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Progressive Labels for Regressive Practices: How Key Terms in Education Have Been Co-opted - Alfie Kohn

"So here's the cycle:

1. Educators create valid term for needed reform.
2. Corporate/political forces co-opt term to sell bullshit to schools.
3. Regressive educators equate needed reform with bullshit "reform."
4. Needed reform is defeated & forgotten.


1. Educators advocate for differentiated/personalized learning as humane, relationship-based alternative to standardization.
2. Corporations co-opt term to sell algorithm-based-ed-tech bullshit.
3. Popular bloggers equate 'personalized learning' with edtech bullshit.
4. Public impression is created that 'personalized learning' is a negative, corporate-driven, bullshit concept.
5. Standardization prevails."

[my reply]

"“a dark commentary on how capitalism absorbs its critiques”" (quoting ) ]

"“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

— Lewis Caroll, Through the Looking Glass

“Whole language” (WL), a collaborative, meaning-based approach to helping children learn to read and write, emerged a few decades ago as a grassroots movement. Until it was brought down by furious attacks from social conservatives, academic behaviorists, and others, many teachers were intrigued by this alternative to the phonics fetish and basal boom that defined the field. More than just an instructional technique, WL amounted to a declaration of independence from packaged reading programs. So how did the publishers of those programs respond? Some “absorbed the surface [features] of WL and sold them back to teachers.” Others just claimed that whatever was already in their commercial materials — bite-size chunks of literature and prefabricated lesson plans — was whole language.[1]

Until you can beat them, pretend to join them: WL is literally a textbook illustration of that strategy. But it’s hardly the only one. For example, experts talk about the importance of having kids do science rather than just learning about it, so many companies now sell kits for easy experimenting. It’s branded as “discovery learning,” except that much of the discovery has been done ahead of time.

A teacher-educator friend of mine, a leading student of constructivism, was once treated to dinner by a textbook publisher who sought his counsel about how kids can play an active role in the classroom and create meaning around scientific ideas. The publisher listened avidly, taking careful notes, which my friend found enormously gratifying until he suddenly realized that the publisher’s objective was just to appropriate key phrases that could be used in the company’s marketing materials and as chapter headings in its existing textbook.

Or consider cooperative learning. Having students spend much of their classroom time in pairs or small groups is a radical notion: Learning becomes a process of exchanging and reflecting on ideas with peers and planning projects together. When we learn with and from one another, schooling is about us, not just about me. But no sooner had the idea begun to catch on (in the 1980s) than it was diluted, reduced to a gimmick for enlivening a comfortably traditional curriculum. Teachers were told, in effect, that they didn’t have to question their underlying model of learning; students would memorize facts and practice skills more efficiently if they did it in groups. Some writers even recommended using grades, certificates, and elaborate point systems to reinforce students for cooperating appropriately.[2]

In short, the practice of “co-opting” potentially transformative movements in education[3] is nothing new. Neither, however, is it just a historical artifact. A number of labels that originally signified progressive ideas continue to be (mis)appropriated, their radical potential drained away, with the result that they’re now invoked by supporters of “bunch o’ facts” teaching or a corporate-styled, standards-and-testing model of school reform.[4]

A sample:

* Engaging doesn’t denote a specific pedagogical approach; it’s used as a general honorific, signifying a curriculum that the students themselves experience as worthwhile. But these days the word is often applied to tasks that may not be particularly interesting to most kids and that they had no role in choosing. In fact, the value of the tasks may simply be ignored, so we hear about student “engagement,” which seems to mean nothing more than prompt or sustained compliance. Such children have internalized the adults’ agenda and are (extrinsically) motivated to complete the assignment, whatever it is. If the point is to get them to stay “on task,” we’re spared having to think about what the task is — or who gets to decide — even as we talk earnestly about the value of having engaged students.[5]

* Developmental originally meant taking our cue from what children of a given age are capable of doing. But for some time now, the word has come to imply something rather different: letting children move at their own pace . . . up an adult-constructed ladder. Kids may have nothing to say about what, whether, or why — only about when. (This is similar to the idea of “mastery learning” — a phrase that hasn’t really been co-opted because it was never particularly progressive to begin with. Oddly, though, it’s still brandished proudly by people who seem to think it represents a forward-thinking approach to education.[6])

* Differentiated, individualized, or personalized learning all emerge from what would seem a perfectly reasonable premise: Kids have very different needs and interests, so we should think twice about making all of them do the same thing, let alone do it in the same way. But there’s a big difference between working with each student to create projects that reflect his or her preferences and strengths, on the one hand, and merely adjusting the difficulty level of skills-based exercises based on students’ test scores, on the other. The latter version has become more popular in recent years, driven in part by troubling programs such as “mass customized learning”[7] and by technology companies that peddle “individualized digital learning” products. (I have more to say about the differences between authentic personal learning and what might be called Personalized Learning, Inc. in this blog post.)

* Formative assessment was supposed to be the good kind — gauging students’ success while they’re still learning rather than evaluating them for the purpose of rating or ranking when it’s too late to make changes. But the concept “has been taken over — hijacked — by commercial test publishers and is used instead to refer to formal testing systems,” says assessment expert Lorrie Shepard.[8] Basically, an endless succession of crappy “benchmark” standardized tests — intended to refine preparation for the high-stakes tests that follow — are euphemistically described as “formative assessment.” Too often, in other words, the goal is just to see how well students will do on another test, not to provide feedback that will help them think deeply about questions that intrigue them. (The same is true of the phrase “assessment for learning,” which sounds nice but means little until we’ve asked “Learning what?”) The odds of an intellectually valuable outcome are slim to begin with if we’re relying on a test rather than on authentic forms of assessment.[9]

* A reminder to focus on the learning, not just the teaching seems refreshing and enlightened. After all, our actions as educators don’t matter nearly as much as how kids experience those actions. The best teachers (and parents) continually try to see what they do through the eyes of those to whom it’s done. But at some point I had the queasy realization that lots of consultants and administrators who insist that learning is more important than teaching actually have adopted a behaviorist version of learning, with an emphasis on discrete skills measured by test scores.

You see the pattern here. We need to ask what kids are being given to do, and to what end, and within what broader model of learning, and as decided by whom. If we allow ourselves to be distracted from those questions, then even labels with a proud progressive history can be co-opted to the point that they no longer provide reassurance about the practice to which the label refers."
alfiekohn  2015  progressive  education  schools  schooling  schooliness  lesicarroll  humptydumpty  wholelanguage  cooption  language  words  buzzwords  pedagogy  differentiation  teaching  business  capitalism  formativeassessment  assessment  learning  howweetach  howwelearn  development  engagement  grassroots 
yesterday by robertogreco
Here's Fresh Evidence Student Loans Are a Massive, Generational Scam - VICE
"Over the centuries, America has bestowed generous, state-sponsored privileges upon select classes of its citizens. Veterans and old people get free socialized healthcare—and, for the most part, they love it. Corporations (who count as people, look it up) get sweet tax breaks and, in the case of defense contractors, no-bid deals to build extremely expensive weapons unlikely to be used in the near future. And young people get thousands and thousands of dollars of student loans to pay for college, putting them in a hole they might spend the rest of their lives digging out of.

Obviously, one of these things is not like the others—the United States has put many students in the position of making decisions that can determine their financial futures when they're teenagers. This has nightmarish consequences: Some 44 million people have $1.5 trillion in student loan debt on the books. And even when young people do get through college and find a decent job, many can't fathom possibly buying a home or taking on other trappings of adulthood when faced with decades of monthly loan bills.

The worst part is that those who sought an elite education on the widely accepted notion that it would help them later in life were basically sold a bad bill of goods.

All that debt provides awfully little payoff in terms of boosted wages, even as it ensnares more and more people and hits youth of color especially hard, according to a new paper released Tuesday by two researchers at the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute. Research fellows Julie Margetta Morgan and Marshall Steinbaum concluded that more and more debt hasn't significantly boosted income for college grads—it just seems that way because high school grads without BAs are making less than they once did. They also found that looking at decent rates of repayment by student debtors is a misleading way to look at the scale of this crisis. And thanks to workers lacking the power they once enjoyed in an increasingly skill-obsessed economy, young people are often being pressured into getting extra degrees on their own dime (which is to say by taking on more debt) for minimal payoff.

For some perspective on how America let student loans get so out of control, why taking on debt is so often a mistake, and what we can do about it, I called co-author Julie Margetta Morgan for a chat.

VICE: Why do you think this has been allowed to get so bad, to the point not only that it's widely known as a crisis, but one that gets worse and worse?

[A] Julie Margetta Morgan: We have seen the overall amount of student debt grow and we've seen some of the industries around repayment get worse over time, although default rates recently got a little bit better. But I think that the reason why it's sort of been allowed to exist as this quiet crisis is that there's not a lot of agreement among experts that, on the whole, student debt is getting worse. I think that's because experts primarily look at measures around successful repayment of the loan as the target. And in this paper we try to take a slightly different look. First of all we interrogate those questions around repayments themselves—so we have a section around, like, experts have said that student debt is not a bigger burden now than it was a generation ago. And yet if you delve into the figures a little bit deeper you can see that, in fact, it is worse—the burden is worse but the repayment plans are slightly better, which masks the burden on students.

So part of what we're trying to do here is combat some of the common wisdom in the higher education policy world—what we tend to hear is: Yeah, students are taking on a lot of debt but ultimately that debt is worth it because their degrees are paying off in the long run. And we're finding that that's not necessarily true.

[Q] Is the most radical conclusion you reached here that the increased debt burden people are bearing is not paying off in terms of boosted income? Or is that already well known?

[A] That higher education is not paying off in terms of overall changes in the distribution of income is definitely apparent to labor economists but not necessarily apparent to higher education policy experts and those who advocate on behalf of students, because we are so often fed the college earnings premium as the single measure of whether college pays off over time. Yes of course college still pays off, but it pays off because it's becoming less and less viable for someone to make a living with just a high-school diploma. It's no longer this thing of, I'd like to earn a higher income, I guess I'll go to college. It's like, I have to go to college in order to not end up in poverty—and I'm also forced to take on debt to get there.

[Q] Is there any evidence that, thanks to income growth in the last year or two, college debt is paying off more than it did?

[A] It remains to be seen, but I'm not sure that it's a good idea for us to tie higher education policy—how we fund college—to the swings of the labor market. Our focus should be on taking the risk off of the individual and spreading it across the public, because the public is getting a lot of the benefit of college degrees.

[Q] Have you seen any indicators that people—including the communities hit hardest by college debt—might actively be avoiding college because of the specter of endless debt?

[A] We have lower levels of college attainment already among African American and Latino populations and we do see polls that suggest people are more and more skeptical of the value of college. And that's exactly the result we don't want to see. We don't want to see the people already discriminated against in the labor market avoiding going to college.

The other trend that comes to mind is this trend of programs that we would have previously considered trade programs, whether they're now being offered at for-profit colleges or as industry credentials that are trying to become part of the mainstream higher education system and get access to the loans. So there's a world in which people are trying to avoid getting the loans but the loans are actually following them to these trade programs.

[Q] But given that discrimination, is it not rational to—in some cases—calculate against attending college given the massive debt burden and how it hits some communities extra hard?

[A] I think it's absolutely at an individual level a rational decision that we're seeing people make. And at a national level we ought to be concerned about that and looking to change policies so people don't have to make that decision.

[Q] I know one of your aims here was to reinforce that this is a worse crisis than people think, but isn't the problem that Republicans just don't care?

[A] There's obviously a group of policymakers who don't want to deal with it. But I think there's another subset of policymakers who are looking at the student debt crisis through the lens of repayment—that the goal is to ensure that people can repay their loans. Keeping people out of default shouldn't be the biggest goal we set for ourselves.

If student debt is a crisis, is the answer that we should have less student debt? Or just that people are able to make their monthly payments? Our answer is that we should have less debt overall.

[Q] Part of your paper is about how workers keep getting pressured to gain new degrees and credentials that load them up with debt—all because they have no power. Is this about unions disappearing, or what would help there?

[A] Certainly the declining power of unions is one part of it. The lack of say for average workers in the decision-making at the companies they work for, the increase in corporate concentration within the economy—the rise of monopoly power makes it harder for workers to have a say, because there are fewer employers. And back during the recession, the scarcity of jobs made it harder for employees to have power and negotiate for themselves.

[Q] It's hard not to read the paper and feel like taking on student loans is maybe (very often) a mistake or even that the larger system is a scam. Even when students are not being preyed upon by for-profit schools or predatory lenders, the whole seems flimsy or even fraudulent. Is that unreasonable?

[A] I don't think it's unreasonable. I think of it as a failed social experiment that young people are caught in the middle of. It wasn't intentionally sold like a scam, but the way young people experience this is they were told: You go to college, you study, don't worry so much about how much it costs, it's going to be worth it in the end. And they get out on the other side, they have a ton of debt, they are working as hard as they can, but they're not getting ahead—they're treading water. They're making payments on their debt, but not able to buy a house, they're not able to save for retirement. You were sold on a promise, you come out on the other hand that that promise was false, and everybody looks at you like, What's wrong?

One of the things I thought was so exciting about writing this paper is it puts data to that deep frustration that we see in younger generations right now.

[Q] It doesn't seem likely that we'll see a major overhaul of the system in DC right now, with unified Republican control. But what can and should be done, the next time Democrats have control of the government, or in the meantime?

[A] There are things we can do right now. it's encouraging to see what's happening in the courts—some great student advocates and lawyers have taken action to make sure the [Education Secretary Betsy] DeVos administration at least enforces rules on the books to help get student loan cancellation for a smaller group of borrowers and limit predatory practices at for-profit schools.

As we look to the future, we have to think a lot bigger. We should be looking at both free and debt-free options for college. Free college at public universities and more debt-free options for students. That's how we take care of generations… [more]
studentloans  health  healthcare  inequality  2018  economics  socialsafetynet  society  us  education  highered  highereducation  colleges  universities  juliemargettamorgan  marshallsteinbaum  debt  income  policy  politics  labor  markets  capitalism  work  unions 
yesterday by robertogreco
Panasonic's human blinkers help people concentrate in open-plan offices (Natashah Hitti | Dezeen)
" Sharing a similar aesthetic and concept to horse blinkers, the device consists of a curved strip of flexible material that wraps around the back of the user's head, and extends out to shield the sides of their eyes, blocking out any distractions in their peripheral vision. "
fucking-Silicon-Valley  capitalism 
yesterday by kellyramsey
How Credit Acceptance Consumed Detroit With Debt
Credit Acceptance’s main debt-collection attorney was indicted in 2005 for falsifying hundreds of court documents, claiming he’d notified consumers to appear in court when he hadn’t.
debt  capitalism  america  finance  ugh 
yesterday by conner
GOP Senator Pushed VA to Use Unproven “Brainwave Frequency" Treatment (Isaac Arnsdorf | ProPublica)
" On a Friday night last December in his Reno office, Heller, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced VA officials to representatives from a health care startup called CereCare. The company markets an “off-label” method of treating addiction and post-traumatic stress, using electromagnetic brain stimulation.

" The meeting came about because two of CereCare’s partners had a business connection to Heller’s senior aide in Reno. “We’ve known her for years,” one of the partners, Nino Pedrini, said of the aide, Glenna Smith. Pedrini and his partner have a separate joint venture with Smith’s former employer. “This was Glenna reaching out to us, knowing what we were doing, saying we think there’s a fit here where you folks can help our veterans,” Pedrini said. "
mental-health  cranks  capitalism  VA 
yesterday by kellyramsey
Louis Hyman (@louishyman) | Twitter
10/15/18 discussion of consumption undermining white supremacy -- specifically, Sears. Also has primary source documents.
Jim-Crow  white-supremacy  racism  race  capitalism 
2 days ago by fosteje
ヴェーバー『プロテスタンティズムの倫理と資本主義の精神』を解読する | Philosophy Guides


christianity  capitalism  Max_Weber 
3 days ago by incep
Billionaires Are the Leading Cause of Climate Change | GQ
"Even today, after literally decades of radical libertarian billionaires fostering disbelief in climate change and skepticism about the government, three out of five Americans believe climate change affects their local community. That number climbs to two-thirds on the coasts. Even the Trump administration now admits that climate change is real, but their response to it is dead-eyed acceptance. If popular support actually influenced public policy, there would have been more decisive action from the U.S. government years ago. But the fossil-fuel industry's interests are too well-insulated by the mountains of cash that have been converted into lobbyists, industry-shilling Republicans and Democrats, and misinformation. To them, the rest of the world is just kindling. "
climate  deception  truth  capitalism  business  environment 
3 days ago by basemaly
Climate breakdown, capitalism and democracy – Julia Steinberger – Medium
When the BBC asked me if I would participate in a debate panel on climate change, capitalism and democracy, I fist panicked and then said yes. All I really wanted to do this week was finish up and…
capitalism  climate_change 
4 days ago by jamrock

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