Sales, Not Education

Recently an innocent tweet went down the wrong way. It provided a link to an article without further commentary. What I found was a post extolling the virtues of technology to “transform education” based on the freshly released NMC (New Media Consortium) Horizon Report – Higher Ed edition. So often have I heard such lofty and outsized claims which I fear miss the point. I retweeted the link with this comment:

Now having reread the article on Campus Technology more carefully, I realize that it is simply a tech friendly channel highlighting the big points from the researchers’ report at NMC. Nevertheless, my reaction also has its place. Although this article and the report at hand are addressing trends for higher education, the sweeping claims made are those most likely to show up in K-12 ed-tech discourse as well.
Two things are at issue for me:

  • The idea that technology will transform education needs to go. Rather it is and will continue to be people (students, parents, educators, community members) who will transform education. People have many tools at their disposal and certainly technology will play a role, but we need to stop abdicating our responsibility and power to devices, software and corporations to create just and equitable access to education for all students.
  • Too easily we in education seem to take such reports and their underlying assumptions as gospel, conveniently forgetting that technology is an industry with profit motives like other industries. Education is a vast and diverse market with multiple entry points to exploit. (Audrey Watters writes expertly about the corporate interest sides of ed-tech like here and here. Read these and be enlightened.)

I often worry that we (teachers, parents, policy makers) are absolutely complicit in selling the education of our kids to the teams with the best marketing strategies. We love new and shiny and all promises of time and effort saving – while at the same time we expect our kids to develop grit and become critical thinkers. We want to believe that we are equipping our children and students for a future which we can’t fathom and yet we fail to question our most basic assumptions about what school is good for and how it should function. (See this awesome post by @BlueCerealEduc about inquiry for grown folks.)

We also like to give people who claim to care deeply about education more of the benefit of the doubt than they perhaps deserve (i.e., politicians, education “reformers,” billionaire philanthropists). I urge you to keep up with the likes of @edushyster (Jennifer Berkshire) who has her eyes peeled for all of the nonsense, misinformation and outright lies which are perpetuated via the media and other channels to cloud our understanding of what’s actually at stake when we hand over public schools wholesale to charter organizations or create programs of school choice without actually creating viable options for the weakest recipients of such initiatives.  A recent post of hers unpacks an  unbelievable document full of highly refined PR talking points for reformers to use in addressing a number of major parental concerns with testing and other feature of ed reform. The document is both remarkable and sickening in its baldfaced illustration of how manipulation is a science that can and will be used against you unless you combat it directly.  (No, really, the document and the post are each extraordinary in their own right. Go read both carefully.)

Critical and higher order thinking, collaboration, cooperation, digital literacy – these are skills we claim we want our children to master, that we insist are critical to their success in the future.  And I ask, How skilled are we?  How well are we collaborating and cooperating to inform ourselves and bolster our critical thinking skills? In my own experience I am finding out how naive I have been in several areas. I am only now beginning to fully appreciate the extremely well informed minds in my personal learning network. I need their tireless investigations into the false claims and snake oil peddlers in order to better understand how I can contribute to conversations in a meaningful way.  For now my attempt is to curate, read, share and synthesize the great work that others are doing to keep us awake at the wheel of our own and our kids’ futures.

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