Ed Reform 2.0: If You Can Train a Pigeon to Detonate Bombs…

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.”

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HA! Those crazy 70’s!  Boy did they have some crazy ideas back then.

But wait…

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.”

Duckworth adds:

“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.”

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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.”

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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.

Yikes.

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Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

11 thoughts on “Ed Reform 2.0: If You Can Train a Pigeon to Detonate Bombs…”

  1. Quote, from various sources:
    “Some claim the maxim comes from St. Ignatius Loyola himself. Yet the idea later proclaimed by the Jesuits is very old – give us a child till he’s seven and we’ll have him for life.”

    It works.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Mister Journalism: "Reading, Sharing, Discussing, Learning" and commented:
    Ed Reform 2.0: If You Can Train a Pigeon to Detonate Bombs…
    by Emily Talmage
    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.”

    laughing-gif1.gif

    HA! Those crazy 70’s! Boy did they have some crazy ideas back then.

    But wait…

    Like

    1. As a School Psychologist with 40+ years experience, I have been dismayed as I watched Behaviorism take over Education. Instead of emphasizing the humanity and God-given rights of the individual child, children are just lab rats to be manipulated into compliance with bureaucratic goals and to serve as research subjects for the elites. Now we are embarking on a program wherein every child will be plugged into a continuous feedback loop through constant computer surveillance and assessment throughout their life-time. As teachers are marginalized, children will grow up as cyborgs, half computer and half human. This is High-Tec Slavery.
      Those of us who remember what Education used to be, need to keep fighting for our grandchildren and keep shining the light of Truth on these societal cockroaches.

      Liked by 1 person

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