Blockchain: Life on the Ledger

Incredibly important work and insight from a fellow blogger. Please take time to watch the video.

Wrench in the Gears

I created this video as a follow up to the one I prepared last year on Social Impact Bonds. It is time to examine the ways in which Blockchain could interface with social impact investing to further concentrate power and wealth and exacerbate long-standing forms of global oppression under the guise of philanthropy. This narrative flips the prevailing sales pitch for Blockchain on its head and offers a strong critique of a technology many consider a powerful disruptive force.

With decentralized identity we are cuing up permanent records for the masses with potentially disastrous consequences. Is it prudent to place our “trust” in a technology of unknown origin? No one knows who or what Santoshi Nakamoto actually is and whose interests this invention advances. Why would we be so naive as to remake the world’s social and economic structures around this code? What would it mean to live life…

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Who Is Pulling The Muppet Strings?

Critical read by a fellow blogger.

Wrench in the Gears

Sesame Street is an iconic brand that embodies humor, acceptance, and humanity. Who doesn’t love a muppet? So, on December 20 when the MacArthur Foundation announced they were giving Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee $100 million to educate young children from displaced Syrian families and help them deal with “toxic stress,” most people were thrilled. While the optics were great, I’m here to tell you these muppets are definitely not the type of “friends” Syrian refugee children need.

How will Sesame Workshop and the IRC spend the MacArthur award money? Much of it will be spent on educational technology:

  • Sesame-branded educational content delivered on televisions, phones and digital platforms
  • home visits reinforced by digital content and parenting resources provided via mobile devices
  • child development centers equipped with video-clips pre-recorded on projectors and activity sheets

This approach exactly reflects concerns raised by an April 2017 report published by Education…

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Why The Ban on “Evidence-Based” Is More Orwellian Than you Think

By now, you’ve likely heard the bizarre news that the Trump Administration has asked the CDC to avoid using certain words in their upcoming budget documents.

While the details are sketchy, one thing is certain: a list of seven emotionally-charged words are now flying across the web, provoking all sorts of responses on social media.

Before you go ahead and bumper-sticker your car with these terms in protest, however, you may want to take a closer look at one phrase in particular:

Evidence-based.

Of all the words included in the list, this one seems to be causing some of the most ire.

If “evidence-based” is one of the seven forbidden words, the thinking goes, surely it must be because Trump is anti-science.

Evidence is evidence, is it not?  Objective, rational… true?

How much more Orwellian can you get than a ban on truth?

Unfortunately, this is where it all gets more twisted than you may realize.

In recent years, “evidence-based” has become one of the phrases du jour of the banking elite.

Though the public remains mostly in the dark, banks like J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs are busy developing “innovative” financial tools that put public services in private hands.  And these tools, which include social impact bonds and “Pay for Success” contracts, rely on privately-developed “what works” clearinghouses, designed to serve as menus of “evidence-based” social services for investors to choose from.

(See below for a thorough explanation.)

 

In many cases, however, “evidence-based” doesn’t have much of anything to do with truth or objectivity.

Instead, evidence-based means data-based, and data, it turns out, can mean just about anything that gives investors higher rates of return.

In some cases, the results can be devastating.

Currently, a “Foundations for Evidence-Based Policy” bill sits in the Senate that will launch these new financial tools into overdrive by ramping up data-collection on virtually every public service that exists.

Perhaps because I have a three-year-old and am well aware of how useful reverse psychology can be, it all makes me wonder if that’s really what’s going on here.

Trump’s cabinet, after all, is filled with former Goldman Sachs bankers, and Goldman is at the forefront of the move toward  “evidence-based” (again, we’re talking data-based) social capital markets.

What better way to drum up support for the “evidence-based policy” bill than by pissing everyone off with a totally off-the-wall word ban and getting the term trending on Twitter?

I’m not saying to throw the baby out with the bath water.  Evidence does matter.

But let’s be real:  if I can mess with my three-year-old’s mind to get him to put on his sneakers, don’t you think it may have crossed their minds to mess with you to get you to support their multi-billion dollar plans?

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Misery Money


I remember the day A.J. first drew a portrait of me.

We were supposed to be doing math, but that year, we almost never did what we were supposed to be doing.

It was my first year teaching, and I had no idea what I was doing.

Somehow (for reasons I am only just now beginning to understand) the City of New York deemed it reasonable to put a twenty-two year-old with no background in education at the helm of a special education class for children who were, according to their IEP’s, “severely emotionally disturbed.”

For the first few months, I spent most of my time watching in disbelief as the kids threw punches at one another, screamed curse words at me, and even, once or twice, held scissors to my neck for a few terrifying minutes.

A.J., ordinarily distracted (watchful, really) by every movement in the classroom, was meticulous as he drew his picture of me.

He drew my ponytail, the polka-dotted blouse I had on that day, my flats.  He even made a smile and rosy cheeks, which delighted me.

But then, inexplicably, a flare of anger flashed across his eyes.

Beside the portrait, he drew a car.

Then, he flipped his pencil around and vigorously began to erase the image he’d made of me, so hard that the paper tore.

Turning his paper ninety degrees, he then drew me a second time – just as meticulously – but this time lying flat beside the car.

Finally, he took a red crayon and scribbled imaginary blood across the picture.

When he was done, he ripped the entire piece of paper into a hundred pieces and, without saying a word, threw them in the trash.

I watched the whole thing without saying a word either – dumbfounded and horrified.

I spent the next three years in the same classroom, looping with the kids from third all the way to fifth grade.

And things did get better over time.

A.J and the others slowly decided to trust me, and then eventually even to like me.

I have a whole folder full of pictures that A.J. drew for me over those three years, and most of them aren’t bloody.  In some, we are even hugging.

But, even with all the time we spent together, I think I only barely glimpsed just how far and deep and wide the pain of some children can be.

 

Nationwide, there is a movement afoot to focus on the “social and emotional” needs of students, and teachers – many like me, who know the hurt and brokenness of so many children – are falling for it left and right.

But it makes me feel sick to my stomach, in part because it is filled with insanely terrible ideas.

For example, there is a push to give kids digital, game-based avatars that they can use (for a fee) to “practice” social skills.

I’m serious.

There really are people out there – powerful, absurdly wealthy people – who think that the best way to help hurting kids like A.J. is to isolate them on a computer, ask them to choose “thought options” from a drop-down menu, and then to collect data on their “growth.”

Ultimately, the goal is to monetize the “evidence” they’ve gathered.

If you think I’ve lost my mind, or if none of this makes sense to you, I implore you to watch this short video from a fellow blogger:

The packaging is glamorous, and they know all the right words to pull on your heart strings.

But the product is the same as it so often is: a gimmick designed to exploit our most vulnerable populations.

A.J., and millions of kids like him, don’t need digital avatars. They don’t need drop-down thought-menus to choose from while they are plugged in, alone, to an electronic device.  And they don’t need data-wells built on their backs that are designed to make the rich even richer.

What they need are grown-ups – like us – to demand that the exploitation stops.

 

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We Need to Talk About Our Philanthropy Problem.

This week, the announcement of a massive collaborative between the world’s largest foundations and their philanthropic underlings underscored a disturbing and growing trend among America’s billionaire elite: the use of unprecedented levels of wealth to remake social policy.

If you’re one of those kindhearted Americans who still believes that the nation’s richest families are simply giving away their wealth to little people like us because they care, allow me to do this:

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Private foundations have long been used as tax-havens for the elite, but “philanthropy” has lately been retooled to serve a new function: the seeding of a new “social capital” market that has the potential to reap these self-proclaimed lovers-of-humanity billions of dollars in profit.

This new market, still in the works but advancing at lightning speed, relies on the complete undoing of the public sphere.

That whole Bill-Gates-Common-Core thing? Sure, he wanted everyone to have to buy his Microsoft products… but not as much as he wanted to build a data-tagging system that he and his cronies could use to “measure” and then profit off the “impact” of their investments. 

Data is king in the new social capital markets, which is why it’s no coincidence that Congress is currently ramming through several bills expanding the role of the Feds to collect and aggregate data on pretty much everything, starting from when you’re a neonate.

And maybe even more creepily, when it comes to “evidence-based policy”, it turns out that “evidence” doesn’t actually mean science or truth or even what’s remotely good for us.

Evidence means data, which can be p-hack’ed (massaged, if you will) anyway investors like.

And so we have folks like Tripp Jones of Massachusetts calling for an expansion of “evidence-based policy” while children die at alarming rates in his former for-profit foster care program; folks like Bill Gates relentlessly terrorizing the public school system in pursuit of an investment-friendly sector; and the folks who managed to balloon the national student debt to astronomical levels advancing new credentialing systems and grading systems…

…all under the guise of philanthropy.

Recently, education historian Diane Ravitch called for congressional investigation of Bill Gates and his out-sized and undemocratic role in the takeover of public education.

But I think we need to take this one giant step further.

Gates is one giant, gnarly tree in an dark, overgrown forest of private “givers” who are dead-set on remaking our nation into something reminiscent of a feudalistic society.

I say it’s time to investigate the whole rotten system that’s allowing this to happen.

Seriously, folks.  This just can’t be okay.

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A Plea to Future Teachers

Every now and then, a high school or college student will ask for advice about entering the teaching profession.

I typically give the standard two-cents:

Stay away from Teach for America.  Find a grade level you love.  Be prepared for the first year or two to grind you down to the bone, but stick with it.

Recently, however, there’s something else I’ve realized I should add:

Study economics, finance, and marketing.

These subjects may not interest you now, but these are the forces that will dictate so much of what you are expected to do in your classroom.

No one ever gave me this advice, and I so wish they had.

For a long time, I thought that the endless, ever-changing demands placed on teachers came from education experts. I believed, truly, that the teachers that came before me were mostly backwards dinosaurs using antiquated, oppressive teaching techniques; that public schools had become rotten, outdated places in need of dedicated young people like me to shake things up; and that standards and testing and technology and data were about nothing more lifting kids up and out of poverty and into the limitless possibility of a college-educated future.

It has taken one long punch-in-the-gut, slap-in-the-face dose of reality to discover just how duped I was, and hours upon hours of research to learn what’s actually driving the changes happening to public education.

There is a terrible disconnect right now between those in the classroom – those who have committed their time, energy and livelihoods to the well-being of young people – with the powerful financial and technological forces that are rapidly reshaping our schools.

Now – maybe more than ever?- we desperately need more bright minds who are able to bridge the divide between these two worlds –  thinkers and fighters who, in the game of tug-of-war between power and money on the one hand and innocent little lives on the other, will stand on the side of children.

So, while you study Piaget and Vgotsky and all the rest, please – learn more than I ever did about how money and markets and power work.

Find out who’s really in charge, and then, rather than join them (even though the money will be much, much better) help us fight them.

We need you.

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Big Money Coming for Your Child’s Privacy – Again.

In my fourth grade classroom, when there is something very important that I want all of my students hear and to understand the first time (a task that is more difficult than you can imagine), I tell my kids to “wake their brains up.”

And then I do this (sort of) to demonstrate:

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Today, I am asking parents to do the same.

And this is because your child’s privacy is under attack, and you, moms and dads, are literally the only thing standing in the way of the complete and utter hijacking of all personal information related to your loved ones.

Before you glaze over, realize that the implications of this data-grab may be greater than you think.

This week, a group of corporate-funded researchers joined Bill Gates’s “Data Quality Campaign” to lobby legislators to weaken the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) yet again.

In an era when entire school districts are being shut down due to data breaches and ransom notes from anonymous hackers, profiteers are seeking to put your child’s personal information into the hands of still more people.

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But here’s the thing: it’s not only creepy anonymous hackers that we need to protect ourselves from.

Data was recently called the “new oil” by the CEO of Mastercard, but few people seem to understand how – beyond vague notions of algorithms and advertising revenue – they intend to turn our personal information into a multi-trillion dollar market.

The intent is to put social services – schools, public health, prisons, foster care, you name it – into the hands of private investors via “social capital markets.”

Using social impact bonds, pay-for-success contracts, and other so-called “innovative” financial tools, investors – in collaboration with a wide network of corporate-sponsored “nonprofits” – intend to hand out loans for public services in exchange for repayment (with interest) when we meet their predetermined outcomes.

It’s the technocratic nightmare behind ever-increasing calls for “evidence-based” (read: data-based) policy:

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that leads not only to endless demands for data-collection, but to service-shortcuts like ipads in place of teachers and for-profit foster care programs that claim excellent “outcomes” while children are dying in their care.

(Please read here for more.)

And so when they – the data-miners themselves – suggest that perhaps we put our children’s data into something more “secure” like blockchain, realize that they are simply trying to secure the very data they themselves need to build their fortunes.

Unfortunately, this means that demands for greater “privacy” protections are not going to be enough.

What we need to do is stop the oil rigs from being built on our children’s backs in the first place.

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#TOTALREFUSAL2017 #DATAREFUSAL2017