October Education Reading

Interesting books and articles I read in October:

  • ‘The Brave Little Surveillance Bear’ and Other Stories We Tell About Robots Raising Children “no matter the stories we tell about innovation, no matter the predictions we make about disruption, in time everything in ed-tech becomes indistinguishable from the learning management system.”
  • Autism 101 – Erin Human “Autism is type of brain wiring (neurological type) that processes information differently than typical brains do. This means that autistic thought patterns, sensory perceptions, social interactions, language processing, and emotional regulation all develop differently than those of people who are not autistic. Modern societies operate in ways that often disadvantage autistic people, which makes autism a developmental disability.”
  • The Cult(Ure) of Strength | USENIX “Strength is a tax paid with emotional labor.”
  • A perspective on modern schooling in WEIRD (Western Educated Industrial Rich Democratic) societies. – Educating The Young Heart “WEIRD societies not only are not representative of humanity as a whole, they are, in fact, among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans.” / “Our approach to education is extraordinarily authoritarian. It is obsessed with compulsion and control.”
  • Why I Don’t Grade | Jesse Stommel ”grades are the biggest and most insidious obstacle to education. And they’re a thorn in the side of Critical Pedagogy.” / “Grading is a massive co-ordinated effort to take humans out of the educational process.”
  • Principal: ‘Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry.’ – The Washington Post “I believe deeply that we can actually teach anti-racism. And we must.” / “Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry. We have to stop making everything about the individual.”
  • When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Princ… – Kindle ‘”If I could do it, so can you” is an echo of the “just work harder” assumption. It is the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” ethos to which so many generations of Americans adhere. Yet data repeatedly show how poverty, social class, race, and parents’ educational attainment more directly influence an individual’s success and potential earnings than any individual effort. We clearly do not yet have a level playing field, but this belief is all but impossible to challenge.’
  • Grit: A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad (##) – Alfie Kohn “When you hear about the limits of IQ these days, it’s usually in the context of a conservative narrative that emphasizes not altruism or empathy but a recycled version of the Protestant work ethic. The goal is to make sure kids will resist temptation, override their unconstructive impulses, put off doing what they enjoy in order to grind through whatever they’ve been told to do”
  • Rejecting Growth Mindset and Grit at Three Levels | radical eyes for equity “growth mindset and grit speak to and reinforce powerful cultural ideologies and myths about meritocracies and individual character—ones that are contradicted by the evidence; and thus, growth mindset and grit contribute to lazy and biased thinking and assumptions about marginalized groups who suffer currently under great inequities.”
  • How to Improve Math Class “The problem is the performance culture in our schools, more present in math than in any other subject. Students believe that the purpose of math class is to demonstrate that they can quickly find the answers. An undergraduate recently told me that when she writes down her ideas, even when working alone, she expects someone to judge her.”
  • A Call for Critical Instructional Design “Operant conditioning and the manipulation of response to stimuli are at the heart of theories that support instructional design. But more, they form the foundation of almost all educational technology—from the VLE or LMS to algorithms for adaptive learning. Building upon behaviorism, Silicon Valley—often in collaboration with venture capitalists with a stake in the education market—have begun to realize Skinner’s teaching machines in today’s schools and universities.”
  • To Ban or Not to Ban? Technology, Education, and the Media – EdTech Researcher – Education Week “The final assumption guiding these editorials is that everyone learns in exactly the same way. Research on accessibility in higher education (as well as K-12) and Universal Design for Learning clearly contradicts this assumption.”
  • Hack Education Weekly News “I sense a theme in this week’s stories about profiting from preschoolers, don’t you?”
  • “Why Don’t Students Like School?” Well, Duhhhh… | Psychology Today “Children hate school because in school they are not free. Joyful learning requires freedom.” / “In school they are told they must stop following their interests and, instead, do just what the teacher is telling them they must do. That is why they don’t like school.”
  • The Business of Ed-Tech: October 2017 Funding Data
  • A Teacher’s Dilemma: Take a Stand Against Testing or Keep Abusing Children | gadflyonthewallblog “These are the kinds of students I have – victims of generational poverty, malnutrition, childhood trauma, violence, drug abuse and systemic racism and prejudice. Strong-arming them into another standardized test isn’t doing them any favors.” / “What purpose do I serve enforcing policies I know to be detrimental?”
  • THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: Why Autistic Students Need Autistic Role Models “We realized that the people society says are the most qualified to help him are the people least equipped to understand him.” / “Everything that the school’s professionals tried was behavior-related, and it wasn’t working. So we implemented a root cause approach instead. I asked everyone in the room who had worked with Nick if there was anyone there who didn’t believe that at his core Nick was a good kid and wanted to succeed. And everyone raised their hands. So, working from that point of trust, I asked everyone to support efforts to help Nick succeed, items that empowered him to make good choices.”
  • WBEZ Investigation: CPS Secretly Overhauled Special Education At Students’ Expense | WBEZ “The overall effect is really to wear parents down in every way that they can, and wear the staff down in every way that they can, so that the ultimate outcome is giving less”
  • Why Students of Color Don’t Take Latin – EIDOLON “The challenge that the grammar-translation approach poses to inclusivity is that it takes language, something universally accessible to all, and creates a series of unnecessary and onerous roadblocks that render it accessible to only the few.” / “Grammar-translation and its demands have served as something akin to voter I.D. laws in the United States.”
  • The Cost of Success: How Letting Billionaires Shape Early Childhood Education Harms Kids—and Democracy | Alternet ”Child-centered, experiential learning, on a timeline that allows for the natural variability of development, has become a province of the elite.”
  • Why a key research finding is ruining teaching in Texas – The Washington Post “when classrooms are too rigid, controlled and task driven, students cannot initiate and continue conversations with their peers”
  • Why I Don’t Have Classroom Rules | Edutopia “I wanted my students to do more than just follow rules handed down to them. I wanted them to understand why those rules exist, and be willing to interrogate ones that didn’t seem valuable, meaningful, or useful.” / “The reason I find this strategy better than rules is because it teaches students to become active participants in the formation of a community. Rules alone tend to condition the students to become dogmatic followers, while broader imperatives guide them to be critical and reflective participants.”

Selected Tweets

Favorite tweets collected in Twitter Moments:

Selected Quotes

More quotes from the pieces listed above:

“Strength,” “Courage,” and “Bravery” are virtues often heaped upon individuals undergoing hardship. These compliments come from a deep-rooted cultural value that sacrifice should be praiseworthy and that performing in the face of difficulty is a sign of virtue. In tech, strength is valued to the point of caricature, creating a culture of depersonalization and overwork that disproportionately affects people who by their identities or job descriptions are asked too often to “take one for the team.”

Through the lens of my 15+ year journey through the STEM pipeline, I’ll talk about the culture of strength and how we can better set expectations to manage hardship and workload in the workplace or community.

 Strength is a tax paid with emotional labor.

Tech is full of hero worship; heroism is only achievable through sacrifice.

Strength becomes an easy thing to assign deficit to and to use as a scapegoat.

If your process requires regular sacrifice, your planning sucks.

Over-emphasizing extraordinary acts of sacrifice normalizes them and turns them into expectations.

We are workers. And expectations of strength compel us to perform free labor.

Source: The Cult(Ure) of Strength | USENIX

Operant conditioning and the manipulation of response to stimuli are at the heart of theories that support instructional design. But more, they form the foundation of almost all educational technology—from the VLE or LMS to algorithms for adaptive learning. Building upon behaviorism, Silicon Valley—often in collaboration with venture capitalists with a stake in the education market—have begun to realize Skinner’s teaching machines in today’s schools and universities.

And there’s the rub. When we went online to teach, we went online almost entirely without any other theories to support us besides instructional design. We went online first assuming that learning could be a calculated, brokered, duplicatable experience. For some reason, we took one look at the early internet and forgot about all the nuance of teaching, all the strange chaos of learning, and surrendered to a philosophy of see, do, hit submit.

The problem we face is not just coded into the VLE, either. It’s not just coded into Facebook and Twitter and the way we send an e-mail or the machines we use to send text messages. It’s coded into us. We believe that online learning happens this way. We believe that discussions should be posted once and replied to twice. We believe that efficiency is a virtue, that automated proctors and plagiarism detection services are necessary—and more than necessary, helpful.

But these are not things that are true, they are things that are sold.

Source: A Call for Critical Instructional Design

Agency, dialogue, self-actualization, and social justice are not possible in a hierarchical system that pits teachers against students and encourages competition by ranking students against one another. Grades (and institutional rankings) are currency for a capitalist system that reduces teaching and learning to a mere transaction. Grading is a massive co-ordinated effort to take humans out of the educational process.

Learning Outcomes: More and more, we are required to map our assignments, assessments, and curricula to learning outcomes. But I find it strange that teachers and institutions would pre-determine outcomes before students even arrive upon the scene. I have argued, instead, for emergent outcomes, ones that are co-created by teachers and students and revised on the fly. Setting trajectories rather than mapping in advance the possible shapes for learning.

Require teachers to give more B and C grades and they give more B and C grades disproportionately to black students. In education, I think we should be creating opportunities, not limiting possibilities for success.

Grades as Motivators: Alfie Kohn writes in “The Trouble with Rubrics,”“Research shows three reliable effects when students are graded: They tend to think less deeply, avoid taking risks, and lose interest in the learning itself.” Grades do motivate, but they don’t motivate the kinds of peak experiences that can happen in a learning environment. Something like “have an epiphany, communicate an original thought, sit uncomfortably with your not knowing, or build something that’s never been built before” can’t be motivated by a grade.

Source: Why I Don’t Grade | Jesse Stommel

1. Money doesn’t have to be an obstacle

2. Race doesn’t matter

3. Just work harder

4. There is a college for everyone/everyone can go to college

5. If you believe in yourself, your dreams will come true

Taken together, the five assumptions listed above can be dangerous because they reinforce the deeply held American belief that success is individually created and sustained. “If I could do it, so can you” is an echo of the “just work harder” assumption. It is the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” ethos to which so many generations of Americans adhere. Yet data repeatedly show how poverty, social class, race, and parents’ educational attainment more directly influence an individual’s success and potential earnings than any individual effort. We clearly do not yet have a level playing field, but this belief is all but impossible to challenge. Whenever we hear of another bootstraps story, we want to generalize. We disregard the fact that luck often plays a major role. And in generalizing and celebrating the individual nature of success, we disregard the imperative to rethink social and economic policies that leave many behind.

Source: Nathan, Linda F.. When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College-for-All Promise (p. 6, p. 8). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.

Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry. We have to stop making everything about the individual.

But as I began to visit more schools and talk to my alums who were incredibly “gritty,” I became actually disgusted with the “movement.” It is a movement, for the most part, “owned and operated” by white folks and executed onto black and brown bodies.

Of course you don’t get ahead without determination and persistence, and it’s one of the reasons I’m such an arts advocate. That’s what you learn in the arts: how to practice, how to work together, how to persist through difficult scenes, lines, choreography, etc. . . . but this notion that “if we show grit by having strict behavioral codes/rules, all will be well” is ridiculous.

I’ve seen too many boys (especially black/brown boys)  suffocated by what has become grit pedagogy. Kids need to jump and play and yell and run. Of course not in the classroom all the time, but we must ensure that there are multiple methods to reach and teach our students. I think this “movement” needs to be curbed and I am pleased that even some of the “worst” offenders are now questioning their tactics.

Source: Principal: “Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry.” – The Washington Post

Consider the current buzz about self-regulation: teaching students to exercise self-discipline and self-control, to defer gratification and acquire “grit.” To discipline children is to compel them to do what we want. But because we can’t always be there to hand out rewards or punishments as their behavior merits, some dream of figuring out a way to equip each child with a “built-in supervisor” (as two social scientists once put it) so he or she will follow the rules and keep working even when we’re not around. The most expedient arrangement for us, the people with the power, is to get children to discipline themselves – in other words, to be self-disciplined.

Proponents of this idea like to point out that cognitive ability isn’t the only factor that determines how children will fare in school and in life. That recognition got a boost with science writer Dan Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence in 1996, which discussed the importance of self-awareness, altruism, personal motivation, empathy, and the ability to love and be loved. But a funny thing has happened to the message since then. When you hear about the limits of IQ these days, it’s usually in the context of a conservative narrative that emphasizes not altruism or empathy but a recycled version of the Protestant work ethic. The goal is to make sure kids will resist temptation, override their unconstructive impulses, put off doing what they enjoy in order to grind through whatever they’ve been told to do – and keep at it for as long as it takes.

Good grades, in other words, are often just a sign of approval by the person with the power in a classroom.  And even when they serve other functions, grades suffer from low levels of validity and reliability.  Moreover, students who pursue higher grades tend to be less interested in what they’re learning, more likely to think in a superficial fashion (and less likely to retain information), and inclined to prefer the easiest possible task whenever they have a choice — because the goal isn’t to explore ideas but to do whatever is necessary to snag the A.  Those who snag a lot of them seem, on average, to be overly conformist and not particularly creative.  So if students who are more self-disciplined or persistent get higher grades, that doesn’t make a case for grit so much as it points up the limitations of grades as an outcome measure

In her recent research, she created a task that’s deliberately boring, the point being to devise strategies so students will resist the temptation to do something more interesting instead.

This is the mindset that underlies the campaign for grit and self-discipline, even if it isn’t always spelled out. Which is why it’s critical that those of us who don’t share Duckworth’s values – and are committed to changing the system rather than just making kids adapt to it – maintain a healthy skepticism about that campaign. While we’re at it, we might bring that same skepticism to bear when the next bandwagon rolls through town.

Source: Grit: A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad (##) – Alfie Kohn

At the first level, I question the ideological motivation for doing research to find the source of success and failure within individuals-assuming that individual character and behaviors are primarily or solely the source of both success and failure.

As a colleague noted during comments after the keynote, this is a “very American” way of thinking; and I would add, a flawed view of the relationship between human behavior and social forces.

At the second level, I am cautious about the quality of growth mindset and grit research as valid, and that caution is grounded in the first level-both concepts fit well into American myths about rugged individualism and the Puritan work ethic; thus, even so-called dispassionate researchers are apt to see no reason to challenge the studies (although some have begun to unpack and question Angela Duckworth’s studies on grit).

Scarcity, mentioned about, is a compilation of powerful studies that make a case unlike what most Americans believe about success and failure: those living in scarcity struggle because of the scarcity (think poverty), and those living in slack are often successful because of the slack. This work has not been embraced or received the celebrity of growth mindset and grit because it works against our narratives.

Privileged researchers blinded by their own belief in American myths as well as trust in their own growth mindset and grit, I fear, are not apt to challenge research that appears even to a scholar to be obvious.

The third level is the most damning since growth mindset and grit speak to and reinforce powerful cultural ideologies and myths about meritocracies and individual character-ones that are contradicted by the evidence; and thus, growth mindset and grit contribute to lazy and biased thinking and assumptions about marginalized groups who suffer currently under great inequities.

K-12 applications of growth mindset and grit have disproportionately targeted racial minorities and impoverished students, reinforcing that most of the struggles within these groups academically are attributable to deficits in those students, deficits linked to race and social class.

All three levels, then, are born in, protected by, and prone to perpetuate race and class stereotypes, and as a result, work against inclusive pedagogy and culturally relevant pedagogy.

Finally, stepping back from these levels, I also remain skeptical of growth mindset and grit because they are very difficult to disentangle from deficit perspectives of students and from monolithic, thus reductive, views of identifiable groups by race, class, gender, or educational outcomes.

Source: Rejecting Growth Mindset and Grit at Three Levels | radical eyes for equity

Until we change the way we teach math to emphasize learning and exploration, rather than performance, we’ll continue to produce students who describe their math experience as a hamster wheel, or worse, a prison. We’ll continue to produce anxious students who experience fear when they see numbers. The performance culture of mathematics has destroyed a vibrant, essential subject for so many people. As schools have worked to encourage a few speedy calculators, they’ve neglected to teach the kind of creative, quantitative thinking that can open new worlds. If we encourage new generations of students who love learning and love math, we’ll raise up kids who are prepared to take their place in society as free, empowered thinkers.

Source: How to Improve Math Class

Operant conditioning and the manipulation of response to stimuli are at the heart of theories that support instructional design. But more, they form the foundation of almost all educational technology-from the VLE or LMS to algorithms for adaptive learning. Building upon behaviorism, Silicon Valley-often in collaboration with venture capitalists with a stake in the education market-have begun to realize Skinner’s teaching machines in today’s schools and universities.

And there’s the rub. When we went online to teach, we went online almost entirely without any other theories to support us besides instructional design. We went online first assuming that learning could be a calculated, brokered, duplicatable experience. For some reason, we took one look at the early internet and forgot about all the nuance of teaching, all the strange chaos of learning, and surrendered to a philosophy of see, do, hit submit.

The problem we face is not just coded into the VLE, either. It’s not just coded into Facebook and Twitter and the way we send an e-mail or the machines we use to send text messages. It’s coded into us. We believe that online learning happens this way. We believe that discussions should be posted once and replied to twice. We believe that efficiency is a virtue, that automated proctors and plagiarism detection services are necessary—and more than necessary, helpful.

But these are not things that are true, they are things that are sold.

The critical instructional design approach prioritizes collaboration, participation, social justice, learner agency, emergence, narrative, and relationships of nurture between students, and between teachers and students. It acknowledges that all learning today is necessarily hybrid, and looks for opportunities to integrate learners’ digital lives into their digitally-enhanced or fully online learning experiences.

Importantly, in keeping with its social justice roots, critical instructional design seeks to create learning and educational opportunities for students of all backgrounds, leveraging techniques especially to give platforms for those voices most usually suppressed or oppressed, including the voices of women, people of color, LGBTQ folk, people with disabilities, and more. It works against the standardization of so many educational technologies, and aims for the fullest inclusion possible.

One of the key principles of critical instructional design is that concept of emergence, that outcomes are determined by the learning process, and not as much predetermined. Jesse recommends that we don’t wield outcomes like weapons, and I usually give the advice that if you must include learning outcomes in your course, plan for everyone to meet them mid-term… and let the rest of the term emerge.

Source: A Call for Critical Instructional Design

The first assumption is that all learning is synonymous with memorization and facts. Certainly, students need to know information and facts before they can move on to higher order skills like synthesis and application, but there is so much more to learning than what Paulo Freire called the “Banking Concept” of education, where an instructor deposits information and students withdraw it for exams.

The second fundamental assumption inherent in these pieces is that learning is primarily an individual rather than a social endeavor. However, classrooms are social spaces, and our students are human beings who interact with each other — and with us — in order to build knowledge.

The final assumption guiding these editorials is that everyone learns in exactly the same way. Research on accessibility in higher education (as well as K-12) and Universal Design for Learning clearly contradicts this assumption.

Source: To Ban or Not to Ban? Technology, Education, and the Media – EdTech Researcher – Education Week

Ask any schoolchild why they don’t like school and they’ll tell you. “School is prison.” They may not use those words, because they’re too polite, or maybe they’ve already been brainwashed to believe that school is for their own good and therefore it can’t be prison. But decipher their words and the translation generally is, “School is prison.”

Let me say that a few more times: School is prison. School is prison. School is prison. School is prison. School is prison.

But I think it is time that we say it out loud. School is prison.

If you think school is not prison, please explain the difference.

The only difference I can think of is that to get into prison you have to commit a crime, but they put you in school just because of your age. In other respects school and prison are the same. In both places you are stripped of your freedom and dignity. You are told exactly what you must do, and you are punished for failing to comply. Actually, in school you must spend more time doing exactly what you are told to do than is true in adult prisons, so in that sense school is worse than prison.

Children, like all human beings, crave freedom. They hate to have their freedom restricted. To a large extent they use their freedom precisely to educate themselves. They are biologically prepared to do that.

In school they are told they must stop following their interests and, instead, do just what the teacher is telling them they must do. That is why they don’t like school.

There is no evidence at all that children who are sent to prison come out better than those who are provided the tools and allowed to use them freely.

Children hate school because in school they are not free. Joyful learning requires freedom.

Source: “Why Don’t Students Like School?” Well, Duhhhh… | Psychology Today

These are the kinds of students I have – victims of generational poverty, malnutrition, childhood trauma, violence, drug abuse and systemic racism and prejudice. Strong-arming them into another standardized test isn’t doing them any favors.

Because they knew what was expected on MY test, and they knew they could meet my expectations. I was there for the lesson. I made the test. I would grade it. I have a relationship with these kids and they know I will assess them fairly.

But not on this standardized CDT nonsense!

Data Recognition Corp isn’t there for the lesson. It has no rapport with students. Kids don’t know what the expectations are and don’t think they can meet them. And they have no sense that this multi-billion dollar corporation will grade them fairly for their efforts.

So they act out.

What purpose do I serve enforcing policies I know to be detrimental?

Source: A Teacher’s Dilemma: Take a Stand Against Testing or Keep Abusing Children | gadflyonthewallblog

“Strength,” “Courage,” and “Bravery” are virtues often heaped upon individuals undergoing hardship. These compliments come from a deep-rooted cultural value that sacrifice should be praiseworthy and that performing in the face of difficulty is a sign of virtue. In tech, strength is valued to the point of caricature, creating a culture of depersonalization and overwork that disproportionately affects people who by their identities or job descriptions are asked too often to “take one for the team.”

Source: The Cult(Ure) of Strength | USENIX

Compassion is not coddling. Design for real life.

Compassion is an essential tech skill that needs to be taught as an integral part of tech education.

Source: Get Ready for the Future – JavaScript Scene – Medium

People often mistake compassion for “being nice,” but it’s not. At A List Apart, the editorial team still says no when a submission isn’t a good fit. At MailChimp, Kiefer Lee’s colleagues are still quick to tell spammers, even the unintentional ones, that they can’t send more email.

The point of compassion isn’t to soften bad news or stressful situations with niceties. It’s to come from a place of kindness and understanding, rather than a place of judgment. It’s to tell the truth in such a way that you’re allowing others to tell their truths, too.

Source: Design for Real Life

I recommend the book Design for Real Life to anyone making things for and with other humans. That’s pretty much all of us. Educators, for example, are always designing, particularly forms. Learn how to make compassionate forms that avoid inadvertent cruelty and exclusion.

A big part of compassionate design is recognizing stress cases. To design for inclusion and real life, look to the stress cases. They “put our design and content choices to the test of real life”.

Real life is complicated. It’s full of joy and excitement, sure, but also stress, anxiety, fear, shame, and crisis. We might experience harassment or abuse, lose a loved one, become chronically ill, get into an accident, have a financial emergency, or simply be vulnerable for not fitting into society’s expectations.

None of these circumstances is ideal, but all of them are part of life-and, odds are, your site or product has plenty of users in these moments, whether you’ve ever thought about them or not.

Our industry tends to call these edge cases-things that affect an insignificant number of users. But the term itself is telling, as information designer and programmer Evan Hensleigh puts it: “Edge cases define the boundaries of who and what you care about” (http://bkaprt.com/dfrl/00-01/). They demarcate the border between the people you’re willing to help and the ones you’re comfortable marginalizing.

That’s why we’ve chosen to look at these not as edge cases, but as stress cases: the moments that put our design and content choices to the test of real life.

It’s a test we haven’t passed yet. When faced with users in distress or crisis, too many of the experiences we build fall apart in ways large and small.

Instead of treating stress situations as fringe concerns, it’s time we move them to the center of our conversations-to start with our most vulnerable, distracted, and stressed-out users, and then work our way outward. The reasoning is simple: when we make things for people at their worst, they’ll work that much better when people are at their best.

Source: Design for Real Life

The products we create can make someone’s day—or leave them feeling alienated, marginalized, hurt, or angry. It’s all depends on whether we design for real life: for people with complex emotions, stressed-out scenarios, or simply identities that are different from our own.

Source: Sara Wachter-Boettcher – Design for Real Life (video)

Design for Real Life and the pathways principle from The End of Average will make you reconsider what you call an edge case.

Normative thinking— the belief there is one normal pathway— has fooled scientists in many fields.

The fact that there is not a single, normal pathway for any type of human development— biological, mental, moral, or professional— forms the basis of the third principle of individuality, the pathways principle. This principle makes two important affirmations. First, in all aspects of our lives and for any given goal, there are many, equally valid ways to reach the same outcome; and, second, the particular pathway that is optimal for you depends on your own individuality.

The first point is rooted in a powerful concept from the mathematics of complex systems called equifinality. According to equifinality, in any multidimensional system that involves changes over time— like a person interacting with the world— there are always multiple ways to get from point A to point B. The second point is derived from the science of the individual, which tells us that, because of the jaggedness and context principles, individuals vary naturally in the pace of their progress, and the sequences they take to reach an outcome. It is in understanding the why that we discover how to leverage the pathways principle to work for us as individuals and as a society.

Source: Rose, Todd. The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness (p. 129). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Design for Real Life is informed by and compatible with neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and structural ideology. I have more on developing compassion for the perspectives and stress cases of neurodiversity and disability communities in my primer on the social model for minds and bodies. Social model understanding is essential to every designer’s and maker’s education and work. The social model is essential to informed compassion. When we design from a social model mindset, we build pluralism into the world. When we design for stress cases and the margins, we build better things and benefit everyone.

See also,

 

The Double Empathy Problem: Developing Empathy and Reciprocity in Neurotypical Adults

The title of this post flips the focus of the diagnostic lens from neurodivergent students to neurotypical adults. Let’s take a look at the neurotypical mind using the pathologizing language of disorder.

Neurotypical syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterised by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity. There is no known cure.

Source: NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman review – an enlightened take on autism and difference

Perhaps the most obvious giveaway is an NT’s tendency to make “small talk” or to want to “chat” with you. While small talk appears to be nonfunctional, for NTs it serves a very specific purpose. It’s a good idea to humor them and participate to whatever degree you can tolerate. If you’re patient with them, many NTs will soon feel comfortable enough to move from small talk to more interesting, in-depth conversations.

Source: What is neurotypical?

My oldest is autistic. He attended elementary school until a few years ago, when we started unschooling. He has an incredible memory that provides gritty texture to his stories of his time there. Stories about forced neurotypicalization, lack of empathy and understanding, and color-coded behaviorism. Stories about the pathologizing of his wonderful mind that killed confidence, making room for shame to unfurl. Such stories are common in deficit and medical model cultures, which is why we need a social model awakening.

A pernicious stereotype about autism is that autistic people lack empathy. To be openly autistic is to encounter and endure this supremely harmful trope. One of the cruel ironies of autistic life is that autistic folks are likely to be hyper-empathic. Another irony is that neurotypicals and NT society are really, really bad at empathy and reciprocity. When your neurotype is the default, you have little motivation to grow critical capacity. Marginalization develops critical distance and empathic imagination.

We have an empathy problem, and it’s not one confined to autistic people. It’s a double empathy problem.

The ‘double empathy problem’ refers to the mutual incomprehension that occurs between people of different dispositional outlooks and personal conceptual understandings when attempts are made to communicate meaning.

Source: From finding a voice to being understood: exploring the double empathy problem

Neurodivergent people are forced to attempt understanding of neurotypical people and society. We are constantly judged and assessed by neurotypical standards. We must analyze and interpret in order to conform and pass so that we can get the sticker, the “cool kid cash”, and the promotion. There is almost no reciprocity in return. Let’s change that. Turn the diagnostic lens upon yourself. Question assumptions, learn about other matrices of sociality, and reciprocate.

Empathy and communication go two ways, and neurotypical folks haven’t shown much interest in meeting neurodivergent folks halfway. Reciprocity is a basic tenet of social skills, and neurotypicals are often incapable of reciprocity outside of their usual scripts. We autistics are called mind-blind by folks who have made zero effort to understand and empathize with neurodivergent minds, who are utterly ignorant of alternative matrices of sociality.

Source: Autistic Empathy – Ryan Boren

In that post on autistic empathy are many resources to help neurotypical folks develop empathy for neurodivergent perspectives. My school district’s work on in-class inclusion of neurodivergent and disabled students is a great and wonderful relief. Segregation is always lesser and wrong. Let’s continue that progress toward social model understanding with attention to the mutual incomprehension of the double empathy problem. “When the adults change, everything changes.”

“Empathy is not an autistic problem, it’s a human problem, it’s a deficit in imagination.” We can’t truly step into another neurotype, but we can seek story and perspective. I’ll leave you with this video offering a taste what it is like to endure the daily gauntlet of neurotypical questioning. To not respond to questions is to be called rude. To not respond will get you publicly color-coded as an orange or red and denied perks that the compliant NT kids get. To not exchange this disposable social styrofoam is to be a problem. Make it stop. Empathize with what it is like to navigate these interactions while dealing with the sensory overwhelm of raucous environments not designed for you.

Autistic Empathy

Being autistic in our ableist societies is full of cruel ironies. One of the cruelest and most damaging is the myth of the unempathetic autistic. We are portrayed as robotic savants in TV and movies, reduced to an unfeeling trait. Whenever there’s a school shooting, out come the autism and mental illness tropes. Empathy myths marginalize and criminalize us.

One of the hallmarks of autism is sensory overwhelm. Many of us are hyper-sensory to the point of overload, meltdown, and burnout. The intensity of sensation is a flood. The world is perceived in high fidelity. We are hypersensitive to our environment, other people’s energy, and the emotional climate around us.

Many experience this as hyper-empathy, an exhausting flood, a painful over-abundance of empathy that we must tamp down to avoid meltdown. We’re not hypo-empathic; we’re hyper-empathic to the point of distress. Some describe their empathy surges as automatic, instinctual, and uncontrollable.

You might not be able to see this flood from the outside. Autistic folks can have difficulties with verbal expression and communication, particularly in neurotypical social settings. The overwhelming empathy is corked up inside. Just because you can’t perceive it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

There’s also the matter of titration. How much of the empathy flood is appropriate to share in a given social situation? What concentration of empathy does the moment call for? I have trouble deciding what is enough, so I usually keep it in. Autistics often comment that sharing and empathizing is easier with other autistics and neurodivergents than with neurotypicals.

Empathy and communication go two ways, and neurotypical folks haven’t shown much interest in meeting neurodivergent folks halfway. Reciprocity is a basic tenet of social skills, and neurotypicals are often incapable of reciprocity outside of their usual scripts. We autistics are called mind-blind by folks who have made zero effort to understand and empathize with neurodivergent minds, who are utterly ignorant of alternative matrices of sociality.

Try this empathy exercise. You’re in a noisy social situation. You are hyper-sensory, anxious, and shy. You are mainlining sights, sounds, scents, and textures while navigating social cues and assumptions made by and for minds different than yours. Now, exchange social styrofoam with strangers who refuse to understand or think beyond their own minds.

We are tired of being called unempathetic monsters by the actual monsters, monsters like Ole Ivar Lovaas—the twisted father of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and conversion therapy. He applied his abusive, torturous techniques to autistic kids and “sissy boys” to make them “indistinguishable from their peers”. He had little regard for their humanity—they were engineering projects.

“The fascinating part to me was to observe persons with eyes and ears, teeth and toenails, walking around yet presenting few of the behaviors that one would call social or human,” he wrote. “Now, I had the chance to build language and other social and intellectual behaviors where none had existed, a good test of how much help a learning-based approach could offer.”

He explained to Psychology Today, “You see, you start pretty much from scratch when you work with an autistic child. You have a person in the physical sense- they have hair, a nose, and a mouth- but they are not people in the psychological sense. One way to look at the job of helping autistic kids is to see it as a matter of constructing a person. You have the raw materials, but you have to build the person.”

Source: Silberman, Steve (2015-08-25). NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (p. 285). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This mind-blind, neurotypical charlatan still influences popular conceptions of autism. There are many like him who abuse autistic people, often for money as part of their jobs. “Pinch the nose to release the jaw” and spraying ammonia in mouths are failures to recognize another’s humanity.

Who are the unempathetic monsters? Look in the mirror.

Are autistic folks unempathetic, or do you have an underdeveloped sense of reciprocity and justice?

What I saw in these students instead was hypersensitivity – painful hypersensitivity that caused them to be persistently confused and disoriented about their surroundings and the people around them. It wasn’t that they didn’t care or weren’t empathic; not at all. It was that life was too loud and too intense, full of static and confusion (this idea would soon be called the Intense World theory of autism, see Markram, Rinaldi, & Markram, 2007). My students were incredibly sensitive to everything around them: sounds (especially very quiet sounds that other people can ignore), colors and patterns, vibrations, scents, the wind, movement (their own and that of the people around them), the feeling of their clothing, the sound of their own hair and their breathing, food, touch, animals, social space, social behavior, electronics, numbers, the movement of traffic, the movement of trees and birds, ideas, music, juxtapositions between voice and body movements, the bizarre, emotion-masking behaviors of “regular” people (oh man, how I empathize)… and many of these students were struggling to stand upright in turbulent and unmanageable currents of incoming stimuli that could not be managed or organized. These autistic students were overwhelmingly and intensely hyper-empathic – not merely in relation to emotions and social cues, but to nearly every aspect of their sensory environments. Their social issues arose not from a lack of empathy, but from an overpowering surplus of it. I knew what that was like. I had not landed in a world of aliens; I had dropped right into a community of fellow hyper-empaths who became my friends.

Source: Autism, empathy, and the mind-blindness of everyday people – Karla McLaren

I’m also autistic. And public perceptions dictate that autistic and empathetic shouldn’t go together.

The popular myth that all autistic people are socially withdrawn and unempathetic - like the teenage protagonist in the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or the undiagnosed but stereotypical representation of The Big Bang Theory‘s Sheldon Cooper - hurts the entire autistic community.

The truth, unsurprisingly, is that you can be empathetic (even highly so) and autistic. You can be extroverted and autistic. You can be outgoing and autistic. You can be a people person and autistic. Of course there are autistic folks who are introverted as well, but as the saying goes, “If you met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.” Ascribing generalizations to a diverse group of people only serves to harm us.

According to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), “The idea that autistic people lack empathy is a damaging stereotype that isn’t supported by research. Self-advocates have consistently said that we have different communication styles from others, not a lack of empathy.”

Physicians assumed I couldn’t be autistic and also as emotionally available as I am, and they often misunderstood traits of autism — special interests, oversensitivity to lights and sound, autistic meltdowns and shutdowns — as signs of depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

At the same time, my different communication styles, coupled with my pronounced empathy, made it harder for me to figure out my place in the world.

“People’s reactions to me have so often been that I’m either inappropriately or unrealistically empathetic, and partly that’s because our society’s concept of masculine identity is so invested in a toxic denial of empathy in boys and men,” says autistic children’s book author Mike Jung, who is also Korean American.

The myth of the unfeeling autistic person has societal impacts that go beyond the personal as well. In social settings, I’ve been afraid to admit that I’m autistic, because I didn’t want my friends to fall into the trap of thinking that I’m unfeeling and don’t know how to love. More broadly, this idea is often, troublingly, used to criminalize the community.

Source: What It Means To Be Highly Empathetic, And Autistic

Historically, there has been much debate about the extent to which autistic individuals experience empathy. I am using the phrase “autistic individuals” rather than “individuals with autism,” per the recommendation from the Autism Self-Advocacy Network. Recent studies indicate that while autistics may experience and demonstrate empathy in different ways from neurotypicals, they do indeed experience it, sometimes to intense degrees. The debate is well summarized here.

Throughout this discussion, I have observed a curious and glaring omission: what about how and whether neurotypicals empathize with autistics? One of the basic tenets of social skills is reciprocity, an attunement to the back and forth nature of social interactions. If we are examining how well autistics display empathy towards others (the majority of whom are neurotypical), it is only fair to ask how and whether neurotypicals are extending the same courtesy back.

In order to further develop empathy for autistics, I ask myself: what if I had to perform the complex tasks I do every day in the presence of intensely aversive sensory stimuli, such as the airport? How would that affect my ability to focus and maintain a calm, alert state rather than feeling anxious and overwhelmed? This is relevant because every day, when an autistic child attends school, they may be entering an environment they find as overwhelming as I find the airport/airplane. It’s easy to see that being expected to perform well in the presence of aversive sensory stimulation quickly puts one into a fight or flight state, which is not ideal for academic or social-emotional learning.

Source: Strategies for Neurotypical People to Develop Empathy for Autistic People | The Enthusiastic Life

Some excellent work has been done on empathy and autism. Damian Milton‘s ideas on The Double Empathy Problem are fascinating; recognising that it is as difficult for non-autistics to empathise with autistics, as it is for autistics to empathise with non-autistics.

It is finally being understood that many autistics don’t lack empathy, some may have more empathy than average, it’s just not shown in a non-autistic way. Autism doesn’t mean not feeling things deeply. It doesn’t mean not caring about others. We are not less human or less loving, we just show it in different ways.

The more time I spend on this Earth, the more I realise that true empathy needs an excellent imagination to go with it.

Growing up, people did not empathise with my sensory issues, because they could not imagine someone else feeling something they did not.

There have been times when friends have been blasé about something I’m hurt by, only to apologise later on in life when they have finally experienced the same, and can now understand my feelings. They were not able to imagine how it felt without direct experience.

Which is why people struggle to empathise with autistic people’s experience. They will never share those moments of complete sensory overload or social difficulties in the same way.

There is a persistent stereotype that people with autism are individuals who lack empathy and cannot understand emotion. It’s true that many people with autism don’t show emotion in ways that people without the condition would recognize.

But the notion that people with autism generally lack empathy and cannot recognize feelings is wrong. Holding such a view can distort our perception of these individuals and possibly delay effective treatments.

Empathy is not an autistic problem, it’s a human problem, it’s a deficit in imagination. We all need to work on imagining things we have not been through.

Source: Empathy, Imagination and Autism – Autism and expectations

Many of these individuals said they experience typical, or even excessive, empathy at times. One of our volunteers, for example, described in detail his intense empathic reaction to his sister’s distress at a family funeral.

People with alexithymia may still care about others’ feelings, however. The inability to recognize and understand anger might make it difficult to respond empathically to anger specifically. But alexithymic individuals know that anger is a negative state and are affected by others being in this state. In fact, in a separate test we conducted last year, people with alexithymia showed more distress in response to witnessing others’ pain than did individuals without alexithymia.

Source: People with Autism Can Read Emotions, Feel Empathy – Scientific American and People with autism can read emotions, feel empathy | Spectrum | Autism Research News

These preliminary data found that while individuals with AS seem to have impairments in inferring others’ mental states (cognitive empathy), they are as empathically concerned for others (emotional empathy) as control subjects.

Source: Differentiating Cognitive and Emotional Empathy in Individuals with Asperger Syndrome | Max Planck Institute for Human Development

One strength of NeuroTribes is the respect Silberman shows to those with firsthand knowledge of what it means to be autistic, a perspective that sometimes surprises. In scientific circles, for example, autistic people are often said to lack empathy, to be “mind-blind.” The idea is now an old one. Researchers can calculate an “empathy quotient” by asking questions like, “I prefer animals to humans,” and “I find it difficult to judge if something is rude.” Other data come from experiments on how people make sense of faces. Autistic people tend to avoid looking at eyes and, presented with isolated images of eyes, have trouble imagining what the depicted person might be feeling. This perspective-taking is referred to as cognitive empathy, or theory of mind, and is distinct from the ability to feel what another feels. In a passage about autism-activist Jim Sinclair, Silberman offers a subtle, humane challenge to the conventional wisdom of researchers. Sinclair is hurt by the description of autism he reads in a pamphlet. “I didn’t consider myself to be someone who didn’t have empathy,” Sinclair says. He wasn’t someone who “lacked the ability to form emotional bonds, and wasn’t interested in relating to others.” As Sinclair describes watching a documentary about another man with autism, there is a jarring incongruity between the scientists’ interpretation of the man’s behavior and Sinclair’s nuanced insights. Where a researcher claims the subject is oblivious, Sinclair sees a familiar struggle to communicate.

If empathy is the ability to inhabit another’s mind, Sinclair’s anecdote suggests that estimates of empathy should be calibrated for just how far one must travel to do so. NeuroTribes amasses a disturbing number of statements by autism researchers who seem unable to make the trip themselves. One clinician describes autism as a terminal illness and autistic children as dead souls. Others consider them “shells” or “husks.” The most unnerving revelation occurs when Silberman profiles Ivar Lovaas, the developer of a common therapy known as Applied Behavior Analysis. In a 1974 interview, Lovaas says that autistic children “are not people in the psychological sense.” He combats an autistic child’s self-injurious behavior by striking her, and his therapy rooms deliver corrective shocks through gridded floors. Spoons of sherbet serve as rewards—a method that seems less sweet when Lovaas reports that “it is a pleasure to work with a child who is on mild food deprivation.” Today’s behavioral therapies tend toward Lovaas-lite, an exacting but benign regimen of small treats, but just last year the Food and Drug Administration held a panel to discuss the use of electrical shock to modify self-injuring and aggressive behavior among autistic patients. Although representatives of a Massachusetts clinic argued it was a necessary treatment of last resort, the panel recommended banning the apparatus used in the procedure.

Source: Steve Silberman’s NeuroTribes and the History of Autism – The Atlantic

“Being autistic has always given me a strong sense of justice and fairness, and a burning drive to do the right thing and to fight for it, even when it seems like struggling against the weight of the world. This seems very related to my extreme empathy, which is also tied to my experience of being autistic.

“From the time I was little, I wanted to put a stop to violence of any kind, and I have carried that passion with me to all of my work now against state-sponsored violence against multiply marginalized folks.

“Knowing that injustice or violence exist anywhere is deeply painful for me, whether it directly targets me or not, and I believe that I must do anything within my capacity to work for a world where none of us have to be afraid anymore. If I were not autistic, I am certain I would not have the same drive as I do now.”

Source: 7 activists tell us the best thing about being autistic

‘It’s that myth again that autistic people don’t have empathy, when in fact we often have so much that it’s hard to deal with. That empathy is what helps me to write characters and imagine how they’re feeling.

Source: Autism Awareness Week: Stop telling me I don’t ‘look’ autistic | Metro News

“The findings demonstrate that, contrary to what has been thought, the apparent lack of interpersonal interest among people with autism is not due to lack of concern,” said Nouchine Hadjikhani, a study author and a Harvard associate professor of radiology. “Rather, our results show that this behavior is a way to decrease an unpleasant excessive arousal stemming from overactivation in a particular part of the brain.”

In other words, when people with autism don’t look others in the eye, it doesn’t mean they don’t care, said Hadjikhani.

Source: Study: Overstimulation, not indifference, makes eye contact hard for people with autism

He replies by noting a particularly satisfying experiment he conducted in 2010, that proved, with brain scanning (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging is the full term, fMRI), that you can be diagnosed with autism but still show empathy. Equally and just as importantly, the experiment showed that non-autistics may lack empathy.

The condition that describes this lack of empathy is called alexithymia, and affects roughly 8% of the general population, says Bird. Autism affects 1% of the population. ‘Alexithymia and autism are completely independent of each other,’ he says, ‘…yet even now we are told time and again that autistic people lack empathy. Of course some do, but many do not, and this is really important because it has large consequences for how they are treated by society and whether, for a practical example, they can volunteer their time or find work.’

‘Ask anyone in the field,’ says Bird, ‘what characterizes autism, and they’ll say a lack of empathy. An autistic person can’t recognize emotions. Sometimes they can’t engage in moral reasoning. We think that’s completely wrong. Completely inaccurate.’

His broader message to the community is that ‘individuals with autism are not unempathic, psychopathic monsters. This is really important. We can’t be wrong about that one. …I have heard so many stories about people who simply cannot get jobs or even volunteer their time because of this damaging myth, which causes additional frustration for the parents of autistic individuals. Individuals with alexithymia are also not psychopaths of course, although they may struggle to understand emotions in a typical way.’

Source: Message of hope for people with autism | Oxford Today

This plays into the lie that autistic people lack empathy. A myth that is increasingly being debunked.

Source: But You Haven’t Seen it Yet: Why Critiquing Marketing of Future Portrayals of Disability is Important | crippledscholar

The ‘double empathy problem’ refers to the mutual incomprehension that occurs between people of different dispositional outlooks and personal conceptual understandings when attempts are made to communicate meaning.

In a sense it is a ‘double problem’ as both people experience it, and so it is not a singular problem located in any one person.

The ’empathy’ problem being a ‘two-way street’ has been mentioned by both ‘autistic writers’ (Sinclair, 1993) and non-autistic writers alike (Hacking, 2009)

Source: From finding a voice to being understood: exploring the double empathy problem

Am highly empathetic to the point of over-empathizing. I may not always be able to process cognitively what I’m experiencing (see point below), but I am overwhelmed by the emotional responses of people around me — which includes things I read on the internet, because I’m experiencing them as the other person does. (Not in the way of, I know how it is to be them when I’m not them or don’t have the same experiences, but in the way of, their anger settles in me, or their sadness settles in me, and I can’t get rid of it.)

Source: Autistic Hoya: Why do I think I’m autistic . . . 

Some autistic/similar people say they have higher empathy then neurotypical people, some lower, some say no difference. #autchat

Today we’ll talk about all types of empathy experiences. #autchat

Q1: What is the experience of empathy like for you? Feelings, thoughts, sensations? #autchat

Q2: Are there situations where you try to increase your empathy? Where you try to lower it? If so, what do you do? #autchat

Q3: Do you think your life would be different if your experience of empathy were different? How so? #autchat

Q4: Do you think your experiences of empathy are different in degree from neurotypical people? In type? #autchat

Source: Experience of empathy – autchat

NT members of society interact with each other, at least on the surface.  But do they actually exhibit social-emotional reciprocity, or are they merely going through the motions, masking a true impairment?  I’ve often wondered (even before realizing my place on the autism spectrum) if people actually engaged in true reciprocation, or if they were simply better at hiding their inability to do so?

Is “normal back-and-forth communication” in short snippets of superficial information all that desirable?  Or would it be more helpful if the conversationalists dove into greater detail from time to time?

When they share their interests and emotions, are they really sharing them?  Or are they cherry-picking soundbites that show the world a Likeable Them?  Are they simply better (relatively speaking) at “putting on” the “right” emotional “skin” or launching the “right” emotional script than we are?  Might their true responses be more similar to ours than anyone realizes, except that they’re comparatively better at pretending or “acting the part”?

Do they really share their interests?  Or does their small talk (or other conversation) focus more on bonding over a lower common denominator (such as sports, current events, celebrities, etc) that they know through their experience will be shared by the majority of other people?

NT society frequently fails to respond to social interactions, too.  One frequent example: I’ll actually work up the guts to glance the direction of a passing person and actually say “hi”; the person might glance directly at me, but fail to say “hi” back.  I know there’s a plethora of reasons for this – hearing impairment, preoccupation, etc, but it’s such a common phenomenon that I begin to wonder just how “reciprocative” the rest of the world is in turn.

Source: Depathologizing Asperger’s / autism ~ In a way, neurotypical people might meet the criteria, too – the silent wave

Atypical and Autism Representation

The new Netflix show Atypical is not only really bad and harmful autism representation, it’s also misogynistic, racist, and fatmisic. It gets so many things about autism wrong while also getting sex and relationships wrong. Here are my tweets as I was working my way through the episodes. One of my biggest complaints with Atypical is that with a little social model awareness and non-misogynistic sex and relationship education, most of the plot goes away.

Collected below is feedback from actually autistic folks on the many problematic aspects of Atypical.

Continue reading “Atypical and Autism Representation”

Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and 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 have 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.

“Money Doesn’t Have to Be an Obstacle,” “Race Doesn’t Matter,” “Just Work Harder,” “Everyone Can Go to College,” and “If You Believe, Your Dreams Will Come True.” These notions have helped fueled inequity in the U.S. public education system. Mindset marketing without structural ideology, restorative 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 gaslighting. It is abusive.

Canned social-emotional skills programs, behaviorism, 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 abusive, coercive, and manipulative torture. We call it autistic conversion therapy. The misbehavior of behaviorism is an ongoing harm.

Instead, acknowledge pipeline problems and the meritocracy myth, stop bikeshedding the structural problems of the deficit model, and stop blaming kids and families. Develop a school culture based not on deficit ideologies and cargo cult shrink wrap, but on diversity & inclusion, neurodiversity, the social model of disability, structural ideology, and indie ed-tech. Get rid of extrinsics, and adopt instead the intrinsic motivation of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Provide fresh air, sunlight, and plenty of time for major muscle movement instead of mindset bandages for the pathologies caused by the lack of these three critical things.

Self-esteem that’s based on external sources has mental health consequences.” Stop propagating the latest deficit/bootstrap/behaviorism fads. Develop the critical capacity to see beyond the marketing. 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. “It essentially boils down to whether one chooses to do damage to the system or to the student.”

Continue reading “Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology”

Use what you make and default to open

My team at Automattic, Flow Patrol, is ”building testing culture in continuous delivery”.

More and more, we work in places where continuous development is championed, MVPs are common, pre-release testing is limited, and the pressure is on to constantly redefine features in newer, faster, better ways. Updates happen constantly, without notice, and the way things work shifts under our feet more often than not. This kind of fast-paced, constant change moves the web forward and challenges traditional testing practices. Let’s talk about how testing is changing and how we can build a better, stronger culture of testing.

The Flow Patrol team continuously dogfoods what we make with our own creaking humanity in mind. Universal design, design for real life, neurodiversity, and the social model of disability inform us as we continuously confront what we make as users, as people with lives and backstories, aches and pains, and bad days. Continuous development requires continuous outspoken humanity. We’re designated dissenters, public editors, and ombudsfolk advocating for users.

A few years ago, I stepped back from coding and my role as a lead developer of WordPress. I did so to let new perspectives control the levers, to recover mind and body after stressful years in a public hot seat, and to become a user again. Knowing the gory details behind the making is asymmetrical information that can distance you from your audience. With expertise comes callouses and desensitization. I shed my old roles and their privileges and experienced what we wrought anew.

With relentless coding out of my life, I became a relentless user of everything we make. As a developer, a lot of my usage of our products was testing. Test flows aren’t the same as authentic user flows. They’re shallow and canned. Real outcomes aren’t on the line. Although we run our company using what we make, our flows are particular, ingrained, and augmented. I jumped out of our company flows and immersed myself in the flows of our users. I sought authentic user flows and experiences in the field and brought them into my daily life. I made those patterns mine. I made those frustrations mine. I made those goals and outcomes mine. I immersed myself in perspective and bashed myself against our products and processes. I documented everything along the way, down to individual screenshots and interactions. I shared my dogfooding sessions live with my coworkers, frankly communicating my frustrations as a user. I shared how my neurological disease, chronic pain, and autistic operating system affected my relationship with the things we make.

Microsoft, SAP, Automattic and others are investing in neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and design for real life. We’re hiring for diversity of perspective and trying to actualize the aspiration of making inclusion the new normal. We’re humans making things for and with other humans. When our teams reflect the real world and we use what we make, we build better products and reach more people.

Much of what Flow Patrol does at Automattic and WordPress is public to the world. When we share and collaborate in the commons, we create serendipity. We are responsible for humanizing flow in the systems we inhabit. We do that best when we default to open.

Using what you make and defaulting to open are useful not just in tech and industry, but in education as well. Agile, inclusive, self-organizing teams designing and making for the riot of diversity that is real life is a future for both work and education. The best of inclusive hacker culture coupled with the social model for minds and bodies is powerful. To fulfill the promise of a public education that is “free, life-changing, and available to everyone”, adopt a hacker mindset of flexible improvisation and passion-based maker learning and a social model mindset of inclusion and acceptance.

Embrace the open schoolhouse; use what you make; and default to open.