3-2-1 For 11-27-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

The death of Fidel Castro this week produced a lot of comment and, having recently visited Cuba, it was a story that caught my interest. One of the best pieces I read came from The Atlantic’s interview with “one of the leading historians of U.S.-Cuban relations” who actually interviewed Castro several times. Excellent historical context missing from so much US coverage. (about 12 minutes)

A new study finds that students in middle school through college have poor skills when it comes to evaluating the validity of material they read online. I know, not surprising. And it probably applies to many of their parents as well. I blame a school curriculum that emphasizes memorizing trivia and getting “right” answers over learning to analyze information. (about 5 minutes)

Over the past decade, much has been written about how digital devices are disrupting our ability to concentrate and messing with our memories. Nicholas Carr has created an entire career around that topic. One writer, however, says the idea is a myth and that every change in communications tools throughout human history was met by many of the same fears. (about 9 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

Technological breakthroughs and “moonshot” programs generate a lot of noise, but real, lasting progress usually comes in relatively small steps over long periods of time. Freakonomics has an interesting discussion in praise of that incrementalism. It’s a followup to the previous segment championing the value of maintaining what we already have, over innovation and the drive to produce something new. Both are worth a listen, in either order. (48:29 and 41:41) 1

One video to watch when you have a few minutes.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that nothing you find on a shelf in your supermarket lands there by accident. Manufacturers pay “slotting fees” to not only make their products available but also get them placed in a prime location. It’s a little geeky, but Vox does a good job of explaining the system, and why it could be both good and bad for the consumer. Nothing is ever simple. (6:58)

Football Fantasy

What place should football have in high school?

According to a column in District Administrator, those programs could be a great source of income for districts. From ticket sales to advertising and sponsorships, there’s a lot of money to be made. Oh yeah, and… “they are a source of pride and promotional value for a region, and an important resource that can be used for school and community activities”. But mostly the money.

The writer of this post continues to explain that profits will come only if districts are willing to make some big investments in infrastructure. Like the $60 million stadium, complete with “state-of-the art video scoreboard”, built for one Texas high school. Or the 12,000 seat stadium to be shared by three high schools in a nearby Texas district. Or a “$62 million facility with 12,000 seats that will be used by seven high schools”. Also Texas. See a pattern here?

By the way, the fact that the primary examples in the article promoting high school stadiums are in Texas simply exemplifies that state’s traditional obsession with high school football. If you’d like a better understanding of that infatuation, I highly recommend the book “Friday Night Lights”, which forms the foundation for the movie and TV series of the same name but, in my opinion, is better than either.

Anyway, outside of Texas, he finds a few more, slighly less lavish examples of schools building new facilities for their teams and collecting large fees for naming rights, plus selling advertising and “promotional opportunities” to local businesses. Even income from television rights for high school games he says is a “revenue option”.

And that’s enough of this incredibly stupid idea: that high schools should be putting large amounts of money into, not to mention even more emphasis, on their sports programs. As a professor of sports management who literally wrote a book on the subject notes in the article, “Only a very few, highly successful football programs with large seating capacities and proactive corporate partnership arrangements could even come close to paying for themselves.”

Which mirrors college athletics in which more than half the programs in the “power five” conferences lost money in 2014, despite a decade of increasing “investment” at those schools. But that’s just the most visible part of the issue.

For the vast majority of the more than 4,000 colleges and universities in America, athletic departments should lose money. Their football and basketball teams don’t appear on national television, apparel companies don’t pay them millions for endorsement deals and they don’t have stadiums and arenas generating millions in ticket revenue.

So, district administrators should take a lousy business model, one that largely serves as no-cost-to-them farm teams for professional athletics and benefits relatively few students, and push it down into high school.

Where budgets are already lacking for actual academic programs. And where, for many schools, football already sucks up excessive time and resources, while also benefitting very few students and producing major distractions for the rest.

Don’t Look Over There! Look At ME!!

Watch this.

Television is a drug. from Beth Fulton on Vimeo.

Except that it’s not just television anymore.

The same addictive, demanding nature could easily be ascribed to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Hulu, email, RSS, IM, FourSquare, mobile apps, or any of the exploding numbers of other sources demanding our attention.

Except that we no longer need to go over there to be distracted.

We carry it with us.

The challenge, of course, is finding the valuable little bits in that massive flow of crap.


Thanks to Clairvoy for the link (and for constantly giving me hell :-).