Personalized learning – the kind hyped these days by Mark Zuckerberg and many others in Silicon Valley – is just the latest version of Skinner’s behavioral technology. Personalized learning relies on data extraction and analysis; it urges and rewards students and promises everyone will reach “mastery.” It gives the illusion of freedom and autonomy perhaps – at least in its name; but personalized learning is fundamentally about conditioning and control.
those who work in and work with education technology need to confront and resist this architecture – the “surveillance dataism,” to borrow Morozov’s phrase – even if (especially if) the outcomes promised are purportedly “for the good of the student.”
I maintain that behaviorism never really went away and, despite all the talk otherwise, it remains central to computing — particularly educational computing. And as Shoshana Zuboff argues, of course, behaviorism remains central to surveillance capitalism.
Source: HEWN, No. 314
These children are the population that was chosen to be the subjects of an experimentally intense, lifelong treatment within a therapy where most practitioners are ignorant regarding the Autistic brain—categorically, this cannot be called anything except abuse.
Why don’t we know what PTSD looks like in autistic children? Why don’t we have a clear idea how many are experiencing it? I sense that this is because of the deeply problematic core belief in society that autistic distress is a ‘problem behaviour’ that is to be trained out of us. Looking at that list, anger, depression, aggression, irritability, panic, hypervigilance…. I’m mindful of how many behavioural-intervention checklists I see where those items are listed as ‘autism symptoms’ and the individual is relentlessly trained and rewarded for making their internal terror invisible to outsiders.
And quite commonly on Twitter, I’ve seen people call ABA “dog training for children.”
When I see that, I tend to go on Twitter rants in reply to it, because from everything I have read and seen of ABA, it is NOT “dog training” for children.
…I would never treat a dog that way.
In any case, very few dog trainers use the radical behaviourism that’s employed in ABA.
Most of the dog trainers I know mix and match behaviourism with other cognitive science research and other methods to create a more holistic approach to training their dogs. This is because dog trainers understand the limits of behaviourism on canines, because it doesn’t address the whole dog.
One would hope that someone considering using radical behaviourism on a human being would also recognize its limits.
So if it isn’t sufficient to properly train a dog, is it sufficient in educating a child?
A good dog trainer doesn’t extinguish behaviours which improve the dog’s mental health and happiness. But an ABA practitioner may not think twice before doing this to a human child.
Dog trainers understand that dogs need to chew and bark and dig, but ABA therapists don’t understand that autistic children need to repeat words and sentences, flap their hands, and sit quietly rocking in a corner when things get too much.
it’s tempting straight away to see a whole range of educational platforms and apps as condensed forms of surveillance capitalism (though we might just as easily invoke ‘platform capitalism’). The classroom behaviour monitoring app ClassDojo, for example, is a paradigmatic example of a successful Silicon Valley edtech business, with vast collections of student behavioural data that it is monetizing by selling premium features for use at home and offering behaviour reports to subscribing parents. With its emphasis on positive behavioural reinforcement through reward points, it represents a marriage of Silicon Valley design with Skinner’s aspiration to create ‘technologies of behaviour’. ClassDojo amply illustrates the combination of behavioural data extraction, behaviourist psychology and monetization strategies that underpin surveillance capitalism as Zuboff presents it.
Zuboff then goes beyond human-machine confluences in the workplace to consider the instrumentation and orchestration of other types of human behaviour. Drawing parallels with the behaviourism of Skinner, she argues that digitally-enforced forms of ‘behavioral modification’ can operate ‘just beyond the threshold of human awareness to induce, reward, goad, punish, and reinforce behaviour consistent with “correct policies”’, where ‘corporate objectives define the “policies” toward which confluent behaviour harmoniously streams’ (413). Under conditions of surveillance capitalism, Skinner’s behaviourism and Pentland’s social physics spill out of the lab into homes, workplaces, and all the public and private space of everyday life–ultimately turning the world into a gigantic data science lab for social and behavioural experimentation, tuning and engineering.
For surveillance capitalists human learning is inferior to machine learning, and urgently needs to be improved by gathering together humans and machines into symbiotic systems of behavioural control and management.
With the advance of AI-based technologies into schools and universities, policy researchers may need to start interrogating the policies encoded in the software as well as the policies inscribed in government texts. These new programmable policies potentially have a much more direct influence on ‘correct’ behaviours and maximum outcomes by instrumenting and orchestrating activities, tasks and behaviours in educational institutions.
Ed-tech relies on amnesia.
Ed-tech is a confidence game. That’s why it’s so full of marketers and grifters and thugs. (The same goes for “tech” at large.)
Source: HEWN, No. 297
Despite scant evidence in support of the psychopedagogies of mindsets, mindfulness, wellness, and grit, the ed-tech industry (press) markets these as solutions to racial and gender inequality (among other things), as the psychotechnologies of personalization are now increasingly intertwined not just with surveillance and with behavioral data analytics, but with genomics as well. “Why Progressives Should Embrace the Genetics of Education,” a NYT op-ed piece argued in July, perhaps forgetting that education’s progressives (including Montessori) have been down this path before.
“Does It Make More Sense to Invest in School Security or SEL?” Edsurge asked its readers this summer. Those are the choices – surveillance or surveillance.
What an utter failure of imagination.
Public education is looking too much like the autism industry.