Ben Malisow



From | June 21, 2010 at 11:29 AM PST

Hi Ben,

 I’m no expert by any means, but I have tried to follow "the education dialogue" with a comparative interest in how it has unfolded in Western Europe, Asia, and in the United States. I am most disturbed by how very quickly that dialogue was shaped by interests and ideologies outside the realm of the "public good."

At this point, the notion of removing technology from the pre-collegiate classroom would appear ludicrously radical, fusty, and archaic. Yet, that it the position I am leaning toward, and it is a reversal from where I once stood.

A couple of points to chew on:
Digital natives don't need skills training in the technology realm. They don't have the learning curve to hurdle which the generations that precede them had. Technology for anyone post-Generation X is pretty culturally ingrained. The question of access may remain open, and in that regard I agree with your argument for subsidizing low income families.

Here's a question:
Does an IT-saturated classroom enhance critical thinking? I have found no demonstrable evidence to suggest that it does. IT may increase student engagement and performance, and I think there is enough evidence to suggest that it can, yet the real question for me is: do either of these outcomes form a substantive corollary with critical thinking? On that score I'd vote emphatically no. The newest research on the developing brain seems to indicate that the pace of IT-based learning and the necessary multi-tasking associated with it does not bode well for the health and functionality of the brain in the long term.

Another chewing point: Justification for corporate infiltration of the public sector...
This point is just a raw nerve for me, I guess. I become more than a little leery at any talk of allowing the private sector to influence or impact the education process. We have more than enough evidence from the aftermath of No-Child-Left-Behind and the erosion of our public cultural institutions into non-functional PPOs to suggest that any intersection between private enterprise and public endeavor invariably results in profiteering at the expense of the public institution (and hence, the public good).

Philanthropy as a solution is a big "if" to begin with. Take the Gates grants for instance. Admittedly, I’m familiar with only one of the foundation's charter high schools, but it is a perfect case in point. Despite its smaller class size and tech-based philosophy to prepare students for the 21st century the students have yet to thrive. They struggle. The teachers and administrators are committed to their students’ success yet this is an urban school whose population is low income or at-risk. Technological intervention cannot help these students succeed because their basic skill levels in math and reading are at the grade school level. No amount of tech-savviness can replace superior reading skills or the ability to creatively problem solve. 

Alright, one last point:
Tracking behavioral and demographic data on students.
This is way too Orwellian to sit well with me. I accept that we are in the age where privacy has been sacrificed, however, to allow a 3rd party to monitor and track students seems utterly precarious to me. It's not quite the same as a school administrator actively monitoring their students' IT behavior, which is odious enough, but I recognize, ultimately necessary.


Just some ideas to think about. I’m not at the point of advocating complete removal of IT from K-12 schools but I’m close...I don’t think the idea of IT in the classroom is as cut and dry as it seems on either the point of individual student development or in the kind of society that we are choosing to create.





From SLOW | July 2, 2010 at 9:04 PM PST


Thanks! There's some great stuff here, all of which plays a role in the discussion that our culture should probably get started: whether to remove IT infrastructure responsibility from schools.


I'll try to respond to each of your points/questions in turn.


First: you wanted to know if a classroom with IT capabilities enhances or encourages students to learn critical thinking skills. Arguments could be made from either side of that question, with additional questions challenging the notion that schools are conducive to teaching critical thinking altogether, or if an ability to utilize critical thinking is the best possible outcome for students. I'm going to dodge that debate altogether, and leave it like this: schools will need IT infrastructure, and students will need a modicum of IT access, if only to move away from the old, archaic model of blackboard and pen and paper. If we had classes that did NOT involve computers in some fashion, those students in those Luddite classes would not be getting a legitimate attempt at solving the problems in the modern, accepted way. This would be somewhat like refusing to let kids use calculators in math class (which actually happened for many years, until everyone figured out how stupid that was). Finally, I really don't care if the machines help kids learn critical thinking: either way, the school district, and the taxpayer, should not be involved in the burden of supplying those assets. We're talking about 30% of some districts' budgets-- that's gross budget, including salaries, facilities, and the like. 30% is insane. In one fell swoop, that expense can be gone. Either we could use that savings in reducing taxes or disburse it elsewhere; that money does not need to be locked to IT infrastructure.


Your second point(s): privatization, charter schools, corporate involvement in the process...somehow cannot better the situation students are currently facing, because those entities are....evil? Well, we're not going to come to agreement on the definition of "public good," or the place of business in schools. So let's set that aside as well, and look at it strictly as a purely-optional, family-chosen alternative when and if those families are unwilling to spring the $300 (over three years) for their kid to have school supplies (and, consider-- with a fully-automated school, that would be the SOLE charge you'd pay for the kids that year-- no book fees, no pencils, no paper, etc.). A hundred bucks doesn't seem like a ridiculous amount for a parent to pay in order to educate their child. In fact, I'd kind of have to wonder about the commitment and competence of a parent who couldn't find $100 every twelve months for their kid's education. I would worry for the health and well-being of that child.


But if someone doesn't want to pay for their kid's IT needs, and is willing to allow a subsidy in the form of equipment owned by a third party, where's the harm? It works for Little League jerseys, and ads in the yearbook.


Which leads us to the very next question: does Big Brother watch your behavior, in this configuration? Well, to be frank, I'm about as paranoiacally anti-1984 as any guy not already committed to an asylum of some sort. So I know the concerns you fear. Let me offer two key points:


- Oceana was tyrannically ruled by a kleptocracy that impinged on its population's privacy through all means of snooping, technological and otherwise-- this was their government, acting in a lawful manner. The model would not work so well for private firms trying to control the lives of young people, for various reasons (starting with sovereignty and competition, and working outward). We have less to fear from private schools than we do from generations raised according to government mandate and notion.


- The browsing and behavior data is already being collected, right now, by many of the same vendors. Your machine, right now, is telling maybe a half-dozen interested parties just what you're doing with your computer. Microsoft knows when you're using its tools; DoubleClick know what ads you see and which ones you like; Facebook knows who you are associated with, the kinds of things you like, and what ads you will operate; Google refines a picture of you based on your search and usage habits...and so on. In the school model, the student would actually get something in return for disclosing all this info: a computer and 'net connectivity. Sounds like a pretty fair deal...and is completely voluntary. If you don't want to get the corporate-sponsored machine, then just buy your own. Simple.


I think we have a lot more common ground than disagreement, actually. I thank you for taking the time to read this blog entry, and even more for commenting on it!





From | July 13, 2010 at 9:33 AM PST


Ben, Oh Ben, where to begin?

How about we start with your comment: “...the taxpayer should not be involved in the burden of supplying those assets.” 

Pray tell, good Ben, whose responsibility is it to strengthen school infrastructure? Are you suggesting that it is not in every taxpayer’s best interest to support the public education system? Is it, then, the role of private enterprise? 

Are you proposing that the vested concern of a corporate sponsor would remain in alignment with the inherent purpose of an education system with no long term expectation of philosophical imposition? The very idea of introducing an advertising campaign into the school system via the manner you suggest is, in itself, an insidious promotion of uber-consumerism, and counterintuitive with respect to the education process. 

Which leads us to another of your comments (and I paraphrase)--what’s the harm in private subsidy? Perhaps there is a role for it somehow, but private subsidy will never occur as a “something for nothing” trade-off. Furthermore, if the role of corporations is allowed (or expected) to increase with respect to supporting education infrastructure at any level, then naturally, the expected return on investment will increase. If the trade-off is predisposing the minds of students to corporate branding, then the compromise holds no validity in my book. Corporate branding is just the tip of the iceberg--there is no telling how corporate influence would mutate itself systemically. And suppose the corporate sponsor was one whose business actions were objectionable to parents who would not want to support that particular company? Dicey ground, Ben. Who would then pick up the tab?

And now your idea that “We have less to fear from private schools than we do from generations raised according to government mandate and notion.” 

First, you imply that private schooling is somehow free from the taint of “notion” -- has it occurred to you that, historically, the “school” whether public or private has always first been a locus for the dissemination of specified values and ideology? Now mind you, I have no issue whatsoever with the idea of private schooling (and in this category I include homeschooling). But to suggest that there is something fundamentally different about how private schools function is ridiculous. And what a sweeping and blanketed conjecture: just what makes the myriad ideologies that comprise your monolithic conception of “private schools” any less objectionable? Is it centralization itself that motivates your objection?

Moving on...I’ll grant you this: the current “government notion and mandate” for the public education system is ill-conceived, systemically flawed, and embedded with educational philosophies which respond neither to global competitiveness nor the fostering of individual personhood. But what it needs to address cannot be resolved with a free-for-all libertarian approach that blurs the distinction between public and private. On the contrary, what is needed is a solid, realistic approach to public education that is sustainable on its own.  

So, I’ll leave it there and also leave you with some food for thought from Sir Ken Robinson:

P.S. With respect to your anti-Orwellian stance: Perhaps taking a look at the historical progression of corporate-government alliances and the ascendence of corporate culture and corporate influence within every thread of society you might find that the more fearsome entity in this day in age is not the government but the corporation. It may turn out to be the case that responsible, responsive government will be the only shelter from the plutocracy that has been subsuming our democracy and has succeed in doing so by employing an alarmingly fascist methodology. 



From Me | July 19, 2010 at 12:31 PM PST


 Sorry, Oddball, I'm not quite getting your previous comment, you stated that the efficacy of a computerized classroom is questionable at best...but in this one you're quick to say that we should all be paying for computerized classrooms.


We should continue to pay for stuff that probably doesn't work?

As for the seem to have focused on one suggestion I made to offset those parents who would not be willing to pay for their kids' IT access. Set that aside, if you like. My original and main postulate was that parents should pay for their children's school supplies, be those books and paper and pens (old model) or IT (my model). In my entry, I pointed out that the average family spends $300 each year on back-to-school shoes...I see absolutely no reason whatsoever that they could not spend one-third of that on IT resources for the education of their offspring.

Do you disagree?

From | July 20, 2010 at 10:57 AM PST



Hello Ben,


Let’s backtrack. Hopefully outlining the exchange will help you get it. The cornerstone of your proposal in Entry the Sixth reallocates funding IT infrastructure from the school to the parent. In the case of low-income parents, that cost could be defrayed by private enterprise. 


My initial response to your entry questioned the assumptions of your arguments on two counts:

1). the efficacy and necessity of an IT-based curriculum

2). The wisdom of granting private enterprise access to the public education sector


In your response you chose to disregard the challenge made in my first point and then maintained that IT has found a permanent home in the education system. I don’t disagree with you there. I think it highly unlikely that IT resources will ever not be regarded as essential school infrastructure. But that does not mean that we, as a society, should adopt a position of passive acceptance and desist in any responsible interrogation of its validity. There is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that IT has dramatically altered the manner in which teachers teach and the way in which students learn. It is a legitimate pedagogical inquiry.


You further stated: “...the taxpayer should not be involved in the burden of supplying those assets.” In my response to you I posed three questions to further unpack the substance of your argument. You chose not to respond to them. I’ll reiterate them:


1). Whose responsibility is it to strengthen school infrastructure?

2). Are you suggesting that it is not in every taxpayer’s best interest to support the public education system?

3). Is it, then, the role of private enterprise?


You may not get it, but there is no contradiction between posing a legitimate pedagogical inquiry aimed at your assumptions and an additional line of inquiry aimed at the substance of your argument on a point (your main point) that you, yourself, maintained.


Frankly, I think you’ve grossly oversimplified a suite of complex issues that are among the most serious challenges we face as a nation. You ignore a great many touch points that are germane to your proposal and consequently the validity of your argument. Furthermore, your scheme attempts to re-categorize IT as a school supply while simultaneously maintaining it as essential infrastructure. School supplies and infrastructure are two mutually exclusive categories. They are not synonymous with one another. In addition you underestimate the girth of IT infrastructure, what it entails, and its potential total cost. If IT could be provided at so inexpensive an amount as you suggest then it wouldn’t be burdensome to the taxpayer. It appears that the crux of your proposal is not school improvement but devising a justification for reducing a tax levy.


If the latter is the actual case you are trying to make then call it what it is. If your real point is that you don’t think that the tax base should finance the education of other people’s children then construct a logical argument for that case, pose it as a legitimate inquiry but don’t couch it in school improvement rhetoric. Couching your argument only keeps it off the table as a topic of serious dialogue and adds nothing substantive to the education debate. 


To your questions:


“We should continue to pay for stuff that doesn’t work?”

No, we shouldn’t pay for stuff that doesn’t work. But we do it all the time. The school system we have now doesn’t work and insofar as we accept the fallacy of “school reform” as it currently stands it will never work. But at this time, there is no political will to thoroughly examine why it doesn’t work and why reform efforts have worsened the situation. Education is now so intractably politicized that I suspect it will be extremely difficult to engage in any realistic dialogue or responsible action in order to move forward or to fix the damage already done. 


And to your final question: No, I do not agree with your main postulate because first, you haven’t defended it adequately; second, I don’t think it is a realistic expectation. Your model calculates IT cost as a comparative average which belies the actual realm of affordability across the class spectrum.




From SLOW | July 2, 2010 at 9:04 PM PST



Hi! Thanks for the response. My key point, though, is not about the other questions you bring up, but really only about the IT assets necessary to convey educational information. Trying to broaden the discussion muddies the waters concerning this specific point.


IT makes up 30% of some school districts' budgets. That is ludicrous-- there is no proportional benefit associated with that level of funding in any organization (outside, maybe of software developers, search engine firms, and game designers...even there, the figure is high). Moreover, IT is simply a medium for transmitting information; it ought not become the end-goal of an information-transmitting organization (like a school district).


Ironically, though, I did discuss the question of the desirability of funding infrastructure in another recent blog: you can check it out HERE.[It's Entry the Tenth.]


Thanks again for your comments!