Opportunity but Not Pressure

I updated “Interaction Badges: Opportunity but Not Pressure” with a longer selection from “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity”.

In 1995, an organization for parents of “high-functioning” children asked Sinclair to organize a series of presentations at an upcoming conference. He opened up the process to the members of ANI-L, who explored ways of making the event as a whole more accessible and comfortable for people on the spectrum. They requested that a special quiet room be set aside for people who needed to chill out or totally shut down for a while. They also devised an ingeniously low-tech solution to a complex problem. Even highly verbal autistic adults occasionally struggle with processing and producing speech, particularly in the chaotic and generally overwhelming atmosphere of a conference. By providing attendees with name-tag holders and pieces of paper that were red on one side and yellow on the other, they enabled Autistics to communicate their needs and desires without having to articulate them in the pressure of the moment. The red side facing out signified, “Nobody should try to interact with me,” while the yellow side meant, “Only people I already know should interact with me, not strangers.” (Green badges were added later to signify, “I want to interact but am having trouble initiating, so please initiate an interaction with me.”) These color-coded “interaction signal badges” turned out to be so useful that they have since been widely adopted at autistic-run events all over the world, and name-tag labels similar to Autreat (” autistic retreat”) green badges have recently been employed at conferences for Perl programmers to indicate that the wearer is open to spontaneous social approaches.

The conference began with an orientation session in the main lodge led by Sinclair, who explained the guidelines that had been established to maintain and preserve the environment as autistic space. Photographs and videos could only be taken after asking for permission, and only outdoors, so that the flash didn’t trigger seizures. Cigarette smoking and perfumes were banned. Respect for each person’s solitude and personal space was essential, and the interaction badges allowed everyone to know at a glance who was open to talking. All of the conference events were optional, including the orientation itself; the overriding principle was “opportunity but not pressure.”

Source: Silberman, Steve. NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (p. 448, 449). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I updated the title of the post to include “Opportunity but Not Pressure”. I’ll elaborate on and emphasize this further in a future update, tying it into presentation culturepsychological safety, and habitable, inclusive world-building at school and work.

But in the past few years, students have started calling out in-class presentations as discriminatory to those with anxiety, demanding that teachers offer alternative options. This week, a tweet posted by a 15-year-old high-school student declaring “Stop forcing students to present in front of the class and give them a choice not to” garnered more than 130,000 retweets and nearly half a million likes. A similar sentiment tweeted in January also racked up thousands of likes and retweets. And teachers are listening.

Students who support abolishing in-class presentations argue that forcing students with anxiety to present in front of their peers is not only unfair because they are bound to underperform and receive a lower grade, but it can also cause long-term stress and harm.

Source: Some Students Want to Abolish In-Class Presentations – The Atlantic

Public speaking can indeed cause “long-term stress and harm”. See “Autistic Burnout: The Cost of Masking and Passing” and “Bring the backchannel forward. Written communication is the great social equalizer.”.

I also added a photo of and link to the communication necklaces we use in our unschool.

Two communication necklaces strung with silver chain lie on a cream colored beading mat. Each necklace has multiple cards with different faces. The necklace on the left shows a green colored card with a smiley face printed in black. The necklace on the right shows a red-colored low battery icon on a black background. The cards are held to the chains with two silver rings. Flip the cards around the rings to expose different cards.
Two communication necklaces strung with silver chain lie on a cream colored beading mat. Each necklace has multiple cards with different faces. The necklace on the left shows a green colored card with a smiley face printed in black. The necklace on the right shows a red-colored low battery icon on a black background. The cards are held to the chains with two silver rings. Flip the cards around the rings to expose different cards.

Equity Literate Education: Fix Injustice, Not Kids

I love it when teachers talk equity and justice. All of the tech in the world won’t do any good if we use it for behaviorism and surveillance instead of for telling our stories and challenging structural inequity.

My students and I have taken the curriculum that the world has handed us and tried to figure out where we fit into the world. We have used books and computers to connect to the world. Web cameras, videos, and apps to not just share our work but to learn more.

Yet when a student asked what does refugee mean and another child answered, it means the enemy, it was a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done. On the urgent need to use technology so that we can make our own decisions based on actual experience and not just hearsay and biased opinions. Use it so that those of us, who live with privilege, can be a part of the fight for a more just world.

Because let’s face it, I am privileged because I get to be afraid of the type of reaction my teaching may cause if I continue to teach about inequity. If I continue to teach what it means to be privileged. I get to be afraid for my job and I get to choose whether to have these hard conversations or not. But the truth is, there should be no choice. We, as teachers, are on the front lines of writing the future narrative of this country. Of this world. Ugliness and all. We are the gatekeepers of truth, so what truth are we bringing into our classrooms?

Where is our courage when it comes to being a part of dismantling the fears that drive us apart because It is not enough to bring in devices, the latest gadgets, without using them to learn about others. To understand others. To have the tools to dismantle our prejudiced world but then choose to do nothing to change the world that we live in.

We, as people with privilege, must use technology to create more opportunities for the students to do the hard work. To create an environment where they can discover their own opinion. Where they can explore the world, even when it is ugly so that they can decide which side of history they want to fall on.

So look at the power of the tools you have at your disposal. Look at what you can do with a camera. With a computer. With your voice and your connections. Look at whose voices are missing in your classroom. Look at who your students need to meet so that they can change their ideas of others.

We say we teach all children, but do we teach all stories? Do we teach the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or just the sanitized version that will not ruffle any feathers? I can choose to bring others into our classrooms so that their stories are told by them. I can choose to model what it means to question my own assumptions and correct my own wrongs.

Source: In These Divided Times – Pernille Ripp

Yes to all of that. Ditch structurally ignorant behaviorism and mindset marketing. Fix injustice, not kids. “It essentially boils down to whether one chooses to do damage to the system or to the student.”

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.

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

The Direct Confrontation Principle: There is no path to equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with inequity. There is no path to racial equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism. “Equity” approaches that fail to directly confront inequity play a significant role in sustaining inequity.

The “Poverty of Culture” Principle: Inequities are primarily power and privilege problems, not primarily cultural problems. Equity requires power and privilege solutions, not just cultural solutions. Frameworks that attend to diversity purely in vague cultural terms, like the “culture of poverty,” are no threat to inequity.

The Prioritization Principle: Each policy and practice decision should be examined through the question, “How will this impact the most marginalized members of our community?” Equity is about prioritizing their interests.

The “Fix Injustice, Not Kids” Principle: Educational outcome disparities are not the result of deficiencies in marginalized communities’ cultures, mindsets, or grittiness, but rather of inequities. Equity initiatives focus, not on fixing marginalized people, but on fixing the conditions that marginalize people.

Source: Basic Principles for Equity Literacy

Let justice be the mindset.

And let shame disappear from our repertoire.

And that is what happens when you soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate.

Source: Hannah Gadsby: Nanette – Netflix

Shame is not a weapon. At least, it shouldn’t be, because it is way too powerful. But here we are living in cultures where we regularly, habitually “soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate”. Shame is an identity-shredding bullet when aimed at a kid.

Source: Hannah Gadsby on Shame, Power, and Comedy – Ryan Boren

during adolescence, shame has a particularly powerful impact on the brain. Adolescents feel, even anticipate, embarrassment in more profound ways than adults. One sure fire way of making sure that you are neither heard nor respected by a child, is to embarrass them. That’s not a matter of choice. Shame will close down all other options for children other than the quest for survival. It puts them into full on fight or flight meltdown. And in that state of mind, you get nowhere.

We are the adults. We have authority with equal responsibility. Shaming should not be part of a responsible adult’s repertoire. It’s a failure to default to it.

Source: Shame is not a Weapon. – Love Learning….

Design is tested at the edges, and teachers are there to witness and act and act out. Bring the insights of intersectionality, the social model of disability, and design for real life to bear, and tell the stories of the edge-cases and stress-cases and shame-soaked.

Our designs, our societies, and the boundaries of our compassion are tested at the edges, where the truths told are of bias, inequality, injustice, and thoughtlessness. The insights of intersectionality, the social model of disability, and design for real life help us design and build for these truths:

No one knows best the motion of the ocean than the fish that must fight the current to swim upstream.” “By focusing on the parts of the system that are most complex and where the people living it are the most vulnerable we understand the system best.” “When we build things – we must think of the things our life doesn’t necessitate. Because someones life does.” “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.” “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.

There is no path to inclusive design that does not involve direct confrontation with injustice. “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.Structural ideology-an ideology shared by intersectionality, the social mode of disability, and design for real life-is necessary to good design.

Source: Design is Tested at the Edges: Intersectionality, The Social Model of Disability, and Design for Real Life – Ryan Boren

“We are the gatekeepers of truth, so what truth are we bringing into our classrooms?” When I was in Texas public education during the 1970s and 80s, my classrooms were platforms for the Southern Strategy and the Confederate Catechism. They were platforms for ethnocentrism that centered whiteness, patriarchy, and neurotypicality. They brought whitewashed myths as truth. Classrooms are indeed “on the front lines of writing the future narrative of this country”. They always have been.

Our public school classrooms are on the front lines and at the edges attempting to fulfill the promise of “free, life-changing, and available to everyone”. To do that, “justice needs a platform”. Justice, not white supremacy. Justice, not patriarchy. Justice, not mindset marketing. Justice, not behaviorism. Justice, not the rearrangement of injustice. De-center, and let equity literacy into our pedagogy and classrooms.

We need to de-center the closed circuitry of either/or thinking and cultivate radical imagination in ourselves, and in our students.

Source: On Cultivating Radical Imagination, or Why I Will Never Teach Debate Again – My Year of Teaching Dangerously

Empathy is a human problem; it’s a deficit in imagination. We can’t truly step into another life or neurotype, but we can seek story and perspective. We can practice de-centering ourselves. End the gaslighting, and stop bikeshedding structural bias and injury. Instead, make room for kids to tell their truths and change their context. Make room for the radical imagination needed to perceive the complex and diverse actuality of humanity. Start “foregrounding complexity as the baseline” instead of reducing spectrums to binaries.

“Use technology to create more opportunities for the students to do the hard work.” Much of that hard work is foregrounding neglected and suppressed complexity, navigating the engines of confirmation bias, and bridging the double empathy gap.

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

Do that hard work with indie ed-tech. Resist disinformation with hyperlinks and small b blogging. Bring the backchannel forward, and bring safety to the serendipity.

When we design our schools for the edges, when we design with equity literacy, we make psychologically safe ”homes of opportunity” that “provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them”. We make schools that are better for everyone.

Social Emotional Learning, Psychological Safety, Double Empathy, and the Social Model #3rdchat

I contributed some neurodiverisity, social model of disability, and pigeons of ed-tech perspective to the #3rdchat on social emotional learning. Thanks to the teachers present who very graciously welcomed input from parents.

Q1: What does Social Emotional Learning mean to you? What does it look like in classrooms?

A1: Pardon the intrusion of this parent as I momentarily decloak to offer some neurodiversity, disability, and pigeons of ed-tech perspective and then return to lurking. #3rdchat


Q2: How do you incorporate SEL with academic learning? How do you find time in your instruction?

A2: The studies Google and others have done on psychological safety are relevant. They talk about social-emotional intelligence of teams and do it without the usual tinge of manipulative behaviorism.




Q3: Many schools have not yet focused on Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Why does social emotional learning deserve a place in our schools?

A3: It doesn’t in its mainstream ed-tech form. In that form, it is incompatible with neurodiversity and the social model of disability.


Instead, frame SE and soft skills in terms of psychological safety.



Q4: What resources do you use/recommend for educators wanting to use Social Emotional Learning in the classroom?

A4: The SEL of mainstream ed-tech doesn’t understand empathy, far from it. It doesn’t prepare kids to navigate the double empathy problem.


Consult the neurodiversity and social model of disability communities. #3rdchat