The Politics of Education Technology
This is part two of my annual review of the year in ed-tech
One of the challenges of writing this series – and trust me, there are many – is separating my analysis out into ten articles that name ten distinct “trends.” I mean, yes, I’m totally making up the framing of the “trends” angle here (in the hopes, I confess, to defanging all those ridiculous clickbait articles that just list a bunch of shiny new consumer technology products and predict that they’re poised to “revolutionize school”).
But when trying to write about ten “trends,” it’s evident: everything overlaps. The business of education technology overlaps with the politics of ed-tech. The politics overlap with privacy. Privacy overlaps with “personalization,” and surveillance overlaps with data collection and analytics and algorithmic decision-making. Coding bootcamps are related to for-profit higher ed, which is connected to credentialing which is connected to accreditation, which is connected to politics. Challenges to accreditation and certification and the steady drumbeat of “everyone should learn to code” are connected to politics as well as to the business of ed-tech.
Then there’s the question: what counts as “ed-tech”? One of the flaws, I think, of much of the reporting on education technology is that it treats “ed-tech” as a product without a politics and without a practice. It also treats “ed-tech” primarily as a product built by engineers, not for example, constructed through the practices of educators or students themselves – problems with education are, in this framework, engineering problems. This reporting treats “ed-tech” as a product built in and by Silicon Valley, not as something built in and by public institutions around the world. It treats “ed-tech” as the result of markets and industry and “innovation,” and not as the result of policy or history. The reporting often isolates education technology from other developments in the computer technology sector and tends to isolate education technology from education politics and policies more broadly (unless, of course, those policies dovetail with the political interests of ed-tech and ed-reform, which they often do).
There is No Technology Industry (There is Only Ideology)
“There is no ‘technology industry’,” technology writer and entrepreneur Anil Dash wrote in August.
Put simply, every industry and every sector of society is powered by technology today, and being transformed by the choices made by technologists. Marc Andreessen famously said that “software is eating the world,” but it’s far more accurate to say that the neoliberal values of software tycoons are eating the world.
“Facebook Is Not a Technology Company,” media studies professor Ian Bogost also wrote in August.
Every industry uses computers, software, and internet services. If that’s what “technology” means, then every company is in the technology business – a useless distinction. But it’s more likely that “technology” has become so overused, and so carelessly associated with Silicon Valley-style computer software and hardware startups, that the term has lost all meaning. Perhaps finance has exacerbated the problem by insisting on the generic industrial term “technology” as a synonym for computing.
…There are companies that are firmly planted in the computing sector. Microsoft and Apple are two. Intel is another – it makes computer parts for other computer makers. But it’s also time to recognize that some companies – Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook among them – aren’t primarily in the computing business anyway. And that’s no slight, either. The most interesting thing about companies like Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook is that they are not (computing) technology companies. Instead, they are using computing infrastructure to build new – and enormous – businesses in other sectors. If anything, that’s a fair take on what “technology” might mean as a generic term: manipulating one set of basic materials to realize goals that exceed those materials.
Facebook is, although Mark Zuckerberg denies it, a media company. Facebook, like Google, is an advertising company. Already a key part of many people’s information consumption, Facebook explicitly wants to become an education company, working with a charter school chain to develop education software. Facebook was also one of the most important forces this year in politics; Zuckerberg, as I’ll discuss in the next article in this series, hopes to become one of the most important forces in education-related venture philanthropy.
“Technology, like democracy, includes ideas and practices; it includes myths and various models of reality. And like democracy, technology changes the social and individual relationships between us. It has forced us to examine and redefine our notions of power and of accountability,” physicist Ursula Franklin wrote in her 1990 collection of lectures The Real World of Technology. (Franklin died in July.)
Technology is not the sum of the artifacts, of the wheels and gears, of the rails and electronic transmitters. Technology is a system. It entails far more than its individual material components. Technology involves organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and, most of all, a mindset.
When I write – here and elsewhere – about the politics of education technology, I am interested in these very things: organizations, practices, relationships, ideologies. The politics of education technology shape and are shaped by, as Franklin argues, our ideas of power. And as Bogost and Dash both caution, it’s a mistake to fetishize the tech as product – in ed-tech and elsewhere – especially at the expense of scrutinizing technology in its ubiquity and as ideology.
So I’m including a lot of events in this article that are not “ed-tech” per se. But they inform and are informed by it, just as education – as institutions and practices – are also being informed by “ed-tech” and its investors.
The US Presidential Campaign
The entire year seemed to revolve around what happened in the lead up to November 8. And now, the final weeks of 2016 revolve around what will happen after January 20, 2017.
In some ways, it felt like a reprise of the 1990s – a Bush and a Clinton running for President, for starters. Newt Gingrich was back in the news again, as were other Republicans involved in investigating and impeaching President Bill Clinton: Dennis Hastert (the former Speaker of the House was sentenced to 15 months in prison for serial child sex abuse during the time he was a teacher) and Kenneth Starr (the former head of the Whitewater investigation resigned as the head of Baylor University following revelations about a coverup of sexual assaults at the school), for example.
And then, at times, it felt like a reality TV show. Or maybe it was a reality TV show. At this point, I’m not sure.
I’m not sure I have the stomach to rehash the entire Presidential campaign, although I will look more closely at both “free college” and for-profit higher ed – as campaign issues, in their current form, and in their future prospects – in subsequent articles in this series.
“Tech” and the Presidential Election
Before I turn to the President-Elect’s campaign promises and potential education and computer technology policies, I want to note that this Presidential election was influenced by digital technologies in ways that make the “digital masterminds” who supposedly helped Obama win re-election pale by comparison:
Hacks – perhaps by Russia – of the Democratic National Committee. Wikileaks – perhaps in cooperation with Russia – releasing stolen emails from the DNC and from Clinton’s campaign. Clinton’s private email server. Potential problems with voting machines.
And then there’s Facebook.
Facebook will appear again and again in this year-end series. Facebook and wishful thinking. Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s education investments. Facebook and personalization. Facebook and algorithmic discrimination. It is one of the most powerful (and frightening) companies – and it has its eyes on “disrupting” education.
It might’ve “disrupted” the US Presidential election.
In April, Gizmodo reported that “Facebook Employees Asked Mark Zuckerberg If They Should Try to Stop a Donald Trump Presidency.” A few months later, Facebook fired all of its “trending news team,” arguing that its algorithms would be able to better and objectively surface stories. The popularity of “fake news” and misinformation exploded on the site immediately. And while Zuckerberg denied the company had any effect on the election, “top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined,” as a Buzzfeed analysis discovered.
I mentioned in the previous article in this series that Palmer Luckey, the founder of the VR company Oculus Rift (acquired by Facebook in 2014), had funded an unofficial pro-Donald Trump group dedicated to “shitposting” and spreading hateful memes about Hillary Clinton. Certainly something worth noting, particularly if you want to argue that VR is going provide “rich life experiences” for students.
Cambridge Analytica, a company on whose board Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist Steve Bannon sits, used Facebook “as a tool to build psychological profiles that represent some 230 million adult Americans.” Eschewing “traditional” media advertising buys, the Trump campaign invested in Facebook ads and raised money through the site as well. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” a senior Trump official told reporters from Bloomberg in the final days of the campaign. “They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans.” Voter suppression – via Facebook.
And then there’s the role of Facebook Board of Directors member Peter Thiel – not just in the election as a Trump supporter and donor, but in undermining the First Amendment through his legal activities this year.
In May, news broke that Peter Thiel – co-founder of PayPal and the CIA-backed analysis company Palanatir – was bankrolling Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker – revenge against the publication, some surmised, for outing Thiel as gay. Gawker Media sold its assets, shut its doors, and filed for bankruptcy. Thiel’s financing of the lawsuit raised concerns about the influence that the billionaire could have on silencing the press.
Thiel spoke at the Republican Party Convention, the first gay man to take the main stage at that event. Thiel, who lamented women’s suffrage in a 2009 article for the Cato Institute, has been well-known in Silicon Valley as a libertarian, and some observers struggled to explain why Thiel would back an authoritarian for president. (Spoiler alert: capitalism. Thiel’s investment portfolio “has a lot of government ties,” says Fortune’s Dan Primack. I wrote about his education portfolio – it includes Clever, Knewton, and AltSchool – but I’ll revisit this topic when I tackle ed-tech and
surveillance “personalization” in a subsequent article in this series.)
“Facebook is well-positioned for a Trump presidency,” I joked in September. Ha.
President-Elect Donald J. Trump
Although Trump was often accused of being vague about what he would do as President – in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton, who had a detailed policy plan for everything – as Roosevelt Institute fellow Mike Konczal argued, “Trump Is Actually Full of Policy.” Trump might not have proposed any solutions, but he’s identified the problems:
Setting up problems is the most important part of policy work. Take criminal justice. For Trump, this is a problem of “law and order,” not of mass incarceration, urban disinvestment, or bad, punitive priorities for policing. It’s a matter of allowing the cops to be “very much tougher than they are right now.”
What are the problems that Trump identified on the campaign trail about education? Political correctness. Foreign students. Tax breaks for wealthy universities’ endowments. Government involvement in student loans. The Common Core. The Department of Education – and federal involvement in education broadly – itself.
Perhaps the best indication of what Trump will do to education as President: his choice for Secretary of Education. Trump has chosen Betsy DeVos. DeVos, who has never worked in a public school or attended a public school or sent her children to a public school, is a billionaire Republican operative from Michigan.
“The DeVoses sit alongside the Kochs, the Bradleys, and the Coorses as founding families of the modern conservative movement,” Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll wrote in 2014.
Since 1970, DeVos family members have invested at least $200 million in a host of right-wing causes – think tanks, media outlets, political committees, evangelical outfits, and a string of advocacy groups. They have helped fund nearly every prominent Republican running for national office and underwritten a laundry list of conservative campaigns on issues ranging from charter schools and vouchers to anti-gay-marriage and anti-tax ballot measures.
Betsy DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, is the founder of the private military company Blackwater, infamous for its human rights violations, including the murder of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007 by its employees. Prince and the DeVos family have been major supporters of Indiana Governor and now Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, particularly for his efforts to outlaw gay marriage and criminalize abortion.
DeVos herself sat on the Board of Directors of the Acton Institute from 1995 to 2005, an organization that recently blogged about repealing child labor laws.
But it’s her support for charter schools and vouchers that are the signature of her efforts in Michigan, which has the least regulated charter school system. As The New York Times notes, “The Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids school districts have among the nation's 10 largest shares of students in charters, and the state sends $1 billion in education funding to charters annually. Of those schools, 80 percent are run by for-profit organizations, a far higher share than anywhere else in the nation.” The choice of DeVos, according to Slate’s Dana Goldstein, would “gut public education.”
This isn’t simply a matter of subverting the value of education as a public good. It’s about attacking education as a vehicle for social justice. Some speculate that Trump might dismantle the Office for Civil Rights, for starters, which enforces the compliance for Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and other federal civil rights laws.
And yet. And yet. According to The USA Today, “About one in five American Federation of Teachers (AFT) members who cast a ballot voted for Trump, the union’s leader estimated. Among the larger National Education Association (NEA), which comprises more than 3 million members, more than one in three who voted did so for the billionaire developer, early data show.” You can argue, I suppose, this served as a rejection of the Obama Administration’s education policies. Or perhaps it was a rejection of Hillary Clinton, the candidate-of-choice of union leadership but not of rank-and-file members who said they preferred Bernie Sanders. Or perhaps – and this is something that educators need to confront – it is about white supremacy and an overwhelmingly white teaching profession teaching and increasingly diverse student population without recognizing or addressing deep histories of institutional bias and individual discrimination.
But the effect of the Trump on education technology won’t simply involve his education policies; it will involve his administration’s technology policies and practices too. What will happen to encryption, for example? What will happen to “net neutrality”? What will happen to the NSA and its vast surveillance capabilities? What will happen to all the data that schools and education technology companies have been collecting on students? How might this be used against undocumented immigrants, for example, or against other groups that the administration finds politically suspect?
The Obama Administration (in Its Final Year) and Education
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced in October of last year that he’d step down at the end of 2015. He’s a venture capitalist now – the relationship between the politics and the business of ed-tech will be explored in the next article in this series. Duncan was replaced by John King, the former commissioner of education for New York, who said he planned to make civil rights the cornerstone of his tenure.
I’ll write about the Obama Administration and for-profit higher ed in a subsequent post in this series. (And don’t think for a minute I won’t talk about Trump University in all its gruesome details.) I’ll also cover the various efforts to address college affordability in another post, in part through issuing a “scorecard” to help prospective college students decide which school to attend. And in another post, I will look at the administration’s efforts to promote STEM and CS education via the Computer Science For All initiative launched in January; in yet another I’ll look at its efforts to encourage schools use open educational resources via the GoOpen initiative which it launched last year. I also plan to talk about the administration’s support for charter schools (and how charter school chains act as test-beds for software companies, as well as how their missions dovetail with a push for “personalization”). I’ll talk more elsewhere about how testing, about how testing has and hasn’t changed (and might and not changed) – under Obama and thanks to the “opt-out” movement and because of the re-authorization of ESEA (now known as the “Every Student Succeeds Act” rather than “No Child Left Behind”).
See? It’s all interconnected.
If you’re looking for something to celebrate in what is, I recognize, a fairly grim list of political events this year: The US Senate voted in July to approve the nomination of Dr. Carla Hayden as the new Librarian of Congress. She is the first woman and the first African-American to hold the position. “Dr. Hayden is the first new librarian of Congress since 1987,” The New York Times observed at her swearing in in September, “and brings with her another generation’s ideas about accessibility, technology and the role that libraries play in society.”
Accessibility and Technology (and the Role of Governments and Corporations)
It’s another one of those open questions: what will happen to “access” to the Internet under President Trump? What will happen to “net neutrality”? What will happen to the FCC? (One of his tech advisors wants to “gut” the agency, leaving its only function as handling spectrum licensing.)
Access to the Internet – at home and at school – has, obviously, been key to education technology initiatives. Bandwidth is necessary, and schools still struggle to provide it, particularly in rural areas.
E-Rate has been, since the origin of the fund in 1996, the main way in which schools and libraries were supposedly guaranteed “reasonable rates” on telecommunications services. But it’s been plagued almost from the outset with accusations of fraud and wastefulness. (This year, the Cleveland school district was just one that faced scrutiny for how it failed to collect some $8.5 million in E-Rate rebates.)
Certainly access to the Internet for the purposes of education isn’t just about access at school.
In February, CoSN, the Consortium for School Networking, called broadband access outside of school a “civil right” for students. Under Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper Initiative,” the administration announced in October that some one million high school students from low-income families were poised receive free internet access, thanks to support from Sprint. (Do note: “Tech Companies Expect Free High-Speed Internet for Poorer Americans to Pay Off Later,” The New York Times reported in October.)
In March, the FCC approved a $9.25 monthly broadband subsidy “to help millions of low-income households connect to the Internet, in a move aimed at bridging the digital divide” – “only about 40 percent of people earning less than $25,000 a year can afford broadband while 95 percent of all households making over $150,000 have high-speed Internet at home, the F.C.C. said.” And in June, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that “High-speed internet service can be defined as a utility,” affirming the FCC’s position on “net neutrality.”
“Net neutrality,” a term coined in 2003 by Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, is the principle that all Internet traffic – regardless of source or content or user – should be treated equally. Despite the common invocation of the Internet as a world-wide network, “net neutrality” is not recognized globally. (And again, after January 20, it might not be recognized in the US any longer either – if indeed, you believe that current telecom practices even uphold it.)
One alternative: Facebook-as-Internet. It’s been the goal of the social network since it launched its Internet.org service in 2013 – an effort to bring affordable access – as dictated by and through Facebook – to less developed countries. In October, The Washington Post reported that Facebook had been lobbying the Obama Administration to bring the service to the US.
As Facebook has sought to expand its reach via Internet.org, it has faced quite a bit of opposition. This year, India’s Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) blocked Facebook from launching in the country, arguing that “operators cannot ‘charge discriminatory tariffs on the basis of content.’”
Facebook board member Marc Andreessen lashed out on Twitter, arguing that the decision meant that Indian telcos simply wanted to keep poor people off the Internet.
Facebook denounced the tweets, and Zuckerberg called them “deeply upsetting,” but Andreessen remains on the Board of Directors. (As does, let’s remember, Peter Thiel.)
Education Technology and Political Corruption
The word “kleptocracy” is already being used to describe the incoming administration. And I guess we’ll have to wait-and-see how technology companies and education technology companies will try to benefit from an era of backroom deals and deregulation.
Or, we could look at a couple of dealings – pre-Trump – that occurred this year to see how some in ed-tech operate:
In June, “Alabama House Speaker Michael Hubbard was automatically removed from office Friday after a jury convicted him on 12 felony public-corruption charges, adding to the state’s extraordinary political crisis,” The Atlantic reported. The Atlantic reported, but the ed-tech press did not, even though one of the charges he faced involved a contract with Edgenuity, which hired Hubbard to connect it to legislators in other states where the ed-tech company could sell its digital learning services. (There was a friendly interview in Edsurge with the Edgenuity CEO, but no mention of any impropriety.)
And then, of course, there was the scandal surrounding Mylan and the outrageous price increase of its allergy injector EpiPen. “Members of Congress are in an unusual position as they demand an explanation for Mylan NV's 400 percent price hike for the EpiPen and focus attention squarely on its CEO: Heather Bresch,” Bloomberg reported in August. Bresch, whose father is a senator from West Virginia, had successfully lobbied to have Epipens be purchased by public schools. Brech’s mother, Gayle Manchin, is the head of the National Association of State Boards of Education, and according to The USA Today, “she spearheaded an unprecedented effort that encouraged states to require schools to purchase medical devices that fight life-threatening allergic reactions.”
Yes, Epipens count as “ed-tech.” And yes, this is how the politics of the business of ed-tech works. If anything, the privatization and profiteering that Trump’s election portends is just a difference of speed and degree.
Education and the US Supreme Court
Who stands in the way of the Trump kleptocracy? Perhaps Article I, Section 8, Clause 9 of the US Constitution – the “Emoluments Clause,” which says “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” The US Supreme Court has never weighed in on the scope or relevance of the clause to a President’s business holdings, and – of course – the Supreme Court seems to be broken, thanks in part to the longest vacancy in its history because of the Senate’s refusal to grant Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland a confirmation hearing.
US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative justices, died unexpectedly in February, leaving the country’s highest court with only eight members and likely altering the outcome of several major education-related decisions (for this year’s session and perhaps longer).
The Court refused, for example, to re-open the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case (which involved public sector union dues), which it had deadlocked over earlier in the year. It refused to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling surrounding college athletes and the NCAA’s “amateurism model.” (Again, I’ll talk about labor issues in more detail in a subsequent article in this series.)
In June, in what was seen as a “win” for affirmative action, the Supreme Court “upheld the University of Texas at Austin’s consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions. Some parts of the decision in the case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, related to features unique to that university,” Inside Higher Ed reported, .
The Supreme Court also split 4–4 on the Obama Administration’s immigration reform proposals, “which would have allowed up to 4.5 million immigrants to apply for protection from deportation and work legally in the US.” As Vox reports, “The Court announced Thursday that it was unable to reach a decision in the case United States v. Texas. That means the ruling of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stands – which had kept the programs (known as DAPA and DACA+) from going into effect.” (The decision raised some questions about educational benefits extended to “Dreamers” – questions that are far more pressing now under a President Trump who says he will round up and deport every undocumented immigrant in the country. Again we must ask: what role will education technology play in this?)
Again, the potential fallout of these two decisions – United States v. Texas and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin – will come up again and again as I explore privacy, surveillance, and discrimination in software, algorithms, and educational institution’s decision-making.
The Politics of Education Technology Elsewhere
Every year I write about 75,000 words in this year-end series and some smart-ass writes to me chastising me for leaving out international politics. Hey, write your own goddamn year-in-review, okay?!
Yes, we’re all interconnected. Networked. What have you.
For education and education technology, this isn’t simply a matter of imperialism (although let’s do please recognize how much it is precisely that). But it’s also about global finance. Global interests. Geopolitics.
Perhaps the oddest example of that this year was the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July. It was used by the Erdoğan government as a justification for a purge. In its wake, some 15,000 education staff were suspended, the BBC reported. The Chronicle of Higher Education added that, “The Turkish government’s post-coup demand for the resignations of 1,500 university deans appears to be a blanket measure that will allow for case-by-case examinations of political loyalty.”
President Erdoğan accused Fethullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania and among other things runs a large charter school chain in the US, of plotting the coup. And so in conjunction with the growing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment in the US, several states began investigating the charter school chain.
I would be remiss, of course, if I did not note one of the other shocking elections this year: the decision in June by voters in the UK to leave the European Union. There have been many predictions that the decision will devastate higher education and scientific research in the UK. But venture capitalists seemed pleased. (It’s funny how often ed-tech publications wrote about how leaving the EU could hurt British ed-tech startups with little attention to how it might hurt teachers and students.)
Of course, “Brexit” might not ever actually happen. In November, the British high court ruled that, “Parliament alone has the power to trigger Brexit by notifying Brussels of the UK’s intention to leave the European Union.” Instead of a decision, there is uncertainty and, in all likelihood, a lengthy parliamentary battle.
The British government also backed away this year from the Tories’ call to end local control of schools and force them all to become academies. (Academies are modeled, in part, on US charter schools.)
But privatization of state-run education systems moved forward in many parts of Africa. (Experimenting on the most vulnerable – that is, far too often, how education technology works as well.) And Silicon Valley tech investors, as well as large education corporations like Pearson, are behind this. Many schools in the developing world do struggle to hire trained teachers, to educate students, and to keep their doors open, no doubt. The response from sources like The Economist: the private sector needs to step in in countries where the governments are failing to provide decent education. “The fix” is always privatization.
In March, the The Mail and Guardian Africa wrote: “An Africa first! Liberia outsources entire education system to a private American firm. Why all should pay attention.” The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, has said that “Such arrangements are a blatant violation of Liberia’s international obligations under the right to education, and have no justification under Liberia’s constitution.” The company in question: Bridge International Academies, which has received funding from the Gates Foundation and Mark Zuckerberg’s investment company the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (among others). Families must pay that tuition – this isn’t free public education – and the cost is wildly prohibitive for most. Moreover, outsourcing to scripted lesson delivery does not build the capacity – in terms of infrastructure or human resources – that a struggling African nation might need.
In August, Education International reported that the Ugandan parliament had ordered Bridge International Academies to close all its schools in the country: “In a sweeping move, the for-profit school chain has been told to lock its doors after parliament demanded it halt operations in response to its failure to meet educational and infrastructure standards.” The company said it would remain open. But in November, Uganda’s High Court ordered the immediate closure of its 63 schools. The company said it would appeal the decision.
Ed-tech, Civil Rights, and Academic Freedom
Who stands in the way of education’s horrors?
Well, students for starters.
Last year, I chose “Social Media, Campus Activism, and Free Speech” as one of my “Top Ed-Tech Trends.” That I haven’t done so this year doesn’t mean that students were silent or that campuses free of unrest. Oh, I’m sure college presidents wish they were – they think “race relations” on campus are just fine. There were protests and occupations across the US, protests in Brazil, protests in India (the largest in over 25 years), protests in South Africa) – and that’s just a small sample.
And these protests were not just at universities. Middle school and high school students in the US, inspired by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem, also “took a knee” in protest of police violence, often facing threats of violence and expulsion as a result.
Middle school and high school students all over the US walked out of school in protest of Trump’s election too. Many said held signs condemning bullying, racially-motivated harassment, and hate crimes, incidents of which have risen dramatically during the presidential campaign and since the election.
This year, dozens of groups associated with Black Lives Matter released a policy platform that called for the end of the privatization of schools and the “school-to-prison pipeline” and for the return of “real community control” to school systems. The NAACP, for its part, called for a moratorium on charter schools, demanding they have the same accountability and standards as public schools.
These moves, along with Trump's choice for Secretary of Education, portend a fracturing among education reform and civil rights groups. Where are education technology's alliances?
Education technology has become inextricable from education reform in recent years – from efforts to improve test scores and bust unions and built charter schools to those that reframe the civic responsibility of education as an individual, “personalized” product.
Who benefits? Who benefits when public education is dismantled and “disrupted”? And who benefits when entrepreneurs and investors get to define “equity”? Who do their policies and who do their rhetoric really serve?
At the end of 2016, the most pressing question is not, as a recent Edsurge headline asked, “Who Thinks Tech Makes Learning More Fun?” Let me suggest some better ones: what role does education technology play in spreading hate and harassment? What role does education technology play in undermining equity and democracy? Can education technology play any role in resistance?
This post first appeared on Hack Education on December 3, 2016. Financial data – including lobbying and school funding figures – can be found on funding.hackeducation.com. Icon credits: The Noun Project.