Despite trying to take a break from thinking and writing about ed-tech for the past month, I’ve become immersed in its practice. Audrey the pigeon too. And it’s not just the behavioral technologies. Dog companionship has me buying products and services that I’ve long railed against. Poppy is chipped, for example — the doggy surveillance technology everyone has given into “for their safety.” I also paid for a doggy DNA test. (She’s 50% Rottweiler, 12% American Staffordshire Terrier, 12% Labrador Retriever, 12% McNab, 7% Bullmastiff, and 6% German Shepherd, supposedly.) I bought a Roomba that runs daily to deal with the pet hair. We’re considering buying a car.
But we’re all making do with the shitty circumstances and the bad choices and the terrible technologies, I suppose. Be patient, the dog trainer reminds me. You got this. Click. Treat.
“Black lives matter,” brands have all suddenly proclaimed. But we should know better than to take them seriously, particularly the technology companies who build tools and services that put Black lives at risk. It’s “Black Power-washing,” Chris Gilliard writes, “wherein companies issue essentially meaningless statements about their commitment to Black folks but do little to change their policies, hiring practices, or ultimately their business models, no matter how harmful to Black people these may be.” These companies speak, to borrow from the situationist Raoul Vaneigem, with corpses in their mouths. (And yes, that includes many ed-tech CEOs. Just because I’m silent on Twitter right now as I mourn my son, don’t think I don’t see you showing your whole ass with your “all lives matter” “let’s hear both sides” bullshit.)
I am coming undone. I have been unraveling watching my son struggle for fifteen years.
But now, no one can come over with a casserole and sit with me to reminisce. No one can hug me. No one can squeeze my hand. I will have to hold Isaiah’s memorial service on Zoom, and fuck I fucking hate Zoom.
I am making more of my decisions like this: how do I need to re-order my time and my priorities and my purchases so that the people and places I love survive? The New Yorker’s Helen Rosner interviewed chef Tom Colicchio this week about the fragility of the restaurant industry and its food supply chain (and certainly some of their observations can be applied beyond just what and where we eat). Me, I’ve signed up for a local CSA — a half share of vegetables and full share of fruits and nuts weekly. I’ve ordered meat from a local ranch network. I signed up for the wine club at the neighborhood wine shop. I’ve bought flour and butter and brown sugar and yeast from the bakery around the corner. All of this takes so much more thought and effort than did that once-a-day walk to the grocery store. And I am so privileged that these are the choices I have, the decisions I get to make, that I live in a city, in a neighborhood where this is possible. The world I want to live in is cooperative and sustainable; it is interconnected. I don’t want the pandemic — or capitalism, for that matter — to flatten our communities under corporate monopoly.
The question right now for educators should not be “what technology do I need to move my class online?” The question should be “what am I doing to support my students (and my colleagues and my family)?” Start there — not with tech but with compassion.
Do all students have access to high-speed broadband at home? K-12 or otherwise? Nope. Do all students have access to laptops at home? Nope. Schools know this, and it’s part of the calculation they make whether or not to move everything online. But closure isn’t just about classes. The function of schools extends well beyond instruction. This is particularly true in K-12 schools, which also serve for many students and families as childcare, community centers, health care providers, disability support services, and places to eat breakfast and lunch. To close the doors to a school shifts the burden of all these services onto individual families.
Spare me the techno-solutionism. Let’s talk about big structural change.
“This may be our moment,” ed-tech folks exclaim, giddily sharing lists of their favorite digital learning tools (with little concern, it seems for questions of accessibility, privacy, or security) and tips for quickly moving “to the cloud.”
This is something I wondered in regards toon the disruption to education.
According to the article, the only hitch is “the system”: “The challenge for A.I.-aided learning, some people say, is not the technology, but bureaucratic barriers that protect the status quo.” “The gatekeepers.” The teachers. The schools themselves. These should be bypassed, the article concludes, and parents should let the Internet educate their children.
How utterly irresponsible. But there you go.
It is mind-boggling — MIND-BOGGLING — that folks want to argue that the value of a technology company has little to do with its accrual of data. The argument for the past decade has been “data is the new oil” — its extraction and analysis necessary for predictions and profit. Now data is the new nothing-burger, I guess.
In the case of plagiarism detection and automated essay grading software, it’s not a future that values students’ thinking and students’ voices. It’s not one that, even as Google tries to rebrand its new product, encourages “original thinking.” Rather it’s a future where students will be compelled to conform to the rules of the machine — rules we know are deeply biased, based on extraction and profiteering and information imbalances that have put democracy at risk.
I’m not sure what ISTE gains by buying Edsurge, to be honest. Edsurge, for its part, gains a lifeline. Despite years and years of losing millions and millions, the publication won’t go away. Not yet at least. There’s more, some seem to believe, to squeeze out of the brand. Apparently the ed-tech industry — and ISTE is certainly part of that industry, despite being a non-profit — has determined that its storytelling function is too valuable to go away. Or perhaps it’s just cheaper for the industry to fund one marketing vehicle rather than two. And that’s an interesting determination, considering all the pronouncements that finally! the ed-tech “revolution” has arrived.
Ed-tech is “grooming students for a lifetime of surveillance.” But let’s be clear: this grooming is happening at school, and it’s also happening at home.
- “Gaggle Knows Everything About Teens And Kids In School” by Caroline Haskins
- “Your Dumb Tweets Are Getting Flagged To People Trying To Stop School Shootings” by Lam Thuy Vo and Peter Aldhous
- “School apps track students from the classroom to bathroom, and parents are struggling to keep up” by Heather Kelly
- “Ring watched your kids trick or treat and then bragged about it” by Rachel Kraus
- “The Porch Pirate of Potrero Hill Can’t Believe It Came to This” by Lauren Smiley
It’s not simply that the Silicon Valley positivity machine only rewards positive ideas. (“We build things,” someone once told me. “You just tear things down.”) Without a grounding in theory or knowledge or ethics or care, the Silicon Valley machine rewards stupid and dangerous ideas, propping up and propped up by ridiculous, self-serving men. There won’t ever be a reckoning if we’re nice.
Anthony Burgess’s novel — a novel about a violent youth subculture, sure, but also one about behavioral modification — was published in 1962, a year after B. F. Skinner published his book The Analysis of Behavior, as well as his article “Teaching Machines.” The Stanley Kubrick film came out in 1971, the same year Skinner published Beyond Freedom and Dignity. (It’s odd, I find, when people today believe that behaviorism is wrong because it doesn’t work.)
I’ve seen Epstein described elsewhere as a “stool pigeon,” tasked with ratting out other billionaire pedophiles as part of a deal he struck (or hopes to strike) with the government. It seems to me there are several stool pigeons here among his science cronies too, especially those who set out some decoy version of “intelligence” — dare I say “artificial intelligence” — hoping we don’t sense the danger or notice that their eyes and minds and hearts are sewn shut.
Engineering is a social production not merely a scientific or technological one. And educational engineering is not just a profession; it is an explicitly commercial endeavor. For engineers, as historian David Noble has pointed out, are not only “the foremost agents of modern technology,” but also “the agents of corporate capital.”
“Learning engineers,” largely untethered from history and purposefully severed from the kind of commitment to democratic practices urged by Dewey, are now poised to be the agents of surveillance capital.
Technologists suck at predicting the future. They suck because they don’t understand the past; they’re blind to much of the present. They’re terrible at predicting the future because they fail to grasp the systems and practices surrounding their products, firm in their faith instead that their own genius (and their investors’ continued support) will be enough to muddle forward.
Ed-tech relies on amnesia.
Ed-tech is a confidence game. That’s why it’s so full of marketers and grifters and thugs.
“Those who ignore the past are destined to be in Wired Magazine” — George Santayana probably
Remember: the lack of communication does not just mean a failure to speak; it is also a failure to listen, to not give our attention to (and to distract others’ attention from) the things that we really must.