College Admissions Scandals, the New Aristocracy, and the Grading and Ranking of Children

Three reads to go with the college admissions scandal:

One of the hazards of life in the 9.9 percent is that our necks get stuck in the upward position. We gaze upon the 0.1 percent with a mixture of awe, envy, and eagerness to obey. As a consequence, we are missing the other big story of our time. We have left the 90 percent in the dust-and we’ve been quietly tossing down roadblocks behind us to make sure that they never catch up.

The meritocratic class has mastered the old trick of consolidating wealth and passing privilege along at the expense of other people’s children.

Source: The Birth of the New American Aristocracy – The Atlantic

These kids and their parents display a range of beliefs about race. “Racism is not a problem,” one girl tells Hagerman, adding that it “was a problem when all those slaves were around and that, like, bus thing and the water fountain.” Meanwhile, the girl’s mother nods along. Other parents in the book have educated themselves better, but often, intentionally or unintentionally, still end up giving their kids advantages that, in the abstract, they claim to oppose. (White Kids is not, as Hagerman writes at one point, “a particularly hopeful book.”)

I recently spoke to Hagerman, and that second group kept coming up in our conversation—how, despite their intentions, progressive-minded white families can perpetuate racial inequality. She also discussed ways they can avoid doing so.

Source: How to Teach White Kids About Race – The Atlantic

Harvard is but one of many US universities whose admissions policies ensure that the entering class is comprised of the ruling class.

What they are defending is a system in which wealth is passed off as merit, in which credentials are not earned but bought. Aptitude is a quality measured by how much money you can spend on its continual reassessment.

Students whose parents pay tens of thousands for SAT tutors to help their child take the test over and over compete against students who struggle to pay the fee to take the test once. Students who spend afternoons on “enrichment” activities compete against students working service jobs to pay bills – jobs which don’t “count” in the admissions process. Students who shell out for exotic volunteer trips abroad compete with students of what C Z Nnaemeka termed “the un-exotic underclass” – the poor who have “the misfortune of being insufficiently interesting”, the poor who make up most of the US today.

For upper class parents, the college admissions process has become a test of loyalty: What will you spend, what values will you compromise, for your child to be accepted? For lower class parents, admissions is a test failed at birth: An absence of wealth guised as a deficiency of merit. In the middle are the students, stranded players in a rigged game.

It does not have to be this way. Imagine a college application system in which applicants could only take standardized tests once. Imagine a system in which young people working jobs to support their families were valued as much as those who travel and “volunteer” on their parents’ dime. Imagine a system in which we valued what a person did with what he had, instead of mistaking a lack of resources for a lack of ability.

Imagine a system in which a child’s future did not rest on his parents’ past.

A higher education system that once promoted social mobility now serves to solidify class barriers. Desperate parents compromise their principles in order to spare their children rejection. But it is the system itself that must be rejected. True merit cannot be bought – and admission should not be either.

A false meritocracy breeds mediocrity.

Education is a luxury the minimum wage worker cannot afford. This message is passed on to their children.

Source: The View From Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America

The grading and ranking of children perverts everything.

the last time marriage partners sorted themselves by educational status as much as they do now was in the 1920s.

Source: The Birth of the New American Aristocracy – The Atlantic

“That as long as we construct learning as a competition where we measure and rank individuals against one another, individuals with more power and money will find a way to game that system so they win. #MeritocracyEqualsAristocracy”

“As long as schools are grading and ranking children, they are shaming them.”

Person-first Language and Sarcastic Teachers and Behaviorists

I hear administrators, and behavioral professionals mandate person first language but freely mock students in front of peers and teachers.

I am sick of it. Words matter.

This is how a lot of teachers in both general education and special education classrooms “communicate” with their students. Snide remarks abound. Direct answers are not provided to direct questions. Sarcasm from teachers is rampant, but the same behavior is not tolerated from students.

Sarcasm is never okay. When we are sarcastic with students it fits both the CDC definitions for relational and verbal bullying.

We are harming the child in front of their peers and we are intentionally denigrating them.

What is sad is that even the when teachers said no to using sarcasm, they managed to miss the point entirely. They avoid it because they may get in trouble or because famous education researchers like Robert Marzano are emphatic in his appeal to why sarcasm is never appropriate. It strikes me as puzzling that so many people defend using sarcasm in their day to day life as a form of humor, but then immediately turn and say it is never appropriate for a students to be sarcastic back to the teacher. It is a behavior that is a non-negotiable from students.

Source: Students Do Not Deserve Your Sarcasm – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?

Person-first language is problematic:

“People-first” language is meant to divide, it is meant to demean, it is meant to dehumanize, it is meant to pathologize, and yet, it is meant, as I said before, to make its users feel good. In that way it is ultimately destructive because it covers up the crimes.

Only when people get to choose their own labels will we get anywhere toward building an equitable culture.

If we convert horrid prejudices into pleasant sounding phrases, we diffuse those prejudices as an issue.

Source: Using “Correct Language” And “People First” by Ira David Socol – Bowllan’s Blog

I’m autistic, not a person with autism. Autistic is my identity.

I’m a disabled person, not a person with disabilities. Disabled is my identity.

Identity first language is common among social model self-advocates. When hanging out in social model, neurodiversity, and self-advocacy communities, identity first is a better default than person first. Every autistic and disabled person I know uses identity first language. The words autistic and disabled connect us with an identity and a community. They help us advocate for ourselves.

Disability’s no longer just a diagnosis; it’s a community.

There’s a language gap between self-advocates and the institutions that claim to represent us. There’s a gap between parents and their #ActuallyAutistic and disabledkids. There’s a generational gap in the disability movement. This is confusing for those trying to be allies. The articles below offer perspective and advice on identity first and person first language from self-advocates. At the end, I collect tweets from autistic and disabled self-advocates in a Twitter moment. Witness and respect these perspectives.

Source: Identity First – Ryan Boren

This is autistic life in the person-first cultures of education:

We navigate systems stacked against us to get access to what amounts to dog training-that dog trainers know better than to use-and a segregated “special” track through our systems that pathologically pathologizes difference and fails to connect with the communities it helps marginalize.

The specialists that serve this “special” track aren’t so much specialized in the lives and needs of neurodivergent and disabled people (managing sensory overwhelm, avoiding meltdown and burnout, dealing with ableism, connecting with online communities, developing agency and voice through self-advocacy) as they are specialized in deficit and medical models that pathologize difference and identity.

So heartbreakingly many can’t even bring themselves to use our language or educate parents about our existence. After autistic students age out of our care, we erase them again as adults.

Source: Neurodiversity in the Classroom – Ryan Boren

We hear the “abuse them now to prepare them for later abuse” line regularly at school. It is used to justify bad practices not at all in touch with the “real world”.

More than a few teachers have notified me that by being sarcastic – particularly with autistic students – they are preparing the students for sarcastic people in the “real world” and these teachers ardently refuse to “coddle” these autistic kids because they demonstrate difficulty with recognizing or learning social cues.

Source: Students Do Not Deserve Your Sarcasm – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?

“Coddle” suggests a lot about the people saying it. It suggests they don’t have a structural understanding of our society. It suggests their framing is deficit ideology and meritocracy myths. It suggests they’re out of touch with the workplace and the future of work.

They’re not interested in designing for real life. They’re not allies.

Compassion is not coddling, and sarcasm from teachers and therapists isn’t comedy.

There’s been a lot of talk, of late, about laughter. Laughter as power. Laughter as luxury. Laughter as empathy. Laughter as beauty. Laughter as philosophy. Laughter as complicity. Laughter as division. The current political moment has been in one way a lesson in how easily jokes can be weaponized: Jokes can win elections. Jokes can insist that, despite so much evidence to the contrary, lol nothing matters. Jokes can contribute to the post-truth logic of things. They can lighten and enlighten and complicate and delight; they can also mock and hate and lie and make the world objectively worse for the people living in it-and then, when questioned, respond with the only thing a joke knows how to say, in the end: “I was only kidding.”

Source: Trump Mocks Christine Blasey Ford; The Rally Loves It – The Atlantic

“We can hear the spectacle of cruel laughter throughout the Trump era.”

Source: The Cruelty Is the Point – The Atlantic

Suddenly, even the most powerful people in society are forced to be fluent in the concerns of those with little power, if they want to hold on to the cultural relevance that thrust them into power in the first place. Being a comedian means having to say things that an audience finds funny; if an audience doesn’t find old, hackneyed, abusive jokes funny anymore, then that comedian has to do more work. And what we find is, the comedians with the most privilege resent having to keep working for a living. Wasn’t it good enough that they wrote that joke that some people found somewhat funny, some years ago? Why should they have to learn about current culture just to get paid to do comedy?

Source: The price of relevance is fluency

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.