Navigating Whiteness: Could “Anywhere, Anytime” Learning Endanger Black and Brown Students?

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

KITE STEM.jpg

Our country’s education system was never meant to empower black and brown people. The current system is deeply flawed. Yet before advancing device-mediated, anywhere learning as a progressive “solution,” we must consider the implications that adopting a decentralized learning ecosystem model could have for children of color. Will they be forced to go out and navigate, on their own, a world of whiteness, fraught with danger in order to receive a public education? What will it mean to have their every move monitored via ICT technologies? Will earning educational badges vary depending on “where” they learn, as was the case with the Kirkland Park System program?

This is a companion to a previous post I wrote about the implementation of the KiTE STEM challenge, a Google-sponsored digital learning contest being run in partnership with the Kirkland, WA park system this spring. Read part one here.

On April 12 Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested at a Starbucks coffee shop at 18th and Spruce Streets while waiting for a friend with whom they had a scheduled meeting. A bystander recorded the encounter, as the men had done nothing wrong and questioned the police as to why the arrests were made. Their experience has been widely discussed in national news. Today being a black or brown person in the public sphere is to be suspect and put at risk of arrest, deportation or even death.

I raise this within the context of appified learning ecosystems, because Philadelphia is a City of LRNG. Collective Shift has been promoting a system of “personalized” learning called Digital On Ramps where Philadelphia’s students, many of whom are students of color, would be sent out to navigate the city and earn skills-based badges.

The featured image for this post is from the article discussing Kirkland’s Kite STEM challenge. It shows hands holding a phone with a multiple choice question on the screen. They are young, black hands. Presumably this child is in a park using the app. In seeing those hands, I remember twelve-year old Tamir Rice, murdered by police at a Cleveland playground in 2014. We would like to think of parks as “safe” places to learn, but there are no guarantees for black children.

KITE part 2

ree-range device mediated education may seem like a great idea for privileged teens who can sit on the “weed-wall” in Rittenhouse Square and face no consequences. But what does that look like for young black men? Will they be afforded the same treatment? What will their “Hackable High School” look like? Will they have the right to pursue online instruction on a laptop undisturbed in local coffee shop?

Collective Shift

I see Collective Shift’s image of “appified” education (above) and can’t help but think of Stephon Clark, murdered in his grandmother’s backyard by police as he held his phone. Will black and brown children be targeted pursuing informal learning on phones? Will they fear being shot as they collect competencies for their digital learning lockers?

I also think about the data being collected by the apps that enable anywhere learning: location data, emotion sensing data, and data about social interactions, all of it aggregated and used to develop predictive profiles. Are we bumping up against the moment when Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report is realized? When pre-crime interventions begin? Which brings to mind a panel discussion “Defining Public Safety: Visions for the Future of Policing” I attended last October during the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference.

During the Q&A at the end, former CIO of the City Charles Brennan, noted that the future of policing would be facial recognition cameras, predictive analytics software, and drone surveillance. Watch this clip from a 2014 lecture at MIT featuring whistleblower William Binney that describes facial recognition software developed by the military in Afghanistan as it was being deployed by local police in Springfield, MA.

Future of Policing

How will it feel to “learn” exclusively in such an environment, an environment of ubiquitous surveillance and policing? And how will race play into assigned pathways for work-based learning? I have concerns about the quality of the experiences provided, as well the possibility of child labor issues. We know tremendous racial bias exists in US work places. What protections will be put in place to ensure black and brown children are not victimized? Who will be able to access which parts of the ecosystem? Will “Wharton-affiliated” ecosystem opportunities be restricted to students that meet specific criteria, while students of color get pushed into tracks for grounds maintenance, home healthcare, and basic coding?

US society suffers from a pervasive sickness that stems from our national origins in the theft of indigenous land and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Here in the city of “brotherly love,” myths portraying what we wish we were (independent, fair, just) are carefully tended. Yet, the brutality of our history (our present) cannot be denied. It emerges with regularity, at times on camera, in branded corporate settings like Starbucks, upending the lives of innocent people like Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson.

Our country’s education system was never meant to empower black and brown people. The current system is deeply flawed. Yet before advancing device-mediated, anywhere learning as a progressive “solution,” we must consider the implications that adopting a decentralized learning ecosystem model could have for children of color. Will they be forced to go out and navigate, on their own, a world of whiteness, fraught with danger in order to receive a public education? What will it mean to have their every move monitored via ICT technologies? Will earning educational badges vary depending on “where” they learn, as was the case with the Kirkland Park System program?

I have many reservations about “future ready” education, but the Starbucks incident makes clear the issue of race is paramount. This issue is not in any of the papers put out by Knowledgeworks. It is not addressed by MacArthur or Collective Shift. For all the black and brown people who have died or been subjected to physical or emotional violence for simply existing in spaces where white people felt they were a threat, we must talk about this.

“Anytime, anywhere” education could mean death or arrest or deportation for young black and brown people seeking to “learn” in spaces white society is loathe to share. A learning ecosystem governed by whiteness, particularly whiteness enshrined in technocratic digital platforms ruled by powerful white men = continued erasure.

Before hackable education models start to supplant bricks and mortar schools, there must be public conversations that critically examine what such a model would mean for black people, for brown people, and for undocumented immigrants. Their voices and opinions must be prioritized. The Kirkland KiTE STEM Challenge goes online this week. Will we start talking about this before it is too late? Lives hang in the balance.

BLM

-Alison McDowell

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Living the Gig Life: Tom Vander Ark’s Plans for My 6th Grader

live the gig life_2

That my kid was a potential stepping stone to the introduction of the entrepreneurial spirt – so valued by those pushing the gig economy – into our public school and also a source of financial gain to boot, was a sobering.

It also raises big questions:

Where are the local protections to keep kids from being exploited?

Who owns their work and other personal data?

With the push for badges, internships, and other in-school workforce training, what happens to the child labor laws that made public education possible for so many kids?

For the first time ever, I got to attend a Network for Public Education Conference and participate on a panel.

During my presentation, one slide caught the attention of a reporter for EdSurge. The panel was called Parent Hopes and the Gig Economy.

Here’s the slide:

Future of Work K-12

This is what the reporter had to say:

In the session, Leith called out influencers such as Tom Vander Ark, a former education director with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and one of the webinar’s presenters, saying he’s “now planning out” what her “sixth grader might be doing in the future for work.”

According to the talk, that future may be moving towards the gig economy, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to as “a single project or task for which a worker is hired, often through a digital marketplace, to work on demand.” Leith offered another way of describing it: a “series of little jobs” people in the future will have to work “enough to make ends meet.” Leith also claims the workers themselves don’t handle the money, but rather, a platform like Uber—”the middleman”—does.

That concerns Leith. She and others think the gig economy will work for some people, but not all. For instance, research done in 2016 from data and consulting firm Hearts & Wallets suggested that gig economy workers in their 40s, 50s and early 60s within a certain subgroup had high satisfaction rates working in the gig economy. But critics have argued that the gig economy model doesn’t protect workers from exploitation.

Leith is also worried about the way advocates are advertising the gig economy to young students. She feels there’s a false “positive sell” that uses language such as “you’re gonna choose your gigs, and you’re a creative of the new economy.” A more accurate description, she said, would be to say that the gig economy relies on “low paying jobs” that won’t make it possible to “buy a house.”

I think my comments were interesting because the ed-tech “thought leaders” don’t spend much time with the parents of their designated end users.

Parents who aren’t thrilled their students are beta-testing products for free or their public schools are being transformed into workforce development pipelines.

That someone would dare to criticize Vander Ark was news in itself.

More Ed-Tech Adventures with my 6th Grader

Back in 5th grade, I refused to sign the release for my kid’s work to be uploaded to Seesaw. Seesaw compiles digital portfolios of student work and was started by two former employees of Facebook.

As you can imagine, taking such a hard anti-technology stance in the land of Bill Gates put me on the short list for President of the local Tinfoil Hat Society.

A year later the New York Times broke a story explaining how Seesaw is essentially bribing teachers to do product placement in their classrooms, and even worst, teachers are branding themselves and welcoming this commercialization of their profession.

Ms. Delzer also has a second calling. She is a schoolteacher with her own brand, Top Dog Teaching. Education start-ups like Seesaw give her their premium classroom technology as well as swag like T-shirts or freebies for the teachers who attend her workshops. She agrees to use their products in her classroom and give the companies feedback. And she recommends their wares to thousands of teachers who follow her on social media.

“I will embed it in my brand every day,” Ms. Delzer said of Seesaw. “I get to make it better.”

That my kid was a potential stepping stone to the introduction of the entrepreneurial spirt – so valued by those pushing the gig economy – into our public school and also a potential source of financial gain to boot, was a sobering.

It also raises big questions:

Where are the local protections to keep kids from being exploited?

Who owns their work and other personal data?

With the push for badges, internships, and other in-school workforce training, what happens to the child labor laws that made public education possible for so many kids?

Back to The Future of Work and What it Means for K-12 Schools Webinar

During the webinar, Michael Chui, Partner, McKinsey Global Institute, dropped this truth bomb.

In the future, will there be enough work? Historically, we have had enough work despite technology entering. I think in terms of actual amount of demand for labor, it’ll be there. But I do think there will be potential challenges in transitioning people from what they’re doing now as machines do some of what people do now into the new jobs of the future. Some of those things do have to do with retraining, re-skilling, even as people are in the workforce. And I think there’s a lot of work to be done in doing that successfully of scale. And I think that’s a challenge. And you also made reference to the fact that geographically in the United States, labor is at multi-decades low. Even that rate has declined over time. And if we’re going to have the outcomes, often times new jobs won’t be created in the same places where other jobs, you know, might be declining in employment. We’ll need to solve that challenge, as well, in terms of labor mobility. It’s been one of the things that has been, you know, underpinned, you know, good outcomes in the past in the economy and when we do — and then, one of the other challenges that we do see going forward, there’ll be enough, potentially enough work, we’ll need to transition people. And we also have a question as to whether or not the work will pay. Some of the modeling shows that, in fact, income polarization or inequality, whatever you want to call it. And Tom made reference to this before, a hollowing out of middle-aged jobs potentially could be exacerbated by technology, as well. 

Even enthusiastic supporters of the gig economy are worried about its negative impact on the the amount of jobs, living wages, and employment of individuals in their 40s, 50s, and early 60s.

Here’s the giant red flag, which Chui awkwardly admits: some of the modeling of the gig economy shows more income polarization and increased inequality.

Of course, common sense points to the very same thing, but it’s interesting the “thought leaders” are worried about it too.

This should scare everyone who wants their kids and grandchildren to have the opportunity to live in a fair and stable society.

-Carolyn Leith