My November 2014 ASCD Educational Leadership Power Up column, A Buying Guide for Parents, can be found online.
Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams writes an insightful, controversial, adult, and humorous eponymous blog. After a day of making decisions with only part of the information he felt he needed, he recently asked, "How do you make descisions with incomplete knowledge?"
It made me reflect on all of the little rules one develops over the years for handling decisions without the benefit of sufficient data. You always start with the easy questions, such as...
- What do the experts say you should do?
- How much experience do the experts have with this question?
- Does the expert have a conflict of interest?
- What's the worst thing that could happen?
- How easy is it to switch course if you choose wrong?
- What information can you find on the Internet?
- Who has made this choice before? Were they satisfied?
- If I delay, will I learn something more that is useful?
- Is there a way to do a limited test?
- Does the decision make logical and mathematical sense?
- Do the experts make this choice with their own money?
- What do the well-informed people in my situation usually do?
- What does the competing vendor say about this vendor?
- Have I seen all of the alternatives?
Those are the questions with relatively clear or quantitative answers. It's the next category of questions that intrigue me, because they involve pattern recognition, and I can't always tell whether I am being influenced by fear and bias, or keen intuition informed by my experience. The questions in this category look like this...
- Does this situation follow a pattern I've seen in scams?
- Is someone giving answers that seem intentionally vague?
- Is information conspicuously missing?
- Is someone trying to rush me?
- Could someone unscrupulous easily take advantage of me?
- Have I regretted this sort of decision before?
- How do I imagine other people will react to this decision?
- If the expert is so smart, why isn't he rich?
What questions would you add to the list?
I don't think a day goes by that I don't have to make quick choices based on limited information. Even big choices that are well-reseached often leave one a little concerned about evidence that may have a political or hidden bias.
Personally, I think we've moved beyond having a complete knowledge of any situation that requires a decision - there is just too much to sift through online. An educated guess is about as good as it gets. And increasingly it seems like this uncertainty that comes with partical knowledge leads to delay - even delay on important decisions that impact our students.
But Scott's set of questions is a good one to have our students and staff think about when it comes to evaluating information.
Is it possible to make decisions anymore that are "beyond the shadow of a doubt?"
IN LOCO PARENTIS: in the place of a parent <school officials acting in loco parentis>
Last week we gave a 30-second survey to our staff to help determine if we are over or under-blocking Internet resources. Above are the results. I am not sure that our filter can be considered fine-tuned when a third of our staff report that they or their students have found needed websites blocked*. We'll work on that...
Anywho, our filtering company gave a little seminar/sales pitch to a group of tech directors from the area last week. I will admit pitches from any filtering company usually rub me the wrong way, with their usual over-emphasis on how much they can block and how under-filtered Internet access (especially to social networks) will lead to mass bullying, suicides, and other inevitable outcomes of not buying their filter and cranking it up to the highest possible level.
One feature I had not heard of before in a filtering system is the ability to customize what is filtered down to the individual level. And one of the techies from a neighboring district said he used this feature when a parent requested that his/her child not have access to Facebook.
I had two immediate reactions.
First, does this person know what a can of worms he is opening by honoring this request? Does he have the time to manage filtering settings for each and every child in his district if all parents ask for customized filtering? What happens when the next parent wants all GBLT resources blocked for his child? Or the next parent doesn't want her kid going to the NRA website? or the Flying Spaghetti Monster site? or ... You get the idea.
The second reaction was - If the parents in the neighboring district tell parents in my district about honoring individual filtering request, we will look very bad if we say no to such requests.
The library world has long admitted that it can not and will not act in loco parentis by not allowing specific children access to specific materials when requested by specific parents. Nobody, but nobody, can keep track of such requests. I believe the no in loco parentis rule should be considered for access to Internet resources as well.
As I reflect on this, however, another option presents itself. What if the school did not have to act in loco parentis but the parents could control what their children could or could not access via the school network? Are we so far away technologically, with parent portals and such, that parents themselves could chose the level of access to the Internet their children would have through school networks? What would be the plusses and minuses of such a system? Hmmmmmm .....
* To be fair, most teachers reporting that their students could not access sites could not remember what locations these were. We will be asking teachers to report such occurrences immediately in the future.