The Education End-Game; Transformative Changes Are Needed

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NOTE: Kevin Zeese is in Venezuela this week covering the presidential election.

Just as private corporations mine the earth for metals and minerals to sell on the market, they have now also turned to mining our children’s information for the purposes of selling it to marketers and to design new products to sell to schools and parents. As Morna McDermott states, and Forbes confirms, “Data is the new oil.”

If we take this a step further, it is easy to envision that the data collected on children from pre-school on up, which includes not just what they know but also their emotions and behavior, even their “grit and tenacity,” can be used to dictate their futures. Will they be employable and in what jobs? Will they qualify for health insurance or a driver’s license? Will they be deemed acceptable in society at all, or perhaps society will be better served if they are imprisoned where they can work for slave wages? Who decides?

Does this scenario sound exaggerated? Experienced activist-educators, who have been working on education reform, are telling us that it isn’t. They are the canaries in the coal mine alerting us to the direction that education is going if we don’t do something about it. They created a new campaign, supported by Popular Resistance: “Classrooms, not Computers.”

Visit the Classrooms, not Computers website and you will find a slider on the Home page and a brief video that explain the basics. On the Tools page, you will find basic talking points and a link to a website that has presentation materials. And on the Actions page, you will find a link to actions ideas and letters that you can download to deliver to your school district. Finally, if you sign up for the email blast, you will immediately join a network of concerned parents, educators and others across the country who are learning about and taking action to protect our children’s futures.

Education is the first step, and understanding the terms that education corporations are using to veil their actual practices and intentions is essential.  On this page, you will find a list of terms and an explanation of what is behind them. In the Popular Resistance School that is going on right now, we are discussing this as “official policies,” what the power holders say they are doing, versus the “operative policies,” what the policies actually do.

For example, “Full Service Community Schools” sound great. Who wouldn’t want a local school to provide full services? The problem is that public schools have been starved for decades so that basic services that every school used to provide – lunch, a library, music and the arts, a nurse etc. – are now provided by private vendors or nonprofits who market themselves to school districts, take our public (and philanthropic) dollars for their salaries and profits and provide varying quality of services to those schools that can market themselves well enough to attract investors. They also collect data on the children that can be used to justify the investments and market new goods and services to the community.

There is a lot of money to be made in education. As Morna McDermott writes, just the market for computers and software in schools is estimated to be $21 billion by 2020. She adds that the data collection on students also “means knowing how to anticipate outcomes through predictive analytics, how to sort and track students as future consumers, workers, or prisoners (using third-grade data to build prisons goes back decades). But wait….there’s more. We need to understand what this ‘more’ is, and why high stakes testing (as insidious as it is/was) PALES in comparison to the new data collection mechanisms and forms of data being mined, and the ways in which this data will significantly erode global democracy and human rights. This is because ‘a mechanism that is at the heart of biocapitalism in its ever-expanding attempts to commodify all aspects of life.’”

To learn more, click here to listen to our interview with Morna on Clearing the FOG.

The endgame appears to be an end to teachers, classrooms and schools as we know them. Students will do their “learning” on computers, which can be done anywhere and any time. Teachers will be facilitators who make sure students are doing what they are supposed to do on the computer. Schools will cease to be centers of the community and will become cyber centers in every neighborhood where children can go to plug in and earn their education badges, which employers will be able to view to determine which students to hire out of school.

All of the magic and wonder of childhood will be subsumed with the knowledge that whatever difficulties a student experiences or mistakes they make can be used against them in the future. Competition between students will increase as they fight for places in the decaying job market. Experimentation and creativity will only be valued if they make more profits for investors.

None of this is being done for the good of the students. It is not about providing space and support for students to have any say in how they choose to view themselves and their place in the world. It is not about providing what each student needs in order to reach their full potential and have a secure and meaningful life. It is about sorting human beings according to their financial value. If you are not exploitable, then you are expendable.

The Classrooms, Not Computers campaign recognizes that there are significant problems with the current education system. Transformational change is required. But, right now that transformational change is being led by the profiteers – those who can monetize children and education for their benefit. It is not being driven by parents and educators who care about the well-being of children and communities.

In order to achieve the necessary transformation in schools so that children are supported and are taught by experienced teachers who can adapt curriculum to meet the needs of students and can provide a well-rounded education, including how to use technology to serve human needs, not corporate greed, we will have to fight back. Before we can fight back effectively, we need to know what we are up against and understand the false solutions they offer. That is what Classrooms, Not Computers hopes to build and provide.

If we look at the current environment, we find open enrollment full service public schools being replaced with restricted enrollment private charter schools. We also find teachers struggling on low wages and shrinking benefits, and on top of that, having to dig into their own wallets to buy basic supplies for their classrooms. And we find student debt growing, now at $ 1.5 trillion. Students are graduating into an unfair economy causing 40% to be unable to pay their loans. According to a new report, more graduates are unemployed or under-employed, wages are low and gender and race disparities are widening.

People are fighting back against these injustices. It is heartening to see teachers across the nation fighting back for their schools and careers. This past week, 20,000 teachers in North Carolina walked out for the first time in the history of the state, making it the sixth state this year where teachers have held mass protests.

We have a difficult task before us, to transform education in the United States. If you are a parent, grandparent, educator or concerned person, visit Classrooms Not Computers and spread the word about it. The dystopian future our children face doesn’t have to be a reality. Let’s take action together to create nurturing educational environments led by humans and put technology in the service of that vision, not in service of more corporate profits.