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Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings

The new irrelevance, the new nationalism

Technology is neither good nor evil. We are. It doesn’t heal or hurt. We do. It doesn’t connect or sever. We do. It doesn’t teach or learn. We do.

We are impatient for change. Technology changes quickly. Therefore, technology is an attractive panacea to the problems of teaching and learning.

Let me note that I deeply love gadgets and toys. I love playing video games. I love tweeting. I love carrying a shiny simulacrum of my life in my pocket. However, I do alternate through periods of intense participation and reclusiveness, as I do with reading, dieting, and exercising. Nevertheless, technology is undeniably a part of my life, learning, and teaching.

That being said, here are my concerns about the role of technology in #edreform.

  • The federal government’s education policies horrify me. We are at a terrifying nexus of purely capitalist accountability and technology. Listening to Arne Duncan speak is like watching Sam Neill in Event Horizon while insomniac during a thunder storm. The federal government is incentivizing the centralization and privatization of public education as the data and evaluation plans called for by RttT and i3 are going to be made possible by vendor software interfacing with vendor software for curriculum, instruction, and testing.
  • Blended instruction will create a new complicity with inauthentic education. The mere appearance of 1:1 learning based on algorithmic individualized curricula will lull another generation of students and teachers asleep to change. They will inherit our dreams of relevant learning, community based education, and global learning mediated by social media, but they will not leave their school sites until it’s time to go to college or not. Blended instruction will give us the new irrelevance.
  • [Disclaimer: I’m looking at adaptive reading and math programs to serve as one option for short, daily tutorials for my school’s students before they engage in project-based learning in the afternoon.]

  • Public education is paying to put itself out of business. Vendors’ adaptive instructional algorithms will replace human assessment. Teaching will continue its decades-long slide into boss management instead of servant leadership. Students’ computer-moderated productivity will serve as the measure of a schools effectiveness, which will become a program’s effectiveness, obviating the need for teachers and schools. I see a computer-educated, standardized populace straight out of Assimov and Vonnegut going to “school” at vendor outlets. The vendors just need to find the right subscription price point to counter infrastructure and personnel costs. Then they can open up their own shops as private, for-profit schools that reap huge financial rewards for themselves – the very same companies that are benefitting right now from beta-testing in public schools. Public education is financing the emergence of private learning centers that will use programs “perfected” at tax-payer expense. Believe it. We’re not paying teachers or funding school system positions to build this stuff, or even to develop it in partnership with local universities full of researchers.
  • By and large, the authentic, public-school based #edreform camp is talking about technology when it should be organizing civil resistance to consolidated private and federal control of education. Frankly, I find more #edreform blogging and tweeting about technology than I do about change or reasons for it. To be fair, much of what I read is great pedagogy. However, little of it addresses how to effectively resist and counter bad schooling. We’re going to have to pay a price for our beliefs, or else we’re going to have to pay a price for our inaction. When we’re evaluated by vendor’s tests, our school boards’ decisions to dismiss us are no longer instances of legitimate local control of schools. Public school accountability to private interest is the new nationalism, and we need to be willing to be branded traitors and to be black-listed for challenging that.

Here are my suggestions.

  • Everybody write Arne Duncan, just once. Tell him everything you know about teaching and learning. Tell him your stories, Tell him your students’ stories. Tell him about all the opportunities you and your students’ are losing as our testing regime tightens its grip on curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Tell him your ideas. Tell him how much better you could teach – tell him how much better students could learn – if they weren’t fettered to their desks by public education’s collective fear of failing the state – a trepidation that surmounts our fear of failing students as people. Write Arne Duncan this summer.
  • Join your school improvement committee and/or leadership team. For every new program that your school or division adopts, ask, “So what?” What will this add to our students lives? What will this let them do with the rest of their day? How will this help students help their families and communities? How will it help them start a business or a non-profit organization? How will it help them love school? Demand that your school articulate a common vision for the purpose of education and work towards a culture that aligns school decisions with its vision, even when in conflict with your division. Demand that any amount of blended, adaptive instruction be offset by authentic education, which, of course, can still involve technology.
  • Actively resist privatized public education. Look at the programs you have to teach. Ask yourself if you can beat them. If you think you can, go to your administrator and explain how. If you think you can’t, learn how. Promise your administrator results that beat the program’s results. Trade accountability for freedom. Engage other teachers in your resistance. If your administrator refuses to grant you any freedoms, ask him or her to observe you all the time. Teach the program. Ask to be evaluated on how well you deliver the program rather than by your test results. If your administrator refuses to do that, ask your administrator why your school needs you. Consider finding a school that wants you for what you do instead.

    If you teach in a more organic, program-free environment or not, start talks with your students, parents, peers, administrators, central office, and school board about what education should be – a way for students to find themselves and their best contributions to their communities. At whatever depth, level, and scale you have the conversations, keep them going and draw inspiration from them.

    If we believe that how we teach better prepares our students for lives of learning, service, and joy, then we have a moral obligation to teach that way. Moreover, if we believe that classroom teachers and schools can innovate, we can’t let private vendors monopolize “innovation.”

  • Push the tough questions and ask how divisive questions can be re-framed to form new alliances for change. Suggest #edchat questions about accountability and freedom. Offer to moderate an #edchat. Start a complementary blog or discussion online or after school. Take #rhetorical challenges and flip them into questions about what we all what for children and how best to achieve it. Stay out of the current conversations and start new ones.

Let’s start here. What am I missing? How can I help? How can you help me? Does any of this matter? Will it go anywhere, or will it stay on the screen like so many adaptive reading passages?

Let’s start with this blog post and see where we take it.


About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


2 thoughts on “The new irrelevance, the new nationalism

  1. A brief note: here is the Teachers’ Letters to Obama Facebook page, which I’m sure I saw before writing this post and which certainly shaped my suggestion that we all write Arne Duncan.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | May 29, 2010, 6:39 pm


  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The new irrelevance, the new nationalism « Cooperative Catalyst -- - May 29, 2010

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