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

Mindset marketing without structural 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 form of 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, manipulative torture. We call it autistic conversion therapy.

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

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, to look beyond deficit model compliance to social model inclusion. The social model and structural ideology are the way forward. Growth mindset and behaviorism, as usually implemented, are just more bootstrap metaphors that excuse systems from changing and learning.

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

A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort.

Recently, someone asked what keeps me up at night. It’s the fear that the mindset concepts, which grew up to counter the failed self-esteem movement, will be used to perpetuate that movement. In other words, if you want to make students feel good, even if they’re not learning, just praise their effort! Want to hide learning gaps from them? Just tell them, “Everyone is smart!” The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them. It is about telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter.

I also fear that the mindset work is sometimes used to justify why some students aren’t learning: “Oh, he has a fixed mindset.” We used to blame the child’s environment or ability.

Must it always come back to finding a reason why some children just can’t learn, as opposed to finding a way to help them learn? Teachers who understand the growth mindset do everything in their power to unlock that learning.

Maybe we originally put too much emphasis on sheer effort. Maybe we made the development of a growth mindset sound too easy. Maybe we talked too much about people having one mindset or the other, rather than portraying people as mixtures. We are on a growth-mindset journey, too.

Source: Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’ – Education Week

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t like just about every five year old have a “growth mindset?” I mean, depending on parents and other circumstances, I’m sure even kids that age can see themselves as limited. But most of the tail-waggers I’ve seen in kindergarten feel like they can conquer just about anything. They’ve already got a “growth mindset.”

The reason we need all sorts of “growth mindset” books and workshops is not because we need to develop that in kids. It’s because we’re now in the business of trying to restore  that in kids, something that by and large schools strip away.

We really think ranking and sorting with grades are good for kids? We really think that telling them that they can’t continue to pursue their interests is good for their “growth mindset?” Or that focusing on problems with one answer makes them more confident in their potentials to achieve?

Really?

It would make more sense to focus simply on nurturing and supporting the learning mindsets that kids already bring with them, rather than forcing them to adopt a “school mindset” that has little connection to their real lives.

Source: My Problem With a “Growth Mindset”

There is no path toward educational justice that contains convenient detours around direct confrontations with injustice. The desperate search for these detours, often in the form of models or frameworks or concepts that were not developed as paths to justice, is the greatest evidence of the collective desire among those who count on injustice to give them an advantage to retain that advantage. If a direct confrontation of injustice is missing from our strategies or initiatives or movements, that means we are recreating the conditions we’re pretending to want to destroy.

Source: Paul C. Gorski – Grit. Growth mindset. Emotional intelligence….

Similar to the popularity of “grit” and “no excuses” policies, growth mindset has gained a great deal of momentum as a school-based inoculation for the negative impact of poverty on children.

However, the media, the public, and educators often fail to acknowledge two significant flaws with growth mindset: (1) the essential deficit ideology that focuses all of the blame (and thus the need for a cure) in the individual child, and (2) the larger failure to see the need to address poverty directly instead of indirectly through formal education.

Any person’s success or failure can be traced to a number of factors, but in the U.S., our blind faith in the rugged individual defaults to ascribing credit and blame at least initially if not totally to the individual’s character traits such as “grit” and a growth mindset.

The entire traditional approach to formal education in the U.S. is a deficit ideology, but the hyper-emphasis on children living in poverty, and black/brown students and English language learners, has increased the power of deficit approaches through growth mindset, “grit,” and “no excuses.”

Despite the enduring power of the rugged individual and meritocracy myths, the burden of evidence shows that privilege (race, class, and gender) continues to trump effort and even achievement in the real world: less educated whites earn more than more educated blacks, men earn more than equally educated women, and so forth.

But research also refutes the claims of growth mindset and “grit” that achievement is primarily the result of the character of the individual. The same person, in fact, behaves differently when experiencing slack (privilege) or scarcity (poverty).

In other words, if we relieve children of food insecurity, home transience, etc., we are likely to find that those students in poverty who appeared to lack “grit” and growth mindset would then demonstrate those treasured qualities.

We are currently misdiagnosing growth mindset and “grit” (as deficit ideologies) as causal characteristics instead of recognizing them as outcomes of slack (privilege).

Source: Failing Still to Address Poverty Directly: Growth Mindset as Deficit Ideology | the becoming radical

By now, the growth mindset has approached the status of a cultural meme. The premise is repeated with uncritical enthusiasm by educators and a growing number of parents, managers, and journalists — to the point that one half expects supporters to start referring to their smartphones as “effortphones.” But, like the buzz over the related concept known as “grit” (a form of self-discipline involving long-term persistence), there’s something disconcerting about how the idea has been used — and about the broader assumption that what students most need is a “mindset” adjustment.

Unfortunately, even some people who are educators would rather convince students they need to adopt a more positive attitude than address the quality of the curriculum (what the students are being taught) or the pedagogy (how they’re being taught it).

An awful lot of schooling still consists of making kids cram forgettable facts into short-term memory. And the kids themselves are seldom consulted about what they’re doing, even though genuine excitement about (and proficiency at) learning rises when they’re brought into the process, invited to search for answers to their own questions and to engage in extended projects. Outstanding classrooms and schools — with a rich documentary record of their successes — show that the quality of education itself can be improved. But books, articles, TED talks, and teacher-training sessions devoted to the wonders of adopting a growth mindset rarely bother to ask whether the curriculum is meaningful, whether the pedagogy is thoughtful, or whether the assessment of students’ learning is authentic (as opposed to defining success merely as higher scores on dreadful standardized tests).

Small wonder that this idea goes down so easily. All we have to do is get kids to adopt the right attitude, to think optimistically about their ability to handle whateverthey’ve been given to do. Even if, quite frankly, it’s not worth doing.

A substantial research literature has shown that the kids typically end up less interested in whatever they were rewarded or praised for doing, because now their goal is just to get the reward or praise. As I’ve explained in books and articles, the most salient feature of a positive judgment is not that it’s positive but that it’s a judgment; it’s more about controlling than encouraging. Moreover, praise communicates that our acceptance of a child comes with strings attached: Our approval is conditional on the child’s continuing to impress us or do what we say. What kids actually need from us, along with nonjudgmental feedback and guidance, is unconditional support — the antithesis of a patronizing pat on the head for having jumped through our hoops.

Thus, the challenge for a teacher, parent, or manager is to consider a moratorium on offering verbal doggie biscuits, period. We need to attend to deeper differences: between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and between “doing to” and “working with” strategies. Unfortunately, we’re discouraged from thinking about these more meaningful distinctions — and from questioning the whole carrot-and-stick model (of which praise is an example) — when we’re assured that it’s sufficient just to offer a different kind of carrot.

Source: The perils of “Growth Mindset” education: Why we’re trying to fix our kids when we should be fixing the system – Salon.com

Briefly, deficit ideology is a worldview that explains and justifies outcome inequalities— standardized test scores or levels of educational attainment, for example—by pointing to supposed deficiencies within disenfranchised individuals and communities (Brandon, 2003; Valencia, 1997a; Weiner, 2003; Yosso, 2005). Simultaneously, and of equal importance, deficit ideology discounts sociopolitical context, such as the systemic conditions (racism, economic injustice, and so on) that grant some people greater social, political, and economic access, such as that to high-quality schooling, than others (Brandon, 2003; Dudley-Marling, 2007; Gorski, 2008a; Hamovitch, 1996). The function of deficit ideology, as I will describe in greater detail later, is to justify existing social conditions by identifying the problem of inequality as located within, rather than as pressing upon, disenfranchised communities so that efforts to redress inequalities focus on “fixing” disenfranchised people rather than the conditions which disenfranchise them (Weiner, 2003; Yosso, 2005).

At the core of deficit ideology is the belief that inequalities result, not from unjust social conditions such as systemic racism or economic injustice, but from intellectual, moral, cultural, and behavioral deficiencies assumed to be inherent in disenfranchised individuals and communities (Brandon, 2003; Gorski, 2008a, 2008b; Valencia, 1997a; Yosso, 2005).

And this is the surest sign of deficit ideology: the suggestion that we fix inequalities by fixing disenfranchised communities rather than that which disenfranchises them. This, then, is the function of deficit ideology: to manipulate popular consciousness in order to deflect attention from the systemic conditions and sociopolitical context that underlie or exacerbate inequities, such as systemic racism or economic injustice, and to focus it, instead, on recycling its own misperceptions, all of which justify inequalities (García & Guerra, 2004; Jennings, 2004). It deflects our scornful gaze from the mechanisms of injustice and the benefactors of these mechanisms, and trains it, instead, on those citizens with the least amount of power to popularize a counter-narrative, just as the dominant “achievement gap” discourse draws attention away from underlying systemic conditions, such as growing corporate control of public schools, and pushes it toward “at-risk” youth from “broken” homes whose “culture of poverty” impedes them from “making it.” Deficit ideology defines every social problem in relation to those toward the bottom of the power hierarchy, trains our gaze in that direction and, as a result, manipulates the popular discourse in ways that protect and reify existing sociopolitical conditions (Brandon, 2003; Yosso, 2005).

Source: Unlearning Deficit Ideology and the Scornful Gaze: Thoughts on Authenticating the Class Discourse in Education

This image is actually a great example of deficit thinking — an ideology that blames victims of oppression for their own situation. As with this image, deficit thinking makes systemic forms of racism and oppression invisible. Other images, like the one of different animals having to climb a tree, or of people picking fruit, suffer from the same problem. How would we make these root causes more visible in our “equity vs. equality” image?

Well, if we began with the metaphor of the fence, this would require making clear that the reason some people have more difficulty seeing than others is not because of their height, but because of the context around them.

Source: The problem with that equity vs. equality graphic you’re using | Cultural Organizing

This is the centrist’s promise about education: getting an education will save your life; education will be the difference between success and failure. If your house, which also serves as a private daycare, catches fire — and you’re a single mother and have to work twelve hours a day — school will provide a way out. If your company lays you off after thirty years of service, don’t worry, you can get an education and switch careers.

Of course, King’s narrative never questions why Donahue had to work twelve hours a day, or why Randolph’s employer laid him off after thirty years, leaving him without the ability to make ends meet. The centrist ideology of education is so brazen that it holds out such stories as inspirational proof that education will be the force that saves people’s lives by putting them on a path to opportunity.

But education cannot guarantee opportunity — it’s government policy and economic practices that increase or decrease the likelihood of success. The centrist promise of education is a false promise. This doesn’t mean education cannot be a force of positive social change, just that in its current incarnation, US education discourse simply works to release those with influence from the responsibility of making a social system that supports working people.

Millions of new workers will enter the job market in 2017, graduating from their “paths to opportunity.” Yet the path to opportunity might not end up anywhere in the face of sluggish to moderate job creation. The number of graduates doesn’t correlate with the number of available jobs. It’s like saying if we teach people how to play musical chairs well enough, everyone will get a seat.

Whether rooted in notions of democracy or technology, both versions of the promise promote the notion of a compensatory education: that schools can compensate for unequal distribution of resources, rights, and recognition in American society.

They articulated a more critical position on education, arguing that public education is part of a broader process of social reproduction: schooling activities correspond to existing echelons of social hierarchy and opportunity, preparing students for positions within that hierarchy. Schooling does not lead to opportunity in the sense that it creates opportunity; it simply prepares students to exist (or not exist) within the opportunity structure that the government and economy create.

Race and class, they argued, define the positions students come to occupy in society, which largely correspond with their parents’ social positions and available opportunity. Overall, more and better schooling in an unequal society reproduces those inequalities, acting as a neutral institution, rather than a compensatory institution that equalizes them.

Schooling cannot control the number or kind of jobs available in an economy.

Everyone knows that income inequality has increased exponentially between the 1970s and today. Yet at the same time that income inequality has skyrocketed, so has schooling. United States citizens are more educated than they ever have been. More people have graduated from more kinds of schools than at any point in history.

If the centrist promise were true, then greater educational attainment for the broader US population should have coincided with more economic success for more people. If schools create real opportunities for socioeconomic success, there should have been decreasing income inequality as the general population became more educated.

This is clearly not the case.

These data show that wealth goes to the wealthy, not the educated. At the macro-level, there is no relationship between socioeconomic success and schooling.

But just because getting a job requires having a degree doesn’t mean that more and better schooling will cause there to be more available positions society-wide. To get a job, you have to have a degree. But you don’t have to get a job because you have a degree.

This causal sleight of hand is symptomatic of the centrist promise. Schooling will not cause economic equality in an unequal economy, but it will certify people to find positions within that unequal economy. It may successfully lead folks to positions within society, but it won’t necessarily lead them to social success.

If you want most people to be successful in the economy, the economy itself has to work for most people. It won’t matter if most people work harder in school, or if we reform school ad inifinitum. Schools will largely reproduce the existing conditions of the economy, not serve as compensation for the economy’s faults.

While researchers still use reproduction theory to understand certain specialized aspects of school’s role in inequality, the theory’s radical core has been somewhat lost in educational thinking in the public sphere. It should be revived in a way that absorbs and utilizes the critiques laid out in resistance theory.

Blending the lessons of the reproductive view and resistance theory provides a crucial, materialist reality check on the centrist view of school. We must fix the social structures which create inequality and poverty in the first place.

In their report, Downey and Condron argue that focusing on the compensatory qualities of schooling distracts the public from understanding the need for a functioning welfare state in the United States.

Education’s real promise is that it is one site among many others in the struggle to transform the social structures that create inequality.

Source: The False Promise of Education

But the idea that building schools and getting every kid on the planet inside them is a solution to the problem of global poverty, for example, is a real whopper.

The dirty underside of our system is that schools as we know them today are structurally designed to fail a reliable percentage of kids.  Interestingly, they reliably fail a much higher percentage of kids in low-income areas than they do in affluent areas, and this is true from Detroit to Gilgit-Baltistan. When we put children from traditional rural areas into school, what we’re doing is transitioning them from a non-cash land-based economy where nobody gets rich but nobody starves into a hierarchical system of success and failure in which some lives may get “better,” but others will get much, much worse.  Guess which club has more members?

The reality is that there are few better ways to condemn a child to a life of poverty than to confine her in a bad school, and a very high percentage of schools in low-income areas are and will remain bad schools.  Many NGO’s as well as international programs like “Education for All” are focused on the body count, on getting more and more children into classrooms.  What happens to those kids in those classrooms is harder to quantify or to track.  One thing that seems clear is that an awful lot of them learn very little.

A World Bank Policy Research working paper indicates that, contrary to popular belief, money spent on education often increases inequality in a country. This is partly because those who already have substantial assets are better positioned to take advantage of educational resources than those who have their hands full trying to get food on the table.

But it’s also because from its inception school was designed as a sorting mechanism, a rigged competition where only one form of intelligence is valued, only one way of learning is permitted, and one child’s success means another child’s failure.  We forget that the structure of schools as we know them today was developed during a time when people believed in racist eugenics and Social Darwinism; modern schools were structurally designed to perpetuate a hierarchical class system, and –– despite the best efforts of many dedicated teachers –– that’s exactly what they still do, through the non-democratic, hierarchical ranking of children which is hard-wired into our entire system of grading, testing, and one-size-fits-all standards.  Until we change that –– at home as well as abroad –– education will continue to reproduce and justify poverty, not to ameliorate it.

The planet doesn’t have the physical resources to sustain a middle-class lifestyle for a white-collar world, and in any case, who will mine the coal, collect the garbage, and work at Walmart when all seven billion of us have college degrees?  China now has millions of unemployed college graduates, and it turns out they are as free to work in sweatshops as everybody else.

Of course, even if everybody succeeded at school, you would just run into the fact that the current structure of the global economy does not provide enough good jobs for the growing number of graduates.

Which brings us to terrorism.  If we want to look for links between education and terrorism, we should look hard at this cycle of raised expectations, inevitable failure, disappointment, unemployment, and poverty, which fuels crime and violence all over the world.

But if you confine large numbers of children in low-quality schools for years, brand them as failures, make them feel stupid, incompetent, and inferior, and then turn them loose without marketable skills into a country with high unemployment, what exactly do you think is going to happen?

We need to have a serious conversation about the shame and humiliation that young people experience in school –– and the crummy opportunities available to them afterward –– as a trigger for violence.

It’s commonly assumed that lack of education in developing areas is a risk factor for trafficking, but apparently the evidence suggests the opposite; according to the Strategic Information Response Network, vulnerability to human trafficking correlates with more schooling and the migration to urban areas in search of money that usually follows it.

But according to the BBC , the Mumbai area records a teen suicide almost every day, and there is a “general agreement between psychologists and teachers that the main reason for the high number of teenagers taking their own lives is the increasing pressure on children to perform well in exams.”

The bottom line is that the modern school is no silver bullet, but an extremely problematic institution which has proven highly resistant to fundamental reform, and there is very little objective research on its impact on traditional land-based societies.

We need to acknowledge that no system that discards millions of normal, healthy kids as failures –– many of them extremely smart, by the way –– will ever provide a lasting or universal solution to anything.  We need to innovate with learning here at home and abroad, to put our resources into developing the many promising models that already exist for sharing knowledge, skills and ideas without humiliating children or branding them as failures.

But most of all, we need to stop falling for the popular fiction of schooling as a cure for everything and recognize that a romanticized idea of education is being used as a PR device and a smokescreen to obscure the real economic issues at play for powerful nations and corporations – which extract natural resources and cheap labor from weaker nations, and then turn around and tax their own citizens to provide “aid” and “education” to help “end poverty.”  It’s an elaborate shell game, a twisted road to nowhere.  It should be clear by now that the “rising tide” does not “float all boats” –– that’s another fairy tale –– and it’s time to start talking seriously about the underlying global economic structures which are creating poverty, so that people everywhere can educate their own children in the way they think best –– without charity.

I just hope the Kyrgyz remain unschooled enough to continue to be able to tell fact from fiction.

Source: Three Cups of Fiction — Carol Black

As a softer but misleading and more publicly palpable form of school choice, charter schools represent a microcosm of the larger accountability era of education reform. In many ways, charter schools have been defined by embracing Teach For America (TFA) and rejecting tenure and unionized staffs, focusing on standards and high-stakes testing, promising to close achievement gaps among vulnerable populations of students (black, brown, and poor), and identifying strongly with “no excuses” ideologies and policies such as teaching “grit” and growth mindset, as well as enforcing zero tolerance disciplinary agendas.

Once popular among educators and the media, both “grit” and growth mindset have lost favor as well, particularly as useful approaches to addressing vulnerable populations of students. As Paul Gorski, Associate Professor of Integrative Studies in New Century College at George Mason University and founder of EdChange, warns: “No set of curricular or pedagogical strategies can turn a classroom led by a teacher with a deficit view of families experiencing poverty into an equitable learning space for those families.”

Source: Resisting Fatalism in Post-Truth Trumplandia: Charter Schools and the End of Accountability

The trouble, instead, was that a majority of the students had been socialised to fundamentally misunderstand poverty and its impact on educational outcome disparities. As a result, despite good intentions, the strategies they were capable of imagining – trendy instructional interventions, the cultivation of grit in students experiencing poverty, programmes designed to encourage higher levels of parent involvement by economically marginalised families – sidestepped completely the causes of the disparities they felt desperate to redress. The trouble was not dispositional or practical. Instead it was ideological, borne of faulty belief systems that, if not reshaped, would undermine their potentials to be the equitable teachers they hoped to be.

With this in mind, my purpose is to argue that when it comes to issues surrounding poverty and economic justice the preparation of teachers must be first and foremost an ideological endeavour, focused on adjusting fundamental understandings not only about educational outcome disparities but also about poverty itself. I will argue that it is only through the cultivation of what I call a structural ideology of poverty and economic justice that teachers become equity literate (Gorski 2013), capable of imagining the sorts of solutions that pose a genuine threat to the existence of class inequity in their classrooms and schools. After a brief clarification of my case for the importance of ideology, I begin by describing deficit ideology, the dominant ideological position about poverty that is informed in the US and elsewhere by the myth of meritocracy (McNamee and Miller 2009), and its increasingly popular ideological offshoot, grit ideology (Gorski 2016b). After explicating these ideological positions and how they misdirect interpretations of poverty and its implications, I describe structural ideology, an ideological position through which educators understand educational outcome disparities in the context of structural injustice and the unequal distribution of access and opportunity that underlies poverty (Gorski 2016a). I end by sharing three self-reflective questions designed to help me assess the extent to which my teacher education practice reflect the structural view.

Growing out of the notoriety of grit theory (Duckworth et al. 2009), the idea that there are particular personal attributes that enable some people to overcome adversity that might overwhelm others, grit ideology differs from deficit ideology in one important way. Unlike people who adhere to deficit ideology, who must wholly ignore structural barriers in order to attribute outcome inequalities to the mindsets of the targets of those barriers, adherents to grit ideology recognise the structural barriers. However, rather than cultivating policy and practice to eradicate those barriers, they enact strategies to bolster the grit of economically marginalised students (Gorski 2016b). The most obvious trouble with grit ideology is that, of all the combinations of barriers that most impact the educational outcomes of students experiencing poverty, which might include housing instability, food insecurity, inequitable access to high-quality schools, unjust school policies, and others, not a single one is related in any way to students’ grittiness. As Kohn (2014) has noted, adherents to a grit ideology are grasping for amoral solutions to inequity and injustice, which are moral problems. Kundu (2014), who warned of the ‘relentless focus on grit’ as a remedy to educational outcome disparities, explained how the grit view is a cousin to deficit ideology. ‘By overemphasizing grit’, Kundu wrote, ‘we tend to attribute a student’s underachievement to personality deficits like laziness. This reinforces the idea that individual effort determines outcomes’ (80). It also ignores the fact that the most economically disadvantaged students, who show up for school despite the structural barriers and the inequities they often experience in school, already are, by most standards, the most gritty, most resilient students (Gorski 2013).

Like deficit ideology, grit ideology is no threat to the existence of educational outcome disparities. In the end, it only can lead to strategies that sidestep the core causes of those disparities, requiring students to overcome inequities they should not be experiencing.

No set of curricular or pedagogical strategies can turn a classroom led by a teacher with a deficit view of families experiencing poverty into an equitable learning space for those families (Gorski 2013; Robinson 2007).

Source: Poverty and the ideological imperative: a call to unhook from deficit and grit ideology and to strive for structural ideology in teacher education

Next, you must resist fatalism in two forms: (1) the fatalism at the root of “grit” being racist and classist—that life for black/brown and poor people is going to be hard so we need to make them extra “gritty” to survive and excel (washed through by the racist/classist assumptions black/brown and poor people are inherently less apt to have the effort and engagement we associate with white privilege), and (2) the fatalism of life is inherently unfair for black/brown and poor people so why bother to try at all?

Finally, to that second form of fatalism, the key is to honor effort and engagement as ends unto themselves and not means to some other ends or as a magic elixir for overcoming social inequity.

The very ugly consequence of championing “grit” with uncritical missionary zeal is that the students most often targeted—racial minorities and the poor—are soon to learn that their “grit” will get them less than the gift of white privilege for other people who show even less effort and engagement as they have worked to acquire.

The “grit” movement is racist, classist, and counter to the very effort we seem to be making to support the value of effort and engagement in a meritocracy (which isn’t even close to existing).

Source: Rejecting “Grit” While Embracing Effort, Engagement | the becoming radical

On the path to becoming a teacher, I had learned to shed all elements of my teenage self. Not being able to smile till November robbed me of the opportunity of seeing myself in the students in front of me. Instead, the structures of schooling forced me to devalue anyone who brought any semblance of my teenage self into the present-day classroom. Today, with thousands of hours of teacher observations under my belt and having spent innumerable hours reflecting back on my own teaching, it is clear to me how teachers develop and maintain a deficit view of students. This is particularly evident when I think of how teachers of color have been taught to manage the behavior of students who do look like them, despite knowing that their neoindigeneity requires their voices being heard and their ideas validated.

The work for teachers becomes developing the self-reflection necessary to deconstruct the ways that media messages, other teachers’ negative (often exaggerated) stories, and their own need to be the hero affects how they see and teach students. The teacher must work to ensure that the institution does not absolve them of the responsibility to acknowledge the baggage they bring to the classroom and analyze how that might affect student achievement. Without teachers recognizing the biases they hold and how these biases impact the ways they see and teach students, there is no starting point to changing the dismal statistics related to the academic underperformance of urban youth.

Source: Emdin, Christopher (2016-03-22). For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education (pp. 42-43). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.

“We are asking students to change a belief system without changing the situation around them,” he said. It can be irresponsible and unfair to talk about grit without talking about structural challenges, he said, referring to the recent interest in interventions tied to the concepts of grit and perseverance.

So, what are those challenges? If a hypothetical classroom of 30 children were based on current demographics in the United States, this is how the students in that classroom would live: Seven would live in poverty, 11 would be non-white, six wouldn’t speak English as a first language, six wouldn’t be reared by their biological parents, one would be homeless, and six would be victims of abuse.

Howard said that exposure to trauma has a profound impact on cognitive development and academic outcomes, and schools and teachers are woefully unprepared to contend with these realities. Children dealing with traumatic situations should not been seen as pathological, he argued. Instead, educators need to recognize the resilience they are showing already. The instruments and surveys that have been used to measure social-emotional skills such as persistence and grit have not taken into account these factors, Howard said.

The transformative potential in growth mindsets and social-emotional skills such as grit may be more applicable to students whose basic needs are already met. When asking the question of why some children succeed in school and others don’t, he said the educators and administrators tend to overestimate the power of the person and underestimate the power of the situation.

Schools can do a better job of talking about the extent to which student trauma exists, teaching children coping mechanisms, and providing mental-health services.The conversation about growth mindsets has to happen in a social and cultural context, he said, because cultural, institutional, and historical forces have an effect on individuals.

Source: When the Focus on ‘Grit’ in the Classroom Overlooks Student Trauma – The Atlantic

  • Structural inequities matter.
  • Culture maters. It significantly influences cogniton and subsequently learning.
  • Trauma and mental health matters.
  • Appropriate supports must inform school reform and student outcome efforts.

Source: Student Culture and Learning: What’s the Connection?

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.’”

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 inequalities that I’ve chronicled above – income inequality, wealth inequality, information inequality – have been part of our education system for generations, and these are now being hard-coded into our education technologies. This is apparent in every topic in every article I’ve written in this years’ year-end series: for-profit higher education, surveillance in the classroom, and so on.

These inequalities are apparent in the longstanding biases that are found in standardized testing, for example, often proxies for “are you rich?” and “are you white?” and “are you male?”

My own concerns about the direction of education technology cannot be separated from my concerns with digital technologies more broadly. I’ve written repeatedly about the ideologies of Silicon Valley: neoliberalism, libertarianism, imperialism, late stage capitalism. These ideologies permeate education technology too, as often the same investors and same entrepreneurs and the same engineers are involved.

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

There is a time and place for grit. However, praising grit as such makes no sense because it can often lead to stupid or mean behaviour. Duckworth’s book is filled with gritty people doing things that they, perhaps, shouldn’t.

Why don’t these people ever stop to think about what they are doing? We should not celebrate the fact that ‘paragons of grit don’t swap compasses’, as Duckworth puts it in her book. That might signal a moral failing on their part. The opposite of grit, often enough, is thinking, wondering, asking questions, and refusing to push a boulder up a hill.

Democracy requires active citizens who think for themselves and, often enough, challenge authority. Consider, for example, what kind of people participated in the Boston Tea Party, the Seneca Falls Convention, the March on Washington, or the present-day test-refusal movement. In each of these cases, ordinary people demand a say in how they are governed. Duckworth celebrates educational models such as Beast at West Point that weed out people who don’t obey orders. That is a disastrous model for education in a democracy. US schools ought to protect dreamers, inventors, rebels and entrepreneurs – not crush them in the name of grit.

Source: Teaching ‘grit’ is bad for children, and bad for democracy | Aeon Ideas

These novel apps, bearing names like ClassDojo and Hero K12, promised to help by collecting students’ behavioral data and encouraging teachers to project the stats onto their classroom’s interactive whiteboard in order to keep students “on task.” It is, they claim, all part of a push to create a “positive classroom culture.”

The apps come with the assurance of making schools operate more efficiently. But such management technologies don’t simply reflect Taylorism, schoolwork monitored and fine-tuned; they are part of a resurgence of behaviorism in education, and in education technology in particular.

But of course, that has always been the underpinning of behaviorism—an emphasis on positive reinforcement techniques in order to more effectively encourage “correct behavior.” “Correct behavior,” that is, as defined by school administrators and software makers. What does it mean to give these companies—their engineers, their designers—this power to determine “correct behavior”? How might corporate culture, particularly Silicon Valley culture, clash with schools’ culture and values? These behavior management apps are, in many ways, a culmination of Skinner’s vision for “teaching machines”—“continuous automatic reinforcement.” But it’s reinforcement that’s combined now with a level surveillance and control of students’ activities, in and out of the classroom, that Skinner could hardly have imagined.

Source: Dunce’s App | Audrey Watters

Digital technologies used in schools are increasingly being harnessed to amplify corporate marketing and profit-making and extend the reach of commercializing activities into every aspect of students’ school lives. In addition to the long-standing goal of providing brand exposure, marketing through education technology now routinely engages students in activities that facilitate the collection of valuable personal data and that socialize students to accept relentless monitoring and surveillance as normal.

Source: Asleep at the Switch: Schoolhouse Commercialism, Student Privacy, and the Failure of Policymaking | National Education Policy Center

“We are breeding a new generation of kids who are well trained to be reward and recognition torpedoes,” Berkowitz writes.

But a substantial body of social science research going back decades has concluded that giving rewards for certain types of behavior is not only futile but harmful. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates UsDaniel Pink identifies seven drawbacks to extrinsic rewards: they cripple intrinsic motivation, limit performance, squash creativity, stifle good conduct, promote cheating, can become habit-forming, and spur a short-term mindset. Giving prizes for routine and mindless tasks can be moderately effective, Pink writes. But offering rewards for those tasks that are “inherently interesting, creative, or noble…is a very dangerous game.” When it comes to promoting good behavior, extrinsic rewards are “the worst ineffective character education practice used by educators,” Berkowitz writes.

Source: How Ending Behavior Rewards Helped One School Focus on Student Motivation and Character | MindShift | KQED News

In other words, usage becomes engagement and engagement gets equated with successful learning and expert teaching. But we cannot let ourselves believe that usage is anything besides usage—and even that assumption is subject to a certain questioning.

But when we assume that data points to behavior, and that points to the means to control behavior, we become authorized to create methods, approaches, and technologies that fulfill that promise. I offer as exhibit A this promotional video for Hero K12 a student monitoring system that gathers data from student behavior in on-ground learning environments (aka, the augmented reality LMS).

I’ve shared this video out on Twitter (with a nod to Audrey Watters, who originally shared it here), and the overall response was one of horror. My network was concerned about this level of monitoring, about the reduction of students to data, about the fact that Jill’s home or family situation, her access to transportation, nor any other factor outside of her name and grade level are considered by the Hero K12 human management system. For myself, I am most concerned about the inability of students to fully understand and to resist or change the system. While I have no doubts students are capable of breaking the system, or making it work for them, Hero K12 represents a determinant, one which students must adapt to, one which requires a surrender of their agency. They become their data, and while they may find ways to feed certain data into the system, they have no power to resist their own reduction to numbers, patterns, and statistics.

Source: Reading the LMS against the Backdrop of Critical Pedagogy, Part One – OFFICE OF DIGITAL LEARNING

The video itself is only two and a half minutes, but the way they efficiently pack in so much of what is wrong in schooling today is remarkable. To put it bluntly, it was a bunch of behaviorist garbage. It makes the argument that students are animals that need to be conditioned to do what is expected of them through punishments and rewards. This is music to many educators’ ears, because they all know from their teacher training that the foremost priority in school is classroom management. And when classroom management is taken care of, then they can focus on what really matters—test scores.

The punishments and rewards continue to compound on themselves. Chris gets to go to the pep rally later in the day where he can let loose and have fun. Chris is a good boy, and gets to do good boy things. Jill, however, is a bad girl, so she must go to detention instead of going to the pep rally. Perhaps making Jill sit in a room by herself while everyone else is having fun will teach her to ‘act right.’

Hero K12 reaffirms everything that is perceived to be right with Chris, and everything that is perceived to be wrong with Jill. However, what if Jill had a good excuse for being late? Like she needed to take care of a sibling in the morning because of a family emergency? Or what if she works a part-time job in the evening and is not getting enough sleep? It does not matter in the world of Hero K12, though, because only zeroes fail to show up on time.

Source: Want to ruin the lives of children? There’s an EdTech company for that. — Abrome

More:

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.

Building creative culture at work and in the classroom

I’ve been working in distributed, self-organizing teams for a couple of decades and change. I’ve worked in startups, big corporations, and distributed open source teams. For the past twelve years, I have been at Automattic. Over the years, we have iterated fully-distributed work and creative culture into a 500 person company that has managed to survive over a decade, have low turnover, and rate well among freelancers.

The Top Companies WNW Creatives Would Kill to Work for Full-Time — Free Range

One of my driving motivations for helping build one of the first distributed companies was accessibility. I wanted a place to work compatible with my autistic operating system and my anxiety. Distributed work where I can work from the comfort of home and communicate mostly via text suits me well. It suits other neurodivergent and disabled folks too. Distributed work is a good base for building a culture compatible with neurodiversity and the social model of disability.

I’d like to share a peek at our culture using the writing of my co-workers and of journalists. The practices of distributed companies have lessons for classrooms, particularly regarding accessibility and inclusive communication. Bring your own comfort, backchannels, and psychological safety are important notions that benefit teams of adult creatives as well as teams of creative kids. We parents and teachers must recognize that kids need digital skills if they’re going to thrive in a digital world. We can develop those skills in an inclusive way that uses technology not for remediation and assessment, but for collaboration. Communicate, collaborate, iterate, and launch. The best of inclusive hacker culture coupled with the social model 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. When we use technology to collaborate in default-to-open cultures, we create serendipity.

How we communicate

How we hire

How we organize

How we include

And how we flow

The business world is changing. It seems I’m riding the wave. High.