Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Education Not Automation

There is an article in the NYT about Idaho's attempt to foist "technology," by which they mean computers and online education, on its public schools.  As the story makes clear, the move resulted from intense lobbying from tech firms, goes against the wishes of most teachers, students, and parents, and is of dubious effectiveness but will begin the long slow march of automating teaching.

 The Idaho's govenor had this to say about the advantages of the new system of
putting technology into students’ hands was the only way to prepare them for the work force. Giving them easy access to a wealth of facts and resources online allows them to develop critical thinking skills, he said, which is what employers want the most. 

When asked about the quantity of unreliable information on the Internet, he said this also worked in favor of better learning. “There may be a lot of misinformation,” he said, “but that information, whether right or wrong, will generate critical thinking for them as they find the truth.”
He has, it seems to me, given the game away. Conservatives ought properly endorse education as the first step to seeing being able to understand the necessity of keeping elites in charge; if, that is, the idea of keeping current elites in charge made anything like sense. It doesn't. So education, effective education, is something conservatives have to oppose. Plus, public education here and elsewhere has been one of the many examples of the state using its powers well. There are, obviously, problems with content and outcomes in any educational system. Nothing is perfect and nothing is eternally complete.

Think about it. In the process of destroying factory jobs and gutting unions, one of the first steps was increasing machine power, which created the conditions necessary for "right sizing" our workforce, and then creating the political conditions necessary for outsourcing jobs. In Idaho, they  now go after teaching in the same manner. In ten years will one teacher "guide" 400 students to find possible true or false information on the internet and the think critically about it. The idea is laughable but it will serve the short-term interests of some corporation or another and the long-term interests of the 1% of nihilistic thugs.

One other point, if you or that person standing to your right thinks that Bill Gates' or any of the Walton's, Kochs', or Buffets' kiddiewinks will be attending a "virtual" academy with a student teacher ration of 400-1, think again. Already the wealthy  are rejecting the notion of virtual learning for face-to-face education. Why? Because face-to-face works better than an isolated kid spending 2 minutes looking at wikipedia and then spending ten mins playing some idiotic game or another.[1]

The model these louts are pushing are going to have the same long-term effects that neoliberalism wrought on the economy. It's going to suck and the vast majority of us are going to get screwed. By the rest of us, I mean 99% of the humanity. 

[1] Think I'm kidding? I've seen it. Actual homework assignments marked with an I for internet. No suggestion of which page to use, nope. A quick trip to wiki for the answer, which was half right and then a longer turn on some "educational" game. The mind boggled.


  1. People learn a lot of things in high school that aren't part of the curriculum, in my case I participated in sports and usually sucked, but I did learn to appreciate fitness and definitely had some fun times, most of which would probably lead to suspensions in a present day high school.

    It seems like the current push to automate is just one more way to take the fun out of going to high school and the fact that computer manufactures make a lot of money at it is just a perk. Then again the priority is probably making money for computer manufactures and taking fun out of schools is the perk.

  2. It's both. The neoliberal motto neoliberalism making the world worse for people whenever and where we can so long as somebody gets a buck.