First – my sincerest congratulations on the birth of your baby girl. My son (now sleeping in my arms and making typing a bit difficult) was born just over a year ago, so I know quite well the wonder and fatigue of those first few weeks. I hope you and your wife have gotten some sleep since you’ve been home, and if you haven’t – don’t worry, it’ll get better soon.
When you get a chance to come up for air from your new life with little Max, I have another letter for you to read. (I say “another” because, if you’ve not yet seen it, I wrote you this letter a few weeks ago.)
Mark, without question, you said many lovely things in your open letter to your daughter. I know that you – like all parents – truly want this world to be a better place, as it is the world you’ll be leaving behind for Max.
But there was something you said, as you were describing your investments in personalized education, which was not lovely at all.
Here it is below:
“It will take building new technology and trying new ideas. And it will take making mistakes and learning many lessons before achieving these goals.”
Mark, now that you have a little one of your own, will you do something for me? Will you pick her up, put her sweet, floppy little head in the crook of your elbow, and then – just for a moment – imagine something you’d rather not imagine?
Imagine that Max’s mind – the most precious thing she has – will be experimented upon when she gets to school.
Imagine that you no longer have the resources to send her anywhere you like for school, and so she will attend your local public school.
And now imagine that your local public school is working with an out-of-state organization to implement an experimental model of education advocated by digital learning companies, because recently, your state has quietly signed up to be part of a lab network with the hope that your daughter and her peers will generate the “proof points” they are looking for.
Now imagine not knowing if Max’s education – the only one she will get – will be one of the mistakes that are made as philanthropists and investors such as yourself work to achieve their goals.
Imagine, too, not knowing for certain what these goals even are – as there has been little to no transparency regarding your state’s new policies nor where they have come from. Imagine not knowing what will happen to the data your little girl generates for them. Will it be sold? Stored? For whom and to what end?
This is my reality, Mark, and the reality of many parents in our country. Your friend, Bill Gates, whom I know you admire, along with a network of other organizations – all with corporate ties and funding – has used his money to do in Maine precisely what I described above.
Please don’t get me wrong: I do not want you to turn away from education. Many schools are in desperate need of resources, and we could certainly use your help and generosity.
But we do not want nor do we deserve to be guinea pigs in corporate experiments.
You said in your letter that you want equality for all. If this is true, then you need to know that treating humans as subjects in personalized learning experiments is not treating them as equals.
Our children’s minds, just like little Max’s, cannot afford to be “mistakes” that are made as you and other reformers seek to mold education according to the visions you craft behind closed doors. No child should have their education become a casualty that is made along the way as you and other digital reformers attempt to get this right.
My sweet son is now waking (no really – he’s learned to time his naps with mom’s blog posts), and I’m sure you are ready to get back to your wife and baby. Enjoy every moment with your precious little one, and please let me know if this is something you’d like to talk more about. I know a few people who’d like to chime in.
Emily Kennedy Talmage, Exeter ’03
P.S. – This is lovely photo.