My Information Diet, and Cutting Ideology for Evidence.

When I taught in a  Core Knowledge curriculum school, I encountered the writings of Alfie Kohn. I wanted to understand why Cohen was so opposed to the theories of E.D. Hirsch, Jr., the founder of Core Knowledge. I read everything Cohen had written, and tried to reconcile Hirsch’s “Cultural Literacy” model with Cohen’s constructivist approach.

Eli Pariser might call this a clash of filter bubbles, a concept he explains in this Ted talk. A filter bubble filters out thoughts not in sync with our beliefs.

Miss Jean Brodie was famous for her filter bubbles.
Miss Jean Brodie was famous for her filter bubbles.

Gee (2013) exhorts us to work together in “affinity spaces” which are “interest-driven” and “passion-fuelled” (p174). “Affinity spaces, at their best, are key examples of synchronized intelligence,” where “the collective is smarter than the smartest person in it” (p174). Yet Gee also warns us of filter bubbles: “Teams…actually perform better when the free flow of ideas is coupled with critique and debate.” (p193).

Gee (2013) warns of the tyranny of ideology: “We need to find the seeking of evidence as sexy as the trading of ideology”. While Pariser is right to warn us of filter bubbles, trading ideologies over more and more technologies in louder voices is only entrenching polarized views on the critical topics that Gee urges us to address.

What is the solution? Gee tells us that it is a concentrated focus on evidence, not ideology.

This leads to the topic of my “information diet,” or the sources from which I gather most of my information. I network with fellow educators to discuss how better to help individual students. I have email threads going back years where we exchange views. Now we use Messenger, and exchange websites. While I think I get all the advice I need, I know that we have all been “captured” by our common private school teacher culture. An outside perspective might help us see where our thoughts are needlessly chained.

For this post, I am challenged to examine my information diet and expand it with three new, and contrary to my usual beliefs, sources of information. But here’s the thing: as Gee so forcefully decries, most information we trade is in the form of ideologies, not evidence. I had to mine these new comments for links to articles with deeper exploration and, hopefully, some evidence.

I chose the topic of homeschooling (with which I disagree) and followed @schoolhomemom, a teacher turned homeschooler, @VibrantHmschool, a maker of homeschool materials, and @homeschoolcurr, a homeschooling advocate. I waded through a lot of ideology, but three articles softened my entrenched position that schools are preferable to homeschooling.

1. This article, by  @homeschoolcurr presented evidence that, because of tenure and unions, it takes over $100,000 and two years to fire an incompetent teacher.

2. @schoolhomemom directed me to this article, that gives evidence of the enormous stress on teachers from degrading issues like not being able to go to the bathroom. If teachers feel degraded, how is the learning in their classrooms affected?

3. @VibrantHmschool has ideological posts I cannot digest, but I also saw how creative and diverse are her teaching and learning materials, like this project.

Wading through and spitting out unpleasant ideologies, like so much gristle, can be worth it to get to some succulent evidence-based thought that  might give us common ground on which to collaborate. I am now less quick to jump to dismiss homeschooling as an option. Clearly, contrary to my previous views, it can involve a diverse and engaging curriculum.

Kohn considerably altered my practice of teaching. By rejecting part of his and Hirsch’s ideologies, I found evidence for new practices that, I believe, improved the learning in our classroom.


Photo of book “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” licensed for non-commercial reuse by John Keogh via Flickr

Gee, J. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning.

Megaphone cartoon licensed free for commercial use from:

https://pixabay. com/en/megaphone-government-speech-40679/