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 give voice and facilitate collaboration. Give voice to teachers. Give voice to 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 starved of 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”

The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed

This talk by Jonathan Mooney is social model music. I include it in my primer on the social model for minds and bodies. Mooney provides necessary insight into neurodivergent learners. Every minute is worth your time. I’ve pulled quotes from the talk below, as well as a handful of quotes from the introduction to his book Learning Outside The Lines: Two Ivy League Students With Learning Disabilities And ADHD Give You The Tools For Academic Success and Educational Revolution.

Mooney’s perspective offers many takeaways. Two critical ones for me are these rules of thumb.

  • agent > patient
  • identity > diagnosis

Challenge our definition of where disability lies.

We’ve built an entire edifice of intervention that’s about fixing people.

It’s not their minds or bodies that truly disable them. It’s how environment reacts to those differences. That’s where disability lies. Folks don’t have disability, they experience disability in environments that aren’t accessible and inclusive.

We should spend more time talking about how we change the environment that surrounds people and not the people themselves.

I did not overcome dyslexia. I overcame dysteachia. I overcame environments that weren’t built for my brain.

It’s that narrow definition of intelligence, behavior, and motivation that is really my disability. Not dyslexia, not ADHD.

In many learning environments we think good kids sit still. The good kid is the compliant kid.

Young folks like me are given the identity of being bad.

“What is your problem?” If I had a nickel for every time I heard that word in my life.

I was given this identity that I was a problem because of a norm in the environment that good kids sit still.

Difficult children make interesting adults.

We’ve built learning environments based on the myth that appropriate and valuable human behavior is about compliance.

We have conflated reading with intelligence.

We’ve left so many brains out.

We shouldn’t be asking ourselves, “how smart am I?” We should be asking, “how am I smart?”

I had overcome not ADHD, but I had overcome the feeling of being the defective person morally because I didn’t comply to the myth that good kids are compliant.

Intrinsic motivators are drivers like autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

We’ve built most of our learning environments with sticks and carrots.

We’ve negated the power of choice and the power of letting folks craft an education that is grounded in their aspirations, their vision for themselves.

How do we build learning environments that embrace intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose?

An essential component of my journey was an identity transformation from being a patient to being an agent.

You don’t need somebody to fix you. You need somebody to fight for you, and with you, because what’s happening to you is an injustice.

It ain’t right for somebody to be marginalized for a difference.

I need to cultivate a rights based paradigm, a diversity framework, and I need to become an advocate against what is a form of discrimination and marginalization. That’s an important transformation in agency.

You gotta fight against this, you gotta be an advocate, you gotta have a voice in your education.

Consistently cultivate the language of high expectations.

Y’all know the file, right? This has been the thing that had been following me since I started special education. Those things are thick and deep. KGB got nothing on special ed.

That’s agency. That’s somebody who refuses to negate somebody’s humanity because of a label.

We spend so much time talking about the problem, we lose the person.

We spend so much time captured in this language of deficit that we lower expectations.

We’ve built this whole infrastructure about fixing folks, about turning people into passive recipients of treatment and service, of turning people into patients. But being a patient is the most disempowered place a human being can be.

We need to cultivate a sense of agency in people which is the opposite of patient hood.

The most meaningful interventions, the most meaningful people in my life were people who cultivated a sense of agency.

Real intellectuals, they don’t care how you get there, they just want you to get there.

He was gonna hold me to the highest expectations, but he was gonna give me multiple ways to meet those expectations. And that is what an agency education is all about.

How well I know something is more important than how fast I know something. We are not trying to educate a generation of Jeopardy contestants.

Accommodate, and change the environment.

Multiple ways to reach those expectations with a flexibility in the classroom that was inclusive of learning diversity.

Switch from a deficit paradigm to an asset-based strength paradigm.

When all we do is fix people, the message we give to them is that they are broken. Nobody lives a meaningful life feeling broken.

It’s essential that we cultivate that capability framework, that asset based framework.

The moment that I could switch from what’s wrong with me to what’s right with me was a significant part of my journey.

Most of my education was all about what I couldn’t do.

We spent thousands dollars, thousands of hours on trying to fix one trait, frankly, perhaps the most irrelevant trait in the world in the 21st century, and that is spelling. God bless spellchecker.

The energy gone into fixing spelling, to worrying about spelling, it’s staggering.

All week we invested time, money, and relationship capital on fixing that irrelevant trait.

We’re not doing the spelling test today. We’re ditching school and going to the zoo.

The reporter asked me, “Jonathan, give my an inspiring message about how you got to Brown University for young people.” And I said, “ditch school.” Because what we and my mom did every Friday was we spent time getting good at something. We spent time developing strength. She literally called it the “get good at something day.” We spent time being interested in the world. We spent time figuring out where my capacities were, talking about how to make my way in the world with my capacities, not my deficits, but my assets. That was a radical shift in my life.

There is research is piling up every day that shows that school, including higher education, is trying to create generalists for a world of specialists.

More than ever the world rewards specialist knowledge.

School is the only place where we ask human beings to be good at all things.

We need to challenge how we’re forcing everyone to be the same in our educational models with this ideal notion of a generalist approach to being successful. The most successful human beings aren’t good at everything, they’re good at one or two things and they scale those strengths. How do they mitigate those weaknesses? They mitigate those weaknesses the way we all do, with teams, technology, and support.

I married my spellchecker. It’s called strategic mating.

We build supportive networks, we use technology, and we build a life not about what’s wrong with us, we build a life around what’s right with us.

We have built learning environments, our culture, our communities, around the myth of normal and average. That myth of normal and average has bombarded all people with a pervasive imperative that to be okay as a human being, to be acceptable as a human, you have to strive for this mythical norm, this mythical average, which by definition does not exist.

We didn’t have the word normal in the English language until the 1860s. Normal is a product linguistically of the industrial revolution , of standardizing production, of moving in a place that’s forcing people to fit that standardized mold. Normal is a statistical concept, not a fact in the world.

Challenging that myth of normal is a philosophical imperative because we are doubling down normal.

We have a medical community that’s found a sickness for every single human difference. DSM keeps growing every single year with new ways to be defective, with new ways to be lessened.

The myth of normal is what’s broken, and the identity that, if you don’t fit it, that you are less than, that’s what’s broken. We need to reframe what we problematize, not bodies, not difference, but this pervasive imperative to be normal.

All progress, all evolution, is driven by deviations from the norms.

All evolution and progress is driven by mutations and deviations. If we lose that, if we eradicate that, we have lost our strength as a community, as a society.

Disability industrial complex is all about what people can’t do. We spend most of our time trying to fix what they can’t do. When all we do is fix people the message we give to them is that they are broken.

We have created a system that has you submit yourself, or your child, to patient hood to access the right to learn differently. The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by a diagnosis.

Source: Jonathan Mooney: “The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed” – YouTube

Learning Outside the Lines

For centuries, the word stupid, combined with various intensifiers like bad, lazy, willful, or weak has been used to create a moral “diagnosis.” That moral diagnosis has ruined millions of lives.

Our life struggles had more to do with freeing ourselves from the institution of education than transcending our own personal weakness.

It is a loss and a crime when creativity, alternative learning skills, and an individualized education take a back seat to rote memorization, standardized testing, and the misconception that all people learn the same way.

Education is one of the most beautiful and liberating things we can pursue in our lives, but too often it is approached as a restrictive, punitive, linear, and moralistic act.

Throughout our lives, we had looked to the idea of succeeding in school to define our worth and our intelligence. In childhood, we were told we were defective goods, and to be better we had to be other than what we were.

Ultimately our diagnoses and the subsequent attempts at intervention allowed people to blame us, two powerless kids, for our failure instead of turning a critical eye toward the environment. It took us fifteen years of personal and academic struggle to stop blaming ourselves, to stop believing that we are inherently defective like “they” thought, and to come to realize how profound an effect the environment had on our inability to succeed. Only as time went on did simple interventions like the ability to get up out of our seats, the use of a spell checker, and progressive ideas like project-based learning and other modifications to the learning environment allow the pathology to slip into irrelevance and enable us to be successful. Our hard wiring is a simple cognitive difference. We all have them. But an oppressive educational environment that blames children for their failures caused us to grow up with the stigma of pathology.

Behavior becomes a social indicator of morality, marking which kids are good kids and which kids are bad, and the highest value is one of conformity, passivity, and obedience.

The underlying notion is that all kids develop at the same time in a linear, sequential manner, and if some kids cannot read early, they are not intelligent. This environment gave us an identity at a time when our personality was malleable, an identity that revolved around the teacher, the authority figure in the room. We did not question the rules and the identity handed to us. We were taught that sitting still and getting gold stars on our math homework were more important than art and ideas, and much more important than what kind of people we were and how we treated other kids.

Mooney, Jonathan; Cole, David (2014-07-01). Learning Outside The Lines: Two Ivy League Students With Learning Disabilities And Adhd Give You The Tools F. Touchstone. Kindle Edition.

The Effects of Authority, Compliance, and Pathologizing Students

Two pieces on authority in education and a piece on side effects in education caught my eye on social media this week. The first is a Bruce Levine piece from 2012 on Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill that resonates with this social model self-advocate. Neurodivergent and disabled folks are medicalized, pathologized, and written off at school. Levine’s narrative complements Jonathan Mooney’s Learning Outside The Lines and Alan Schwarz’s ADHD Nation.

Having steered the higher-education terrain for a decade of my life, I know that degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where one routinely conforms to the demands of authorities.

So authoritarians financially marginalize those who buck the system, they criminalize anti-authoritarianism, they psychopathologize anti-authoritarians, and they market drugs for their “cure.”

Second is a piece by Seth Godin on how school conditions us to accept working under authority rather than working with each other. Education has a deficit of collaboration.

We build school around the idea of powerful teachers, coaches and authority figures telling us what to do.

In our connected, networked world, communication is oxygen and collaboration–not deference to authority–is our way forward.

The third is great longform by Yong Zhao on side effects in education.

But side effects exist the same way in education as in medicine. For many reasons, studying and reporting side effects simultaneously as has been mandated for medical products is not common in education.

It is difficult for an educational system that wishes to cultivate a homogenous workforce to also expect a diverse population of individuals who are creative and entrepreneurial. Research has also shown that test scores and knowledge acquisition can come at the expense of curiosity and confidence.

What are the effects and side effects of the deficit model, compliance culture, and willful unawareness of structural problems and social injustice? They exact a huge toll on the marginalized and the different. Put a warning label on our systems.

Pathologizing Anti-Authoritarians

In my career as a psychologist, I have talked with hundreds of people previously diagnosed by other professionals with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder and other psychiatric illnesses, and I am struck by (1) how many of those diagnosed are essentially anti-authoritarians, and (2) how those professionals who have diagnosed them are not.

Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority-sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.

Some activists lament how few anti-authoritarians there appear to be in the United States. One reason could be that many natural anti-authoritarians are now psychopathologized and medicated before they achieve political consciousness of society’s most oppressive authorities.

The selection and socialization of mental health professionals tends to breed out many anti-authoritarians. Having steered the higher-education terrain for a decade of my life, I know that degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where one routinely conforms to the demands of authorities. Thus for many MDs and PhDs, people different from them who reject this attentional and behavioral compliance appear to be from another world-a diagnosable one.

I have found that most psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals are not only extraordinarily compliant with authorities but also unaware of the magnitude of their obedience. And it also has become clear to me that the anti-authoritarianism of their patients creates enormous anxiety for these professionals, and their anxiety fuels diagnoses and treatments.

Do we really want to diagnose and medicate everyone with “deficits in rule-governed behavior”?

So authoritarians financially marginalize those who buck the system, they criminalize anti-authoritarianism, they psychopathologize anti-authoritarians, and they market drugs for their “cure.”

Source: Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill

Author and clinical psychologist Bruce Levine sits down with Open Paradigm to discuss society’s relationship to drugs, psychiatry’s increasing credibility issue, and the cultural response to incidents of mass violence.

With > Over

For thousands of years, we’ve built our culture to teach people to not only tolerate a powerful overlord, but in a vacuum, to seek one out. We build school around the idea of powerful teachers, coaches and authority figures telling us what to do. We go to the placement office to seek a job, instead of starting our own thing, because we’ve been taught that this is the way it works, it’s reliable, it’s safer.

And so we’re pushed to begin with under, not with.

The connection economy begins to undermine this dynamic. But it’s frightening. It’s frightening to have your own media channel, your own platform, your own ability to craft a community and 1,000 true fans. So instead, we seek out someone to tell us what to do, to trade this for that.

I think it’s becoming clear that power doesn’t scale like it used to. Too many unders and not enough withs.

But, each of us can change our perspective, as soon as we’re ready.

Find your with.

Source: Seth’s Blog: Over/with

Side Effects in Education

Educational research has typically focused exclusively on the benefits, intended effects of products, programs, policies, and practices, as if there were no adverse side effects. But side effects exist the same way in education as in medicine. For many reasons, studying and reporting side effects simultaneously as has been mandated for medical products is not common in education.

In this article just published in the Journal of Educational Change, I discuss why education must learn the important lesson of studying and reporting side effects from medical research. Side effects in education occur for a number of reasons.

First, time is a constant. When you spend time on one task, you cannot spend the same amount on another. When a child is given extra instruction in reading, he/she cannot spend the same time on arts or music. When a school focuses only on two or three subjects, its students would not have the time to learn something else. When a school system only focuses on a few subjects such as reading and math, students won’t have time to do other and perhaps more important things.

Second, recourses are limited. When it is put into one activity, it cannot be spent on other. When school resources are devoted to the common core, other subjects become peripheral. When schools are forced to only focus on raising test scores, activities that may promote students’ long-term growth are sidelined.

Third, some educational outcomes are inherently contradictory. It is difficult for an educational system that wishes to cultivate a homogenous workforce to also expect a diverse population of individuals who are creative and entrepreneurial. Research has also shown that test scores and knowledge acquisition can come at the expense of curiosity and confidence.

Fourth, the same products may work differently for different individuals, in different contexts. Some people are allergic to penicillin. Some drugs have negative consequences when taken with alcohol. Likewise, some practices, such as direct instruction may work better for knowledge transmission, but not for long term exploration. Charter schools may favor those who have a choice (can make a choice) at the costs of those who are not able to take advantage of it.

Source: Education in the Age of Globalization » Blog Archive » What Works Can Hurt: Side Effects in Education

Canned Emotional Skills and School Pride

These programs often include conformist type activities to promote school pride. Gifted kids often struggle with authoritarianism and can have behavioral issues due to mis-fitting educational experiences. If they feel teachers or the system isn’t understanding or working with their needs, they are going to struggle with school pride.

Source: Danger in a Can: Why Canned Social-Emotional Skill Programs in Schools Can Harm Gifted Students More Than Help Them – SENG

Presume Competence: A Hippocratic Oath for Education

“To not presume competence is to assume that some individuals cannot learn, develop, or participate in the world. Presuming competence is nothing less than a Hippocratic oath for educators.”

Never assume that the ability to speak equals intelligence. There are plenty of autistic people who have trouble speaking but who have glorious creative worlds inside them seeking avenues of expression. Never assume that an autistic person who can’t speak isn’t listening closely to every word you say, or isn’t feeling the emotional impact of your words. I’ve interviewed many autistic people who said they could hear and understand everything around them while people called them “idiots” or described them as “out of it” to their faces. Ultimately, presuming competence is the ability to imagine that the person in front of you is just as human as you are, even if they seem to be very impaired. If you understand that the autistic students in your class are just as complex and nuanced and intensely emotional and hopeful as you are, you’ll do everything in your power to help them lead happier and more engaged lives.

Source: A Q&A about autism with Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes

Presume competence. Begin any new learning adventure from a point of aspiration rather than deficit. Children know when you don’t believe in them and it affects their progress. Instead, assume they’re capable; they’ll usually surprise you. If you’re concerned, start small and build toward a goal.

Source: A parent’s advice to a teacher of autistic kids

Presume competence means – assume your child is aware and able to understand even though they may not show this to you in a way that you are able to recognize or understand.

To presume competence means to assume your child or the other person does and can understand when they are being spoken of and to.

Presume competence means talk to your child or the other person as you would a same age non-Autistic child or person.

Presumptions of competence means treating the other person with respect and as an equal without pity or infantilization.

It does not mean that we will carry expectations that if not met will cause us to admonish, scold or assume the person is being manipulative or just needs to “try harder”.

To presume competence does not mean we assume there is a “neurotypical” person “trapped” or “imprisoned” under an Autistic “shell”.

Presuming competence is not an act of kindness.

Presuming competence is not something we do because we are a “good” person.

We do not get to pat ourselves on the back because we have presumed competence. If we believe we deserve a pat on the back and/or acknowledgement, then we are not presuming competence, we are more likely being condescending.

Source: “Presume Competence” – What Does That Mean Exactly? | Emma’s Hope Book

What you will need is the awareness and patience to embrace people with autism as different, not less; the willingness to presume that people with autism are competent – even if evidence may be not be available at first; and the understanding that behavior is not random, but is instead motivated by necessity, frustration, sensory differences, or the need to communicate a request or thought.

People with autism may experience the world in ways that are unfamiliar to us, but they need us to remember that what we see on the outside may not be an accurate reflection of what exists within. The ability to communicate or regulate social interaction should not be confused with the ability to think or the capacity to love. Rather than labeling individuals as “low functioning” or “high functioning,” we should recognize that people with autism vary in their ability to demonstrate competence. Our responsibility is then to presume, find, and strengthen that competence.

Just because a child may not be able to speak doesn’t mean that he has nothing to say. Just because a person may be overwhelmed in social situations doesn’t mean that she doesn’t long for friendship. Just because someone has difficulty initiating movement doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to participate.

Researchers in applied psychology often use the term “child efficacy” to describe the belief that a child is capable of learning and improving. Likewise, the term “self-efficacy” is used to describe our own beliefs that we as parents or teachers are capable of helping a child to improve. It’s critical not only to recognize that a child can learn, understand, and improve, but that we have the ability to help.

The beliefs that parents and teachers have about their own abilities have an important effect on later outcomes for children with autism and other challenges. Greater parent efficacy results in more positive interactions with children, decreased coercive discipline, improved classroom behavior, reduced behavior problems, lower family stress, reduced parental vulnerability to stress and depression, and increased satisfaction with family life. These outcomes have been reported even after controlling for a wide variety of other factors.

Our beliefs that we are capable of helping are more than just happy feelings – they affect the amount of time we engage with people with autism, the quality of our teaching efforts, how frequently we offer them learning opportunities, and how patient we are in resolving difficulties. In a longitudinal study of children with disabilities and behavior problems, parental optimism/pessimism was the single best predictor of which children would have more severe problems years later.

Source: Presume Competence: A guide to successful, evidence-based principles for supporting and engaging individuals with autism

As a result of long-standing mythical and erroneous perceptions, when we encounter a person with a disability, positive presumptions and attitudes may be instantly replaced by negative stereotypes and prejudice (yes, we pre- judge), and the person with a disability is Presumed Incompetent. The guilt-by-association mentality may also kick in, so the person’s parents may also be Presumed Incompetent. (I was once told that my family was dysfunctional, our daughter was dysfunctional, and my husband and I were dysfunctional because of our son’s disability!)

Traditionally, we’ve Presumed Incompetence and forced a person with a disability to prove she’s competent before allowing her to be in a general ed classroom, participate in community activities, be employed in a real job, live in the home of her choice, etc. It’s easy to see that our actions put people with disabilities in a no-win situation: because we presume they’re incompetent, we don’t give them opportunities to demonstrate their competence, and this, in turn, is taken as “proof ” that they are, indeed, incompetent. The vicious cycle of the self-fullling prophecy is realized.

Source: Presume Competence

And here is a skeptical counterpoint. Don’t use “Presume Competence” or any other phrase as a substitute for thinking critically and responding to data. Don’t wrap discredited methods in “Presume Competence”. Growth Mindset has some good qualities, but the implementation is usually busywork for deficit model bikeshedders. Mind the implementation.

“Presume competence” appears to be the rallying cry for full inclusion advocates, but also is used to defend pseudoscientific and invalidated interventions like facilitated communication and rapid prompting method. The notion seems largely supported by professionals aligned with a postmodern epistemology and may have been a strategic tactic by proponents like Douglas Biklen. Is “presuming competence” different from “presuming capable” and, regardless of the position, should we refrain from skepticism of people like Carly Fleischmann, Ido Kedar, and Sue Rubin to implicitly endorse the notion, or suspend belief until compelling evidence to substantiate their communicative competence is presented?

Source: Is “presume competence” a propaganda phrase for fully inclusive education? – ResearchGate

Presuming competence is not idealism. Idealism ignores that there are challenges or barriers to overcome. The very definition is that the ideals are often “unrealistic.

Presuming competence is a philosophical difference. It’s a belief in socializing students for courage instead of compliance.

It is more than an ideology because when you start from the mindset that someone is capable and can grow, your actions start to reflect that. There are concrete, evidence-based ways that you can presume competence.

Presuming competence is more than believing that a child is competent of thoughts, ideas, and learning. It is also the practice of making sure people – ALL people – have the right to talk about what THEY want, even if it’s not the topic we planned.

Presuming competence isn’t about belief in students in the absence of evidence. It is a belief in their right to access the communication to demonstrate their abilities as humans. You’ll never gather evidence without providing opportunity. So when you’re marking down minuses on data sheets, ask yourself, “Is it possible that there isn’t an adequate way for them to show me that they know this?” When you do that, and acknowledge that there are a range of variables between a plus and a minus, you start to problem solve for your student(s) instead of testing them.

Presuming competence is giving students the opportunity to learn literacy, math, science, and history regardless of their disability.

It is providing the chance to build relationships. It’s exposing students with CCN to leisure activities and allowing them to decide if it’s something they enjoy.

Presuming competence gives children a chance to explore and make mistakes without penalty. It gives them time to learn with support rather than testing or criticism.  When you presume competence, you give the child a safe place to fail and the ability to learn from those small failures and try again. It’s how we grow. That growth and the confidence students gain from overcoming challenges gives them the courage to keep moving forward and develop skills to demonstrate their competence.

Source: Presuming Competence in Practice

Privacy and Passwords

K12 classrooms-and most families-have bad password practices. Passwords for Google Classroom accounts are often derived from usernames. That password is then reused when signing up for other online accounts. This violates three of the most important rules of protecting online privacy and identity. From Krebs on Security:

  • Do not use your network username as your password.
  • Avoid using the same password at multiple Web sites.
  • Never use the password you’ve picked for your email account at any online site: If you do, and an e-commerce site you are registered at gets hacked, there’s a good chance someone will be reading your e-mail soon.

xkcd explains the dangers of password reuse.

“Password reuse is what really kills you,” says Diana Smetters, a software engineer at Google who works on authentication systems. “There is a very efficient economy for exchanging that information.”

Source: Kill the Password: A String of Characters Won’t Protect You | WIRED

According to security experts, today the industry is dealing with a password reuse crisis. In the past few weeks, account breaches have been reported by LinkedIn, Tumblr, VK.com, Fling and MySpace – bringing the total number of compromised accounts to more than 642 million.

“We know that attackers will go for the weakest link and that is any user who reuses their passwords. It’s a major problem,”

Source: No Simple Fix for Password Reuse

At most schools, student identities are protected by weak passwords trivially derived from usernames and reused everywhere. Once someone gets ahold of your email password, they can reset your passwords elsewhere and pwn your life. When you reuse passwords, a data leak on a forgotten site can be escalated into takeover of your email and your identity.

What to do? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Online Privacy by @violetblue is a great primer on privacy and passwords. Chapter 10, “I Hate Passwords”, is eleven pages of good advice on creating and managing passwords–from which I crib below.

TLDR: Use a password manager and never reuse passwords.

Good passwords

If you decide to use a password manager, these great little apps can generate really strong passwords for you whenever you need one. You can also use password generators on trusted websites, such as LastPass or Norton.

Follow these rules and you’ll get better passwords:

  • Make strong passwords that are at least 12 to 16 characters long.
  • Don’t use pet or family names.
  • Don’t use your address, Social Security number, birth date, or other personal information.
  • Never recycle or reuse a password— not even once.
  • Don’t let Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or any other browser save passwords for you.
  • Use password phrases (usually six or more words long) for the best security.
  • Include capital letters, numbers, and symbols if the app or site allows it.

Source: Smart Girl’s Guide to Online Privacy

But the best passwords are those generated by password managers.

Even better is to use random unmemorable alphanumeric passwords (with symbols, if the site will allow them), and a password manager like Password Safe to create and store them.

Source: Choosing Secure Passwords – Schneier on Security

Password managers

Password managers like LastPass and 1Password save all of your passwords safely in a vault and encrypt everything. That way, you have them all in one place, no one can accidentally discover them, and you can make really complicated passwords, because the manager will keep track of them (and remember them) for you. You use one master password to unlock the password manager, and it saves and encrypts your passwords either locally or on its site. Most of these applications also have crazy-awesome password creators that you can and should use to generate super-strong new passwords with one click— and the password app automatically saves them for you.

Source: Smart Girl’s Guide to Online Privacy

I use 1Password to generate passwords. You can adjust the password recipe to accommodate any site’s password rules. Here’s the recipe I usually use.

That’s 50 characters of random, which makes for a good password. Most sites will accept 50 characters, but there are still plenty out there that balk at passwords over 8, 10, 15, or 20 characters in length. Banks, unfortunately, are known for their short password limitations (and crufty password advice). I start at 50 and work my way down. “Complexity is nice, but length is key.” Go for long passwords.

Update: The NIST recently announced new password rules that recommend sites allow a maximum length of at least 64 characters. 1Password updated its password generator to support a 64 character maximum.

When choosing a password manager, get one that runs on all of the devices you use. I’ve used 1Password for years. It offers iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac clients. It can sync your passwords between devices via iCloud or Dropbox. If you need to share passwords among family or team members, check out 1Password for Families or 1Password for Teams. My family uses 1Password for Families. In addition to personal vaults for everyone, we have a vault shared amongst the whole family for streaming video and audio accounts. My wife and I have a shared vault for bank, medical, insurance, and other household accounts. Having log in information for all joint accounts in a shared vault improves our family’s bus factor.

How passwords are stolen

Massive data breaches are not the only threat. Be wary of shoulder surfing and social engineering.

There are simpler ways to get your password though. One is shoulder surfing, where someone watches over your shoulder as you enter your password on your computer or phone while you’re logging in on the bus or plane or at a café. Social engineering is another way that you can have your passwords stolen. Basically, social engineering involves attempts to con you into telling someone your passwords. The person conning you might call you and pretend that they’re tech support for Gmail, telling you that you have email stuck somewhere and they need your password to log in and free it up. They might know the names of your friends or colleagues, as well as their phone numbers and email addresses— all of which they can find online via social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and people-search sites. Malicious people can also use information they find about you on Facebook and other sites to correctly guess the answers to password-reset questions.

Threat model

Be realistic about your threat model. State-sponsored surveillance and hacking aren’t in the thread model of most families. Protect yourself from the much more real threat of phishing by using a password manager, unique passwords, and two factor authentication.

Sharing passwords

Here’s one thing to know: if a teacher, boss, TSA agent, police officer, or anyone else tells you that you have to give them your password, you shouldn’t do it unless you know it’s against the law not to.

If you share an account with friends or family, do it the smart way. Don’t use a password that you use anywhere else. Treat the shared account like any account that can get attacked, but know that its security is weaker than that of an account that you have total control over because it has a shared password. Don’t connect that shared account to any other accounts; otherwise an attacker could use that connection to get into those accounts.

When sharing passwords with family, consider using a password manager that accommodates shared vaults. Though I haven’t used them, there are also tools for sharing streaming video accounts.

Surveillance, privacy, data ethics, and trust

“In the educational domain we see a lot of normalisation of designing computers so that their users can’t override them. For example, school supplied laptops can be designed so that educators can monitor what their users are doing. If a school board loses control of their own security or they have bad employees, there’s nothing students can do. They are completely helpless because their machines are designed to prevent them from doing anything.”

“We have this path of surveillance that starts with prisoners, then mental patients, refugees, students, benefits claimants, blue collar workers and then white collar workers. That’s the migration path for surveillance and students are really low in the curve. People who work in education are very close to the front lines of the legitimisation of surveillance and designing computers to control their users rather than being controlled by users,” Doctorow says.

Surveillance in education can also interfere with the educational process, he says, because “nobody wants to be seen fumbling. When you are still learning, you don’t want to feel like you are being watched and judged.” Doctorow adds that, due to their lack of power, students have limited options to take control of their learning and the digital tools they use.

“I talk to students, often younger students, who say they don’t worry about surveillance because they know how to block it out; they use a proxy or something else. But, first of all, those students can get in a lot of trouble for it. In America, they could actually be committing a crime and they could go to jail for it. It also doesn’t solve the overall problem; it only solves it for them. So I’ve often said to students that rather than breaking the rules, they document the absurdity of the rules and demand that adults account for it.”

“The censorware companies mostly work in the Middle East in repressive regimes who buy it on a mass scale to try to control the flow of information in their countries. Students should contact journalists, the school board and the parents’ association and ask why they are giving money that was meant to be for their education to war criminals who spy on us.”

Source: “Peak indifference”: Cory Doctorow on surveillance in education | OEB Newsportal

Handing over data, often quite thoughtlessly, has become par for the course – in education and in society more generally. Although privacy experts have urged parents and educators to be more proactive about protecting children’s data and privacy) – while using Pokémon Go and other data-hungry apps – we now live in a culture of surveillance, where data collection and data extraction have become normalized.

Surveillance starts early. “Quantified babies” and “Surveillance Barbie” and such. Rather than actively opting children out of a world of tracking and marketing, parents increasingly opt them in – almost always without their children’s consent.

Many of us have become quite lackadaisical about the data we share. “It doesn’t matter.” “I have nothing to hide.” Schools, operating under longstanding mandates to track and to measure as much as possible, have been more than willing to expand the amount and types of data they’re collecting on students. Fears of FERPA are frequently stoked to stymy certain projects – perhaps unnecessarily in some cases – but schools have not always been cautious about who has access to student data.

Has our confidence that we or our students have “nothing to hide” changed now under President-Elect Trump?

Surveilling students, so we’re told by this sort of ed-tech futurist PR, will help instructors “monitor learning.” It will facilitate feedback. It will improve student health. It will keep students on track for graduation. It will keep schools safe from violence. It will be able to ascertain which student did what during “group work.” It will identify students who are potential political extremists. It will identify students who are suicidal. It will offer researchers a giant trove of data to study. It will “personalize education.” (More on this in the next article in this series.) Tracking biometrics and keystrokes will make education technology more secure. (Spoiler alert: this is simply not true.)

“Big Brother is coming to universities,” The Guardian pronounced in January, although arguably this culture of surveillance has been a part of education for quite some time. But undoubtedly new digital technologies exacerbate this. The monitoring of students is undertaken to identify “problem behaviors” and in turn to provide a revenue source for companies willing to monetize the data they collect about all sorts of student behaviors. “Enabled by Schools, Students Are Under Constant Surveillance by Marketers,” as the National Education Policy Center cautioned in May.

Under surveillance by marketers. Under surveillance by companies. Under surveillance by schools. Under surveillance by police. Under surveillance by governments. Under surveillance by gadgets. Under surveillance when they use school software. Under surveillance when they use social media. And again, it’s all justified with a narrative about “success” and “safety.”

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: Education Technology and Data Insecurity

More reading

CHAMPS and the Compliance Classroom

My stomach dropped when I saw CHAMPS at our elementary school. “Eyes front, knees front, closed mouth” leapt off the wall and rose from memory. I was in school in the 70s and 80s. Some teachers were really into table readiness and proper student posture, and some principals thought a paddle made them persuasive. Compliance was the soul of their pedagogy. Those are not fond memories. I was an undiagnosed autistic in a culture without the vocabulary to understand me or help me understand myself. But I understood authoritarians well enough. They are a straightforward grok.

I handled the thoughtless compliance better than many of my peers. I could disappear into myself and hide in almost still silence. The tugging of my hair betrayed my perpetual anxiety and my yearning to scratch my scalp. In the head beneath the scalp I wanted to scratch and the hair I wanted to pull, a young mind churned: Scratching is not conforming; I must not break the envelope and compromise table readiness; that will rouse them. Hide in compliance. Don’t talk; don’t move; align your body on the auditor at the front of the room. The safe places are your head, books, and libraries. The books are waiting on the other side of compliance.

I sometimes close my eyes to better parse the speech coming at me. I swim in sensory overwhelm. I must pick a firehose. Eyes front preserves the illusion of compliance, so I’ll stop listening. I’m not interested anyway. The books are so much more. The books are waiting. The written word is where my soul abides. This place in which I layover is just where my body resides – an eyes front, knees front, raise your hand to piss layover that I secretly indict. I tell no one.

Within the constant overwhelm is a pilot flame of anxiety, burning always. Anxiety and overwhelm, the torrid pas de deux that belies the silent, almost still compliance. Their dance is steam and froth, resonance foam on the sensory ocean I swim beneath the almost stillness – still but for the tugging of my hair. Don’t disallow me that, but some of them will. Fidgeting is a threat.

The memories subside, and I’m again staring at a wall in my son’s school where the words “eyes front, knees front, closed mouth” hover over the teacher’s pulpit. Through 30 odd years those words time travelled. The pedagogy is the same. Compliance still reigns. What we seek to depose with the voice, choice, and agency of project-based learning asserts its durable status quo. It enjoys a sinecure in its pickled culture. Oblivious to neurodiversity, oblivious to the software-eaten world coming for it, it endures in the false safety of trying nothing new. Safety for them, for now, but not for the neurodivergent they still don’t understand.

Books that influenced my views on education and project-based learning

See also my neurodiversity library and this book list from George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset.