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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

The Coward of Broward? I’m Not Convinced.

As we are all acutely and painfully aware, on February 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School school in Parkland, Florida, carrying an AR-15 assault rifle, and began a shooting rampage that ended with 17 people dead and 14 injured. This particular school shooting would be one of the worst in recent memory in the United States.

MSD High School

A few days later, news outlets reported that Scot Peterson, an armed school resource deputy assigned to the school, was outside the building when the shooting began, but didn’t go inside.

Like everyone else, I reacted initially with shock and disappointment when I heard this. I repeatedly wondered how many people might have been spared a horrific death, if he had simply done his job and ran into the building. I didn’t expect him to single-handedly take down the assailant and save the day (like a police drama protagonist on television) but I did expect him to do something. Law enforcement officers are supposed to protect us, and even put their lives on the line in the performance of their duty. It didn’t take long before he was labelled (at least on social media) “The Coward of Broward”.

Then I read an opposing point of view, from someone who is vastly more qualified than I to speak on such matters. Jim Diamond (a retired police officer, SWAT team member and demolitions expert, with 34 years of experience) argued that Peterson did the right thing, because it would have been unwise to run into that situation without backup. He added that it is unfair to blame the deaths of the 17 students on this one individual. Then he said something very interesting: “And one incident where he was possibly untrained or emotionally ill-equipped to deal with it, is going to mark him for life.

This is the avenue I’d like to explore: he may have been emotionally ill-equipped to handle this situation.

What does it take to engage yourself in an active shooting situation? I have no idea. I’ve never been a law enforcement officer or in the military, and I’ve never owned a gun, which relegates me to a mere armchair quarterback, judging silently from the sidelines.

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The Military Historian’s View

Gwynne Dyer is a military historian who joined the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve when he was 16. After receiving his Ph.D in military history, he became a journalist, and during the 1980s he was the host of the television documentary series War. In one episode of this series, Dyer proposes that humans are not wired to kill other people, and that being able to kill on command goes against our very nature.

Gwynne Dyer, Marching Soldiers

In the episode entitled Anybody’s Son Will Do, he explains: “All soldiers belong to the same profession, and it makes them different from everybody else. They have to be different, for their job is ultimately about killing and dying, and that doesn’t come naturally to any human being… The method for turning young men into soldiers – people who kill other people – is basic training… The secret of basic training is that it’s not really about teaching people about things at all. It’s about changing people, so that they can do things they wouldn’t have dreamt of otherwise. If you want to change people quickly and radically, what you do is put them in a place where the only right way to think and to behave is the way you want them to. You isolate them; and then you apply enormous physical and mental pressure… [These recruits are] entering a machine which turns out a very special and artificial product: soldiers.

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Dehumanizing the Enemy

Killing another human being goes against everything that’s hard-wired into us, and it takes years of specialized training and extreme physical and psychological conditioning to act against it. That’s why, in addition to basic training, soldiers are repeatedly exposed to material that dehumanizes the enemy.

In a 2007 report by Lt. Col. David Grossman entitled Hope On The Battlefield, he writes “There have been active efforts by the American military apparatus, since World War II, to overcome the basic resistance that human beings have towards killing other members of their own species. One of the most fundamental of these efforts has been to dehumanise the enemy.

Brian K. Price wrote the following in Quora “I would highly recommend the book “On Killing” by LTC Dave Grossman (USA-ret). He does a great job of explaining how hard it is for one person to kill another person (outside of a direct interest such as wrath, greed, jealousy, etc.) and how this has impacted the US military throughout our earlier wars. He then… discusses how training has been modified to overcome these inherent stoppages in killing others and what the implications may be for society as a whole.

In wartime, the enemy is often portrayed as a group of savages, living in a primitive, backwards land, who don’t share the same values as everyone else. Propaganda videos malign their culture and portray them as inferior.

There is, however, a price to pay. Success in getting a soldier to view the enemy as an object, an animal, or anything less than human, carries its own collateral damage. Medical Daily argues that this psychological conditioning affects soldiers long after they return from the battlefield, often manifesting itself as mental illness, depression and schizophrenia.

The television series The Outer Limits dealt with this subject, in the episode Hearts and Minds. [Spoiler alert] Soldiers fighting a battle on another planet, in order to protect a mineral claim there, are given regular injections of a hallucinatory drug. This drug makes the enemy appear to them as grotesque insect-like creatures, so that they will be easier to kill. The commanding officers, however, tell the soldiers that the drug is a vaccine that will inoculate them against alien parasites, and must be re-administered regularly. When one soldier misses his dose, the drug starts to wear off, and the enemies slowly transform back into humans, resulting in a moral quandary among the soldiers.

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Arming Teachers

You may have to make the decision to give up and die, or to make somebody else give up and die… and what, in your comfortable urban life, has ever prepared you for that decision?” – James Burke

Donald Trump’s response to the Parkland shooting is a plan to arm 20% of schoolteachers. He is also offering them a monetary bonus if they agree to carry a gun in their classroom. As you can imagine, this idea is not being well received.

Arming Teachers Headline

I also think this is an exceedingly poor idea, and one that is not particularly well-thought-out.

As armchair quarterbacks, I think most of us, to varying degrees, subscribe to the following idealized version of events, gleaned from watching hundreds of hours of television: our hero runs boldly and conspicuously into a school, assesses the situation instantly, and then proceeds to take out the shooter with a single bullet, with 100% accuracy and no collateral damage. Our hero also survives unharmed, physically and psychologically.

The reality, of course, is vastly different. Let’s examine what’s at stake when a teacher is expected to use a firearm.

  • First, there is a question of accuracy. In this British television program called The Last Leg, the host (at 3:03 in the video) says “A study by the New York Police Department found that, in gun fights, their highly-trained officers had an 18% hit rate.
  • Teachers aren’t military soldiers or veterans. They haven’t endured basic training, or the intense physical and mental conditioning that trains soldiers to kill.
  • The person they must shoot isn’t someone whose humanity has been diminished through dehumanizing exercises, or distorted by propaganda videos.
  • This won’t be someone from a far-off land on the other side of the world, who looks different. The person they are expected to kill will likely be an American; someone who looks just like us.
  • On the battlefield, soldiers are shooting strangers. A school shooting is likely to be carried out by a student or a former student. There is a good chance that the teacher will know this person.
  • Not only will the teacher likely know the shooter, it is also likely that at least one of the teachers will have taught this person – the student whom they spent countless hours instructing and nurturing, and during that time, forging an emotional bond.
  • Finally, in war, soldiers are killing adults. In a school shooting, you will have to kill a child. Think about this for a moment…

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Jim Wright posted an insightful analysis on Quora, detailing the emotional reality of being asked to kill a child. Here is an edited version of that post (the full version is in the link, above):

‘Specially-trained.’ Who designs the training. On what criteria? To what standards?

This training would have to specially designed because you’re talking about non-professionals with guns in a building full of panicked children AND those “specially trained people” will be very likely facing a CHILD with a gun who is killing other children.

We don’t train soldiers for that. We don’t train cops for that. So we’re going to need special training, including not just the mechanics and theory of combat arms, but the psychology of killing a CHILD in an active shooter situation.

If you don’t understand why this is a problem, then you’re very likely unqualified to be in this conversation in the first place. It takes years of training to condition a soldier to kill another human being on command, let alone a child.

And when that killing occurs, it’s usually in a warzone, alongside your squadmates, and while that engagement is very, very often chaotic, it can’t be compared to the confusion and chaos of a building packed with screaming running children that you are supposed to be protecting. In a warzone, if your bullets hit a civilian, even a child, well, that’s collateral damage. It happens. It can’t NOT happen. That’s war. But a school? Full of American kids? You are essentially talking about turning teachers into soldiers and schools into war zones.

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A Failure To Engage

In December 2014, Scot Peterson was a recipient of the School Resource Officer of the Year Award by the Broward County Crime Commission (pages 10 and 20). Peterson has been the resource officer at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School since 2009 and during the past four years, I’m sure that he got to know many, if not most, of the current students in the school.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said in an interview that in the Deputy Peterson incident, there was a “failure to engage”. Some news reports also used that same phrase. I think this is a reasoned and non-judgmental way of expressing the situation. Despite all of his years on the force and all of his firearm training, Scot Peterson – for reasons known only to him – couldn’t bring himself to enter the school, and now I’m beginning to understand why this is possible.

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I must admit that I still lament Peterson’s decision not to enter the school that day, and I often think about what might have been if he had engaged the shooter, but now I’m trying my best to view him with some compassion. Because what prevented Scot Peterson from running into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018 is, ultimately, what makes us all human.

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This New Course Should Be In Every High School’s Curriculum

When I was in high school during the pre-Internet days of the 1980s, I thought that my various classes (along with some excellent teachers) gave us with a solid educational foundation, as well as everything we needed (academically) to take on the world. Of course, we did have one colossal advantage back then – all of the information we accessed via our libraries, textbooks, printed encyclopedias, newspapers and TV news anchors was always carefully vetted, edited, revised, peer-reviewed, or fact-checked before it was published or delivered. Our information was of the highest quality, and could always be counted on for accuracy. Of course, we didn’t appreciate (or even realize) it then, because that’s just the way things were; that was normal.

Encyclopedias

It’s mind-boggling how things have changed since them. In only one generation, the Internet has become woven into the fabric of our daily lives. One of the major benefits of this parallel online world is that information now flows in both directions. In high school, we were simply information consumers; today, anyone can create a web page, publish a blog or post comments to various message boards. We all have a voice; the Internet and social has placed all of us on a level playing field. This is what sociologists call “the democratization of media”. Overall this is a good thing, because it’s empowering. You no longer need to own (or be employed by) a media company in order to be heard.

Unfortunately, there is also a significant downside to this new freedom. The democratization of media has lowered the barriers to entry so significantly, very little of the contributed and promulgated information is still vetted before it’s published. Any marginally-educated yahoo or axe-grinding misanthrope can now post anything he wants online, and much if it is just utter nonsense.

During my time in high school, learning was much like wandering through a museum – we were given only the highest-quality, carefully-vetted information, hand-picked by a legion of curators. Today’s teenagers no longer have that luxury – since most information searches are now done online, and since anyone can be a content creator, their information-gathering experience is more like a garage sale: there are still object of value, but they are surrounded by heaps of worthless junk and items of dubious provenance; one needs to be exceedingly knowledgeable in order to recognize the valuable merchandise amid the great swaths of detritus.

Today’s teens need well-developed critical thinking skills, so that they can navigate the information superhighway – or, more accurately, the information quagmire. They can’t simply accept and digest what is presented to them, the way that we could when we were their age – they need to investigate, contemplate, question, consider, interpret, analyze, consult… and then formulate their own opinions.

Now, The Bob Angle: my high school education covered all of the bases, but in today’s connected world, the democratization of media and the resulting lack of information vetting has created a cavernous knowledge gap in our educational system. High school students need to develop critical thinking skills now, before they start spending a lot of time online. That’s why I’d like to propose adding a new course to the curriculum of every high school – one that will develop these critical thinking skills and allow teenagers to separate the wheat from the chaff in their online lives. The course will be divided into two components: critical thinking, and privacy / safety. Here is a summary of the material that would be covered:

Critical Thinking Skills

Armchair Activism: An armchair activist is someone who wants to make the world a better place – but who isn’t motivated enough to actually get out of their chair and do something about it. They spend their time sitting in front of their computer and posting (or re-posting) messages on their Facebook wall or other social media sites. Another term for this behaviour is slacktivism.

Click To Save The World

Your physics teacher will tell you that W = Fd. That is, work is equal to a force, moved across a distance. This concept also applies in the world of social media. Force can be thought of as your desire to make the world a better place. I think we all share that desire to varying degrees. However in order to accomplish any work, you need to move that force across a distance, and that means doing more than sitting in your chair and posting a message to your Facebook wall for an hour. In this course module, we’ll look at some of the popular armchair activist posts on Facebook and other social media sites, analyze them, the motivations behind them, their usefulness, what the word “support” really means, and then discuss other ways of showing our support for these causes.

Misplaced Activism: There’s an old expression, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. The emphasis, of course, is on the word “little”. There are many people who want to make changes in the world, and unlike the armchair activists, they are actually willing to get out of their chairs and do something about it. However, their lack of knowledge often reduces their well-intentioned efforts to a fool’s errand or an exercise in futility. The viral nature of these widely-circulated e-mails is fascinating because they demonstrate how little the general public understands about economics and history, and how easily they can be duped. During this part of the course, we’ll take a look at some popular online boycott requests – The Great Gas Out, Procter & Gamble’s satanic imagery, Tommy Hilfiger’s xenophobia – examine their arguments, and look for any flaws in the authors’ reasoning.

Mad Skillz On The Message Boards – Identifying Logical Fallacies: Your parents’ school probably had a debate club – however, I don’t think they are as popular now. Ironically, the skills learned in debating are now almost indispensable; they will stand you in good stead when you enter the corporate world. In addition to helping you form well-structured, logical and coherent arguments, these skills will help you spot errors in your opponent’s argument. These errors are known as logical fallacies, and if you can catch your opponent using them, the you will be able to nullify his argument, deflate his ego and win the debate.

Logical Fallacies

Today, similarly heated debates continue on message boards and on the reader comment sections below newspaper articles. However, not all participants are equally talented. Many people – even ones who are presumably mature and well-educated – make basic errors in defending their positions. During the next few classes, we will arm ourselves with an arsenal of devastating linguistic and logical tools, and you will learn how to deftly disarm and neutralize your message board detractors. We will also study Godwin’s Law, Confirmation Bias, the Dunning-Kreuger Effect, and how anonymity breeds hostility. Sample exercises will include:

  • Identify common fallacies: straw man, ad hominem, begging the question etc.
  • Analyze the reader comments sections of current news stories, and spot any flawed reasoning in the comments.
  • How logical fallacies destroy your sales credibility.

Don’t Feed The Trolls: The modern-day definition of a troll is a person who posts a deliberately provocative or upsetting message to a reader comments section or message board. These people are not interested in reasoned dialogue – they simply want to get a rise out of you. It seems to be how they get their kicks.

Troll Comment

In this unit, we will learn how to identify trolls, the methods they employ, and appropriate responses (or lack of responses) to their posts.

Spotting Shoddy Journalism: Many web sites try to pass themselves off as professional news organizations, complete with impressively-formatted web pages. They are often nothing more than a group of individuals (or members of a special interest group) who are trying to use this ruse to lend credibility to their opinions or to further some sort of political or personal agenda. In this unit, you will learn to identify credible news organizations, and recognize the hallmarks of professional journalism. For example, a domain name that contains the word “occupy” or “truth” is certainly a red flag.

Parody News Sites: A generation ago, there were only a handful of news sources, and all were completely credible: local newspapers, radio stations, television stations and news magazines. Today, you can go online and read just about any newspaper anywhere in the world, which is wonderful because you can read about world events from disparate points of view. However, there are also a growing number of parody news sources in cyberspace (and even on television), and some of their stories are so well-presented and skillfully-produced that they could easily fool novices. Some of us have a sophisticated sense of humour, and can appreciate the subtlety of a well-crafted parody news story. Unfortunately, other people will believe anything they see in print (or on a screen) that sounds the least bit plausible, and will then forward it to all of their friends.

Onion Obama

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is probably the best-known source of fake news and biting commentary. Online, there is The Onion, The Spoof, The Daily Mash, The Daily Currant, The Unreal Times, and Faux News. In this part of the course, we will learn the names of the most popular parody news sites, so that you’ll be able to identify them instantly. We’ll also study a number of news stories, both real and parodied, and try to determine which ones are authentic.

Misattributed Quotes: When your parents went to school, no one questioned the veracity of quotations. Today, anybody can post anything they want on social media, and many people don’t bother to do any research. Now we are seeing all kinds of inspirational or New Age quotes that are from a variety of unlikely sources – anyone from Einstein to Bill Cosby. How can you tell which ones are misattributed? In this unit we will examine a number of quotes (real and misattributed, with and without background images) – and discuss which ones seem authentic.

Einstein Frequency

An excellent resource is the Quote Investigator web site. If you want to include a quotation in an essay or research paper, quoting someone’s Facebook post is not good enough – you need to do a little investigative work first, and provide a credible source as your reference.

How To Spot An Urban Legend: You wouldn’t spread a rumour about someone without first checking to see if it was true… of course you wouldn’t. Unfortunately, people forward e-mail messages, re-tweet and re-post stories all the time on social media without bothering to check if the information is true. This is not done maliciously – it’s generally just because people are clueless. Many of my own middle-aged Facebook friends – many of whom are intelligent – spread urban legends because they lack the simple analytical skills to determine whether a story is false (or whether an image is Photoshopped).

Gates Giveaway

Some examples are fairly obvious – Bill Gates isn’t going to send you a cheque for $245 for forwarding a single e-mail message, but others require a little more digging to uncover their logical flaws. In this module, you will learn how to examine urban legends with a critical eye, how to spot the telltale signs, questions you should ask yourself, and several debunking resources that you can consult.

Margarine Myth

Identifying Pseudoscience: Many well-intentioned people forward official-sounding warnings about everything from artificial sweeteners to margarine, in an attempt to help us lead healthier lives. Much of this information is just utter nonsense, and will fool only those people who don’t have a solid grasp of science. In this section of the course, we’ll look at some examples, debate the merits of the author’s position, and then try to poke holes in their arguments.

Corporate E-mail Etiquette: This should be common sense, but you would be surprised by the number of young people who have lost their jobs because they didn’t behave professionally in their online communication. In this unit, we’ll look at e-mail from Claire Swire, Peter Chung, and other high-profile examples. Learn from their mistakes, and don’t let this hinder your career.

 

Privacy And Safety

Scam Identification: You receive an e-mail from a friend. He says that he is in England and that his wallet (containing his passport, identification, and all of his money) has been stolen. He needs you to send $1500 to a Western Union office so that he can buy a plane ticket to return home. He promises to pay you back as soon as he return. Would you send him the money? In this unit, we will discuss the various ways that people use the Internet to separate you from your money – including the Nigerian 419 scam, the European Lottery fraud, the Mystery Shopper job, and the fake Microsoft support calls.

Google Ego Surfing

Manage Your Online Presence: A generation ago, companies looked only at your resume when considering you for a position. Now. they will look at your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter account and even your Facebook profile. What you post online can define you as much as your resume. Practise “ego surfing”, and manage (as much as possible) what others can discover about you. Learn how to adjust your social media privacy settings and ensure that you aren’t broadcasting more about yourself than you intend to.

Photos Reveal More Than Just An Image: When you share a digital photograph, you are often sharing a lot more than just the image. Additional information, known as EXIF data, is also attached to the photo, In this unit, we’ll take a look at the EXIF data that’s saved with every photo taken with a digital camera, how it can be used to determine your exact location, and how to delete it.

No Phishing

No Phishing Allowed: Phishing is a technique used by hackers to get you to reveal your personal account information by pretending to be a legitimate authority or a trustworthy person. In this section of the course, we will examine common phishing attempts, and look for indicators that they are not authentic. If you receive a phishing e-mail, don’t merely delete it – there are addresses to which you can forward these e-mails so that the financial institution can take steps to identify the culprit and shut down their web site.

Online Predators: When your parents were your age, during the pre-Internet days, there was no such thing as an online predator because communication was done face-to-dace, or by telephone. A middle-aged man just couldn’t impersonate a child.

Online Predator

Today, everything has changed. You can be anyone you want behind you screen and some people will believe you if all they can see is words typed on a screen. This course module will teach you how to identify people who aren’t what they appear to be. Even if you don’t use this information for yourselves, teach it to your younger siblings and make them aware of the danger signs.

Online Bullying: How to identify it, and the best ways to deal with it. We will also discuss the gray area of online vigilantes – computer-savvy groups of people who identify online bullies, and then track them down and deliver their own brand of justice.

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