From Audrey Watters ebook “The Monsters of Education Technology,” now on sale in various forms for $4.99 and worth every penny:
As Cassandra, I must warn you that education technology’s monstrosity will bring about our doom. Education technology is the Trojan Horse poised to dismantle public education, to outsource and unbundle and disrupt and destroy. Those who will tell you that education technology promises personalization don’t actually care about student autonomy or agency. They want surveillance, standardization, and control. You have been warned.
This collection of 14 lectures/keynotes that Audrey gave in 2014 is required reading for anyone interested in being more fully informed and aware of the histories of ed tech and the current motivations of those building the latest tools and services for “learning” in schools. I don’t agree with everything Audrey says in these essays, but I have come around to the view that we in the education space are now in real danger of losing what is best about public schools and schools in general. The danger comes not just from those who seek to co-opt the language and story of education and learning and schooling for their own profits, something they are doing very well, btw. Sadly, it also comes from our own ignorance about learning, what it means to learn, what it takes to learn, and what we believe our roles in kids’ learning lives to be.
Recently, I asked a roomful of about 150 administrators how many of them regularly set aside time to talk about and reflect on and articulate their beliefs of how kids learn, and how that is changing in the context of technology and the Web. About 10 hands went up. Yet when I asked them how many were having regular, ongoing discussions around technologies and services plans for their classrooms, over 100 hands went up.
The two are not separate. We cannot think critically and make great decisions about ed tech for our students if we don’t make learning the starting point. And we can’t make learning the starting point in a relevant way if we have no evolving, articulated belief around what learning looks like in a modern context.
Ed tech is not all evil. Ed tech can be a powerful amplifier for productive learning. But ed tech in a vacuum pushes hard against much of what progressive educators believe schools should and can be. It’s about increasing dependence rather than increasing freedom. With billions of dollars on the table, those desiring the former are highly motivated.
The question for us now is, how highly motivated are we to fight back?
The fight begins with knowledge and context. Read Audrey’s keynotes. Read The Children’s Machine by Seymour Papert. Read And What Do You Mean by Learning? by Seymour Sarason. Read How Children Learn by John Holt. Read and discuss and figure out what you believe about learning and the role school now plays in that. And state that belief aloud.
And then talk about ed tech.