I collect mentions of the meritocracy myth. This one comes from Kimberlé Crenshaw’s Harvard Law Review paper “Race, Reform, and Retrenchment: Transformation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law” back in 1988.

Race consciousness also reinforces whites’ sense that American society is really meritocratic and thus helps prevent them from questioning the basic legitimacy of the free market. Believing both that Blacks are inferior and that the economy impartially rewards the superior over the inferior, whites see that most Blacks are indeed worse off than whites are, which reinforces their sense that the market is operating “fairly and impartially”; those who should logically be on the bottom are on the bottom. This strengthening of whites’ belief in the system in turn reinforces their beliefs that Blacks are indeed inferior. After all, equal opportunity is the rule, and the market is an impartial judge; if Blacks are on the bottom, it must reflect their relative inferiority. Racist ideology thus operates in conjunction with the class components of legal ideology to reinforce the status quo, both in terms of class and race.

The eradication of barriers has created a new dilemma for those victims of racial oppression who are not in a position to benefit from the move to formal equality. The race neutrality of the legal system creates the illusion that racism is no longer the primary factor responsible for the condition of the Black underclass; instead, as we have seen, class disparities appear to be the consequence of individual and group merit within a supposed system of equal opportunity. Moreover, the fact that there are Blacks who are economically successful gives credence both to the assertion that opportunities exist, and to the backlash attitude that Blacks have “gotten too far.” Psychologically, for Blacks who have not made it, the lack of an explanation for their underclass status may result in self-blame and other self-destructive attitudes.

Source: Race, Reform, and Retrenchment: Transformation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law

The meritocracy myth and the “lowering the bar” narrative are big barriers to inclusion. This study frames the struggle as “merit vs. the diversity imperative” and identifies it as one of four primary organizational challenges to D&I.

See also:

The Pipeline Problem and the Meritocracy Myth – Ryan Boren

The “Fix Injustice, Not Kids” Principle: Educational outcome disparities are not the result of deficiencies in marginalized communities’ cultures, mindsets, or grittiness, but rather of inequities. Equity initiatives focus, not on “fixing” students and families who are marginalized, but on transforming the conditions that marginalize students and families.

Source: Basic Principles for Equity Literacy

“for many software people, a good deal of self-actualization is involved with becoming a better software professional.”

—Barry Boehm, Software Engineering Economics

Via: Self-determination Theory: Understanding Human Motivation for Fun and Profit | Dr. Leif Singer

Some suggested professional development:

Design is Tested at the Edges: Intersectionality, The Social Model of Disability, and Design for Real Life

Neurodiversity, the social model of disability, intersectionality, and equity literacy are necessary professional development.

We are confronted by the complicated/complex division everyday in education. Do I want to know if a medical students has remembered the nine steps of a process of inquiry to work with a patient or do I want to know if they built a good raport? How often do we choose the thing that is easier to measure… simply because we can verify that our grading is ‘fair’. How often do we get caught in conversations around how ‘rigourous’ an assessment is when what we really mean is ‘how easy is it to defend to a parent who’s going to complain about a child’s grade’.

Learning, like love, can’t have a lean six sigma chart designed for it. Once we’ve identified something in our education space as complex (as opposed to complicated) a new set of tools has to emerge. We have to have deep conversations about what our goals are. We need to talk about what our values are and how they translate to our lives. And then we need to engage with our system in a broad based, patient way that allows us to make change. As Snowden would put it, Probe, Sense and Respond. Try some things, see how they work, iterate and try again. You’re never going to get to best practice, because the situation is always changing.

We need to understand that our protectionist strategies (limiting screen time, web blocking apps) just further put dangerous and mean activities our children on the internet further underground. We need training, we need dialogue, we need courage… but most of all we all need to get together and decide that our goal is to try and make the internet a better place… rather than trying to hide from it. No LSS approach is going to do that. Only human approaches… only messy results.

Source: Making Change in Education II – Complexity vs. Lean Six Sigma (learning isn’t like money) – Dave’s Educational Blog

we all need to get together and decide that our goal is to try and make the internet a better place… rather than trying to hide from it.

Indeed. Bring safety to the serendipity. I suggest indie ed-tech and Domain of One’s Own.

No LSS approach is going to do that. Only human approaches… only messy results.

Once we’ve identified something in our education space as complex (as opposed to complicated) a new set of tools has to emerge.

Human approaches, tools for complexity:

We are confronted by the complicated/complex division everyday in education.

Start “foregrounding complexity as the baseline”. Behaviorism and mindset marketing are not human approaches because they bikeshed human complexity. They are convenient detours, not direct confrontations.

There is no path toward educational justice that contains convenient detours around direct confrontations with injustice. The desperate search for these detours, often in the form of models or frameworks or concepts that were not developed as paths to justice, is the greatest evidence of the collective desire among those who count on injustice to give them an advantage to retain that advantage. If a direct confrontation of injustice is missing from our strategies or initiatives or movements, that means we are recreating the conditions we’re pretending to want to destroy.

Source: Paul C. Gorski – Grit. Growth mindset. Emotional intelligence….

How often do we choose the thing that is easier to measure… simply because we can verify that our grading is ‘fair’. How often do we get caught in conversations around how ‘rigourous’ an assessment is when what we really mean is ‘how easy is it to defend to a parent who’s going to complain about a child’s grade’.

Picking the easy to measure things and building pedagogy and culture around data and behaviorism disguises the ways they kill us.

The irony of turning schools into therapeutic institutions when they generate so much stress and anxiety seems lost on policy-makers who express concern about children’s mental health

Source: ClassDojo app takes mindfulness to scale in public education | code acts in education

Here’s a rule of thumb for you: An individual’s enthusiasm about the employment of “data” in education is directly proportional to his or her distance from actual students. Policy makers and economists commonly refer to children in the aggregate, apparently viewing them mostly as a source of numbers to be crunched. They do this even more than consultants and superintendents, who do it more than principals, who do it more than teachers. The best teachers, in fact, tend to recoil from earnest talk about the benefits of “data-driven instruction,” the use of “data coaches,” “data walls,” and the like.

Making matters worse, the data in question typically are just standardized test scores – even though, as I’ve explained elsewhere, that’s not the only reason to be disturbed by this datamongering. And it doesn’t help when the process of quantifying kids (and learning) is festooned with adjectives such as “personalized” or “customized.”

But here’s today’s question: If collecting and sorting through data about students makes us uneasy, how should we feel about the growing role of Big Data?

Part of the problem is that we end up ignoring or minimizing the significance of whatever doesn’t lend itself to data analytics. It’s rather like the old joke about the guy searching for his lost keys at night near a street light even though that’s not where he’d dropped them. (“But the light is so much better here!”) No wonder education research – increasingly undertaken by economists – increasingly relies on huge data sets consisting of standardized test results. Those scores may be lousy representations of learning – and, indeed, egregiously misleading. But, by gum, they sure are readily available.

“What’s left out?”, then, is one critical question to ask. Another is: “Who benefits from it?” Noam Scheiber, a reporter who covers workplace issues, recently observed that big data is “massively increasing the power asymmetry between exploiters and exploitees.” (For more on this, check out Cathy O’Neil’s book Weapons of Math Destruction).

Anyone who has observed the enthusiasm for training students to show more “grit” or develop a “growth mindset” should know what it means to focus on fixing the kid so he or she can better adapt to the system rather than asking inconvenient questions about the system itself. Big data basically gives us more information, based on grades, about which kids need fixing (and how and when), making it even less likely that anyone would think to challenge the destructive effects of – and explore alternatives to – the practice of grading students.

Predictive analytics allows administrators to believe they’re keeping a watchful eye on their charges when in fact they’re learning nothing about each student’s experience of college, his or her needs, fears, hopes, beliefs, and state of mind. Creating a “personalized” data set underscores just how _im_personal the interaction with students is, and it may even compound that problem. At the same time that this approach reduces human beings to a pile of academic performance data, it also discourages critical thought about how the system, including teaching and evaluation, affects those human beings.

Source: When “Big Data” Goes to School – Alfie Kohn

Our public school policymakers want us to do the later. In fact, they have a whole pedagogical justification for ignoring the needs of children.

It’s called “academic tenacity,” a “growth mindset” or “grit.”

And it goes something like this:

That child isn’t learning? If she just worked harder, she would. 

It’s the political equivalent of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” applied to the classroom.

And it’s super helpful for politicians reluctant to allocate tax dollars to actually help kids succeed.

But what no one wants to admit is that grit is… well… shit.

It’s just an excuse for a society that refuses to help those most in need.

Yet when anyone suggests offering help to even the playing field – to make things more fair – a plethora of policy wonks wag their fingers and say, “No way! They did it to themselves.”

It’s typical “blame the victim” pathology to say that some kids get all the love, time and resources they need while others can do without – they just need more “grit” and a “growth mindset.”

Source: Grit is Sh!t – It’s Just an Excuse to do Nothing for Struggling Students – gadflyonthewallblog

As with the corporate flavor, ed-tech mindfulness, like other mindset marketing, disguises the ways they kill us.

Source: Mindfulness in Education – rnbn

And so we can firmly put the insistence on data-driven instruction in the trash bin of bad ideas.

It is unscientific, unproven, harmful, reductive, dehumanizing and contradictory.

The next time you hear an administrator or principal pull out this chestnut, take out one of these counterarguments and roast it on an open fire.

No more data-driven instruction.

Focus instead on student-driven learning.

Source: The Six Biggest Problems with Data-Driven Instruction | gadflyonthewallblog

Masking the real history of high school in America also helps the DeVoses of the world obscure legitimate problems the education system has always faced—problems that have been deliberately created and maintained. Funding inequality and racial segregation are rarely the focus of these sorts of stories about an ever-unchanging educational system. The dominant narrative instead tends to point to teachers or curricula, or even bells and early start times, as the reason schools are “broken” and that students aren’t being adequately prepared for the future.

Source: The History of the Future of High School – VICE

What education has done literally to almost all kids now, everywhere across the country, is communicate through its structures that if a learner can’t do the work in class, we’ll give that student twice the amount of English and math in a school day, more by far any other content area, which includes science and social studies – and particularly any sort of art or physical education. That’s called double blocking. Kids in remedial classes find themselves doing twice as many worksheets, listening to twice as many lectures, and taking twice as many tests because a single block of math and/or reading didn’t work. So, once again, educators double down on compliance‐driven schooling. That’s the design of the institution – it’s not conspiratorial. This exists publicly as the strategy of choice if a student is struggling in school. Significant literature and historical research document how and why this was set in motion a long time ago. President Woodrow Wilson (Wilson 1909) and then Ellwood Cubberley (Cubberley 1919) from Stanford both basically said in the early twentieth century that we only need a small group of people to get a liberal education, and a much bigger group to forego the privilege of a liberal education. Unfortunately, for many people today that’s still okay. But it’s not okay with us.

The district mission to create an inclusive community of learners and learning is no longer limited to just what we do in our own schools, but rather has expanded to influence equity and access beyond our schools. This has occurred through purposeful connectivity of our educators and learners with others across our district’s 25 schools as well as to other states and even countries. Our efforts are different and unique here because educators are working to convert a public school system that over years and years wasn’t designed for what we are doing now to empower children. We’re working – against rules and excuses – to convert an institution to a progressive model of education grounded in an “all means all” philosophy when it comes to every child participating in rich, experiential learning.

Source: Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools (Kindle Locations 1036-1052). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Creating paths to equity and access for all children remains the grand challenge of public education in America.

Equity provides resources so that educators can see all our children’s strengths. Access provides our children with the chance to show us who they are and what they can do. Empathy allows us to see children as children, even teens who may face all the challenges that poverty and other risk factors create. Inclusivity creates a welcoming culture of care so that no one feels outside the community.

Source: Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools (Kindle Locations 840-841, 878-881). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

I updated “Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology” with selections from “Grit and Growth Mindset: Deficit Thinking?”.

Thomas points to the deficit thinking that is inescapable with grit and growth mindset-The idea that students who do not demonstrate white, well-resourced definitions of perseverance with curriculum that may or may not be meaningful to them, in a larger system that is often operated with intentional and unintentional bias against their success, and to act upon those perseverance ideals daily are somehow less disciplined than others, diminished in a way, and that teachers must “fix” what’s wrong in them, (i.e., personal character and maturity) and not fix their environments and the controlling narratives of those in power that perpetuate this constant diminished state.

Author and educator Richard Cash agrees, referring to deficit thinking as the, “spoken and unspoken assumptions about a student’s lack of self-regulation, ability, or aptitude. The most devastating impact of deficit thinking is when differences-particularly socio-cultural differences-are perceived as inferior, dysfunctional, or deviant … Typically, schools are designed to ‘fix’ students who are achieving poorly or misbehaving. However, by blaming students, we exonerate ourselves as the possible cause-using the symptom to overlook the source” (June 2018).

Thomas ties it to his critique of grit/growth mindset: “Both growth mindset and grit … mistake growth mindset/grit as the dominant or even exclusive quality causing success in student learning (ignoring the power of systemic influences) and then create an environment in which some students (too often black, brown, and poor) are defined in deficit terms-that they lack growth mindset/grit.” He adds, “[S]tudents are better served by equity practices couched in efforts to alleviate the systemic forces that shape how they live and learn regardless of their character.”

In a separate post, he argues that it is particularly harmful, yet typically American, thinking to assume that students’ success and failure is driven solely by individual character and behavior, when actually, so much of any one individual’s success or failure is driven by social forces, environment of birth, and systemic biases. He recommends Sendhil Mullainathan’s Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much to clarify this point, as do I-It’s a thoughtful read.

Thomas and others claim that growth mindset/grit programs, “disproportionately target racial minorities and impoverished students, reinforcing that most of the struggles within these groups academically are attributable to deficits in those students … linked to race and social class … [which] perpetuate race and class stereotypes, and as a result, work against inclusive pedagogy and culturally relevant pedagogy” (Thomas, 2018).

Thomas promotes author and educator Paul Gorski’s assertion that, “Equity literate educators … reject deficit views that focus on fixing marginalized students rather than fixing the conditions that marginalize students, and understand the structural barriers that cheat some people out of the opportunities enjoyed by other people.”

At the Equity Literacy Institute, Gorski is clear: “We must avoid being lulled by popular ‘diversity’ approaches and frameworks that pose no threat to inequity-that sometimes are popular because they are no real threat to inequity.”

Source: Grit and Growth Mindset: Deficit Thinking?