By Ryan Tibbens for educational purposes only
~~ If you do nothing else with this article, watch the Andrew Yang/Joe Rogan video clip linked below. Automation is going to change the world. ~~
I'll begin by saying that I support the minimum wage as an imperfect though well-intended and mostly functional concept. Some even suggest a currency-adjusted, global minimum wage, which has become a point of contention between some economists. (Now that the less-open-minded libertarians among us have bailed, we can proceed thoughtfully.)
More and more large corporations are announcing their support for a $12 or even $15 minimum wage, and it should come as no surprise. These businesses include Amazon, Disney, Target, Walmart, and now McDonald's. We shouldn't be surprised because big businesses will always do what is best for themselves and their shareholders: crush competition and generate profits. A corporation's sole purpose is to generate profits through channels that mitigate the financial loss and personal liability of shareholders. As such, these modern giants see the benefit of increasing the minimum wage -- they can afford it, and much of their remaining competition can't. Even if a wage hike doesn't make sense in the short term, allowing government to legislate their competition out of business is a winning strategy in the long term. And since each of these companies is intensifying dependence on automation, they will have fewer human employees to pay soon anyway. [Article continues below.]
A Friend recently shared this article about McDonald's abrupt shift to supporting a minimum wage increase. "By sticking together and taking action on the job, courageous workers in the Fight for $15 and a union have forced McDonald's – the second-biggest employer in the world – to drop its relentless opposition to higher pay," SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement. "Now, McDonald's needs to use its profits and power to give thousands of cooks and cashiers across the country a real shot at the middle class by raising pay to $15 an hour and respecting its workers' right to a union." My friend went on to point out that McDonald's has cut its workforce by nearly 50%, nearly 210,000 jobs, in the last four years.
Of course, we've all heard horror stories about fast food automation, from robot grill masters that work slower than the stoned 17 year olds they replaced to the poop-smeared touchscreen kiosks (or maybe not). But this is a primary reason McDonald's and other large companies are actually reducing employment. Will increasing the minimum wage really intensify automation? Many people certainly think so, particularly those who oppose the minimum wage in the first place.
So what is going to happen when McDonald's and Amazon and the rest strong-arm the federal government into increasing the minimum wage on their own terms?
1) Big companies can afford the increased wages, at least in the short term, so they gladly pay.
2) Smaller competition goes out of business trying to pay those wages.
3) Big companies receive the surplus business because they've outlasted competition.
4) They use the increased revenue to further invest in automation.
5) Nearly no one is left making $15/hour due to massive layoffs (thanks to automation), so the minimum wage doesn't really matter anymore.
6) We move to some form of universal basic income because, without it, no one will be able to buy food from McDonald's or random crap from Walmart and Amazon.
7) We all admire President Yang's forward thinking -- Andrew Yang for President 2020.
8) Karl Marx replaces Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. (Okay, maybe not this part...)
Seriously, watch the video.
Lead the Horses to Water...
By Ryan Tibbens
"I look around this room and see a lot of soggy, drowning horses..."
We all know that "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink," and we've probably all heard a teacher use this phrase on multiple occasions. I myself have repeated it -- more sincerely early in my teaching career, more ironically later. It is true, but in the context of education, good teachers and students overcome more obstacles than simply leading and drinking. And, as we shall see, there are a discouraging number of scenarios that will lead to an exhausted, resigned handler or to horses that are drowned, dehydrated, or soggy and confused.
Sit back, relax, reflect upon your school experiences, and think about education. I have a handler-horse-water/teacher-student-content analogy I like, so I'm sticking with it. Pardon me if I'm beating a dead horse. (All puns are intended.)
First, let's address the proverb: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." When education professionals use this phrase in earnest, they imply that a teacher's only job is to find and display knowledge and skills, that the student's only job is to learn what/when/where/how they're told. That might have worked in the schools our grandparents attended (probably not), but the modern world isn't so simple. More than any previous generation, our students know that a variety of "watering holes" exist and that the quality and taste of the content will vary; they know that their teachers' preferences for certain sources and types of learning are as much the result of personal bias as research-supported fact. In school divisions with less teacher autonomy, students still harbor these doubts, and they are often further alienated by teachers who are ambivalent toward the prescribed methods and topics. If the handler doesn't believe in the water, most horses are slower to drink. Plus, these horses are also inundated with the sounds and images of other water (sources), imitation water (misinformation), and soft drinks (through screens and earbuds). Modern teachers must do more than lead to water.
Next, let's examine the ideal scenario: We have an expert horse handler and a well-trained, thoroughbred horse. The handler has years of experience, the best training, and access to the best tracks, facilities, and hydration equipment. The horse loves to run and, as a result, loves to drink. The handler teaches new horses where, when, and how to receive high quality water early on, and because these horses love to run and drink, the rest of the handler's job is simply a matter of scheduling how much water to provide, when, and of what quality. This is ideal -- the best teachers have the best tools while working with the best, most self-motivated students. This far too rare.
What about the thirsty horse? When a horse already knows how to find and assess the quality of water, handlers matter less. When the horse understands water's value and how to find it, then the handler could be terrible or great; the horse will still drink. This is why so many mediocre teachers enjoy above average results in wealthy, educated communities -- students are learning independent of classroom instruction. Those of us who teach in wealthy and educated communities must continually question our results -- how much have we contributed? When the students have the means and desire, teacher effectiveness measures become murky. A thirsty horse can save a handler.
But what about the horse that won't drink? I often remind my classes that "Every student has the right to fail, but I don't recommend you exercise the right." The reality is that some horses aren't thirsty (or are thirsty but resist the handler); this is when we need skilled handlers most. If a teacher simply writes off a student because he doesn't want to learn, that teacher is failure. If your job is sales, you won't make much money if you take "no" too readily, if you don't try to change the buyer's mind. So it is in teaching -- we need to change the students' minds. We need to show, not just tell, the value of the water. Make education desirable.
What could we do? Unfortunately, these are often the most popular paths forward. We can add more and more water in hopes that the horse will eventually be forced to drink, but this is just a good way to collect soggy and drowned horses. We can switch the horse to soda and sugary drinks -- focus less on what the students are learning and just be glad that some kind of easier learning is occurring (it probably isn't). We can flavor the water -- add in a little something extra to make the content more palatable but less concentrated. We can move to 100% projects and inquiry -- try to convince reluctant horses that finding good water and drinking it are life skills (true) and that slogging through months of inquiry and deadlines is better than the current mix (unlikely). We can threaten to call parents, assign detentions, or ruin college admissions -- bullying and scaring are not functional methods nor are they employed by skilled handlers. We can trick horses by hydrating intravenously -- when students don't realize they're learning, they can't fight back; but if they don't know they're learning, then metacognition is unlikely, and the learning will be shallow and short-lived. We can develop a wide variety of novel approaches, but most of them are built upon fads or disrespect the student as someone not capable of making informed, purposeful decisions about his education.
What should we do? First, a skilled handler knows that most horses need to develop a thirst, so they work out before water or food. Make the students 'thirsty'; make learning seem both desirable and necessary. Build curiosity and context. This can be done through thoughtful lesson-framing, attention-grabbing hooks and openers, or introductory assignments that force students to consider their own thirsts before instruction begins. Run the horses before you show them water. Second, teachers need to remember that most students need to learn how to learn as much as they need to learn the content. We need to model the drinking, show the horses how to find, assess, and imbibe the water. Showing a water source is useless if the horse doesn't know how to drink.
FIND THE BEST WATER. WORK THE HORSES; MAKE THEM THIRSTY WHILE LEADING THEM. TEACH THEM HOW TO DRINK. If the horses still won't drink, then we need a veterinarian, not a handler.
By Ryan Tibbens
What is the measure of a man? Should we judge people based upon their best days? Their worst? Their words? Actions? Those they helped? Hurt? Is it possible to quantify a person's morality or lifelong influence? Is a person's humanity best encapsulated in his worst moment or best, or are we defined by our mean, median, or mode? On this Easter Sunday in particular, we should all be thinking about redemption.
In my late teens, I theorized that a person's value, at least in moral terms, could be determined by the sum of her decisions and actions. Every bit of good was scored +1, every bit of bad -1; we could arithmetize a person's value in the world. Plus or minus one for every instance of helping or hurting. I suggested quantifying based upon the recipients of help/hurt, rather than the simple number of acts. There is an oversimplified truth in the math, and despite its simplicity, it would give a better assessment of a person's moral worth than simply judging based upon a best or worst moment. It would certainly be better than trial by social media, which recently seems to be the most popular test.
Given our recent Outrage Culture or Cancel Culture or whatever you'd like to call it, finding a system of ethical assessment has never been more important. Each day, we use the internet to reclassify historical heroes as demons to forget. We use social media to raise up everyday heroes, only to learn one week later that our angel is utterly human. Our fifteen minutes of fame has never been easier to achieve, but it's also never looked less appealing.
Thanks most recently to social media and smart phones with cameras, then to the internet, to mass media, to the printing press, to the written word, and so on, we can track human behavior to an extent once unimaginable. What's even crazier is that we voluntarily forfeit our privacy and autonomy by sharing every bit of our lives online. George Orwell imagines a world of surveillance and social pressure and paranoia in 1984, and today we live it. However, what Orwell never saw, or at least never explained, was how humanity would ultimately choose to live sans privacy. Dave Eggers re-envisions Orwell's nightmares in the context of 21st century life online and explains the process by which privacy will die -- in The Circle, humanity chooses to share everything all the time. There is no authoritarian takeover, just well-marketed, new technology. Everything is online, rated with a thumbs up or down, a like or an emoji; one can't paddle a kayak or get a handjob without sharing the experience online, cameras are everywhere, and nearly everyone opts in. In Eggers' world, people live in total transparency; everyone knows everyone else's personal and professional activities, opinions, feelings, even their parents' and ancestors' transgressions. In one relevant scene, Annie, a young, fast-rising executive at the social media company, agrees to share her ancestry reports only to learn that her supposed blue-blood family had spent generations buying, selling, and abusing human slaves in Europe and North America; she then learns that her parents engaged in a variety of perverse behaviors and once watched a homeless man die as part of a date. Though Annie is to blame for none of these horrific acts, public opinion turns, her career implodes, and her health falters. Is it right for a person to lose her job, her friends, or her happiness because of indiscretions in the distant past?
Today, outrage rules. Our 24-hour news cycle is hungry for content, so when the president isn't tweeting something stupid, the weather isn't destroying homes, and no new wars are erupting, any scandal will do. To operate a cable news channel, all you really need is a semi-literate anchor and a guest who will express outrage -- people will watch, and advertisers will pay. But what about outrage that is disingenuous or poorly directed? What about doxxing people, even youths, who have committed no offenses? Social media has helped to give people what we unknowingly want -- a world in which everyone is either with or against us, where most people agree with us within our echo chambers, where advertisers pay to learn exactly what we want and sell us exactly that. With our world seemingly in a tailspin, perhaps we should slow down and reconsider our judgments and their repercussions.
Is Bill Cosby a bad guy? Yes. Should we avoid The Cosby Show? Probably not. Is Bill Clinton a bad guy? Probably. Should we disavow everything he did as president? Probably not. Was Martin Luther King Jr. a plagiarist and philanderer? Yes. Should that discredit all his other achievements? No. Was Gandhi a racist? Yes. Should we cast aside his human rights work? No. Did Mother Teresa lose faith in God? Yes. Should the Catholic Church label her as an infidel rather than a saint? No. Was Thomas Jefferson a conflicted, confused racist who loved a black woman? Yes. Was he a rapist? Possibly. Should we tear down his monument, burn Monticello, and erase the Declaration of Independence? No. Was Margaret Sanger a eugenicist? Yes. Should that be grounds for closing Planned Parenthood? No. Human beings are inherently flawed, and if we hold all people to super-human standards of modern, progressive morality, we will have no heroes. Hell, Old Testament Yahweh couldn't hold up to modern scrutiny with all his smiting and young virgin brides and directions for executions and sexism and racism and support for slavery and on and on. When the gods aren't good enough, then perhaps good enough doesn't exist. Choose any significant figure you like, give me ten minutes to research, and I'll cast serious doubt on character or achievements. Should we cancel all our heroes? No, because there is usually a baby in that bathwater, and it is usually possible to appreciate a person's contributions without embracing his sins.
I recently had a discussion with a small group of students in which most of them, one young woman in particular, argued that it is now morally wrong to listen to Michael Jackson or R. Kelly because of their off-stage behaviors. I asked her what they did, and she rattled off a list of abusive, perverse behaviors (only some of which have been proven). All the other students who have access to Hulu and HBO quickly expressed disapproval. I shared her concerns about those behaviors, but I disagreed that I should never dance to "Thriller" or "Remix to Ignition" again without feeling guilty. She said that the creative works represent their creators and that enjoying the works is the same as supporting the creator. But that is insane, right? I can love The Motorcycle Diaries without loving Che's violence and bigotry. I can love Sublime and Janis without loving heroin. Can't I?
Over the last couple of years, our society has polarized in ways that go far beyond left-right politics. Our urban-rural, rich-poor, educated-uneducated gaps have all expanded along with dozens of others. Our seams are ready to burst. The most interesting development though, by far, is how we judge people. Biased thinking is timeless, but I'm not sure if people have ever been so quick to attack or defend a person based upon their prejudices as they are now. Even if that kind of thinking is not new, our ability to research and read should control for hypocrisy, but they do not. Google and Bing and Yahoo and Facebook and Twitter and all the other curators of the internet show us what we want to see, not necessarily what we asked to see. Google knows how I feel about Louis CK long before I search his name, so they show me what I want, not necessarily what is true or current or reasonable.
In a world in which everyone is connected electronically, when we can all share our feelings and judgments instantly, where we spend more time arguing with strangers in comment sections than talking to our next door neighbor, how can we ever have justice? When our neighbors don't know that we exist but acquaintances and strangers watch our every move online, how can we make sense of our world? Priorities are unclear, and morals are contradictory. You can't reasonably say that you want prayer in schools but then criticize schools for allowing Muslims to pray throughout the day. You can't reasonably tell me that you support prisoner rehabilitation and shorter prison sentences for criminals but then ruin a person's career and accept no apology because of politically incorrect language. Our elected officials are not narrowly defined by their greatest accomplishments nor worst transgressions.
Who will be pure enough to be president in 40 years? If advocates for political correctness and social justice warriors have their way, no one. We will have amassed enough status updates, tweets, Snaps, and photos that no one will satisfy the current standard for public service. Well, no one will be pure enough to run as a liberal or progressive, anyway. Conservatives, who have traditionally claimed religious virtue and moral high grounds, seem not to care about these indiscretions. Most of that leniency seems to be about political expediency, but it is possible that a certain degree of Christian forgiveness factors in. Either way, current and recent politicians' concerns are nothing compared to children born today: "hot mic" scenarios have been relatively conspicuous and controllable until recently, but today's infants are growing up with hot mics everywhere. Unless they are a new breed of super-human, none of them will escape the embarrassments of youth or poor judgments of young adulthood that plague us all, so none of them will be pure enough for public service or corporate leadership.
A person's moral value can't be fairly determined based solely upon their bests nor their worsts. An averaging of the two (or a median) might get closer, but arithmetic will rarely yield a solution in ethics. What we need is a little perspective. Jesus once said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone." Youthful mistakes are often just that, and microaggressions are usually more symptomatic of unawareness than anger. We need to remember that all humans are flawed and contain potential for both good and evil. We would be wise to focus on trends and patterns of behavior rather than isolated indiscretions. One man's mistake is another man's hobby. If we have any hope of improving the moral character of mankind, then we must learn to differentiate between sincere and manipulative apologies, between progress and pretense. There must be a way to redeem ourselves after transgressions; otherwise, we've paradoxically found a way for morality to make the world worse. In our ultra-connected, over-stimulated world, we need to understand that good words without good deeds are fool's gold, and also that few deeds are more important than forgiveness.
Slippery SLopes & Global Tropes
Assignment: Write your best, most creative slippery slope argument in the comments.
Slippery Slope: A slippery slope argument, in logic, critical thinking, political rhetoric, and caselaw, is a consequentialist logical device in which a party asserts that a relatively small first step leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant (usually negative) effect. The core of the slippery slope argument is that a specific decision under debate is likely to result in unintended consequences (Wikipedia). The slippery slope is among the most common logical fallacies.
By Ryan Tibbens
It has come to my attention that the Eastern Hellbender is about to be named the official state amphibian of Pennsylvania. As such, it is a no-brainer to rename the Harrisburg Senators, the beloved minor league baseball team, as the Harrisburg Hellbenders. While that is the obvious name choice, this awesome amphibian also goes by snot otter, mud devil, Allegheny alligator, devil dog, and lasagna lizard. Not only is the name far more interesting, appealing, and intimidating, but it also offers a subtle commentary on the state of politics in the state and country. Most Americans would rather cheer for the Hellbender -- a two foot, nocturnal amphibian native to Pennsylvania -- than most elected officials. So, this is our chance to do it. The similarities are striking -- the team plays on an island in a river, plays mostly night games, and is good enough to deserve a more unique, spirited name. Plus, think how much better the logo and merchandise will be. Please sign this Change.org petition (our first at Read.Think.Write.Speak.), share it far and wide, and get ready to cheer on the Harrisburg Hellbenders in 2020!
Today Is the Best Day
By Ryan Tibbens
Today is the best day because it is the only day. Since the moment you were born, you have always lived in "today." You never lived "yesterday," and you will never live "tomorrow." Every day that you are alive is "today," and when you realize that, you'll have taken a long stride toward happiness.
When you realize that Monday, Hump Day, and Friday are only pseudonyms for today; when you realize that tomorrow never comes because, when the clock strikes twelve, tomorrow becomes today; when you realize that you will never wake up in tomorrow, just in a new today; when those abstractions become real, you will be when you are.
I often remind myself, my family, and my students that it is important to "Be where you are." I'm not as good at this as I'd like, but I try. My cell phone is the top distraction in my life, the most common reason that I'm not where I am. My mind is elsewhere, thinking thoughts unrelated to my physical surroundings, just one thumb and two eyes connect my consciousness to my physical reality. In those moments, I am not where I am. I often regret them because real life does not offer rewind or replay functions. The unreal world of my phone can almost always be rewound and replayed. Scarcity creates value, and I can only live now once, meaning right now, right here, is the most important moment in my life: it is my whole life.
We must remember that setting is both time and place, when and where; and to truly live, we must stay in our setting. To live life well, we must actually live our lives, and spending too much time thinking about the past or future means we are not appreciating today, our only day. I am not suggesting a life without reflection nor planning, but when our dominant thoughts in a day are about other days, it is safe to say that we are not fully living today. In Walden, Thoreau writes, "I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life[...]" In order to be present and mindful, Henry David Thoreau withdrew from society and lived a Spartan existence at Ralph Waldo Emerson's Walden Pond for two years, two months, and two days. He lived in a world much quieter than ours, and he still needed to change his setting in order to live today mindfully. If only we could all retire to a private patch of quiet, pristine wilderness when our focus and mindfulness need tuned.
The Roman Stoics saw life, time, and today in much the same way as Taoists and Transcendentalists, though their explanations tend to be more severe and demanding, more masculine and robust. In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius writes, "Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, 'Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?' You’ll be embarrassed to answer. Then remind yourself that past and future have no power over you. Only the present—and even that can be minimized. Just mark off its limits. And if your mind tries to claim that it can’t hold out against that…well, then, heap shame upon it.” He does not look for a secluded cabin site nor seek the reassurance of a friendly piglet; Aurelius demands mindful focus on today as a matter of pure will and necessity. He also talks about getting the most out of today: "Then hath a man attained to the estate of perfection in his life and conversation, when he so spends every day, as if it were his last day: never hot and vehement in his affections, nor yet so cold and stupid as one that had no sense; and free from all manner of dissimulation."
Even Taoism (see Pooh above) and Buddhism get in on the action of today. We must set in our setting. Be where you are. Be when you are. So much of life's stress comes from regretting yesterday and worrying about tomorrow, but that is silly -- yesterday and tomorrow only exist in our minds. If we can divert our attention and energy away from imaginary days and toward today, if we can pay attention to active attendance, then we can begin getting the most out of life while reducing anxiety and stress. Don't believe me? Check out all these inspirational quotes and images; they couldn't possibly be wrong.
Even the Serenity Prayer agrees: "God/Universe, grant me the serenity /To accept the things I cannot change [the past and future]; / Courage to change the things I can [today]; / And wisdom to know the difference. "
Be where you are, when you are. Be present. Check the links below for recommended reading on the subject.
Because no one else