Dear Teachers, Don’t Be Good Soldiers for the EdTech Industry

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Dear fellow teachers,

Thank you for coming to this meeting on such short notice.

I know you have plenty more important matters to attend to this morning. I, myself, left a pile of ungraded papers on my desk so I could get here. Not to mention I urgently need to fix my seating charts now that I’ve finally met my students and know who can sit with whom. And I’ve got to track down phone numbers for my kids’ parents and go through a  mountain of Individual Education Plans, and… Well, I just want you to know that I get it.

There are a lot of seemingly more pressing concerns than listening to a teacher-blogger jabber about the intersection of politics and our profession.

Is that all of us? Okay, would someone please close the door?

Good. No administrators in here, right? Just classroom teachers? Excellent.

Let’s speak openly. There’s something very important we need to talk about.

There is a force out there that’s working to destroy our profession.

Yes, ANOTHER one!

We’ve got lawmakers beholden to the corporate education reform industry on the right and media pundits spewing Wall Street propaganda on the left. The last thing we need is yet another group dedicated to tearing down our public schools.

But there is. And it is us.

You heard me right.

It’s us.

There is an entire parasitic industry making billions of dollars selling us things we don’t need – standardized tests, Common Core workbook drivel, software test prep THIS, and computer test crap THAT.

We didn’t decide to use it. We didn’t buy it. But who is it who actually introduces most of this garbage in the classroom?

That’s right. US.

We do it. Often willingly.

We need to stop.

And before someone calls me a luddite, let me explain. I’m not saying technology is bad. It’s a tool like anything else. There are plenty of ways to use it to advance student learning. But the things we’re being asked to do… You know in your heart that they aren’t in the best interests of children.

I know. Some of you have no choice. You live in a state or district where teacher autonomy is a pathetic joke. There are ways to fight that, but they’re probably not in the classroom.

It’s not you who I’m talking to. I’m addressing everyone else. I’m talking to all the teachers out there who DO have some modicum of control over their own classrooms and who are told by their administrators to do things that they honestly disagree with – but they do it anyway.

We’ve got to stop doing it.

Corporations want to replace us with software packages. They want to create a world where kids sit in front of computers or iPads or some other devices for hours at a time doing endless test prep. You know it’s true because your administrator probably is telling you to proctor such rubbish in your own classroom so many hours a week. I know MINE is.

Listen, there are several reasons why we should refuse.

First, there’s simple job security. If your principal brought in a Teach for America temp and told you this lightly trained fresh from college kid was going to take over your classes, would you really sit down and instruct her how to do your job!?

I wouldn’t.

That’s the entire point behind this tech industry garbage. You are piloting a program that means your own redundancy.

You are engaged in an effort to prove that they don’t need a fully trained, experienced, 4-year degree professional to do this job. They just need a glorified WalMart greeter to watch the kids as they push buttons and stare at a screen. They just need a minimum wage drone to take up space while the children bask in the warm glow of the program, while it maps their eye movements, catalogues how long it takes them to answer, records their commercial preferences and sells all this data to other companies so they can better market products – educational and otherwise – back to these kids, their school and their parents.

This isn’t about improving educational outcomes. It’s about bringing the cost down and pocketing the savings as profit.

It’s about replacing the end-of-the-year standardized test with daily mini stealth assessments that are just as high stakes and just as effective at providing an excuse for the state or the feds to swoop in and steal control, disband the school board and give the whole shebang to the charter school operator who gives them the most generous campaign donations.

Do NOT be a good soldier here. Do not just follow orders. Doing so is weakening our entire profession. It is putting our jobs in jeopardy. And it’s about time our national teachers unions figured this out instead of conceding the point so their leaders can keep a seat at the table. Someone needs to tell them they shouldn’t be sitting inside the building. They should be with us, outside surrounding it with signs and pitchforks.

The EdTech shell game is not about improving student learning. It’s a commercial coup, not a progressive renaissance.

Think about it.

They call this trash “personalized learning.” How can it really be personalized if kids do the same exercises just at different rates? How is it personalized if it’s standardized? How is it personalized if it omits the presence of actual people in the education process?

It’s teach-by-numbers, correspondence school guano with graphics and a high speed Internet connection.

But we give in. We don’t want to rock the boat. We’re rule followers, most of us. We do what we’re told.

Most teachers were good students, and obedience is too often a defining quality of those who succeed in our education system.

I get it. You don’t want to be a fly in the ointment. You don’t want to make yourself a target.

Me, too.

How dearly I would love to be able to just comply. But I can’t simply go along with something I know in my heart to be wrong. And this is wrong on so many levels.

I sat through a meeting much like this one earlier this year where I was told exactly which programs to force on my students. All the while good teachers whom I respect went through the motions as if nothing was wrong. They talked about how to organize our classes in the system, how to assign test prep and how often, and how to access the data.

But we never discussed why.

We never discussed if doing so was a good idea. That was all taken for granted. It was a decision reserved for someone else, someone from a higher pay grade.

Yet classroom experience is rarely commensurate with salary scale especially once you cross the line into management. Nor is the experience of a handful of administrators equal to that of a plentitude of staff!

No. I’m sorry. At very least that is a discussion WE should be having.

It is the TEACHER’S job to determine what is educationally appropriate. Not the administrators. At most, the building principal should be part of that discussion in her role as lead teacher. But the resolution to go ahead or not should be made together as a staff.

And if an individual teacher thinks based on their own experience with their own students that they should go in a different direction, they should be respected enough as a professional to have the autonomy to do so.

Teachers have to abide by best practices, but test prep in any form is NOT a best practice.

It’s time we stood up en masse and made that clear.

We are our own worst enemy in this regard.

We are too submissive. Too meek.

This world requires teachers to be revolutionaries, to be radicals.

And that doesn’t end in the classroom.

We need to educate parents and the community about what’s happening. The classroom doors are too often closed to the public. The only information they get is from anemic administrators and a mass media that invariably just reports whatever propaganda the corporation puts on the press releases.

We are responsible for our students. We must protect them from the vultures out there trying to water down their educations and reduce the quality of their learning.

We are not the only ones who can take a stand. In fact, IF we are the only ones who do it, we will certainly fail.

But, along with parents, students and concerned citizens, we MUST be part of that resistance.

We MUST take a stand for our children and our profession.

Because without us, there is no hope of success.

So we can no longer afford to be good soldiers in someone else’s army.

It’s time to have the courage of our convictions.

It’s time to rise up, walk hand-in-hand to the front of the staff meeting and tell our administrators:

NO.

Because if we don’t, no one else will.

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28 thoughts on “Dear Teachers, Don’t Be Good Soldiers for the EdTech Industry

  1. Steven, this post is alarming because of the truth in your comments. Thank you for laying out the situation so clearly. I’m in my lat 4 years of teaching, and scared of rocking the boat in my failing district, but I will do my best to do what really is right for the kids I work with and care about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Be careful. I doubt much has changed there since I lost my job. If I am ever told to teach something “with fidelity” again it will be too soon.

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  2. This is a tough nut to crack.

    You are right but the fake, despicable, greed-is-great, frauds-and-reformers take advantage of the fact that teachers are divided into different labor unions, in different states, and between thousands of school districts and many of them will fear to lose their jobs and that fear will stop many teachers that will agree with you from doing anything.

    Letting that fear control them, will doom them all in the end as public education is swept away along with the U.S. Constitution and the ability to think critically and question those who want to be our overlords.

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  3. Yes! We are complicit if we go along with it. And we need the parents to join us. My daughter was the only one to opt out of PARCC at her middle school last year. I felt so alone. Parents went along just like the teachers are doing!

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  4. My fear is that it’s a few years too late. The warning bells have been going off for a while now. My kids’ teachers don’t seem to care or want to listen. I have been opting out for several years now with my children being the only ones sitting in the office during those testing periods( and teachers questioning my decision). Other parents think I’m crazy, so I don’t even try to explain anymore. I have expressed my displeasure with the IPad program in the school, but the teachers seem to just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. I have complained about the Common Core curriculum to teachers and they have expressed how great and wonderful it is and that it is not just test prep (but it is!!!). I’m angry at teachers. I’m angry that they have allowed bad practices into their classrooms and have not spoken up for children. I’ve tried….I’ve volunteered, I’ve let my displeasure be known. Now…all of a sudden….the whistles are blaring and the sirens are going off, and teachers are now really worried that they won’t have a job? The writing has been on the wall! Where has everybody been? Out for professional development for a few years? I’d like to know why all the teachers are suddenly in an uproar because the school year has just started? Please, kind teacher /blogger, please enlighten me to the new hell that my children will start to experience this school year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa, I do see where you’re coming from. Your frustration is justified. However, we’re all in this together. It’s not too late. We can still turn it around. My daughter is only 8. I have to believe there is still hope. Moreover, the false consensus you often hear about Common Core, testing, corporate education reform is often pure media propaganda. In private, most teachers hate this stuff. The problem is that they’re too scared to speak in public. Just as it’s teachers job to gain the courage to speak out, it’s your job as a parent and a citizen to provide them the safe space to do so. We have to be together in this. We have to be there for each other. Otherwise, we will lose.

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      • Sorry, but I am bitter about what my children have received in the way of good education. There is no “WE” anymore, meaning that I am done defending teachers…. I certainly won’t try to take any down, but my days of trying to help them are over. It is all about MY kids now, and I have to do what is right for them. I’m tired of waiting when I have let my displeasure with ed rephorm be known. The teachers will have to fight for their profession now. I am tired of hearing the same old line of being blamed for all of society’s ills…it’s gotten old. I’m tired of hearing that teachers don’t like to “rock the boat” because they are conformists. I’M TIRED! Fight for what you believe in and maybe then the parents will start to listen.

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    • After I lost my teaching job, I started substitute teaching (again; then the district I was in decided to institute a one-to-one computer program. It changed the dynamics of the classroom. Instead of actually teaching, I was a glorified (well, not even glorified) computer monitor, who was not even allowed access to the computers! I had to sign their tech usage policy even though I couldn’t use the computers unless a teacher left it running for me. The whole experience was mind numbing not only for me but for the kids. I quit subbing.

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  5. In the days of punitive evaluations where the outcomes cannot be challeneged, teachers have become more suppliant to the demands of administrators over the reality of losing jobs. Speaking out and asking questions in staff meetings and bs professional development sessions label staff as negative and insubordinate. Been there, done that. That is one reason I retired, ineffective administrators and punitive evaluations based on bullshit data.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Do NOT be a good soldier here. Do not just follow orders.”

    I call the vast majority of teachers and adminimals that implement the various malpractices of this century, sad but yes this whole century, Go Along to Get Along (GAGA) Good Germans. According to Hannah Arendt the massive killings, attempted genocide by the Germans was not the result of the vast majority being “evil”. No, on the contrary! Somewhere around 12% of the population were Nazis, add in a lesser number of SS and perhaps there were at most 20% of the population that one might consider as evil. The vast majority (hey didn’t I just say that above?) of Germans were GAGA either turning a blind eye to the atrocities being committed or were using the excuse of “just following orders/mandates” of those “above” them in the social structure of 1930s Germany.

    That vast majority allowed the atrocities to happen, many were afraid of losing their possessions, home and life. Why is it that the vast majority of GAGA teachers and adminimals comply so rapidly and willingly with educational malpractice mandates when they don’t have to worry about their own skin?? Willing abettors? Or perhap as stated from one of America’s premier writers:

    “The mass of men [and women] serves the state [education powers that be] thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, [administrators and teachers], etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt.”- Henry David Thoreau [1817-1862], American author and philosopher

    Do not GAGA teachers and adminimals take a professional ethics course these days? Do they not know how to resist and cease doing harm to students that the GAGAers do everyday in instituting the standards and testing malpractice? I’ll let someone far more intelligent than I comment:

    “Should we therefore forgo our self-interest? Of course not. But it [self-interest] must be subordinate to justice, not the other way around. . . . To take advantage of a child’s naivete. . . in order to extract from them something [test scores, personal information] that is contrary to their interests, or intentions, without their knowledge [or consent of parents] or through coercion [state mandated testing], is always and everywhere unjust even if in some places and under certain circumstances it is not illegal. . . . Justice is superior to and more valuable than well-being or efficiency; it cannot be sacrificed to them, not even for the happiness of the greatest number [quoting Rawls]. To what could justice legitimately be sacrificed, since without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy? And in the name of what, since without justice even humanity, happiness and love could have no absolute value?. . . Without justice, values would be nothing more than (self) interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.”—Andre Comte-Sponville in “A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues” [my additions]

    Liked by 1 person

    • Duane, I do see where you’re coming from, but you can’t blame it all on teachers, either. We’ve been abandoned by the majority of society. Every social ill is somehow our fault. No one wants to properly fund public schools, many want to destroy the very institution of public schools, and the teachers are the major factor holding it all together. What you describe is a sad truth about human nature. Teachers are trying to find the road of least resistance. They’re trying to find a way to keep their jobs and do what they can to help kids. I, too, think we need to take a stand, hence this article. But it can’t all be on the teachers. Society owns a huge share of the blame. My point here is just that teachers do, too. It’s time to take a stand because pretty soon there won’t be a profession from which to do so.

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      • Not just on the teachers, Steven, but I put more blame on the adminimals*. I cannot call them administrators as that requires thinking, knowledge and ethics, three areas quite lacking in adminimals. And the vast majority of administrators are adminimals.

        *This definition was written for an Australian audience but holds equally true here in “Gringolandia”:

        Adminimal: A spineless creature formerly known as an administrator and/or principal. Adminimals are known by/for their brown-nosing behavior in kissing the arses of those above them in the testucation hierarchy. These sycophantic toadies (not to be confused with cane toads, adminimals are far worse to the environment) are infamous for demanding that those below them in the testucation hierarchy kiss the adminimal’s arse on a daily basis, having the teachers simultaneously telling said adminimals that their arse and its byproducts don’t stink. Adminimals are experts at Eichmanizing their staff through using techniques of fear and compliance inducing mind control. Beware, any interaction with an adminimal will sully one’s soul forever unless one has been properly intellectually vaccinated.

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  7. The first argument shouldn’t be job security. If it is, no one outside of the field will listen. They will just assume those selfish evil teachers are yet again looking out for number one cause that’s all they do. The truth is it’s bad for kids. They need interaction, problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, cooperative skills. Those skills need interaction with other people to achieve. Not a computer screen. Technology is a slippery slope. It can be beneficial if used correctly. It can be detrimental if used too much- especially in primary grades. Teachers should stand up because it’s not what’s best for kids, not for so called job security.

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    • Kate, you’re right. The most important thing is the students. But that’s why most teachers enter the field – to help children learn. I just think many teachers go along with some of this EdTech crap because they think it’s moderation. Do this and you can still help kids learn around the edges. The problem is that doing so is dismantling our profession. Giving in is not the middle ground. It is giving up. If we keep doing this, we won’t be there to help around the edges. We’ll be gone.

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  8. I agree with your argument, but I have to say, I wish you didn’t have to bash Teach for America in the process. Sure, some TFA teachers leave the classroom but so do many new teachers who enter the profession from traditional teacher preparatory programs. And many TFA teachers stay. Like myself. I entered the teaching profession through TFA, which allowed me to teach on the Navajo reservation. And I’m still here, 10 years later, after receiving my masters from Vanderbilt university. I now work as a literacy coach in an urban school district. Please don’t place me, and those who joined TFA to fight educational equity with me, with the educational bullies you fight.

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    • Annie, I’m sorry but I have major reservations about the Teach for America program. I’m glad it worked out for you and you have become a career teacher. However, having a 5-weeks training crash course is not equal to a four year (or more) education degree. TFA is used to push out more experienced teachers, slash salaries and benefits and bust unions. It degrades the profession and hurts kids. You are the exception to the rule.

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    • 60-percent of TFA’s 2-year wonders (combat recruits) leave within 2 years vs teachers that go through traditional urban residency teacher education where 80-percent are still teaching 5 years later and are highly regarded by their principals.

      In her heavily researched book “The Teacher Wars” Dana Goldstein covers this issue in one of the chapters and reported that TFA has the worst results when compared to all other traditional teacher training programs.

      Read her book.

      It’s obvious that if you stayed in teaching, you are the exception, but the facts speak for themselves. TFA is a horrible teacher training program and it was created as a tool to destroy the teachers’ unions and traditional, community-based, Democratic, transparent, non-profit public schools.

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    • “…who joined TFA to fight educational equity with me….”

      Freudian typo there? Because fighting educational equity is exactly what TfA does. Educational equity would mean that poor and minority kids could have qualified, veteran teachers who have themselves had a full education in the teaching profession. Forcing five-week wonders with no teaching experience or education on poor and minority kids is most definitely fighting educational equity. Ask yourself what kind of teacher do you want for your children? I’m betting five-week wonder isn’t it.

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  9. “This world requires teachers to be revolutionaries, to be radicals.”

    I love your thinking here. But I haven’t found many, if any, radical teachers. In fact, being radical makes you a target–gets you fired. And that puts you (and your loved ones) at risk, in regard to future employment. How many can afford to take these types of risks in this economy? I know one and let me tell you, my life has been a struggle because of it. “Struggle,” is me horribly minimizing the situations in which I have been.

    Like

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