U of Saskatchewan fires tenured dean for speaking out against cuts

A reader writes, "Robert Buckingham, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan since 2009, was fired last Wednesday for critical comments about the university's restructuring plans. When he showed up for work Wednesday morning, two campus security guards escorted him off campus. The university not only fired him as dean, but also stripped Buckingham of his tenured faculty position. The termination letter signed by Provost and VP Academic Brett Fairbairn said that by speaking out against the school's restructuring plans, Buckingham had 'demonstrated egregious conduct and insubordination' and was in breach of contract."

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Clapper's ban on talking about leaks makes life difficult for crypto profs with cleared students

When James Clapper banned intelligence agency employees from discussing or acknowledging the existence of leaked docs (including the Snowden docs), he made life very hard for university professors like Matt Blaze, a security expert whose classes often have students with security clearance.

My own books -- which deal with leaks like these -- are taught at West Point at a course whose instructors include a member of US Cyber Command. I imagine a rule like this would make future inclusion on the curriculum difficult, if not impossible.

9th grader ignored by school board runs for a seat on the board

Bridget Erickson, a freshman at St Paul, MN's Nova Classical Academy tried unsuccessfully to get the school board to create a student advisory seat on the board. Roundly ignored, she turned to the by-laws governing the board and discovered that there was no minimum age for board members, so she's now she's running for a full-fledged seat on the Nova Classical Academy school board.

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Standardized testing and schools as factories: Louis CK versus Common Core

Louis CK is the latest high-profile voice to join the chorus against the US educational Common Core and the educational system's emphasis on standardized testing. A great New Yorker piece explores the movement against standardized testing and one-size-fits-all pedagogy.

I think it falls short of the mark, though. The rise of standardized testing, standardized curriculum, and "accountability" are part of the wider phenomenon of framing every question in business terms. In the modern world, the state is a kind of souped up business. That's why we're all "taxpayers" instead of "citizens." "Taxpayer" reframes policy outcomes as a kind of customer-loyalty perk. If your taxes are the locus of your relationship with the state, then people who don't pay taxes -- people too young, old, disabled, or unlucky to be working -- are not entitled to policy outcomes that reflect their needs.

"Taxpayers" are the shareholders in government. The government is the board of directors. School administrators are the management. Teachers are the assembly-line workers. Kids are the product. "Accountability" means that the product has to be quantified and reported on every quarter. The only readily quantifiable elements of education are attendance and test-scores, so the entire educational system is reorganized around maximizing these elements, even though they are only tangentially related to real educational outcomes and are trivial to game.

The vilification of teachers and teachers' unions go hand-in-hand with this idea. At the heart of teachers' unions' demands is the insistence that teaching is a craft that requires nonstandard, difficult-to-quantify approaches that are incompatible with factory-style "accountability." The emphasis on the outliers of teachers' unions -- the rare instances in which bad teachers are protected by their trade unions -- instead of the activity that constitutes the vast majority of union advocacy -- demanding an educational approach that is grounded in trust, respect, and individual tutelage -- the "taxpayer" types can make out teachers as lazy slobs who don't want to jog on the same brutal treadmill as the rest of us.

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Danish Geodata Agency commissions 1:1 Minecraft replica of Denmark

For the kids! (Thanks, Shi-n0-bi) Cory 8

Students raise money, give away 300 copies of book banned in their school

Jaimie sez, "My bookstore helped a high school student distribute almost 300 free copies of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, a book that has been challenged and removed from the Meridian (Idaho) School District curriculum." Funds were raised by two Washington students." They're going to give away another 350 copies that the publisher donated next week. Go kids! (Thanks, Jamie!) Cory 26

EFF seeks student activists for campus network


The Electronic Frontier Foundation is launching a major campus organizing initiative and is looking to build a network of trusted campus activists to work with. They're sending staffers on a road-trip to speak at universities and colleges and want to hear from you. They've released a set of community organizing tools to help you get started.

There are plenty of ways to take part, no matter how much organizing experience you have.

* Start a group: Talk to friends and community members to gauge who else in your network is interested in digital freedom. Form a group that can discuss the issues and plan ways of advocating for your rights. For some tips on getting started, check out our guide on how to build a coalition on campus and in your community.

* Bring digital rights to an existing group: These issues are everybody's issues, no matter where on the political spectrum you lie. You can work with existing political, civil liberties, activist, and computer-related groups and urge members to take on a digital rights campaign.

* Organize an event: We have plenty of suggestions for events you can throw, from film screenings to rallies, parties to speaker series.

* Let your voice be heard: We are all part of the digital rights movement together, and your voice is as important as ours. Learn how to coordinate with local and national campaigns, and amplify your message by reading our tips on engaging with the press.

While many student groups and local community organizations are working on surveillance reform in light of the recent disclosures about massive government spying, it’s not only the NSA that we’re fighting: we’re demanding open access to publicly funded research; we’re fighting to protect the future of innovation from patent trolls; we’re urging companies and institutions to deploy encryption; we're defending the rights of coders and protecting the free speech rights of bloggers worldwide—the list goes on.

EFF is Expanding into Student and Community Organizing, and We Need Your Help

Online test-proctoring: educational spyware that lets third parties secretly watch and listen to you through your computer

Rebecca from EFF writes, "How would you feel about having your computer taken over by online test-taking software - complete with proctors peering through your laptop camera? Reporters at the Spartan Daily (the student paper for San Jose State University) have an interesting story about new software in use there, and the legitimate concerns that some students have. The data-broker connection is especially chilling to those worried about their personal information." The company's response? "We're a customer service business, so it’s really not advantageous for us to violate that trust." Oh, well, so long as that's sorted out then.

The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation, a nuanced and moving history of race, slavery and the Civil War


The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation sat in my pile for too long, and it shouldn't have. I loved The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation, the previous effort by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell, so I should have anticipated how good this new one would be. Having (belatedly) gotten around to it, I can finally tell you that this is an extraordinary, nuanced history of the issues of race and slavery in America, weaving together disparate threads of military, geopolitical, technological, legal, Constitutional, geographic and historical factors that came together to make the Civil War happen at the moment when it occurred, that brought it to an end, and that left African Americans with so little justice in its wake.

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When it comes to learning computers, play is seriously important

Game on? Or game over? [PDF], a brief research report from the U Washington Information School, summarizes some of the findings from the TASCHA report on computer skills acquisition. This particular explainer deals with the relationship between playing games and goofing off on computers and learning to do "productive" things with them, finding (as Mimi Ito did, before) that horsing around is a critical component of mastering computers, and that labs that ban games and other forms of playful engagement with computers are hampering their ability to teach the people they're supposed to be serving. Cory 15

Playground removes "safety" rules; fun, development and injuries ensue


The Swanson School in Auckland, NZ, quietly eliminated all the rules against "unsafe play," allowing kids to play swordfight with sticks, ride scooters, and climb trees. It started when the playground structures were torn down to make way for new ones, and the school principal, Bruce McLachlan, noticed that kids were building their own structures out of the construction rubble. The "unsafe" playground has resulted in some injuries, including at least one broken arm, but the parents are very supportive of the initiative. In particular, the parents of the kid with the broken arm made a point of visiting the principal to ask him not to change the playground just because their kid got hurt.

The article in the Canadian National Post notes that Kiwis are less litigious, by and large, than Americans, and that they enjoy an excellent national health service, and says that these two factors are a large contributor to the realpolitik that makes the playground possible. But this is still rather daring by Kiwi standards.

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Minecraft videos: booming industry with millions of viewers

Glenn Fleishman writes, "Minecraft YouTube videos are fantastically popular, and a core group of producers of these videos have enjoyed a wild ride up the virtual charts. Diamond Minecart, a YouTube channel by 22-year-old Daniel Middleton of Northamptonshire, England, has almost 1.9 million subscribers, and people have watched his videos over 400 million times."

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Kickstarting Lifeform: a fun, educational game about evolution

Michael writes, "I'm launching a Kickstarter campaign for a new game founded in the basics of genetics and physics. You're a cell in a 2d underwater universe, and you must reproduce to gain traits that dictate what you can do. Resources found around the map can be used to construct machines and tools to aide in your evolution. Not only is Lifeform the genetics game we've long been searching for, but it's going to be extremely powerful in classrooms all across the world. Science teachers can use it for genetics lessons, physics, studying the elements, and much more."

This looks really cool (and the prototype is great)! One caveat is that Michael's development projects are pretty thinly detailed, though it sounds like he's had some relevant experience, and the prototype bodes well for the project's future. As with all Kickstarters, you might get nothing for your money! A $15 minimum contribution gets you a copy of the game when and if.

Lifeform: A game of genetic and biomechanical evolution (Thanks, Michael!)

Free science fictional graphic novel about the student debt conspiracy


Christopher Kosek writes, "'The Default Trigger' is a 52 page, free (with a pay what you want version available) digital graphic novel about student loan debt, the shadowy figures lurking in the background who watch over our struggles and their insidious conspiracy to keep this cycle going. It's written and illustrated by me, Christopher Kosek. Plot (with spoilers): When a recent college grad, Joseph Doakes, defaults on over $100k in student loans,"

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Homeland audiobook: Wil Wheaton explains how Little Brother and Homeland make you technologically literate

The Humble Ebook Bundle continues to rock, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a bundle of great name-your-price ebooks, including Scott Westerfeld's Uglies, Steve Gould's Jumper, and Holly Black's Tithe. Also included in the bundle is an exclusive audiobook of my novel Homeland, read by Wil Wheaton.

I commissioned Wil to read the book -- it was pretty much the only way to get a DRM-free audio edition in the age of Audible -- and while he read, he had a series of conversations with the project's director Gabrielle di Cuir from LA's Skyboat Studios. In this clip (MP3), Wil explains how the discussions of crypto and technology in my novels serve as a spur to drive kids -- and grownups -- to research more about security and freedom.

You've got 11 more days to avail yourself of the Humble Ebook Bundle!