Back in 1977, Superintendent James Guines of Washington D.C. explained his district’s competency-based education pilot program like this:
“The basic idea is to break down complicated learning into a sequence of clear simple skills that virtually everyone can master, although at different rates of speed. If you can train a pigeon to fly up there and press a button and set off a bomb, why can’t you teach human beings to behave in an effective and rational way?”
“We know we can modify human behavior. We’re not scared of that,” he added. “This is the biggest thing that’s happening in education today.”
HA! Those crazy 70’s! Boy did they have some crazy ideas back then.
Now check out this recent video from Angela Duckworth and Katherine Milkman:
Here’s what Milkman has to say:
“If you repeatedly reward good behavior, and pair it with memorable cues, positive routines become instinctual.”
“We’ll use technology to make good decisions easier…If we can solve enduring behavior change, we can address every major social ill that confronts humanity.”
The video above is part of Duckworth’s and Milkman’s application to the MacArthur Foundation’s “100&Change” competition, which promises to award 100 million dollars to fund a single proposal that “promises real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time.”
And if I had to guess, I’d say Duckworth and Milkman have a pretty good shot at winning the grant.
Lately, the MacArthur Foundation has been everywhere that Ed Reform 2.0 (personalized, competency-based, digital learning) has been – sponsoring conferences at the U.S. Department of Education on the merits of Social Impact Bonds, awarding grants to promote digital learning efforts, and even gaining recognition for their work with Mozilla and HASTAC in advancing the competency-based “digital badging” agenda from the Clinton Global Initiative.
(Yeah – the Clinton’s are involved in this too, in a big way.)
Just as it was back in the 70’s, behavior change – which now operates under the far friendlier banner of “social emotional learning” – is a major part of next-gen ed reform.
But parents need to beware: in Ed Reform 2.0 doublespeak,”social emotional learning” does not refer to kids simply learning to play well together at recess or turn in their homework on time. Instead, the real agenda is more akin to what Duckworth and Milkman describe above: using technology to reinforce “good behavior” through the same system of rewards-based behavior modification that B.F. Skinner used to get his pigeons to detonate bombs.
And “good behavior,” of course, may or may not mean what you think does. For Duckworth, good behavior means “grit;” other desirable behavior traits depend on what computer programmers and their financiers deem desirable for an effective, efficient workforce.
(Curiously, despite her statements in the video above, Duckworth recently backed out of a social-emotional assessment pilot program in California, suggesting that she might have moral reservations about what she’s promoting. Perhaps the opportunity to earn a 100 million dollar grant is just too much to turn down.)
Now, for those of you who may be thinking: how bad could this really be – a little positive reinforcement never hurt anyone! I encourage you to take a look at the disturbing way behavior modification by way of technology is currently being used in China:
Under the auspices of corporate giants Tencent and Alibaba, Chinese citizens will be required by 2020 to earn a character credit score based on their actions on social media. If you post government-approved articles, for example, you’ll earn points that you can then show off to your friends. (It actually gets even creepier than that, so make sure to watch the video above.)
And if you’re now thinking: but that’s China! That could never happen here! consider the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – now a major investor in personalized learning initiatives across the country – is quite fond of Sesame Credit’s sponsor, Jack Ma of Alibaba.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Zuckerberg said he was optimistic about China’s future development because the country focused on science and technology education.”
And now consider that one of Zuckerberg’s pet projects, Summit Public Schools (where, according to digital learning Guru, Tom Vander Ark, students will have “college and career readiness system will track growth trajectory of knowledge, skills, and success habits against college goals, and “students falling short of their planned growth trajectory, on any front, will see a big red warning system”) has partnered with Duckworth and Milkman as part of their MacArthur 100&Change Proposals.