With the onset of the corona-virus in the US, increasing numbers of people are working from home. While many, indeed most, jobs don’t allow for home-based employment, both new technology (e-mail, video conferencing, etc.) and public health concerns are compelling increasing numbers of employers to permit their workers to telecommute/work-from-home. In fact, long before the Covid19 pandemic, ever greater numbers of U.S. workers have been working from their homes. One source notes that between 2005 and 2017, the number of people telecommuting grew by 159 percent. Prior to corona-virus, about 4.7 million people in the U.S. telecommuted. That number is expected to dramatically increase in 2020.
Benefits and Liabilities of Telecommuting
Telecommuting offers a number of benefits. In her article, “Benefits of Telecommuting for The Future Of Work,” Andrea Loubier reports that productivity receives a boost from those who telecommute because telecommuters are less distracted and more task focused. “With none of the distractions from a traditional office setting, telecommuting drives up employee efficiency. It allows workers to retain more of their time in the day and adjust to their personal mental and physical well-being needs that optimize productivity. Removing something as simple as a twenty minute commute to work can make a world of difference. If you are ill, telecommuting allows one to recover faster without being forced to be in the office.”
Telecommuting offers workers flexibility that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Many workers are able to organize their work with greater efficiency, deliberately integrate non-work tasks into their daily schedules. For older workers, telecommuting allows many to remain in the workforce longer. Some studies indicate that working from home also reduces employee turnover and increases company loyalty. For employers telecommuting also reduces costs, including costs associated with office space, employee hiring (due to reduced turnover), office supplies, equipment, etc.
Despite the advantages of telecommuting, working from home (or working anywhere off-site) also has disadvantages. For some, distraction isn’t decreased by working at home; it’s increased. Working from home can also be isolating and reduce the social rewards of the non-home workplace. Jobs that require building and maintaining strong interpersonal relationships are not well suited for telecommuting. As Mark Leibovich writes in “Working From Home in Washington? Not So Great,” “So much of what we do is just looking someone in the eye,” “When you can see a facial expression or body language, you get a much better sense if you’re making your case. It can be much more challenging to convey urgency remotely.”
Telecommuting Statistics at a Glance
Below are some statistics about telecommuting as reported by Flexjobs:
- 3.3 million full-time professionals, excluding volunteers and the self-employed, consider their home as their primary place of work.
- Telecommuters save between $600 and $1,000 on annual dry cleaning expenses, more than $800 on coffee and lunch expenses, enjoy a tax break of about $750, save $590 on their professional wardrobe, save $1,120 on gas, and avoid over $300 dollars in car maintenance costs.
- Telecommuters save 260 hours by not commuting on a daily basis.
- Work from home programs help businesses save about $2,000 per year per person and reduce turnover by 50 percent.
- Typical telecommuters are college graduates of about 49 years old and work with a company with fewer than 100 employees.
- Remote workers are satisfied with the company they work for (73 percent) and feel that their managers are concerned about their well-being and morale (56 percent).
- For every one real work-from-home job, there are 60 job scams.
- Most telecommuters (53 percent) work more than 40 hours per week.
- Telecommuters work harder to create a friendly, cooperative, and positive work environment for themselves and their teams.
- Work-from-home professionals (82 percent) were able to lower their stress levels by working remotely. 80 percent have improved morale, 70 percent increase productivity, and 69 percent miss fewer days from work.
- Half of the U.S. workforce has jobs that are compatible with remote work.
- Remote workers enjoy more sleep (45 percent), eat healthier (42 percent), and get more physical exercise (35 percent).
- Telecommuters are 50 percent less likely to quit their job.
- When looking at in-office workers and telecommuters, 45 percent of telecommuters love their job, while 24 percent of in-office workers love their job.
- Four in 10 freelancers have completed projects completely from home.
“Benefits of Telecommuting for The Future Of Work,” Andrea Loubier , Forbes July 20, 2017
“What is Telecommuting?” The Balance Career
“The Growing Army of Americans Who Work From Home,” Karsten Strauss Forbes, June 22, 2017
“Working From Home in Washington? Not So Great,” By Mark Leibovich, New York Times, March 18, 2020
In our previous article, “Schooling vs. Education – What is Education For?” we discussed the difference between schooling and education, examined the emergence of public education in the U.S, and briefly reviewed an article that said that the lingering 19th and early 20th “factory model” of education is out of date and needs to be replaced. Here, we’d like to briefly explore the underlying question: “What is education’s purpose?”
In classical Greece, Plato believed that a fundamental task of education is to help students to value reason and to become reasonable people (i.e., people guided by reason.) He envisioned a segregated education in which different groups of students would receive different sorts of education, depending on their abilities, interests, and social stations. Plato’s student Aristotle thought that the highest aim of education is to foster good judgment or wisdom. Aristotle was more optimistic than Plato about the ability of the typical student to achieve judgement and wisdom. Centuries later, writing in the period leading up to the French Revolution, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78) said that formal education, like society itself, is inevitably corrupting, and argued that a genuine education should enable the “natural” and “free” development of children – a view that eventually led to the modern movement known as “open education.” Rousseau’s views of education, although based in an idea of the romanticized innocence of youth, informed John Dewey’s later progressive movement in education during the early 20th century. Dewey believed that education should be based largely on experience (later formulated as “experiential education”) and that it should lead to students’ “growth” (a somewhat ill-defined and indeterminate concept.) Dewey further believed in the central importance of education for the health of democratic social and political institutions. Over the centuries, philosophers have held a variety of views about the purposes of education. Harvey Siegel catalogues the following list:
- the cultivation of curiosity and the disposition to inquire;
- the fostering of creativity;
- the production of knowledge and of knowledgeable students;
- the enhancement of understanding;
- the promotion of moral thinking, feeling, and action;
- the enlargement of the imagination;
- the fostering of growth, development, and self-realization;
- the fulfillment of potential;
- the cultivation of “liberally educated” persons;
- the overcoming of provincialism and close-mindedness;
- the development of sound judgment;
- the cultivation of docility and obedience to authority;
- the fostering of autonomy;
- the maximization of freedom, happiness, or self-esteem;
- the development of care, concern, and related attitudes and dispositions;
- the fostering of feelings of community, social solidarity, citizenship, and civic-mindedness;
- the production of good citizens;
- the “civilizing” of students;
- the protection of students from the deleterious effects of civilization;
- the development of piety, religious faith, and spiritual fulfillment;
- the fostering of ideological purity;
- the cultivation of political awareness and action;
- the integration or balancing of the needs and interests of the individual student and the larger society; and
- the fostering of skills and dispositions constitutive of rationality or critical thinking.
Needless to say, the extent and diversity of this list suggests that the purposes of education are manifold, and that in different historical periods, and under various historical circumstances, people have looked to education to accomplish a wide variety of ends – from the instillment of reason, to the tasks of self-development and vocational/career preparation. The sometimes incompatible goals of education may inform some of the challenges – both philosophical and practical – that U.S. schools have experienced during the last few centuries, and that persist today. (See “Confusion Over Purpose of U.S. Education System” Lauren Camera, August 29, 2016, U.S. News and World Report.)
Harvey Siegel, “Philosophy of education,” Encyclopedia Britannica
“What is Education for?” Video. School of Life
“Education in Society” Video. Crash Course
“What Is the Purpose of Education?” Alan Singer, Huffpost, February 8, 2016
“Purpose of School” Steven Stemler, Wesleyan University
“Confusion Over Purpose of U.S. Education System” Lauren Camera, August 29, 2016 U.S. News and World Report
“What Is Education For?” Danielle Allen, Boston Review, May 9, 2016
When Mark Twain said, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education” he was distinguishing between the effects of the conventional, institutional practices associated with schools, and the individual human endeavor—a life-long exercise—to become an educated person. But what does education consist of?
Schooling vs. Education
At its core, “education” is the accumulation of knowledge and skills, and of course, moral/ethical values. (See Education) In complex societies—those in which person-to-person informal, intergenerational transmission of skills and knowledge is insufficient to ensure that successive generations acquire such assets—formal, structured schooling has been the form that education has taken. Throughout the history of Western society, much education has been conducted in private settings (e.g., tutors, private schools, monasteries, etc.) In ancient Greece, for example, private schools and academies were tasked with educating the young free-born Athenian. During the Middle Ages, most schools were founded upon religious principles with the primary purpose of training clergy. Following the Reformation in northern Europe, clerical education was largely superseded by forms of elementary schooling for larger portions of the population. The Reformation was associated with the broadening of literacy, primarily aimed at equipping people to read the Bible and experience its teachings directly. It wasn’t until the 19th century, however, that the idea of educating the mass of a nation’s population via universal, non-sectarian public education emerged in Europe and the U.S.
In 1821, Boston started the first public high school in the United States. By 1870 all of the US states had some form of publicly subsidized formal education. By the close of the 19th century, public secondary schools began to outnumber private ones. Access to schooling has been a perennial challenge, with women slowly gaining access throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, and African Americans largely excluded from schooling or relegated to sub-standard schooling. By 1900, 34 states had compulsory schooling laws and thirty states with compulsory schooling laws required attendance until age 14 (or higher). By 1910, 72 percent of American children attended school, and half the nation’s children attended one-room schools. It was not until 1918, a little over a century ago, that every state required students to complete even elementary school.
Throughout its history, schooling has served many purposes. From the beginning of American public schooling, its purposes and goals have been fiercely contested. Some viewed schools as civic and moral preparatory institutions, while others saw schools as essential to forging and consolidating a distinct US national identity. Many saw schools as critical socializing processes which were designed less for the intellectual development of individuals, and more for equipping an increasingly industrializing workforce with the habits of, and tolerance for, factory work.
In a recent article “The Modern Education System Was Made to Foster “Punctual, Docile, and Sober” Factory Workers Perhaps it’s time for a change.” Allison Schrager argues that 19th century American education was designed to produce disciplined, dependable, and compliant workers for an expanding industrial economy. Industrialists (often in alliance with other social sectors, like the Protestant clergy and later social reformers) believed that young people (many of them traditionally involved in agriculture, many the offspring of immigrants to the US) needed to be readied for factory life—which demanded punctuality, regular attendance, narrow task orientation, self-control, and respect for authority. These characteristics, although instrumental for an industrializing economy, were hardly geared toward the development of autonomous, self-directed individuals, and active democratic citizens. The “factory model” of schooling was functional, but by many accounts, stunting. This factory model, Schrager argues, remains widely prevalent in contemporary US schools. (For a critique of the reign of factory model of schooling see, Valerie Strauss, “American schools are modeled after factories and treat students like widgets. Right? Wrong.” Washington Post, Oct. 10, 2015 ) Schrager argues that the factory model is anachronistic and increasingly dysfunctional.
As mentioned, education is always a “contested terrain.” Various social, economic, political, and religious forces are interested in ensuring that schools teach what representatives of these forces value. Consequently, the content, and in some cases, the form, that schooling takes is the product of the struggle among these forces. (See for example our earlier article, “The Implications of Public School Privatization” Part 1 and Part 2 )
Underlying all forms of schooling, public and private, are the implicit questions, “What is education?” and “What is education’s purpose?” In a forthcoming article, we’ll explore these central questions.
Valerie Strauss, “American schools are modeled after factories and treat students like widgets. Right? Wrong.” Washington Post, Oct. 10, 2015
Over the last two decades, American education has sought to introduce and improve student access to digital technology. Since the first introduction of personal computers in classrooms, to the more recent efflorescence of iPads and the use of on-line educational content, educators have expressed enthusiasm for digital technology. As Natalie Wexler writes in The MIT Review, December 19, 2019, “Gallup …found near-universal enthusiasm for technology on the part of educators. Among administrators and principals, 96% fully or somewhat support “the increased use of digital learning tools in their school,” with almost as much support (85%) coming from teachers.” Despite this enthusiasm, there isn’t a lot of evidence for the effectiveness of digitally based educational tools. Wexler cites a study of millions of high school students in the 36 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which found that those who used computers heavily at school “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.”
Although popular, and thought by educators useful, digital tools in classrooms not only appear to make little difference in educational outcomes, but in some cases may actually negatively affect student learning. “According to other studies, college students in the US who used laptops or digital devices in their classes did worse on exams. Eighth graders who took Algebra I online did much worse than those who took the course in person. And fourth graders who used tablets in all or almost all their classes had, on average, reading scores 14 points lower than those who never used them—a differential equivalent to an entire grade level. In some states, the gap was significantly larger.”
While it has been largely believed that digital technologies can “level the playing” field for economically disadvantaged students, the OECD study found that “technology is of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students.”
Why do digital technologies fail students? As Wexler ably details:
- When students read text from a screen, it’s been shown, they absorb less information than when they read it on paper
- Digital vs. human instruction eliminates the personal, face-to-face relationships that customarily support students’ motivation to learn
- Technology can drain a classroom of the communal aspect of learning, over individualize instruction, and thus diminish the important role of social interaction in learning
- Technology is primarily used as a delivery system, but if the material it’s delivering is flawed or inadequate, or presented in an illogical order, it won’t provide much benefit
- Learning, especially reading comprehension, isn’t just a matter of skill acquisition, of showing up and absorbing facts, but is largely dependent upon students’ background knowledge and familiarity with context. In his article “Technology in the Classroom in 2019: 6 Pros & Cons” Vawn Himmelsbach, makes many of the same arguments and adds a few liabilities to Wexler’s list.
- Technology in the classroom can be a distraction
- Technology can disconnect students from social interactions
- Technology can foster cheating in class and on assignments
- Students don’t have equal access to technological resources
- The quality of research and sources they find may not be top-notch
- Lesson planning might become more labor-intensive with technology
Access and availability to digital technology varies, of course, among schools and school districts. As the authors of Concordia University’s blog, Rm. 241 point out, “Technology spending varies greatly across the nation. Some schools have the means to address the digital divide so that all of their students have access to technology and can improve their technological skills. Meanwhile, other schools still struggle with their computer-to-student ratio and/or lack the means to provide economically disadvantaged students with loaner iPads and other devices so that they can have access to the same tools and resources that their classmates have at school and at home.”
While students certainly need technological skills to navigate the modern world and equality of access to such technology remains a challenge, digital technology alone cannot hope to solve the problems of either education or “the digital divide.” The more we rely on the use of digital tools in the classroom, the less we may be helping some students, especially disadvantaged students, to learn.
How Classroom Technology is Holding Students Back, Natalie Wexler, The MIT Review, December 19, 2019
“Technology in the Classroom in 2019: 6 Pros & Cons” Vawn Himmelsbach, Top Hat Blog, July 15, 2019
The Evolution of Technology in the Classroom, Perdue university Online
“Debating the Use of Digital Devices in the Classroom,” The Room 241 Team • November 7, 2012
“Bias” is a tendency (either known or unknown) to prefer one thing over another that prevents objectivity, that influences understanding or outcomes in some way. (See the Open Education Sociology Dictionary) Bias is an important phenomenon in social science and in our everyday lives.
In her article, “9 types of research bias and how to avoid them,” Rebecca Sarniak discusses the core kinds of bias in social research. These include both the biases of the researcher, and the biases of the research subject/respondent.
Prevalent kinds of researcher bias include:
- confirmation bias
- culture bias
- question-order bias
- leading questions/wording bias
- the halo effect
Respondent biases include:
- acquiescence bias
- social desirability bias
- sponsor bias
In their Scientific American article “How-to-think-about-implicit-bias,”, Keith Payne, Laura Niemi, John M. Doris assure us that bias is not merely rooted in prejudice, but in our tendency to notice patterns and make generalizations. “When is the last time a stereotype popped into your mind? If you are like most people, the authors included, it happens all the time. That doesn’t make you a racist, sexist, or whatever-ist. It just means your brain is working properly, noticing patterns, and making generalizations…. This tendency for stereotype-confirming thoughts to pass spontaneously through our minds is what psychologists call implicit bias. It sets people up to overgeneralize, sometimes leading to discrimination even when people feel they are being fair.”
Of course, bias is not just a phenomenon relevant to social science (and evaluation) research. It affects our everyday activities too. In “10 Cognitive Biases That Distort Your Thinking,” Kendra Cherry explores the following kinds of biases:
- confirmation bias
- hindsight bias
- anchoring bias
- misinformation effect
- the actor observer bias
- false consensus effect
- halo effect
- self-serving bias
- availability heuristic
- the optimism bias
In evaluation research, especially when employing qualitative methods, such as interviews and focus groups, unconscious bias can negatively affect evaluation findings. The following types of bias are especially problematic in evaluations:
- confirmation bias, when a researcher forms a hypothesis or belief and uses respondents’ information to confirm that belief.
- acquiescence bias, also known as “yea-saying” or “the friendliness bias,” when a respondent demonstrates a tendency to agree with, and be positive about, whatever the interviewer presents.
- social desirability bias, involves respondents answering questions in a way that they think will lead to being accepted and liked. Some respondents will report inaccurately on sensitive or personal topics to present themselves in the best possible light.
- sponsor bias, when respondents know – or suspect – the interests and preferences of the sponsor or funder of the research, and modifies their (respondents) answers to questions
- leading questions/wording bias, elaborating on a respondent’s answer puts words in their mouth because the researcher is trying to confirm a hypothesis, build rapport, or overestimate their understanding of the respondent.
It’s important to strive to eliminate bias in both our personal judgements and in social research. (For an extensive list of cognitive biases, see here.) Awareness of potential biases can alert us to when bias, rather than impartiality, influence our methods and affect our judgments.