Emily Talmage Writes a Warning to Mark Zuckerberg

Nov 18, 2015 by

Diane Ravitch –

Emily Talmage teaches fourth grade in Maine. She wasn’t supposed to be a career teacher. She went to Exeter, then Amherst, and became a teacher through the New York City Teaching Fellows Program. Unexpectedly, she discovered that she loved teaching.

As it happened, she was a sophomore at Exeter when Mark Zuckerberg was a senior. She may have shared a Latin class with him. She takes advantage of this slight proximity to write an open letter to him, warning him that he is hanging out with the wrong crowd. That is, Bill Gates and the other corporate reformers.

Here is an excerpt:

“Corporate reformers,” as we call them on the ground, are very good at preying on our best intentions. I, myself, was once taken in by a school that promised it was “closing the achievement gap,” but whose practices were so appalling and abusive that I left within a year. Of course, I have never been to a Summit Public School, so I cannot speak about their system. I must confess, however, that when I see who else is promoting this school, the hair on the back of my neck stands up.

“Let me assure you that “personalized learning,” as it is being pushed by the Gates Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Digital Learning Now Council, as well as countless educational technology companies, start-ups, and venture capitalists who have invested millions into personalized learning experiments (they call them “innovations”), is a far, far cry from the type of education we got at Exeter.

“At Exeter, we sat around shiny hardwood tables debating meaning buried within novels that were carefully selected by our teachers; we disagreed about interpretations of historical events, and were sometimes drowned out by the passion of Harkness Warriors (I was never one of those, were you?). Our teachers had ways of guiding us toward particular insights, but they never held us hostage to specific outcomes, or “competencies” as they are called now, before allowing us to move on. (If you aren’t sure what I mean by “competencies” and the role they play in personalized learning models, please read more here.) If an outside observer had come into one of our classrooms, as happens now in many public schools, to ask us “What is your learning target today, and how will you know if you have met it?” I’m quite sure not many of us would have been able to say. Our teachers probably would have been appalled at such a question.

“These are the constraints under which “personalized” learning models operate. Standards, competencies, learning targets and progressions, all of which must be tracked and monitored and controlled in order to work, are the ingredients of “personalized learning.” Students may be in control of their “learning trajectory,” in such a model, but not of their own minds, as we were at Exeter.

“In my humble opinion, this is a bastardization of true education.

“Of course, you can see why venture capitalists, educational technology companies and their related foundations (yes, I do mean Gates) would see a prime opportunity for profit through this type of model. Computers can, indeed, do this type of work.”

Will Mark Zuckerberg see Emily’s letter?

Post it on his Facebook page. He needs our help.

Source: Emily Talmage Writes a Warning to Mark Zuckerberg | Diane Ravitch’s blog

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