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Check Ins, Reassurances, and Concerns, 12/5

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.05.20

This is intended to be our system for checking in on imaginary friends, so that we know whether or not to be concerned if you go offline for a while. There is no way it could function as that sentence implies, but it's still nice to have a thread.

Episode 57


 

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The Problem of Cameras

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.04.20

I'm starting to think about my spring classes, which will be mostly remote. There are very divided feelings about cameras among teachers, and specifically whether or not you should mandate that students keep their cameras on (and keep their faces in the frame).

The argument against having a mandate is that it's a massive intrusion into someone's home to force them to use a camera. That it's a matter of equity, because students can't necessarily control the other people in their homes, and may not be able to attend from a calm, quiet place, and it's a violation of their privacy to mandate that they essentially disclose this to the class.

A second part of this argument points out that when students have poor internet connections, keeping their cameras on may make the connection creakier and more apt to freeze or crash. Again, an issue of equity.

The argument in favor of mandating cameras is that otherwise, everyone will keep their cameras off, and it's bad for teaching and learning if you can't verify that there's even someone there. That it's good for social support if students can develop a community and see each other's faces. And finally, that it's annoying and unpleasant to only have your face on the screen and feel like you're giving a TED talk.

Educators from the first camp would respond that there are many other ways to ensure participation without mandating cameras: you can call on students and have them annotate the screen, you can use break-out rooms or other non-lecture activities, you can do gameshow style quiz questions, etc etc.

Educators from the second camp would say that none of that stuff works if the student literally isn't there anymore. In Jammies' classes, the remote students are not actually there about 95% of the time. I promise I am not exaggerating - the school has about a 60% failure rate of classes.

Finally, educators from the privacy camp would say that you can require students to record presentations of themselves, and that's much more equitable because a student can find a quiet time and place of their choosing, and can re-record themselves as many times as they want, until they get a suitable recording.

At the k-12 level, our district has a universal rule that cameras may not be required. In my brother's district, there is a universal rule that cameras must be kept on (and face in frame.)

Here is my experience and questions/concerns for my own classes:
1. I prefer the idea of aligning myself with the privacy/equity camp.

2. I do call on students constantly, in non-terrifying ways, and I can guarantee fairly well that I know who is there and who is not there.

3. Nevertheless, I find it annoying to have no one with their camera on, and that's what it deteriorated to over the course of the semester. As far as learning and participation, I think it would go a little better overall with cameras on, but it would probably vary depending on the student whether it was a net improvement.

4. On the privacy concern: Can I ask this without being a jerk? I like to think of myself as someone who values privacy concerns.

My question is: Is it really the camera that is an intrusion, and not the audio? You can use a virtual background or sit against a wall. ISTM that the part that's outside of the student's control is the noise produced by other members of the household.

5. I am dead certain that if I polled my students and said, "I want you to develop the kind of rapport that you get from seeing each other's faces. Would you rather record a video of yourself a few times over the semester, or would you rather keep your camera on?" that nobody would prefer to record a video.

6. However, the crappy internet connection thing is very real. I would not want to mandate that someone keep their camera on if it is messing with their internet stability.

Bottom line: I need to tighten up class design in order to create more community/rapport in the class, so that they'll work together more effectively, because the lack of community is really tanking how well they're learning the material. It's very hard to do that remotely.

Second bottom line: If a bunch of kids have a worse math class this year, it's really not that big a deal. It's much more important to keep everyone safe, healthy, and mentally healthy. I am not that full of myself over the importance of my classes.


 

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Books For Others

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.03.20

I went back to this thread and got a whole bunch more books for my kids, for the holidays.

Any new book ideas for kids, that you've come across or didn't make it in that thread? I find the following categories useful, but don't restrict conversation to these categories:

1. Series books for kids, ranging from 6-12 years old. Some of our kids gravitate more towards what I'd call "comfort food" books than books that generate strong emotions or require deep thinking, so that is a useful detail: is the book intense? whimsical? funny? light?

2. They all love graphic novels series and lately, manga in particular, for Pokey. These are frustrating to buy, though, because they seem to last 30 minutes, so I prefer to get them from the library. But when it's a really great series that a kid might reread over and over again, I don't mind buying it.

3. Chapter books that are a pleasure for an adult to read with a kid. We've got a great routine going right now where I read a chapter every night to all of them, once they're in bed, and I really enjoy doing so. (This is a good opportunity for the less-comfort-food books.) It is hard to find books that don't lose Rascal (age 6) but sometimes he just goes off separately to read with Jammies.

4. Do you guys ever give books to adults? That seems like a very specific thing, unless you're in the habit of giving coffee table books. I can't think of a time that I've given a book to an adult specifically for a gift occasion.

5. Oooh, one more! My aunt sent us an issue of a puzzle book that came with her regional newspaper, and it's been a big hit with the kids. Kid puzzle books, with assorted kinds of puzzles? I like the fact that it's been paper and pencil, and thus more of a community group interactive thing, than if it were on a device.


 

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Book Group

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.02.20

In the previous thread, the idea of reading Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson was raised.

1. How much interest is there?

2. How about we be regular people, instead of the biggest nerds assigning homework, and drop this whole chapter summary business? It made sense with Piketty, as just a truly difficult book. And it's always a pleasure to read other people's summaries. But it's a giant PITA to write them. Does this make the whole thing more palatable?

We could just, like, pick a date, and agree that we could discuss the book on that date.


 

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Guest Post - Hillbillification

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.02.20

CharleyCarp writes: I thought this was an interesting deep dive into the distinctions between the general white working class of the industrial Midwest and the hillbilly diaspora in the industrial Midwest. It got me to thinking though: is Donald Trump's one true talent to forge solidarity between the two groups, with the former adopting, in their political outlook the paranoia and other cultural aspects of the latter? Sort of a mass acceptance, as far as relations with the state, and with the economic powers that be, that they're all hillbillies now?

If so, is this the sort of thing that will stick?

Or am I completely off base about the whole thing?

Heebie's take: The linked article is thorough and worth clicking through.

I don't know anymore that Trump has one true talent. The Republican party is clearly a coalition of greedy businessfolks, paranoid delusionists, patriarchal racists, and the religious right at this point. I suspect that the paranoid delusionists were undercounted in the polls, and that the businessfolk and religious right were the ticket-splitters. (Obviously these four groups intersect.)

Trump connects with the paranoid delusionists and patriarchal racists very well. I have no idea at this point what correlates with hillbilly histories or what, anymore, though.

On a slightly different note, here is how I think Democrats should speak to Republicans: 1. Stop trying to be even-handed and measured. Stop discussing anything. 2. Accuse them relentlessly of not being able to listen to the policies put forth by the other side. Hammer home only the message, "Why should I bother engaging with you when you don't listen?" The only talking point around has to be the one that they ceased hearing and listening. Go on the offensive and make them prove us wrong.

Here are my reasons:

1. It's the actual truth. There's no good-faith discourse and there hasn't been for decades. It's not an exaggeration. As far as LB's "serious vs literal", this is something you can say literally. You can ask someone, "what is a socialist?" and verify whether or not they have any idea what their accusations mean.
2. Anything else is futile. There's no other conversation that's available across the aisle besides pointing out why conversation across sides has died, and blaming them. Assign the goddamn blame, and do it aggressively.
3. A 3rd party observer will be pulled in to question whether or not Republicans are capable of listening, and possibly think "Well what are Democratic policy positions?"
4. It's the only way to respond to this bullshit "Democrats are condescending" accusation. Don't respond or take that seriously, and for the love of god, don't try to show them how well you can understand where they're coming from. We must go on the offensive right back. Democrats appear condescending if you're already primed to react to everything that way.


(5. By all means if you happen to unlock a conversation where the Republican says, "Oh yeah? if you're so smart, what are the Democratic policies?" then feel free to have a conversation that progresses. But revert to the one talking point if the conversation turns bad-faith.)


 

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AFV

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.01.20

This is silly, but we have found that when we don't have time for a movie but we want to watch a show with the kids, the easiest one to go to is America's Funniest Home Videos. We've been sampling the 2000-20005ish years.

1. We all have the same reactions - no one finds the excruciating ones very funny. There are always a couple moments in an episode where I'm genuinely splitting my sides with laughter. It appeals equally well to a very large range of ages.

2. I could never, ever have done this good a job teaching the kids about pool safety, trampoline safety, piñata safety, bike safety, boat safety, bunk bed safety, and so on. You really get a good sense for the idea that solid-looking large objects can and do tip over if mis-handled, or that being a daredevil, or tackling someone who is in the middle of doing something can go really wrong.

3. They are getting an extremely thorough education in a certain kind of cultural references. It's just relentless, the number of times we have to pause or jot a note to explain something later. The shtick for every monologue is to make a pun based on some semi-pop cultural reference designed to make a dimwit adult circa 2003 feel smart. Who is Jimmy Hoffa? What's a gander? Who is George of the Jungle? What's a parasail? What's Risky Business? etc etc etc.

4. When there aren't cues to the contrary, my brain fills in Dallas, Texas as the location of the videos. You see so many interiors to houses, which I find fascinating. They are mostly pretty depressing as places to live - bare walls, ugly furniture, generally grim. Others are decorated with TLC but not to my particular taste. I find it a fascinating survey, though.

5. One of my favorite moments was when Hawaii looked at the physical address of AFV, written on the screen, while they explained how to submit your videos, and said slowly, "But how do you mail in a video?!"

It will run it's course and eventually become sufficiently repetitive that we move onto something else. For now, it's working for us. (Between this and Married at First Sight, you may be questioning my sanity.)

(FWIW, Nailed It is a much better wide-appeal show that can entertain everyone from the 5 year old on up.)


 

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Check Ins, Reassurances, and Concerns, 11/30

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 11.30.20

This is intended to be our system for checking in on imaginary friends, so that we know whether or not to be concerned if you go offline for a while. There is no way it could function as that sentence implies, but it's still nice to have a thread.

Episode 56


 

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Not Feeling The Joementum

Posted by Ogged
on 11.30.20

I think it's the kids' Big Nate books that have "yo mama" jokes in them, so yesterday the boys and I were trying to think up some good ones. Much as I love my children, this wasn't something they were great at, but I did come up with "Yo mama so fat, call me Ishmael," which I thought was pretty solid, though it did require some explanation.

That aside, tell me I'm wrong here: Joe Manchin has already said he won't support getting rid of the filibuster, so even if the Democrats win both Georgia senate seats, the best they can do is executive actions (when did these become such a thing? Bush II? It's such a chaotic way to run things) and whatever Manchin (or the most conservative Dem on any given topic) agrees to, which is not, to put it optimistically, going to be any progressive dream. And that's if Democrats win both seats, which is already a long shot. If they don't manage that, Biden will be lucky to even staff his cabinet, let alone pass legislation.

In either scenario, building a case for reelection is going to be tough, Republicans will have four years to disenfranchise more people, Fox News will maintain its hold on people's minds, and if a Republican is elected to the presidency in 2024, we'll be lucky to have anything like a fair national election in the foreseeable future. Tell me I'm wrong!

(Incidentally, in the interest of information gathering, we had a consultation with a Canadian immigration lawyer a couple of weeks ago. There are ways to get up there if you can get a job first, but in their "Express Entry" track, you need about 470 points out of a possible 600 to qualify, and we had to laugh when we found out that if you're between 20 and 29 years old, they shower you with 100 points just for existing, and if you're 45 or older, you get...zero.)


 

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Herd-ish brakes on outbreaks?

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 11.30.20

So, Covid cases have been trending down in the US for the past week. Presumably this is very short term, because we're very nearly to the end of the 5-7 day incubation period since Thanksgiving. Soon this trend will be affected by Thanksgiving behavior, and we'll know how this national experiment went.

But for the time being: Daily Covid rates seem to spike and then come down again. There doesn't seem to be a predetermined ceiling necessary to the spikes, but each outbreak seems to have one.

Here's a dumb question: Is it strictly a matter of human behavior that turns things around? This map makes it look like Americans didn't change their behavior 2-3 weeks ago, in terms of staying home. I can't find anyone publishing mask-wearing rates over time. Is it just that the states with no masks have incrementally begun wearing masks?

I have a separate theory, and I'm curious to know if it could be a factor. I know we're nowhere close to herd immunity, but I also know that people's networks of exposure are complicated. You can have many mutually disjoint subgraphs that roughly share goegraphy and time. It seems to me that if a particular sub-graph of people were all hit by an outbreak, then that subgraph has some herd immunity, and can act as a bottleneck against spread to certain subgraphs that are connected by fewer hubs to the larger graph.

For example: suppose it rips through all the college-age kids working at a grocery store. Or all people who go to a specific church. Then I would think that a month later, that grocery store or church is less likely to be a low-level source of contagion. Or whichever type of person is most likely to exhibit superspreader behavior: if a sufficient portion of those people in a community contract Covid and get over it, then that seems like it could curb the peak of the outbreak, without anyone changing their behavior. If many of these nexuses of contagion are getting checked off, then it seems like a peak could occur.

I'm not saying that we're anywhere near herd immunity on a mass scale, but rather that things proceed in fits and starts, because once the virus rips through a small cohort, it sort of salts the earth behind it in terms of pathways it can take to new cohorts. Then over time, the virus would reach different hubs and cases would spike again.

I'm sure epidemiologists have interesting graph theory results about all this. I'm also sure that it's only somewhat supported by contact tracing, because no one is able to maintain contact tracing at peak outbreak levels.


 

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Weekend Longread

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 11.29.20

Infertility is an intense topic, and Lena Dunham seemingly only has one mode - to be intense and polarizing. This article is about Dunham's desire and struggle to have a baby.

First, I do think she's an excellent writer. Second, infertility is such a hard, sympathetic struggle and at the same time, Dunham's shtick is generally to be exasperating and deliberately unsympathetic. For me, she stays on the tightrope of sympathetic and honest, but you may feel differently!

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