Tech workers and designers who reference “growth mindset” (especially in pieces on inclusion), know that it has a lot of baggage in some communities.
HR folks at my company are including their pronouns in their email signatures. Nice.
A great example of how to check that you are accommodating diverse learners was shared in the Panel at the end of the conference: Walk through your learning environment as different personas (think different ethnicities, students in wheelchairs, someone with ASD etc.) and see how inclusive it is. Do the spaces allow for you to move easily through, have a sense of belonging, provoke great thinking?
Even better than designing for is designing with. Neurodivergent & disabled students are great flow testers. They’ll thoroughly dogfood your school UX. There are great opportunities for project & passion-based learning in giving students agency to audit their context and design something better.
Parallel to the topic of who designs for children lies a bigger question: Do children need design at all? Or, rather, how might they be enabled to design the toys they need and experiences they desire for themselves? The act of making that designers find so satisfying is built into early childhood education, but as they grow, many children lose opportunities to create their own environment, bounded by a text-centric view of education and concerns for safety. Despite adults’ desire to create a safer, softer child-centric world, something got lost in translation. Jane Jacobs said, of the child in the designed-for-childhood environment: “Their homes and playgrounds, so orderly looking, so buffered from the muddled, messy intrusions of the great world, may accidentally be ideally planned for children to concentrate on television, but for too little else their hungry brains require.” Our built environment is making kids less healthy, less independent, and less imaginative. What those hungry brains require is freedom. Treating children as citizens, rather than as consumers, can break that pattern, creating a shared spatial economy centered on public education, recreation, and transportation safe and open for all. Tracing the design of childhood back to its nineteenth-century origins shows how we came to this place, but it also reveals the building blocks of resistance to fenced-in fun.
We cannot build an effective, an empathetic, a working User Experience unless we build a User Interface that kids won’t turn away from. And our schools are User Interfaces. Our schools are the “how” our children interact with education. Every door, wall, room, teacher, rule, chair, desk, window, digital device, book, hall pass are part of the User Interface, and that User Interface defines the User Experience.
And we cannot begin to understand the User Experience we need until we get fully into the heads of our users. That’s true in web and programming design, its true in retail and restaurant design, and its absolutely true as we design our schools. This understanding can have complex analytical paths – and those are important, and it has a committed caring component – but it also has an essential empathetic underpinning, and maybe you can begin working on that underpinning in a serious way before this next school year begins.
Source: SpeEdChange: Writing for Empathy
In creating such a system, today’s educators go back to the best of our roots in the earliest teachers who understood that learning occurs in many spaces, from caves to campfires to watering holes. The tools we use and the curriculum we learn shift across time.
However, to accomplish learning in today’s world teachers and their learners must use a continuum of old and new technology tools to design, build, create, make, and engineer learning. Neuroscience research is clear that engagement of the mind does not happen when forced to sit in rows, facing a dominant teaching wall, and rooted in space and time by the “cells and bells” model of the twentieth century. Today we know that this compliance‐driven teaching favored some, left some behind, and drove many out of our schools, regardless of compulsory education. The history is clear. Schools of the twentieth century were designed to fail students. The current need is apparent. Schools of the twenty‐first century must be designed so that all succeed.
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.
I updated “The Pipeline Problem and the Meritocracy Myth” with selections from “Words Matter – Moving Beyond “Meritocracy” – Mozilla Stands for Inclusion” and “The end of ‘meritocracy’ at Mozilla | Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel”.
“Meritocracy” was widely adopted as a best practice among open source projects in the founding days of the movement: it appeared to speak to collaboration amongst peers and across organizational boundaries. 20 years later, we understand that this concept was practiced in a world characterized by both hidden bias and outright abuse. The notion of “meritocracy” can often obscure bias and can help perpetuate a dominant culture. Meritocracy does not consider the reality that tech does not operate on a level playing field.
The world is not a neutral place and meritocracy can actually entrench privilege.
Sadly though, the social, political, and economic narrative of schooling in the past has been grounded in a “soft eugenics” belief that while some children have the capacity to become whatever they choose to be in life, others do not. This plays out in the decisions that educators make, often based on decontextualized data and confirmation biases that stem from immersion in traditions of education that did the same to us. Even if lip service is given to words such as equity, accessibility, inclusivity, empathy, cultural responsiveness, and connected relationships, schooling today is still far more likely to support practices from the past that have created school cultures in which none of those words define who educators really are, no matter what they aspire to be.
Consider how the “habitable world” concept developed by Rosemarie Garland‐Thomson, Emory University researcher and professor, sits at the core of the philosophy of educators who developed and now sustain the structures and processes of schooling that impact young people such as Kolion (Garland‐Thomson 2017b). Garland‐Thomson views public, political, and organizational philosophy as representative of one of “two forms of world‐building, inclusive and eugenic” (Garland‐Thomson 2017a). Unfortunately, often it’s the soft educational eugenics philosophy that is most often expressed in practice, if not in words, across the nation’s schools rather than the creation of habitable worlds that are inclusive of all learners.
If we want our schools to be learning spaces that reveal the strengths of children to us, we have to create a bandwidth of opportunities that do so. That means making decisions differently, decisions driven from values that support equity, accessibility, inclusivity, empathy, cultural responsiveness, and connected relationships inside the ecosystem. Those are the words representative of habitable worlds, not words such as sort, select, remediate, suspend, or fail.
The solution, the way decisions are best made, lies in empowering teachers and students to make choices. Any systemic or institutional decision made for “all kids” or “most kids” or based on quantitative research will – guaranteed – be the wrong decision. Any decision based in “miracle narratives” will be at least as bad. We are not discussing “the average child” or “the average dyslexic” (neither of which exists), nor are we going to base policy on the exceptional case. Instead, we will “solve this” by making individual decisions with individual students. (Socol 2008)
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.
I updated “Bring the backchannel forward. Written communication is the great social equalizer.” and “Wanted: hospitals and doctors’ offices that…” with selections from “Fergus Murray: Why ‘nothing about us without us’ should be an Autism policy principle | CommonSpace”.
When AMASE conducted a survey about the mental health of autistic people around Scotland, we found that many had been excluded by such simple things as practices insisting on telephone contact
I updated “Neurodiversity in the Classroom” with selections from “Ann’s Autism Blog: Autism, School, Exclusion. What’s fair?”.
The picture shows a school classroom as I see it, as an autistic person. A kaleidoscope of shape and blinding lighting, with vague outlines which are probably other students. Deafening noise. The stench of different smells. The confusion of many voices, including some heard through walls from neighbouring halls and classes. School uniform that feels like barbed wire on my skin.
In the chaos, a different voice which I have to try to listen to. It’s so hard. My brain doesn’t want to tune the rest of the noise out. Apparently I’ve been asked something, but I miss it. The voice gets more strident, the class turns to look at me. The intense stares overwhelm me. The person next to me jostles me and it feels like an electric shock on my skin. Only six more hours of hell to go…. only six….
Some of our autistic pupils simply cannot do this alone, without ‘time out’ to recover from the pain and exhaustion during the school day. Not for hour after hour of puzzling painful chaos.
We’ve turned classrooms into a hell for autism. Fluorescent lighting. Endless noise. Everywhere, bright patterns and overloading information. Groupwork and social time. Crowded hallways and relentless academic pressure. Autistic children mostly could cope in the quieter schools of decades ago. Not a hope now.
We cannot simply exclude autistic pupils for entering meltdowns. Meltdowns are part of autism for a good number of autistic young people.
Whilst mindful that of course everyone needs to be safe, the way to achieve safety is to stop hurting the autistic children. Punishing them for responding to pain is not something any of us need to do.
What schools need to do is to understand autism. In understanding it, we can help to stop putting the children in pain and exhaustion. It’s actually quite easy. And quite cheap.