“The Circle” of Education Reform

My latest essay at Truthout “The Great Answer to Education Reform? The Number 42” was released last week, and it was exciting to see the dialogue on Truthout, Facebook, and Twitter, as readers debated the role of automation, corporatization, and technical progress in our schools, and our culture more broadly.

In writing the essay, I was most inspired by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s prophetic and hilarious first novel Player Piano, which vividly imagines a completely technicalized society (Thanks to Paul Thomas for recommendation).

dave-eggers-the-circle

But if it’s possible to be reverse-inspired (as I’m sure Dr. Who would agree it is, given the right kind of temporal flux), then Dave Egger’s latest novel The Circle –which I read immediately after the essay was published – vividly depicts what I was trying to express, extending upon it significantly.  Egger’s novel – set in a world perhaps just a few years away – imagines quite vividly and frighteningly what will happen once Big Data dictates all elements of our lives . In one section, he explores a new data system The Circle has created called YOUTHRANK, which compares all students across the country against each other,  using their standardized testing scores and other quantitative metrics.  Indeed, once it’s fully up and running, with “full participation from all schools and districts, we’ll be able to keep daily rankings, with every test, every pop quiz incorporated instantly.”  That way, “soon we’ll be able to know at any given moment where our sons or daughters stand against the rest of American students, and then against the world’s students.”

YOUTHRANK may be a prophetic warning, but it’s also already here in nascent stages, in the form of the  InBloom student database, funded by the Gates Foundation and built by Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp.  And certainly, the competitive, data-driven ethos underneath YOUTHRANK is already encoded in federal law, in the form of Race to the Top – if The Circle existed, it would no doubt get the $3 billion grant it was given by the (fictional) Department of Education in Egger’s novel.

More broadly, though, The Circle provides important answers to the questions raised in my essay: What kind of world is Silicon Valley leading us to? And do we want to live there?

PHOTO: The Revolution Will Be Monetized

PHOTO: The Revolution Will Be Monetized

The Revolution Will Be Monetized! With Che Guevara – the American Spirit.
Photo by Adam Bessie in Munich, Germany. 2013.

Today’s Appearance on “Breaking the Set”

I had the honor of speaking with Abby Martin on RTV America’s “Breaking the Set” on automation, corporatization, and adjunctification of education.   It’s in the first segment.  Thanks for viewing!

Diane Ravitch, Adam Bessie, and the Folsom Street Fair…

 Diane Ravitch, Adam Bessie, and the Folsom Street Fair...

I had the honor of having lunch with Diane on her book tour for REIGN OF ERROR near her hotel in downtown SF. While lunching, we randomly met up with author David Sirota (http://www.davidsirota.com/) to talk education politics, along with the ever articulate and insightful Anthony Cody (http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/).

As if to (leather) cap off a fully San Francisco-esque day, a steady stream of fully-chapped, mustachioed gentlemen flowed by, bound to the annual Folsom Street Fair, an annual celebration of BDSM culture.

It was a fully uncensored experience.

Leather aside, this is the second time I’ve had the good fortune to meet with Diane, and both times, I’ve been struck by her absolute devotion to providing all children the education only our most privileged children receive. Unlike the corporate reformers, who clad themselves in the pleather trappings of social justice and equity, Diane is truly committed to the institution of public education, for the enrichment not of corporations, but of democracy, and humanity.

She is a hero for those of us who still believe in the promise of public education.

You can buy or download her book at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Reign-Error-Privatization-Movement-Americas/dp/0385350880

Bessie on Breaking the Set @ RTV (Previous Appearance)

I just had my second interview with the illustrious Abby Martin on Russia TV America’s BREAKING THE SET.  It should be online early next week.  In the meantime, here’s a previous interview, focused on Obama’s Drone Warfare … in our schools.

A Model T Education: Public Schooling on the Assembly Line

One of my essays from earlier this year, which links well into an upcoming media appearance…

Mass production is a problem the auto industry solved over 100 years ago,” veteran education reporter Jonn Merrow narrates over grainy images of Model Ts being rolled out of a factory in his most recent PBS NewsHour report. He observes that with the Model T, Henry Ford’s innovation was not in creating a quality car, but in constructing an assembly-line which could mass-produce them, providing this once cutting edge technology affordably to the public. “But it’s an issue our education system has yet to figure out. Nobody has figured out how to mass-produce high-quality, cost-effective schools,” Merrow mournfully concludes – public education has yet to discover its “Model T.”

In other words, Merrow – who has been reporting on education for forty years – is saying public education should aspire to the assembly line of the 1920s.

Perhaps the Mayans were right.

The last few years have felt like the beginning of the end of public education: it’s not just neo-con think tanks and billionaire industrialists calling for the end of public schooling as we know it, even our Public Broadcasting System is airing reports that our public schools aren’t acting enough like productive, efficient, and profitable factories[i]

Read more @ Truthout

http://truth-out.org/news/item/13732-a-model-t-education-public-schooling-on-the-assembly-line

The Gates Paradox – teaser

Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming essay!

Call it the Gates Paradox – the power of your voice in the “education reform” debate is proportional to the distance from the classroom (and your proximity to Silicon Valley), multiplied by the amount of money you earn.  Of course, each additional media outlet owned increases the influence by a factor of ten.

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Chronicle of Higher Education Review of ATM

seo_cw_product

Arthur and I were honored that our non-fiction comic “Automated Teaching Machine” was reviewed in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  I never thought I’d write that sentence…

From Kafka to Computers, a Graphic History of

Automation in Education

By Megan O’Neil

As the debate about the role of technology in education builds, two California community-college professors have published their own commentary on the automation of teaching—in the form of an illustrated comic.

 The comic was published by the news site Truthout and has been circulating among faculty members on California community-college e-mail lists.
Read More:

http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/from-kafka-to-computers-an-illustrated-history-of-automation-in-education/46149

The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum: The High Price of Education Reform (with Dan Archer)

Last year, I had the honor to work with the illustrious illustrator and journalist Dan Archer on our series “The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum,” a three-part non-fiction expose of the reality of education reform at Truthout. Here’s a taste, with a real interview with a Washington DC English instructor:

Image

By Adam Bessie and Dan Archer. Courtesy of Truthout.Org

Part I focuses on Washington DC:
http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/9391-the-disaster-capitalism-curriculum-the-high-price-of-education-reform-episode-i

Part II on New Orleans:

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/10061-the-disaster-capitalism-curriculum-the-high-price-of-education-reform-episode-2

Part III on Finland (including an original interview with Pasi Sahlberg):

http://truth-out.org/news/item/10801-the-finnish-alternative-reclaiming-public-education-from-corporate-reform

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