Rules of Thumb for Human Systems

Champion agency, transparency, and inclusion. Resist deficit ideology and compliance culture. Humanize flow in the systems we inhabit. The following heuristics bring together ideas from neurodiversity, the social model of disability, student-directed learning, passion-based learning, progressive education reform, social justice education reform, critical pedagogy, critical instruction design, restorative practices, hacker ethos, just culture, and distributed work. Use them when building systems and culture:

Excerpted and linked below are posts I wrote as I worked my way through all of this. They are living documents that I update regularly. I update them to add new resources. I update them as my views change. I iterate and expand as life and energy allow.

The social model for minds and bodies is essential to understanding this worldview of social justice and social model reform. I’ll start with it.

TL;DR: Fix injustice, not people.

Social Model > Medical Model: Neurodiversity and the Social Model of Disability

Instead of connecting neurodivergent kids with an identity, tribe, and voice, we segregate and marginalize them. We medicalize and assess them. We demand their compliance and rarely ask for consent. We define their identities through the deficit and medical models and then tell them to get some grit and growth mindset. We reduce emancipatory tech to remedial chains.

Let’s embrace instead the voice and choice of project-based learning and inform it with neurodiversity and the social model of disability. Create a future of education and work where neurodiverse teams of project-based learners use technology and design thinking to communicate, collaborate, iterate, and launch to authentic audiences of fellow humans.

End the segregation of special. Together, we will iterate our way through massive software-driven change. We will navigate disruption with compassion, finding opportunity and inspiration in the diversity of our shared humanity. We are humans making things for and with other humans, helping each other cope with sentience and senescence on our pale blue dot. Communicate, collaborate, iterate, launch. With these tools we’ll make it through.

To that end, the quotes and resources below provide a primer on neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and design for real life.

Source: Education, Neurodiversity, the Social Model of Disability, and Real Life

Communication is Oxygen: Communication, Collaboration, Open Technology, and Hacker Ethos

Change the technology culture of school. The voice & choice of inclusive education needs an open by default infrastructure for communication and collaboration. Technology will not find its place in the classroom until we move away from the remediation of the deficit model and embrace open and accessible collaboration.

Source: Communication is oxygen. Build a district-wide collaboration infrastructure and an open by default culture.

Structural Ideology > Deficit Ideology

The marketing of mindsets is everywhere. Grit, growth mindset, project-based mindset, entrepreneurial mindset, innovator’s mindset, and a raft of canned social-emotional skills programs are vying for public money. These notions jump straight from psychology departments to aphoristic word images shared on social media and marketing festooned on school walls.

Growth mindset and Positive Behavior Support marketing has joined Leader in Me marketing at our elementary school. Instead of being peppered with synergy and Franklin Covey’s trademarks and proprietary jargon, we’re now peppered with LiM and growth mindset and PBS. Like every marketed mindset going back to the self-esteem movement, these campaigns are veneers on the deficit model that ignore long-standing structural problems like poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, and childism. The practice and implementation of these mindsets are always suborned by deficit ideology, bootstrap ideology, meritocracy myths, and greed.

Mindset marketing without structural ideologyrestorative practices, and inclusion is more harmful than helpful. This marketing shifts responsibility for change from our systems to children. We define kids’ identities through the deficit and medical models, gloss over the structural problems they face, and then tell them to get some grit and growth mindset. This is a form of gaslighting. It is abusive.

Canned social-emotional skills programsbehaviorism, and the marketing of mindsets have serious side effects. They reinforce the cult of compliance and encourage submission to authoritarian rule. They line the pockets of charlatans and profiteers. They encourage surveillance and avaricious data collection. Deficit model capitalism’s data-based obsession proliferates hucksterism and turn kids into someone’s business model. The behaviorism of PBS is of the mindset of abusers and manipulators. It is ideological and intellectual kin with ABA, which autistic people have roundly rejected as abusivecoercivemanipulative torture. We call it autistic conversion therapy.

Instead, acknowledge pipeline problems and the meritocracy myth, stop bikeshedding the structural problems of the deficit model, and stop blaming kids and families. Develop an authentic school culture based on diversity & inclusionneurodiversitythe social model of disability, structural ideology, and indie ed-tech. Provide fresh air, sunlight, and plenty of time for major muscle movementGet rid of extrinsics, and adopt instead the intrinsic motivation of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Stop propagating the latest deficit/bootstrap/behaviorism fads. Develop the critical capacity to see beyond the marketing, to look beyond deficit model compliance to social model inclusion. The social model and structural ideology are the way forward. Growth mindset and behaviorism, as usually implemented, are just more bootstrap metaphors that excuse systems from changing and learning.

Deficit ideology, surveillance capitalism, mindset marketing, and behaviorism are an unholy alliance. Fix injustice, not kids.

Source: Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology

Diversity and Inclusion

Inclusion is the new normal.

Schools with transphobic bathroom policies break the codes of collaboration. They don’t meet the standards for hosting WordCamps, WordPress Meetups, or Automattic sponsored events. They eliminate themselves from hosting meetups for many open source communities, something schools should be doing more of, not less. Phobic policies distance public education from the creative commons and the engines of modernity.

In an era of massive software driven change, the culture of public education should be compatible with the norms of agile teams and distributed collaboration. Self-organizing teams working in open by default, inclusive by default cultures build great things. This is the present and future of work. What we’ve learned over decades of iterating development culture for adult creatives applies also to students.

Our market is the world. Our audience is the world. Designing for the lived experiences of the full spectrum of human diversity requires working inclusively. Together, we will iterate our way through massive software-driven change. We will navigate disruption with compassion, finding opportunity and inspiration in the diversity of our shared humanity. We are humans making things for and with other humans, helping each other cope with sentience and senescence on our pale blue dot. Communicate, collaborate, iterate, launch. With these tools we’ll make it through.

Inclusion is the new normal. Inclusion is the way to our boldly better future. Diversity is a fact of the modern world that is good for society and good for business.

Source: Inclusion is the new normal

Projects > Lectures: Projects, Teams and Psychological Safety

Collaborative, project-based teams make great things. Teams that offer psychological safety are more productive and creative. This is true for adults and children—especially children. “Every child deserves an education that guarantees the safety to learn in the comfort of one’s own skin.” What we have learned in industry through continuous iteration works also for students. Give them psychologically safe teams where they can collaborate on shared passions. Give them a home of opportunity.

Source: Projects, Teams, and Psychological Safety 

Agency > Compliance: Agency and Play

Acceptance > Awareness

Awareness means we know what is hard for us. As we grow up autistic we are measured against the yardstick of “normal” in many ways over and over. Thus, autistic children often have a keen sense of who they are NOT. This deficit-based understanding may be necessary in the diagnostic realm, but it does little to support a healthy lifestyle. Who we ARE in this world – our abilities, strengths and interests – provide us with a satisfying life because that is the way it is with human beings. And yes, autistic people regardless how autistic they may or may not be, are ALL human beings. This means ALL autistics have intrinsic value.

Awareness focuses on the deficits – on understanding the deficits of the autism diagnosis – which leads to general assumptions by society of a substandard, less than group of people and it spirals downward from there, as we all have seen in today’s status quo autism rhetoric, stereotypes and assumptions. Awareness extends a hand the erroneous idea of a flawed group of substandard human beings. Awareness often provides the fertile soil supporting the growth of inspiration porn about our tribe.

Acceptance focuses on autistics rather than on autism. And yes, there is a difference. Autism is our diagnosis; it is about what is hard for us. Autistic is who we are as autistic human beings; being autistic is about who I am in this world, how I function and what I contribute. Acceptance lends itself to ideas of equality, the premise of different rather than lesser creatures. This can lead to an upward spiral towards embracing concepts such as neurodiversity, inclusion and universal design.

For society, when awareness is the focus – society understands the deficits and which, when unbalanced with the humanity of autistics, often result in a hopeless and burdensome feeling. I believe when autistic acceptance becomes society’s focus we will shift to looking at abilities, strengths, interests of autistic individuals, which will then allow us our place in the fabric of society – as actually equal human beings.

So, at this point in time, as a society we have mostly Autism Awareness, especially during the month of April. We also do have a tiny wee bit of Autism Acceptance, mostly from autistic people themselves and their allies. When society is focused on Autism Awareness deficits of autistic people and inspiration porn about them are highlighted. When society is focused on Autism Acceptance strengths and abilities of autistic people are highlighted.

Source: Autism Awareness and Autism Acceptance • Ollibean

Compassion > Coercion

Intrinsic Motivation > Extrinsic Motivation

14 thoughts on “Rules of Thumb for Human Systems

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