Public Education Is Dead

How, how is it possible to defend public education in the face of this:

A class exercise asking students at Saratoga Springs High School to score their privileged status raised concerns among parents worried about the assignment’s underlying message and the use of offensive words... The activity, copies of which were posted to social media last week, asked students to score how privileged they are: add 25 points if you are white, add 25 points if you are male, add 20 points if you are straight; subtract 100 points if you are black, subtract 50 points if you are female, subtract 150 points if you are gay.

And my favorite part:

The worksheet also included outdated and offensive words and point tallies that appeared to play on cultural stereotypes. Jewish, for instance, was rated as the most privileged religion, earning a student 25 points compared to five points of privilege for a Christian student. A Muslim student lost 50 points under the activity.

I have no words.

Of course, the article concludes that the exercise is great except for some insensitive words it uses. But once you police the vocabulary, it’s a fantastic thing to use instead of actually teaching students something for a change.

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Word and Image

In the beginning was the Word, right?

When I tell Klara stories – which happens many times a day – I can see her eyes glaze over because she is imagining what I’m telling her. Her brain transforms words into images. This is how a human brain becomes a human brain.

There is nothing more human than the word. Human identity is a narrative. Consciousness of the past and the future is a narrative. Turning words into images and connecting to the world through narratives is what makes us human.

If you skip the word and get a ready-made image (through YouTube videos, cartoons, etc), this enormously important capacity to create images out of words with the power of your brain is thwarted. The creative work of building images out of words is outsourced. It’s placed outside of your self. The very self-building capacity is placed outside of you. Your control over it is severely constrained.

None of this is from Zuboff’s book. This is all mine, so please don’t ask for links.

Surveillance Capitalism, 1

Folks, I’m starting to read Shoshana Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism. It’s over 700 pages, so this will take a while. You know how I read theory. I read a bit, annotate, then think about it, then write. My apologies to those who aren’t interested in the book because there will be many posts on it and this will last probably for months. Escape while you can!

So here goes.

We are used to defining economic systems by who has control over the means of production. Capitalists in capitalism; the government in socialism.

But this definition is growing outdated because owning the means of production is not the greatest source of capital and power any more. There’s something far more profitable and powerful:

As long as surveillance capitalism and its behavioral futures markets are allowed to thrive, ownership of the new means of behavioral modification eclipses ownership of the means of production as the fountainhead of capitalist wealth and power in the twenty-first century.

The new concept here is “behavioral futures markets” but it’s not confusing once you get into it. Tech companies know so much about us that they can predict our behavior. It’s especially easy for them because they can manipulate behavior. So “behavioral futures markets” are a way for these companies to place bets on our future behavior. Zuboff says this is the future of capitalism and not the unwieldy, solid means of production.

Byung-Chul Han said everyone is his or her own means of production. And Zuboff points out that we all together are somebody else’s means of production because our behavior is more manipulatable, and hence bettable, than ever. Think about my earlier posts today about technology in the classroom. That’s what this is about.

Online Homework

This type of article gives me fits of uncontrollable rage:

Thousands of students nationwide still don’t have access to a fast and stable internet connection in their homes despite huge advances in technology in the past decade.

Whether it’s a lack of technology infrastructure, particularly in rural and remote areas, or prohibitive monthly costs for high-speed internet service, students without access at home have a harder time doing homework and often fall behind their peers that do have access.

What the fuck does homework have to do with internet access? What is wrong with these people that they never even ask this question. There is absolutely no homework on the planet that is enhanced by the internet. All that the online connection does is distract kids into doing something unrelated to education of any sort.

Folks, I’m seriously worried that a teacher will tell my kid to use a screen for homework and I will commit a violent crime. I’ve tried breathing exercises and stuff but it’s not working.

It’s becoming very very clear why we get students in such a blank-slate state.

Manufacturing Zombies

I remember people were telling me that “free daycare” won’t be about providing tech companies with a chance to zombify kids into obedient consumers. But hundreds of schools around the country have already adopted a system that dispenses with teachers and regular class work and sticks kids alone in front of screens:

Then, students started coming home with headaches and hand cramps. Some said they felt more anxious. One child began having a recurrence of seizures. Another asked to bring her dad’s hunting earmuffs to class to block out classmates because work was now done largely alone. “We’re allowing the computers to teach and the kids all looked like zombies,” said Tyson Koenig, a factory supervisor in McPherson, who visited his son’s fourth-grade class.

This program is, of course, created by FB and is justified, as usual, by the “underserved students really need this” claptrap. People who oppose this system are accused of being incapable of “embracing change.” Change and choice, as you remember are neoliberal mantras par excellence. So are “freedom” and “individual”:

Mr. Zuckerberg backed Summit in 2014 and assigned five Facebook engineers to develop the software. In 2015, he wrote that Summit’s program would help “meet the student’s individual needs and interests” and that technology “frees up time for teachers to do what they do best — mentor students.” Since 2016, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has committed $99.1 million in grants to Summit.

And see how often these words reappear in every defense of the system. It’s like people are brainwashed into a robotic state:

Around the country, teachers said they were split on Summit. Some said it freed them from making lesson plans and grading quizzes so they had more time for individual students. Others said it left them as bystanders. Some parents said they worried about their children’s data privacy.

And why does Zuckerberg want to do all this wonderful stuff to promote free choice for I individuals?

Because of this:

“Summit demands an extraordinary amount of personal information about each student and plans to track them through college and beyond,” said Leonie Haimson, co-chairwoman of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, a national organization.

It’s called surveillance capitalism.

People protested, of course, and some ended up scraping up the money to put kids in private schools. More and more schools are adopting this system, even though grades plummet and health problems soar as a result.

Now please tell me some more about how this is never going to happen to the free daycare idea.

This is not about what existed 15, 10 or even 5 years ago. Folks, wake up and “embrace change.” This is what’s happening now and into the future.

Do you have a political candidate who is promising to fix this? It would be so easy. Wouldn’t cost the taxpayers any money at all. Do you have anyone promising to address this in any way?

No, you don’t. Instead, you have candidates promising to deliver more kids into this hell.

Ever wondered why?

Who’s Ready for Fluidity?

To be clear: I don’t think the fate of the Ukrainian revolution (or the American opposition to fluidity, for that matter) hinges on any single person. One person neither occasions it nor can stop it. It’s all about the disposition of the people.

The American people clearly divided into those who hate fluidity and those who like it in 2016. Those who hate fluidity won the election but still lost because fluidity proved stronger.

In Ukraine, the main task is consolidating something remotely resembling a nation-state before fluidity sweeps it all away completely. Ukrainians demonstrated that they don’t take this task seriously. They are ready to dispense with the nation-state immediately. But they can’t possibly be ready for fluidity. Even the US isn’t ready for it.

Ditching the project of nation-building in today’s Ukraine can only stem from recalcitrant idiocy. I don’t see any other explanation. I’m trying and I can’t.

Our Own Beto

To make this more understandable, Ukraine – a country that has foreign troops fighting on its territory and third-world poverty rates – elected its own version of Beto as president. It’s all there, the goofiness, the immaturity, the pot, and even the “take down the wall” rhetoric (which, in the context of Ukraine, is really creepy).

On the positive side, hey, we are not backwards! Even Americans can’t get there yet but we can! Yippee.