The tech guy’s burden: Imperialism and #edtech

I worry about a future where Silicon Valley’s version of it is so readily adopted by policy makers and education authorities.

The problem is that it is incredibly difficult to place a finger on why it is so troubling, but the more I read and the more I hear about SV initiatives, the more troubled I get. Deep down in my gut where things only make sense biologically and spiritually.

To me, it all feels a little bit colonial. “Here you are, world problems. If everyone learns to think and act like us, we can have a beautiful civilised technical future together.” The Tech Guy’s [White Man’s] Burden.

398px-1890sc_Pears_Soap_Ad

The paradox is that the future IS technical just as hygiene is important (as suggested by this poster), but are we on the right bandwagon?

I have posted in the past my concerns with an #edtech future, but today I want to try and tease out a few more of the things that concern me. Maybe once they are on the page/screen, a crystalisation process will begin.

1.   Is coding all it’s cracked up to be? Will thinking computationally actually improve our society? I’m not suggesting coding is not important, just questioning whether it should be compulsory (either in curriculum or cultural pressure). What happens to the billions of people that lack access to the resources necessary for competing in a codified world? What happens to language, the soul of culture, if emphasis in schools turns to coding rather than other languages other than English? Language loss is a part of the genocide model.

2.  What about the future of education? Education is a human right and widely considered the solution to issues of inequality in the world. Sure the system needs a shake up but the sheer entitled arrogance of perpetuating a culture of attrition when poised on the brink of unparelleled wealth is mind blowing. SV rockstars such as Apple’s Steve Jobs, software moguls such as Bill Gates, and billionaire playboys like Richard Branson are seductive examples of what success looks like after dropping out of university.  Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the blood testing company Theranos, is a Standford University drop out is the highest ranked female self-made billionaire. In fact, billionaire Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal with Elon Musk, is actively investing in promising university dropouts, such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Thiel even goes so far as to criticise university education in the United States as an institution that crushes graduates with unreasonable debts and little to show for it, as well as perpetuating the stratification of society through the cultural claim that a university education is a key to success. What these claims fail to proclaim is the massive rate of failure in new businesses. Nor are we reminded that many of the new venture capitalists have Standford University as a backer and the highly affluent  Silicon Valley as a geographic and cultural motherland. I want to know if there is a link between university drop outs and the cultural imperialism of SV. I want to know why dropping out of university is culturally ok in a world where only the elite have access in the first place.

Peter_Thiel_TechCrunch50

“Peter Thiel TechCrunch50” by TechCrunch50-2008 – 2008-09-08_17-24-26. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peter_Thiel_TechCrunch50.jpg#/media/File:Peter_Thiel_TechCrunch50.jpg

3. I really want to praise the Chan-Zuckerberg donation to improving equity. They have joined a growing list of celebrity tech folk who are trying to “give back”. But what I am disturbed about is the assumed understanding that technology and improvement in equity are linked. There seems to be a massive leap in logic here. So huge that I wonder if it is in fact illogical because those in most need of educational equity do not have access to technology to begin with. The jury is still out on this one, because as yet we know so little about the particulars of the $45 billion donation. But just because it makes them feel good doesn’t mean it’s right.

stolen children

Newspaper Clipping 01: Showing Aboriginal children who were offered to White families for adoption. The written note at the bottom refers to the girl in the middle marked with an X and reads: “I like the girl in the centre of the group, but if taken by anyone else, any of the others would do, as long as they are strong”. From “The Silent Apartheid” http://australianidentity2012.weebly.com/the-stolen-generation.html

4. Where are the Arts and Humanities in all of this? STEM education is the future. It is receiving the bulk of the funding for innovation in Australia. But this funding is with the assumption that innovators are only limited to the STEM disciplines. Maybe policy makers are listening too closely to people like Thiel who assert that the Arts and Humanities are a waste of time. He reckons that the only future for a social scientist is law. This is so ridiculous I again shake my head with incredulity. There are some valiant pragmatists that are adding the Arts to STEM (STEAM), trying to show that innovation needs artists. Sometimes I think it is a politicking because what the A probably means is digital design rather than the analogue and liberal arts. If STEM is so important it is going to need the social scientists and artists to think through how to retain brilliant practitioners because the gender divide is brutal. Regardless, education funding continues to leave out the A.

Steampunk-falksen

“Steampunk-falksen” by Tyrus Flynn – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Steampunk-falksen.jpg#/media/File:Steampunk-falksen.jpg

So here is my list so far. I still have many questions. A personal pragmatic consideration is where does sociology fit in all this? What am I going to do with my future? Will I too get seduced by Sillicon Valley style industries that want information on their clients and possibly bring home some large pay checks? I am a social media analyst and methodologian that has a mortgage. Or will I continue to trouble and question the edges of imperialist edtech in the unstable environs of higher education?

These questions I don’t know the answer to either. That is, unfortunately the insidious power of imperialism.

 

 

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