Letter to My Representatives on AHCA and Medicaid #2

In the neurodiversity and disability communities, we are sharing stories of how the ACA and Medicaid have helped us and saved us. We’re sharing stories of the dark days before the ACA. The AHCA will return us to those dark days. The ACA, though flawed, works. Medicaid works. Lives depend on them. Improve them. Give them more funding.

Note that there are no stories of how the ACA has hurt people. Sure, premiums could be lower and choice could be greater, especially in states that refused the Medicaid expansion. So fix that. Make a good faith effort to improve policy that has helped so many. Listen to the disability communities. They know our healthcare systems better than anyone. We are full time case workers for ourselves and our families. We know these systems.

The AHCA is theft. It is a transfer of wealth from the most vulnerable to the least. It is cronyism and kleptocracy drafted in a secretive manner defiant of all norms. That the GOP is going forth with it despite its massive unpopularity suggests confidence in the voter suppression that has disenfranchised so many.

What is the future for my neurodivergent, disabled kids in a structurally ableist society that has been stripped of resources by kleptocrats and dominionists, by oligarchs, autocrats and wild notions of providentialism? This dread alliance has declared war on public education. It has declared war on healthcare. It has declared war on IDEA and the ADA. It is intent on dismantling education and our safety nets. And then what?

I don’t feel safe in this post-fact country led by crooks and haters who have seized the levers of power through racialized social control and voter suppression. No marginalized person feels safe right now. The GOP has aspirations of one party rule, and that party is actively intolerant of diversity, inclusion, and a secular society that works for the benefit of all.

My family keeps a copy of historian Timothy Snyder’s book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” at hand. These lessons are important civics that we should learn for ourselves and teach our kids. They are necessary literacy all too applicable to these times of cultish compliance and burgeoning autocracy and one party rule. I suggest thumbing through this slim, accessible volume and facing the lessons therein.

Letter to My Representatives on AHCA and Medicaid #1

Please do not cut Medicaid. Medicaid is a lifeline for neurodivergent and disabled families. Mediciad funds community-based supports that keep us in our homes and out of abusive institutions that fail the “midnight burrito test” (if you can’t get up at midnight to microwave a burrito, you are not free).

Medicaid also supports special education. Special education in Texas has many problems, as documented by the Houston Chronicle in their “Denied” series. My neurodivergent kids with developmental disabilities have IEPs. Their education relies, in part, on Medicaid funding. It relies also on respect for IDEA and the ADA, which are being threatened along with Medicaid. Is neurodivergence a pre-existing condition that precludes an education?

Life is hard enough for families with disabilities. The AHCA and the President’s budget are life threatening and future limiting. My family is bracing for the possibility of a society without any support or safety net for our most vulnerable kids. We’re standing at the edge of a cliff, and the Republican Party seems eager to push us over.

Neurodiversity and disability communities oppose the AHCA. Every special education family in our peer groups oppose it. These policies were conceived and iterated behind closed doors without our input or representation. They seem eugenicist in intent. They will certainly be eugenicist in outcome.

Created Serendipity: Idea Scouting, Idea Connecting, Coworking, Distributed Collaboration, and Intersectional Bricolage

The gospel of the new economy is the transformative power of a diverse, genuine network.

Inclusive collaboration in the commons improves our heuristics and creates serendipity. Bricolage in the intersections, build your personal learning network, and participate in global created serendipity. Expose yourself to new perspectives, and listen in solidarity.

Twitter is a way to build a learning network that transcends traditional understandings of knowledge and ideas, of connecting learners and ideas. The democratization of information and knowledge requires our engagement or it will happen without us.

There is now an imperative to contribute, not simply for the sake of it, but because there is an obligation to model digital literacy. And what does this really mean? It means that learners openly and actively engage in the learning process and that leaders lead the way. We live in a post-consumer era: how do we empower our students to thrive here, to contribute and create? If we are not open-minded, literate learners and contributors ourselves, how can we expect our students to be?

The digital landscape is now open. It’s time for our schools to be the same.

Source: The Trouble With Twitter in Education – Medium

I am a big believer in “created serendipity“; the more connected you are, the more ideas seem to find you, not the other way around.

Source: 3 Obvious Ways Twitter Promotes Literacy – The Principal of Change

Yet these seemingly serendipitous events, are also based on our willingness to create connections and be in the space, and to put in the effort in the first place.

I often tell people that if you start connecting with others in online spaces, you won’t just find great ideas, but the  great ideas will find you.

Source: Created Serendipity – The Principal of Change

You, each of you, have some special wild cards. Play with them. Find out what makes you different and better. Because it is there, if only you can find it. And once you do, you’ll be able to contribute answers to others and others will be willing to contribute back to you. In short, synthetic serendipity doesn’t just happen. By golly, you must create it.

Source: Synthetic Serendipity – IEEE Spectrum and Vinge, Vernor (2007-04-03). Rainbows End (p. 52). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.

If in a traditional organization nothing is free and everything has a defined role in some grand scheme, in a stream, everything tends steadily towards free as in both beer and speech.

Unlike organizations defined by boundaries, streams are what Acemoglu and Robinson call pluralist institutions. These are the opposite of extractive: they are open, inclusive and capable of creating wealth in non-zero-sum ways.

What makes streams ideal contexts for open-ended innovation through tinkering is that they constantly present unrelated people, ideas and resources in unexpected juxtapositions. This happens because streams emerge as the intersection of multiple networks.

As a result of such unexpected juxtapositions, you might “solve” problems you didn’t realize existed and do things that nobody realized were worth doing. For example, seeing a particular college friend and a particular coworker in the same stream might suggest a possibility for a high-value introduction: a small act of social bricolage. Because you are seen by many others from different perspectives, you might find people solving problems for you without any effort on your part.

The developers of every agile software product in perpetual beta inhabit a stream of unexpected uses discovered by tinkering users.

Slack turns the internal life of a corporation into a stream.

When streams work well on the other hand, reality becomes increasingly intertwingled (a portmanteau of intertwined and tangled), as Ted Nelson evocatively labeled the phenomenon. People, ideas and things can have multiple, fluid meanings depending on what else appears in juxtaposition with them. Creative possibilities rapidly multiply, with every new network feeding into the stream. The most interesting place to be is usually the very edge, rather than the innermost sanctums. In the United States, being a young and talented person in Silicon Valley can be more valuable and interesting than being a senior staffer in the White House. Being the founder of the fastest growing startup may offer more actual leverage than being President of the United States.

Source: The Serendipity of Streams

The result is a virtuous cycle of increasing serendipity, driven by widespread lifestyle adaptation and cascades of self-improving innovation. Surplus and spillover creating more surplus and spillover. Brad deLong’s slouching towards utopia for consumers and Edmund Phelps’ mass flourishing for producers. And when the virtuous cycle is powered by a soft, world-eating technology, the steady, cumulative impact is immense.

When the allure of pastoralist visions is resisted, and the virtuous cycle is allowed to work, we get Promethean progress. This is unpredictable evolution in the direction of maximal societal impact, unencumbered by limiting deterministic visions. Just as the principle of rough consensus and running code creates great software, consumer surplus and spillover effects create great societies.  Just as pragmatic and purist development models lead to serendipity and zemblanity in engineering respectively, Promethean and pastoral models lead to serendipity and zemblanity at the level of entire societies.

Source: Prometheans and Pastoralists

The surplus in the case of working agile processes is the source of many pleasant surprises: serendipity. The deficit in the case of waterfall models is the source of what William Boyd called zemblanity: “unpleasant unsurprises.”

In software, waterfall processes fail in predictable ways, like classic Greek tragedies. Agile processes on the other hand, can lead to snowballing serendipity, getting luckier and luckier, and succeeding in unexpected ways. The reason is simple: waterfall plans constrain the freedom of future participants, leading them to resent and rebel against the grand plan in predictable ways. By contrast, agile models empower future participants in a project, catalyzing creativity and unpredictable new value.

The engineering term for the serendipitous, empowering gap between running code and governing vision has now made it into popular culture in the form of a much-misunderstood idea: perpetual beta.

Source: Rough Consensus and Maximal Interestingness

In particular, two activities emerged as being significantly correlated with increasing individual absorptive capacity and personal innovation: “idea scouting” and “idea connecting.” In an earlier paper that two of us coauthored, we defined an idea scout as an employee who looks outside the organization to bring in new ideas. An idea connector, meanwhile, is someone who can assimilate the external ideas and find opportunities within the organization to implement these new concepts.

Jobs believed that serendipitous exchanges fueled innovation.

The more diverse a person’s social network, the more likely that person is to be innovative. A diverse network provides exposure to people from different fields who behave and think differently. Good ideas emerge when the new information received is combined with what a person already knows. But in today’s digitally connected world, many relationships are formed and maintained online through public social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Increasingly, employees are using such platforms for work-related purposes.

This means that if you are a Twitter user with the goal of improving your innovation performance, you need to maintain a diverse network while also developing your information assimilation and exploitation skills.

Source: How Twitter Users Can Generate Better Ideas

We envision a new economic engine composed of collaboration and community, in contrast to the silos and secrecy of the 19th/20th century economy.

Coworking is redefining the way we do work. Inspired by the participatory culture of the open source movement and the empowering nature of IT, we are building a more sustainable future. We are a group of connected individuals and small businesses creating an economy of innovation and creativity in our communities and worldwide. We envision a new economic engine composed of collaboration and community, in contrast to the silos and secrecy of the 19th/20th century economy.

We have the talent. We just need to work together. Different environments need to overlap, to connect and to interact in order to transform our culture. In order to create a sustainable community based on trust, we value:

  • collaboration over competition
  • community over agendas
  • participation over observation
  • doing over saying
  • friendship over formality
  • boldness over assurance
  • learning over expertise
  • people over personalities
  • “value ecosystem” over “value chain”

This new economy cannot thrive without engaging the larger business, creative, entrepreneurial, governmental, non governmental and technical communities together.

Source: Coworking wiki / Coworking Manifesto (global – for the world)

The explosion of coworking spaces is a physical symbol of the renewed belief in the security that comes from having a really broad and diverse network—what sociologist Mark S. Granovetter calls “the strength of weak ties.” Particularly for those in the information-based economy, job opportunities—like good ideas, as documented extensively at MIT’s Building 20—happen by bumping up against people and seeing where serendipity leads. Genuine friendships, it turns out, are the seed of a lot of the most fulfilling jobs of the 21st century.

In a sense, freelancers are scraping the parts of company life that sucked the life out of them—toxic culture, compulsory collaboration, unnecessary busy work, rigid business hours—and rebuilding the parts that fed them in friendlier, more flexible form. And it’s working.

They found that there were a wide variety of reasons for coworking happiness, but the most central were communities characterized by authenticity, autonomy, and diversity. They write: “Unlike a traditional office, coworking spaces consist of members who work for a range of different companies, ventures, and projects. Because there is little direct competition or internal politics, they don’t feel they have to put on a work persona to fit in.”

The gospel of the new economy is the transformative power of a diverse, genuine network.

You have to bump into enough people that you eventually latch right on to your ideal collaborator.

We all crave community—both on and off the proverbial clock—but we want community born of bottom-up serendipity, not top-down mandates. We want to collaborate with people who work in fields and mediums totally unlike ours, people with different styles and backgrounds, people who push us to grow, not because they’re anticipating that quarterly evaluation, but because they want to do impactful work in the world. That’s the sort of social cohesion that a company picnic once a year simply can’t create, no matter how good the hot dogs.

Source: Courtney E. Martin on the Coworking Revolution | Design.blog

In our Tale of Two Computers, the parent is a four-century-old computer whose basic architecture was laid down in the zero-sum mercantile age. It runs on paperware, credentialism, and exhaustive territorial claims that completely carve up the world with strongly regulated boundaries. Its structure is based on hierarchically arranged container-like organizations, ranging from families to nations. In this order of things, there is no natural place for a free frontier. Ideally, there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place. It is a computer designed for stability, within which innovation is a bug rather than a feature.

We’ll call this planet-scale computer the geographic world.

The child is a young, half-century old computer whose basic architecture was laid down during the Cold War. It runs on software, the hacker ethos, and soft networks that wire up the planet in ever-richer, non-exclusive, non-zero-sum ways. Its structure is based on streams like Twitter: open, non-hierarchical flows of real-time information from multiple overlapping networks. In this order of things, everything from banal household gadgets to space probes becomes part of a frontier for ceaseless innovation through bricolage. It is a computer designed for rapid, disorderly and serendipitous evolution, within which innovation, far from being a bug, is the primary feature.

We’ll call this planet-scale computer the networked world.

The networked world is not new. It is at least as old as the oldest trade routes, which have been spreading subversive ideas alongside valuable commodities throughout history. What is new is its growing ability to dominate the geographic world. The story of software eating the world is the also the story of networks eating geography.

There are two major subplots to this story. The first subplot is about bits dominating atoms. The second subplot is about the rise of a new culture of problem-solving.

Source: A Tale of Two Computers

“Twitter helps to establish an authentic audience for my students. My students actively tweet their classroom learning, thoughts and inspirations daily. In addition, they post quality work to the feed, which fosters a greater sense of pride and ownership in their work. My ELL students are motivated to construct meaningful, fluent texts so that their message may be easily related to the reader. Students are also excited to receive live, constructive feedback from other students and teachers, globally. Involvement in Twitter enables global connections, a community of sharing and a receptive, broad audience to my students.”— Laurie Azzi, an elementary school teacher with the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

Source: Digital Writing for English Language Learners

Selected Tweets, May 2017: Diversity, Inclusion, Neurodiversity, Disability, Evangelicalism, Tech Ethics, Education, Voter Suppression, Addiction, Drug War, Bodily Autonomy

I’m experimenting with using moments to curate favorite tweets in several categories. I review them at the end of the month to reflect and suss the zeitgeist.

Diversity, Inclusion, and the Social Model for Minds and Bodies

Evangelicalism, Fundamentalism, and Christofascism

Humane Tech and Tech Ethics

Education and Ed-Tech

Voter Suppression

Addiction, Dependence, Rehab, and Harm Reduction

Drug War

Bodily Autonomy

#BodilyAutonomy

Masha Gessen and Sarah Kendzior: Similarities between Trump and Putin, Defending Truth, Surviving Autocracy

Masha Gessen and Sarah Kendzior discuss defending truth. Gessen opens with nine similarities between Tump and Putin.

  1. The way they lie. They lie in order to assert power. I have the right to say whatever I want whenever I want.
  2. They govern by gesture. It’s a way of promoting the brand. It’s not continuous. It’s not part of a policy strategy.
  3. They have interests rather than priorities.
  4. Disdain for government. They think government is rotten to the core, needs to be dismantled, needs to be destroyed. Blaming the predecessor is blaming the entire system they’re here to destroy. It’s why Trump continues to campaign. He’s campaigning against the government.
  5. Disdain for public sphere. Anything that is not transactional should not exist.
  6. Disdain for the media. They view the media as a mirror. Putin has been watching Putin TV for 16 years. Trump found a bubble he wants to live in. There’s a fairly healthy public sphere from about the center right to about the center left. That’s not a bubble. Breitbart is a bubble.
  7. Disdain for moral authority. It’s something autocrats can’t capture. Moral authority can organize by speaking. Ex: John Lewis.
  8. Disdain for excellence. Basic lack of understanding of how government works and the expertise needed to keep it running.
  9. Belief that they are chosen ones. They come to believe they have a mission, that they’re special. This belief blurs the boundaries between their individual selves and the government. When they are criticized, they believe they are being criticized by the enemies of the people.

Kendzior then joins to discuss #TrumpRussia, truth, and their experiences observing autocracy.

On defending truth:

  • Don’t tolerate squishy reality or squishy language.
  • Language is the only thing we have for protecting truth and communicating our shared reality.
  • Call lies lies.
  • The more precise we are with language, the better our chances are of holding onto reality.
  • Follow Merriam-Webster and their commitment to reality and precise language.

They mention Gessen’s piece on surviving autocracy.

  1. Believe the autocrat.
  2. Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
  3. Institutions will not save you.
  4. Be outraged.
  5. Don’t make compromises.
  6. Remember the future.

Source: Autocracy: Rules for Survival | by Masha Gessen | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

The deficit model is a business model, and ed-tech is a monster.

The deficit model is a business model. The assessment and ed-tech industries will not easily let it go. This business model prevents public education from changing. It turns charter schools into hyper-capitalist deficit model shrines enthralled with data collected for and viewed through their business model—losing sight of humanity and kids. Inclusive pedagogy based on personal strengths, agency, collaboration, passion, play, projects, and self-directed learning is a lot cheaper, which is a threat.

Ed-tech is built on the deficit model, compliance culture, and greed. Extend our vision beyond deficit ideology toward a school culture built on the social model—where communication is oxygen and inclusion is the normal.

I’m an autistic engineer working in the intersection of tech and publishing. Along with people from all over the world, I contributed to the creation of a global open source community and one of the first distributed companies. We’re iterating the future of work and collaboration and making it inclusive.

Communication is oxygen, inclusion is the new normal, and the social model for minds and bodies are how we aspire to run our companies and communities. They’re how we design and build software for and with humans. We’re continuously learning and iterating. We’re continuously actualizing the aspiration and sharing what we learn with other creative communities as we all contribute to the shared, open heart of the internet—the heart to which companies offer their intellectual crown jewels as open source.

Learn and iterate with us. Education needs to join in. What we’ve learned building creative, inclusive, psychologically safe communities and workplaces for adult creatives applies also to kids. Teachers and tech workers should be collaborating. Instead of buying cronyware from ed-tech corporations—contributing into the pockets of those destroying public education—use the tools and techniques of the rank and file tech workers building open communities. Tech has many malignancies (see Uber and most of Silicon Valley), but behind the scenes are many workers making collaboration, teams, technology, and the world more inclusive, ethical, and humane. Skip what ed-tech sells. Use what communities and tech workers use. Let’s collaborate. Let’s go indie. Let’s bring together the best of public education, unschooling, and hacker cultures.

The LMS is our major record label. Prepackaged software. A prepackaged sound.

Pre-packaged sound. Pre-packaged courses. Pre-packaged students.

If we don’t like ‘the system’ of ed-tech, we should create one of our own.

“Indie ed-tech” offers a model whereby students, faculty, staff, and independent scholars alike can use the “real-world” tools of the Web — not simply those built for and sanctioned by and then siloed off by schools or departments — through initiatives like Davidson Domains, enabling them to be part of online communities of scholars, artists, scientists, citizens.

Source: ‘I Love My Label’: Resisting the Pre-Packaged Sound in Ed-Tech

Start with communication. Use tech not for remediation, surveillance, and assessment, but to empower voice and facilitate collaboration. Unbridle the voices of  teachers and students. Let them collaborate. Let them engage with the digital commons. Connect them with their tribes and affinity groups. This is how systemic change happens, with voices collaborating, with teams self-organizing. Without communication and agency to collaborate, we will remain in the deficit model script—assessed into despondency and squandering mis-prioritized resources.

The self-advocacy of voice doesn’t change much without the agency to implement.

When people talk about giving students a voice, what they’re really doing — whether they realize or not (and to their credit, I suspect they don’t) —  is finding a band-aid solution to a big problem that really needs surgery. “Student voice” is cushy and comfortable because it doesn’t actually require serious, deep-rooted change. We do need to give students something, but it’s not a voice.

I know, because I’m a student. I’m in my final year at university. I also know because four years ago, in my junior year of high school, I designed an alternative school, one that was run by students, and I implemented it as a school-within-a-school at my public high school in Western Massachusetts. As you can imagine, it was a hard sell. Convincing an entire faculty and an elected school board to allow a student led school to run for a whole semester took a lot of legwork. But, in the end, they approved it, and what happened next was pretty cool.

Source: Students don’t need a ‘voice.’ Here’s what they really need. – The Washington Post

Communicate, collaborate, iterate, and launch. Communicate is first—from it the others cascade. With our voices collaborating in cultures of agency, we can fight the ed-tech and deficit model monsters.

There are monsters because there is a lack of care and an absence of justice in the work we do in education and education technology.

Source: The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology

There is no path toward educational justice that contains convenient detours around direct confrontations with injustice.”  Social model inclusion in our schools and institutions requires confrontation with the deficit model and with structural racism, sexism, ableism, and childism.

I enjoy Audrey Watters’ annual reviews of the year in ed-tech. I recommend all ten parts of the 2016 ed-tech review. They offer important insights into the monsters we face.

  1. Wishful Thinking
  2. The Politics of Education Technology
  3. The Business of Education Technology
  4. ”Free” and “Open”
  5. For-Profit Higher Education
  6. The “New Economy”
  7. Credentialing
  8. Data Insecurity
  9. Personalization
  10. Inequality

These ten parts provide a structural, systemic view of ed-tech. I excerpt from parts 1, 2, and 3 below. Read these excerpts, read the entire review, read Communication is Oxygen, and think about how we can give rise to voice and agency with a collaboration infrastructure and open-by-default culture that avoids snake oil and cargo cult shrinkwrap.

Expertise in an Age of Post-Truth

And here we are. A loss of faith in governments, governance, globalization, pluralism, polling, pundits, public institutions, private institutions, markets, science, research, journalism, democracy, each other.

“If the experts as a whole are discredited,” Hayes cautions, “we are faced with an inexhaustible supply of quackery.”

Education technology faces an inexhaustible supply of quackery.

Education Technology and (Decades and Decades of) Quackery

Education technology has faced an inexhaustible supply of quackery for quite some time – those selling snake oil, magic pills, and enchanted talismans and promising disruption, efficiency, and higher test scores. The quackery in 2016 wasn’t new, in other words, but it was notable. It is certainly connected to the discrediting of “expertise,” whether that’s teachers-as-experts or researchers-as-experts. (Students, of course, have rarely been recognized as experts – unless they fit the model of “roaming autodidacts” that society so readily lauds.)

What do we believe about education? About learning? How do we know, and who knows “knowing” in a world where expertise is debunked?

There’s little evidence of how these products or practices will improve teaching or learning. But there’s a ton of snake oil. And a lot of wishful thinking.

Education Technology and (Decades and Decades of) Wishful Thinking

The promise of education technology, like it or not, is mostly wishful thinking. Proponents of ed-tech insist that ed-tech is necessary; that without ed-tech, schools are outmoded and irrelevant; that “the future” demands it. But as I argued in a talk I gave at VCU in November, “the best way to predict the future is to issue a press release.” That is, the steady drumbeat of marketing surrounding the necessity of education technology largely serves to further ideologies of neoliberalism, individualism, late-stage capitalism, outsourcing, surveillance, speed, and commodity fetishism.

Grief and Loss and Education Technology

Perhaps it’s time to ask why – why this is the ritual and the story that education continues to turn to? It has, after all, for at least one hundred years: the promise of teaching machines. What is the loss that we are suffering? What are we grieving? Why are we in this fog of educational make-believe? Why are we so wrapped up in the magical thinking and wishful thinking of education technology? What do we hope the practices of ed-tech will deliver, will relieve? What are we hoping to preserve? What are we hoping to absolve? What might we afraid to admit has died? Why is wishful thinking, in and through and with education technology, a balm for so many of us?

At what point should we just let go…

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: Wishful Thinking

The Politics of Education Technology

The business of education technology overlaps with the politics of ed-tech. The politics overlap with privacy. Privacy overlaps with “personalization,” and surveillance overlaps with data collection and analytics and algorithmic decision-making. Coding bootcamps are related to for-profit higher ed, which is connected to credentialing which is connected to accreditation, which is connected to politics. Challenges to accreditation and certification and the steady drumbeat of “everyone should learn to code” are connected to politics as well as to the business of ed-tech.

Then there’s the question: what counts as “ed-tech”? One of the flaws, I think, of much of the reporting on education technology is that it treats “ed-tech” as a product without a politics and without a practice. It also treats “ed-tech” primarily as a product built by engineers, not for example, constructed through the practices of educators or students themselves – problems with education are, in this framework, engineering problems. This reporting treats “ed-tech” as a product built in and by Silicon Valley, not as something built in and by public institutions around the world. It treats “ed-tech” as the result of markets and industry and “innovation,” and not as the result of policy or history. The reporting often isolates education technology from other developments in the computer technology sector and tends to isolate education technology from education politics and policies more broadly (unless, of course, those policies dovetail with the political interests of ed-tech and ed-reform, which they often do).

There is No Technology Industry (There is Only Ideology)

There is no ‘technology industry’,” technology writer and entrepreneur Anil Dash wrote in August.

Put simply, every industry and every sector of society is powered by technology today, and being transformed by the choices made by technologists. Marc Andreessen famously said that “software is eating the world,” but it’s far more accurate to say that the neoliberal values of software tycoons are eating the world.

Every industry uses computers, software, and internet services. If that’s what “technology” means, then every company is in the technology business – a useless distinction. But it’s more likely that “technology” has become so overused, and so carelessly associated with Silicon Valley-style computer software and hardware startups, that the term has lost all meaning. Perhaps finance has exacerbated the problem by insisting on the generic industrial term “technology” as a synonym for computing.

…There are companies that are firmly planted in the computing sector. Microsoft and Apple are two. Intel is another – it makes computer parts for other computer makers. But it’s also time to recognize that some companies – Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook among them – aren’t primarily in the computing business anyway. And that’s no slight, either. The most interesting thing about companies like Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook is that they are not (computing) technology companies. Instead, they are using computing infrastructure to build new – and enormous – businesses in other sectors. If anything, that’s a fair take on what “technology” might mean as a generic term: manipulating one set of basic materials to realize goals that exceed those materials.

When I write – here and elsewhere – about the politics of education technology, I am interested in these very things: organizations, practices, relationships, ideologies. The politics of education technology shape and are shaped by, as Franklin argues, our ideas of power. And as Bogost and Dash both caution, it’s a mistake to fetishize the tech as product – in ed-tech and elsewhere – especially at the expense of scrutinizing technology in its ubiquity and as ideology.

“Tech” and the Presidential Election

Facebook will appear again and again in this year-end series. Facebook and wishful thinking. Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s education investments. Facebook and personalization. Facebook and algorithmic discrimination. It is one of the most powerful (and frightening) companies – and it has its eyes on “disrupting” education.

President-Elect Donald J. Trump

This isn’t simply a matter of subverting the value of education as a public good. It’s about attacking education as a vehicle for social justice. Some speculate that Trump might dismantle the Office for Civil Rights, for starters, which enforces the compliance for Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and other federal civil rights laws.

The Obama Administration (in Its Final Year) and Education

I’ll write about the Obama Administration and for-profit higher ed in a subsequent post in this series. (And don’t think for a minute I won’t talk about Trump University in all its gruesome details.) I’ll also cover the various efforts to address college affordability in another post, in part through issuing a “scorecard” to help prospective college students decide which school to attend. And in another post, I will look at the administration’s efforts to promote STEM and CS education via the Computer Science For All initiative launched in January; in yet another I’ll look at its efforts to encourage schools use open educational resources via the GoOpen initiative which it launched last year. I also plan to talk about the administration’s support for charter schools (and how charter school chains act as test-beds for software companies, as well as how their missions dovetail with a push for “personalization”). I’ll talk more elsewhere about how testing, about how testing has and hasn’t changed (and might and not changed) – under Obama and thanks to the “opt-out” movement and because of the re-authorization of ESEA (now known as the “Every Student Succeeds Act” rather than “No Child Left Behind”).

See? It’s all interconnected.

Accessibility and Technology (and the Role of Governments and Corporations)

Access to the Internet – at home and at school – has, obviously, been key to education technology initiatives. Bandwidth is necessary, and schools still struggle to provide it, particularly in rural areas.

Certainly access to the Internet for the purposes of education isn’t just about access at school.

In February, CoSN, the Consortium for School Networking, called broadband access outside of school a “civil right” for students.

Education Technology and Political Corruption

The word “kleptocracy” is already being used to describe the incoming administration. And I guess we’ll have to wait-and-see how technology companies and education technology companies will try to benefit from an era of backroom deals and deregulation.

Or, we could look at a couple of dealings – pre-Trump – that occurred this year to see how some in ed-tech operate.

Yes, Epipens count as “ed-tech.” And yes, this is how the politics of the business of ed-tech works. If anything, the privatization and profiteering that Trump’s election portends is just a difference of speed and degree.

Ed-tech, Civil Rights, and Academic Freedom

Who stands in the way of education’s horrors?

Well, students for starters.

Education technology has become inextricable from education reform in recent years – from efforts to improve test scores and bust unions and built charter schools to those that reframe the civic responsibility of education as an individual, “personalized” product.

Who benefits? Who benefits when public education is dismantled and “disrupted”? And who benefits when entrepreneurs and investors get to define “equity”? Who do their policies and who do their rhetoric really serve?

At the end of 2016, the most pressing question is not, as a recent Edsurge headline asked, “Who Thinks Tech Makes Learning More Fun?” Let me suggest some better ones: what role does education technology play in spreading hate and harassment? What role does education technology play in undermining equity and democracy? Can education technology play any role in resistance?

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: The Politics of Education Technology

What Do Venture Capitalists Want?

Some of these areas that are popular for investment do coincide with the popular narratives about “the future of education” – “everyone should learn to code,” for example. But some of them, like the explosion in startups offering private student loans, suggest something is happening quite contrary to the narratives of “free and open,” not to mention to a tradition of publicly funded education or the policies of federal financial aid.

Glaring in its absence from this list: “personalization,” one of the most trumpeted technology “solutions” this year. … Even without funding data to underscore its importance, “personalization” can’t be dismissed.

The word is a crystallization of ed-tech ideology: through technology, teaching will become radically individualized as learners’ lessons are reduced to the smallest possible piece of content, then presented to them algorithmically. Moreover, per this ideology, without the aid of algorithms and “personalization” technology, human educators and traditional institutions have historically failed to meet the needs of individuals as individuals. The responsibility for education therefore must shift to technology, away from the institution, to the individual, away from the public or civic.

The ideological and financial shift from public to private is exemplified by venture philanthropy – that is, venture capital investments framed as charity.

Wealthy individuals often assume that philanthropic donations should be received in gratitude, Reich said, because it’s better for the public than purchasing another house or another boat. “That’s just false to me,” he said. “It’s an exercise of power aimed at the public, and in a democratic society, power deserves attention and scrutiny, not gratitude.”

The Elephants in the Ed-Tech Room

For the last five or six years, education technology has been largely talked about in terms of “startups,” something that helps position the industry as an outsider and an underdog. Of course, most of ed-tech is neither. It’s built and sold by giant corporations.

These are the companies that sell the textbooks; these are the companies that sell the tests.

In response to all these ongoing problems with testing, the Obama Administration said in April it would “take action” in order to “ensure fewer and better tests for students.” “Taking action,” in this case, meant releasing some case studies and posting a notice on the Federal Register about how a competitive grant program could provide a more “innovative” way to build assessments.

Everything’s a business opportunity.

But this notion of an “OS War” shouldn’t be too quickly dismissed. “Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google Are Fighting a War for the Classroom,” Edutechnica wrote in June, with a look at how many colleges have adopted their competing “pseudo-LMSes.” The “war” extends beyond the productivity suite of tech tools and it extends beyond operating system in the classroom. It’s about building brand allegiance with students and/as workers, and it’s about building data profiles to sell ads and other products.

The LMS, of course, needn’t be a permanent line item in schools’ budgets. And its supposed primacy might actually overlook that there’s a great deal of “shadow” technology utilized by instructors who eschew the official LMS for something they find better suited to their classroom needs and goals.

The Procurement Problem

The learning management system is a piece of “enterprise” software after all. That is, it’s built and bought to satisfy the needs of the institution rather than the needs of individual. Purchasing an LMS – or more correctly, signing a contract to license an LMS – requires its own enterprise-level bureaucracy.

There’s a lot that’s wrong with the process, no doubt. For starters, the hefty RFP requirements almost by design tilt purchasing decisions towards big companies and incumbent players. The folks who make the decisions about what to buy typically aren’t the people who are using the products in the classroom.

There’s not a lot of transparency in the procurement process; nor is it easy to find out afterwards which products schools bought or use – although that’s not something you hear companies moan about, funnily enough. You’re just supposed to trust them when they brag they’re used in 90% of schools. (USC professor Morgan Polikoff’s research on textbook adoption, for example, has made this painfully clear. He’s sent FOIA requests to school districts, and in many cases they have been unwilling or unable to share their textbook data. And when they do, the data is often a mess.)

But by and large, procurement issues are a problem identified by companies that companies decide they will “fix” in turn: “Try Before You Buy,” Edsurge reported in June. “Clever’s ‘Co-Pilot’ Aims to Help Schools Pilot and Purchase.” Indeed, an increasingly popular service offered by ed-tech companies and ed-tech investors is “research” into how to buy ed-tech and into which ed-tech products are best, which “work” (whatever that means).

(These companies almost all share the same investors too. And the beat goes on.)

One of the ways in which ed-tech startups have found success in getting their products widely adopted is to sell to charter schools, particularly charter school chains. (Again, they often share the same investors.) Charter school chains, in turn, have started to license their products and franchise their models to others. As such, it’s difficult to separate “the business of education technology” from “the business of charter schools” – and why it’s difficult, as I noted in the previous article in this series, “the politics of education technology” from “the politics of education reform.”

Disrupting the Culture of Public Education

I’ve argued elsewhere that education technology serves as a “Trojan horse” of sorts, carrying with it into public institutions the practices, politics, and a culture of private business and the ideology of Silicon Valley. This is evident in the ways in which you hear many investors and entrepreneurs talk about what needs to happen to schools – that they need to become more efficient; they need to be more like “lean startups” and redesign themselves as a “minimum viable product”; they need to “unbundle,” “unbundle,” “unbundle”; they need to rename job titles and rethink job roles – “learning engineers” or “entrepreneurs-in-residence,” for example; they need to turn to markets, not politics or publics, for solutions.

If you’re looking for a quick read – one that’s hilariously awful – about the culture of startups in order to convince yourself this is the last thing we should bring to public education, I recommend Dan Lyon’s book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, published this spring.

What VC Spells for Sesame Street

In February, Sesame Workshop, the maker of Sesame Street, announced it was launching a venture capital arm in order to invest in startups because everything is terrible. It’s first startup investment – a tutoring app. It also invested $53 million in a VC fund run by Reach Capital, formerly NewSchools Venture Fund.

Sesame Workshop has also partnered with IBM, to extract data from preschoolers in the name of “research” into the “personalization” of early childhood education.

Of course, what drives the programming on Sesame Street now isn’t education research; it’s market research. It isn’t “equity” as in social justice; it’s “equity” as in the financial stake a VC takes in a company.

And that’s what “the business of education technology” gets us.

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: The Business of Education Technology

Marketing the Mindsets

Intertwined with the push for “personalization” in education are arguments for embracing a “growth mindset.” The phrase, coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, appears frequently alongside talk of “personalized learning” as students are encouraged to see their skills and competencies as flexible rather than fixed. (Adaptive teaching software. Adaptive students.)

The marketing of mindsets was everywhere this year: “How to Develop Mindsets for Compassion and Caring in Students.” “Building A Tinkering Mindset In Young Students Through Making.” “6 Must-Haves for Developing a Maker Mindset.” The college president mindset. Help wanted: must have an entrepreneurial mindset. The project-based learning mindset. (There’s also Gorilla Mindset, a book written by alt-right meme-maker Mike Cernovich, just to show how terrible the concept can get.)

“Mindset” joins “grit” as a concept that’s quickly jumped from the psychology department to (TED Talk to) product. Indeed, Angela Duckworth, who popularized the latter (and had a new book out this year on grit), now offers an app to measure “character growth.” “Don’t Grade Schools on Grit,” she wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times. But there are now calls that students should be tested – and in turn, of course, schools graded – on “social emotional skills.”

Promising to measure and develop these skills are, of course, ed-tech companies. Pearson even has a product called GRIT™. But it’s probably ClassDojo, a behavior tracking app, that’s been most effective in marketing itself as a “mindset” product, even partnering with Carol Dweck’s research center at Stanford.

Ben Williamson argues that ClassDojo exemplifies the particularly Silicon Valley bent of “mindset” management:

The emphasis … is on fixing people, rather than fixing social structures. It prioritizes the design of interventions that seek to modify behaviours to make people perform as optimally as possible according to new behavioural and psychological norms. Within this mix, new technologies of psychological measurement and behaviour management such as ClassDojo have a significant role to play in schools that are under pressure to demonstrate their performance according to such norms.

In doing so, ClassDojo – and other initiatives and products – are enmeshed both in the technocratic project of making people innovative and entrepreneurial, and in the controversial governmental agenda of psychological measurement. ClassDojo is situated in this context as a vehicle for promoting the kind of growth mindsets and character qualities that are seen as desirable behavioural norms by Silicon Valley and government alike.

ClassDojo is, Williamson argues, “prototypical of how education is being reshaped in a ‘platform society.’”

Personalization in a Platform Society

Far from being neutral platforms for everyone, social media have changed the conditions and rules of social interaction.” In this new social order – “the platform society” – “social, economic and interpersonal traffic is largely channeled by an (overwhelmingly corporate) global online infrastructure that is driven by algorithms and fueled by data.”

We readily recognize Facebook and Twitter as these sorts of platforms; but I’d argue that they’re more pervasive and more insidious, particularly in education. There, platforms include the learning management systems and student information systems, which fundamentally define how teachers and students and administrators interact. They define how we conceive of “learning”. They define what “counts” and what’s important.

They do so, in part, through this promise of “personalization.” Platforms insist that, through data mining and analytics, they offer an improvement over existing practices, existing institutions, existing social and political mechanisms. This has profound implications for public education in a democratic society. More accurately perhaps, the “platform society” offers merely an entrenchment of surveillance capitalism, and education technologies, along with the ideology of “personalization”, work to normalize and rationalize that.

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: Education Technology and the Ideology of “Personalization”

Transitioning from invisible to visible disability

It’s 9am, and I’m still in bed. I’ve been uncomfortably conscious for hours thinking about how I will spend my spoons. Gravity pulls like a sickness. Just being awake costs.

I have to go out in public today. I can’t walk or stand for more than 5 minutes without suffering. I need something to sit on everywhere I go. My journeys are a seating map. The grocery store has few seats, and they are often sticky. Aisles and aisles without seating means I have to bring my own. My rollator makes errands possible.

I’m dreading today’s doctors’ appointments. Doctors’ offices and hospitals have seating, but those seats are in sensory spaces that make me stim. I still have the reflex to pace to manage sensory overwhelm, but my body ain’t having it. I’ll gouge my scalp bloody instead.

I can walk when I must. I can push myself through as much as 20 minutes of standing and walking, but the cost is great. I need the rest of the day to recover from such a reckless waste of spoons.

I sometimes long for a wheelchair. Far from being confining, a wheelchair would be liberating. I could stim with movement. I could save some spoons. I could stay below my diminishing thresholds.

I dread the moment of rising from the chair in front of others, though. Getting up from a wheelchair to navigate an inaccessible threshold, reach for something, or simply stretch does not compute for our ableist societies. You are judged a fraud, a fake, someone trying to get something you don’t deserve.

A wheelchair is in my future. Without one, I can’t go on outings with my family without melting spoons. I can no longer push past the shrinking limits of my endurance. I’m using a rollator now, but it can be slow, uncomfortable going. Even with rollator assistance, walking is a struggle with pain and gravity. A wheelchair would be enabling, but using one involves a direct confrontation with systemic inaccessibility and ableism. Am I up for it? My body becomes more and more convincing about its need for a chair, but I am reluctant to put up with more ableism than I already experience.

Wheelchairs are the symbol of disability. Transitioning to visible disability would avoid some invisible disability tropes, but those would be replaced by other tropes. And the moment I demonstrate that I can still, for now, walk, that symbol becomes an indictment.