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Essential Professional Development We Must Provide

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democracy pixabay.jpg

We need only to remember Wells Fargo, the Enron scandal and the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2007-2010 or the sexual harassment and rape charges in the past few months or look locally at the dark underbelly of human behavior. Humans knowingly cheating humans, face to face, one on one and in a large scale. It has happened and will happen again. There are human beings willing to cheat and hurt others. Now, truth and trust are further shaken by the invisibility that the Internet allows.

Professional Development to Protect Democracy

Schools invest in professional development in order for teachers to learn something that will benefit their students. As funds dwindle, early in the budgeting process, professional development is too frequently considered for cutbacks. We conclude there is a professional development necessary not only for the faculty, but the staff in its entirety, the leaders, the parents, the community including the board of education, and most certainly, the students. As educational institutions, we have a responsibility and an opportunity to keep our democracy safe. 

Two frightening factors disturb us. We know the algorithms that are used for trading on the stock exchange and the troll farms that presently are connected to the Kremlin and that fill our inboxes and the ads we see on our Facebook pages.

Investopedia defines algorithmic trading:

Algorithmic trading, also referred to as algo trading and black box trading, is a trading system that utilizes advanced and complex mathematical models and formulas to make high-speed decisions and transactions in the financial markets. Algorithmic trading involves the use of fast computer programs and complex algorithms to create and determine trading strategies for optimal returns.

Alyza Sebenius, a former editorial fellow at The Atlantic writes:

Last week, Facebook disclosed to congressional investigators that it sold $100,000 worth of advertisements to a troll farm connected to the Kremlin surrounding the U.S. presidential election. These advertisements, which targeted voters with divisive political content, added even more evidence of Russia's attempts to meddle with the election. But they also contributed to a larger conversation about free speech in an era where social-media posts replace political pamphlets and the public square has increasingly moved into cyberspace.

Algorithms used for investing, buying and selling on the stock exchange control how we invest or sell.  Our mindset about investing is based upon the rise and fall of the market based upon our assumption that it is individual human beings making decisions about a stock. No more. And worse, those ads on Facebook, or elsewhere that sit on the side or go by quickly that we may not be paying close attention to, create a semi-conscious awareness of something that is either not true, or barely true.

Scott Shane wrote in the New York Times:

They made for a wildly varied slide show, designed by Russia to exploit divisions in American society and to tip the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald J. Trump and against Hillary Clinton. The House Intelligence Committee provided on Wednesday the biggest public platform to date for a sample of the Facebook ads and pages that were linked by a trail of ruble payments to a Russian company with Kremlin ties.

In his article he shares a sampling of the ads. The worry is whether the ads are read and followed, or simply are on the side of our pages and our minds, they are assumed to be real, posted by Americans with concerns and beliefs that either support or oppose ours, while neither is true.

Professional Development From Many Sources

We can educate ourselves, our administration, our faculty and staff, our parents, community members and our students.  We can teach on websites, have learning sessions and presentations, live stream meetings and record them for watching later. We can reach out to those who know and understand and ask them to help in any way they can. Many may even have people on staff who understand things like algorithms and trolls who can share their knowledge at no cost. Professors, friends, and community members may do the same. Partnerships may hold advantages where folks within their companies may be knowledgeable.  Or as a school district taking on the learning and understanding of these new and threatening methods of investing and communicating can be a goal.

Professional Development to Prepare Students for the Future

There have always been things we don't understand or have only cursory knowledge. Now we have both a threat and an opportunity. We have a responsibility as educators to know and understand what is happening and provide an opportunity for our communities to learn and understand, and most importantly, create an awareness and understanding in the youngsters in our charge. If they ask what algorithms and trolls are, every teacher should be able to answer. Every educator should be ready to enter a conversation when the free speech debate arises. If students don't know and understand these dynamic threats to our democracy, how will they know and invest in leading it in the future?

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email. 

Photo courtesy of Pixabay 

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