
December 10, 2004
Yesterday, Gene Glass e-mailed me that he'd received reviews on the last of his manuscript backlog for Education Policy Analysis Archives.. So I sent the first manuscript I'd received out for review in the evening. (I'd prepared a few manuscripts so I could send them out during finals, while I'm madly gradingwith "madly" referring to the urgency and not to my state of mind, I hope).
This morning, I received the first review back, about 12 hours after I sent it out. That response says something about the activism of the reviewers available on the editorial board, but it is also a feat that paper-submission journals cannot match. So, in some ways, the primary delay for authors is in my ability to prepare manuscripts for review, the pace at which I'm willing to subject reviewers to manuscripts, and any existing backlog.
November 1, 2004
Education Policy Analysis Archives
Sometime in the next few hours, I expect the public announcement that I'll be the next editor of the Education Policy Analysis Archives. That's an honor, a challenge, and a long-term commitment.
The founder and first editor, Gene Glass, has done enormous work to build up not only EPAA but the general notion of on-line publishing. When I first encountered it, the journal was an e-mail distribution of text files only. Now it's among the most widely-read education journals, accessed from all over the world.
I've been on the editorial board for a number of years, and I'm committed to maintaining its visibility and vibrance. Around the end of the month, I'll put out an announcement about a major development that was in the proposal to become editor. But I need to pass the text by the editorial board, first.
Correspondence about new submissions should go to the dedicated address firstname.lastname@example.org. I won't be processing anything until December, and authors will receive an automated message in response to any e-mail before then. Correspondence about previously-submitted manuscripts, the journal in general, and a huge round of thanks for the creation of the journal should go to Gene Glass. (You may notice a preset subject line if you click on either e-mail link; what's the fun of being an online editor if you can't pull the odd HTML trick?)
On great compendia
I recently received a "call for entries" in a planned encyclopedia (or handbook or ... the term doesn't really matter), expected to be printed by a Beaucoup Bucks publisher. Why am I so cynical about this project?
It isn't because I wasn't invited on board earlyI don't have time for more projects! And it isn't because I think a reference book for social foundations is a bad idea. I think it's a wonderful idea. Nor do I think it bad because a commercial publisher will be getting the benefit of most revenues. Academic publishers do wonderful things on thin margins.
The project troubles me because it will get read and used by a small fraction of those who should read it. The concept is similar to the Historical Statistics of the United States: Millennial Edition, in terms of bringing collaborative reference works to a commercial publisher. In the case of the Historical Statistics project, the editors received an advance for the work and then commissioned chapters. The problem? Among others, the book still isn't out! (Was the advance enough to cover the work necessary to complete the project? Could the project have been funded better by a grant in return for public access to the data? I've heard similar criticisms by others, and this call for contributions reinforces my conclusions about it.)
More fundamentally, the idea is all backwards in terms of research dissemination. The instant a reference book comes out now, it's out of date. For major compendia of many important topics, the "out-of-date" creep is incremental and sometimes even glacial. But there is absolutely no need any longer for reference works to be significantly out of date. Online publishing allows for constant renewal of any reference work. I can think of at least two workable models for this:
- The wiki reference. Wikis are websites that are collaborative projects. The most open wiki allows anyone in the world to edit any page. More restrictive wikis have permission systems to allow a more narrow range of contributors to edit the pages. A working model is Wikipedia.
- An online journal/encyclopedia. An online journal could easily accumulate entries for a reference workmost obviously, encyclopedia entriesand subject them to as strict a refereeing process as any in academe, and then publish them in any organization desired (alphabetically, by topics, etc.). With this system, you could even have competing entries for the same term showing how people view the landscape of a field differently, as well as older and newer entries for important terms to show the development of ideas.
The point here is not that I know best how to organize reference works but that there is little reason to have hard-copy reference works that are inaccessible to the majority of the world.
January 4, 2004
I'm reorganizing a piece I'm doing for the Arizona State University Educational Policy Studies Lab, and it's giving me a bit of a fit this morning. I'm not sure how much of this is inherently an intellectual problem and how much of it is trying to work this morning while my children are enjoying the last days of their vacation. Probably much of it is the latter. So I'll chip away at it over the day and get done by the end. Inefficient, in theory, but saner.
December 29, 2003
More on proposals
Now that the syllabi for the spring are done, it's time to concentrate on some proposals. Yes, I'll get to the H-Education reviews, but I hope to concentrate on the partly-done proposals sometime today. Two are related to the academic-freedom project on my plate (one the sabbatical proposal, the other a proposal for an outside grant), but there's also the student net flow calculations that I tapped out a few things on while in California.
December 27, 2003
I've finally had a chance to go back to several in-pipeline reviews for the H-Net history of education e-mail list. It's not a mess, but the project got the short end of this semester, combined with some difficulties during the semester in the review process itself.
I twice got detoured during the semester by formatting issues on individual reviews (a problem when the pipeline for a review includes the reviewer, me as editor, a copyeditor, me again as editor, and then the list editor), and the time it took me then to get nowhere made me put off spending more hours until the point in the semester when everything piled up even more than it had been piling up earlier. So there are a rough half-dozen copyedited reviews that I need to sort through and send on their way, as well as several other reviews I need to send to the copyeditors (or check on). Having a back-end support for the reviews helps but is no cure-all. Editing is still a project that involves hands-on time, even with a small number of reviews.
So, to deal with what's in the pipeline, see where due reviews are, and then solicit more reviewers, books to review, and match up the two sets...