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Pushing Back Against Foes of Useful Technology

September 26, 2017

I am dismayed when I read responses to Diane Ravitch’s posts that rail against personalized education, which she has re-branded as “de-personalized education”. While I sense that her opposition is not to the concept of matching instruction to the needs of a student— which is, after all, the essence of good instruction— but rather opposition to the fact that tech billionaires have expropriated the term from educators whose hearts are in the right place in order to sell products that will add to their obscene wealth.

Public schools can’t turn their backs on technology. The algorithms that are widely used to send us sidebar ads of items we just Googled, that Amazon uses to suggest movies we’d like to see or books we’d like to read, or the NYTimes uses to suggest articles that I’d like to read, COULD have applications in school. And the wealth of information we have collected on children and “archived” on paper in filing cabinets COULD be put to use and more readily accessed through data warehousing.

Here’s my thinking on “personalized education”: The tech moguls who have already made more than they can possibly spend in their lifetimes should allow public schools to use products that embed these algorithms for free instead of packaging them into “products” that they turn around to sell to schools at a profit. As it stands now, tech companies gouge taxpayers at both ends of the equation: they seek tax breaks from communities to locate their businesses (i.e. FoxConn and Amazon), they shelter their profits off-shore (i.e. Apple), and then charge taxpayers for products they dream up and promote through foundations that are ostensibly donating millions to “help” public education.

The system as it exists now provides inordinate rewards to those creating “products” like software, social media sites, and virtual shopping malls. Instead of railing against the billionaires who use their “rewards” to keep the vicious cycle outlined above intact, we need to figure out a way to stem the flow of cash upward. Maybe progressive minded billionaires (assuming such a category exists) could underwrite an ALEC-like organization for public education and draft sample bills for progressive-minded legislators?

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