B. F. Skinner, the name most closely associated with the devices, was arguably one of the best-known scientists of the twentieth century. As such, teaching machines are often decried these days as outdated behaviorist technologies, a disparagement that tends to overlook how much of Skinner’s ideas—“conditioning,” in his terms, or “nudging,” in more recent Silicon Valley parlance—have made their way into the classroom via our contemporary computing devices.Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning
To be clear, the connection I am trying to make here is that personality profiling-the production of psychographic renderings of human characteristics-is not just confined to Cambridge Analytica, or to Facebook, or to the wider data analytics and advertising industries. Instead, the science of personality testing is slowly entering into education as a form of behavioural governance.Learning from psychographic personality profiling | code acts in education
- The Marketing of Mindsets is Everywhere
- A History of Deficit Model Hucksterism
- The Mindset of Coercion and Abuse
- Stop Bikeshedding Deficit Ideology
- Fundamental Attribution Error and Harm Reduction Theater: Disguising the Ways They Kill Us
- Stop Bikeshedding Bigotry and Harm
- Main Takeaways
- Fix Injustice, Not Kids: Justice, not grit. Justice, not growth mindset. Justice, not behavior “management.” Justice, not rearrangement of injustice.
The Marketing of Mindsets is Everywhere
The marketing of mindsets is everywhere. Fast psycho-policy & the datafication of social-emotional learning dominate ed-tech. Grit, growth mindset, project-based mindset, entrepreneurial mindset, innovator’s mindset, pirate mindset and a raft of canned social-emotional skills programs are vying for public money. These notions are quickly productized, jumping straight from psychology departments to aphoristic word images shared on social media and marketing festooned on school walls.
“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” – Eric HofferEducation Technology and the New Behaviorism
despite the popular notion that “Skinnerism” has been excised from education, it certainly has not; indeed, behaviorism is a core feature of almost all ed-tech.Palo Alto, Day 2 – Teaching Machines
There is a long history of educational interventions grounded in some interesting research that escape the lab and wreak havoc on students and classrooms…
A History of Deficit Model Hucksterism
Growth mindset and Positive Behavior Support marketing have joined Leader in Me marketing at our elementary school. Instead of being marketed with synergy and Franklin Covey’s trademarks and proprietary jargon, we’re now marketed with LiM and growth mindset and PBS. A continuous stream of mindset fads hits our inbox.
Like every marketed mindset going back to the self-esteem movement, these campaigns are veneers on the deficit model that ignore long-standing structural problems like poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, and childism. The practice and implementation of these mindsets are always suborned by deficit ideology, bootstrap ideology, meritocracy myths, and greed.
“Money Doesn’t Have to Be an Obstacle,” “Race Doesn’t Matter,” “Just Work Harder,” “Everyone Can Go to College,” and “If You Believe, Your Dreams Will Come True.” “These notions have helped fueled[sic] inequity in the U.S. public education system.” Mindset marketing without equity literacy, structural ideology, and restorative practices is more harmful than helpful. This marketing shifts responsibility for change from our systems to children. We define kids’ identities through the deficit and medical models, gloss over the structural problems they face, and then tell them to get some grit and growth mindset. This is gaslighting, an attempt to “overwrite another person’s reality“. It is abusive.
Canned social-emotional skills programs, behaviorism, and the marketing of mindsets have serious side effects. They reinforce the cult of compliance and encourage submission to authoritarian rule. They line the pockets of charlatans and profiteers. They encourage surveillance and avaricious data collection. Deficit model capitalism’s data-based obsession proliferates hucksterism and turns kids into someone’s business model.
Do Growth Mindset Interventions Impact Students’ Academic Achievement? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis With Recommendations for Best Practices
The Mindset of Coercion and Abuse
The behaviorism of PBS is of the mindset of abusers and manipulators. It is ideological and intellectual kin with ABA, which autistic people have roundly rejected as abusive, coercive, and manipulative torture. We call it autistic conversion therapy. The misbehavior of behaviorism is an ongoing harm. When coercion is the soul of your practice, you get this:
- Why I Left ABA | Socially Anxious Advocate
- I Abused Children For A Living – Diary Of A Birdmad girl
- I Abused Children And SO DO YOU: A Response To An ABA Apologist – Diary Of A Birdmad girl
- I’m an ABA therapist, I’ve noticed a lot of the… – neurowonderful
- I’m sorry, but that’s not earning your token
- ‘Cardgate’ Scandal Uncovers Widespread Disrespect of Autistic People | NOS Magazine
- The Misbehaviour of Behaviourists
- Applied Behaviour Analysis – Personal Reflections
- Read what one autistic adult had to say the day she realised that the therapy she went through as a child was actually ABA.
- Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology
- Cambridge Analytica, Mindset Marketing, and Behaviorism
- Surveillance, Positive Behavior Support, and Intrinsic Motivation
- Autistic Empathy
- The Double Empathy Problem: Developing Empathy and Reciprocity in Neurotypical Adults
PBIS is Coercion
This is an argument usually used for Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), but it applies to PBIS as well. Because PBIS emphasizes the use of tangible rewards and teacher praise to motivate “appropriate” behavior, it often escapes this description.
The overall focus of PBIS is obedience or compliance with rules leading to a reward. The flip side of that coin is there is a lack of rewards or outright punishment administered for noncompliance. The pressure of complying with this system turns kids into ticking time bombs. Having to focus on compliance with school-wide and classroom rules stresses kids out and causes them to enter a state of anxiety when they come to school. In fact, I have seen this escalate to the point the school building itself was a trigger for panic attacks.
And, take my word on this, no one can identify and rebel against an unfair system as efficiently as a kid or adult with ID, except perhaps an autistic person. They know the system is unfair!PBIS is Broken: How Do We Fix It? – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
I hate the word ‘resilience’
In bullying or abusive situations it’s often used as
& I feel It’s often used to neglect responsibility to stop a situation happening or continuing
Despite Skinner’s fantasies of a well-engineered and egalitarian society in his novel Walden Two, his prescriptive behavioral programming could never lead to freedom, activists discovered, as it sought to shape and control, denying agency to the people they sought to uplift. And agency was key to learning. “To be candid,” Paul Goodman mused, “I think operant-conditioning is vastly overrated. It teaches us the not newsy proposition that if an animal is deprived of its natural environment and society, sensorily deprived, made mildly anxious, and restricted to the narrowest possible spontaneous motion, it will emotionally identify with its oppressor and respond—with low-grade grace, energy, and intelligence—in the only way allowed to is. The poor beast must do something, just to live on a little.”47 He added that “it is extremely dubious that by controlled conditioning one can teach organically meaningful behavior. Rather, the attempt to control prevents learning.”48 This attempt at control reduces students to “mere objects of scientific interest,” Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, first published in Portuguese in 1968 and translated into English two years later.49 “Scientific revolutionary humanism cannot, in the name of revolution, treat the oppressed as objects to be analyzed and (based on that analysis) presented with prescriptions for behavior,” he insisted.
“There is a pathos in our technological advancement well exemplified by programmed instruction,” Goodman concluded. “A large part of it consists in erroneously reducing the concept of animals and human beings in order to make them machine-operable.”50Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning
Stop Bikeshedding Deficit Ideology
Develop a school culture based not on deficit ideologies, but on equity literacy, diversity & inclusion, neurodiversity, the social model of disability, structural ideology, and indie ed-tech. Get rid of extrinsics, and adopt instead the intrinsic motivation of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Provide fresh air, sunlight, and plenty of time for major muscle movement instead of mindset bandages for the pathologies caused by the lack of these three critical things.
Despite scant evidence in support of the psychopedagogies of mindsets, mindfulness, wellness, and grit, the ed-tech industry (press) markets these as solutions to racialand gender inequality (among other things), as the psychotechnologies of personalization are now increasingly intertwined not just with surveillance and with behavioral data analytics, but with genomics as well. “Why Progressives Should Embrace the Genetics of Education,” a NYT op-ed piece argued in July, perhaps forgetting that education’s progressives (including Montessori) have been down this path before.
“Does It Make More Sense to Invest in School Security or SEL?” Edsurge asked its readers this summer. Those are the choices – surveillance or surveillance.
What an utter failure of imagination.The Stories We Were Told about Education Technology (2018)
“Self-esteem that’s based on external sources has mental health consequences.” Stop propagating the latest deficit/bootstrap/behaviorism fads. Develop the critical capacity to see beyond the marketing. Look beyond deficit model compliance to social model inclusion. The social model and structural ideology are the way forward. Growth mindset and behaviorism, as usually implemented, are just more bootstrap metaphors that excuse systems from changing and learning. “We must not allow pressure for resilience to permit broken systems to persist.“
Deficit ideology, surveillance capitalism, mindset marketing, and behaviorism are a dangerous alliance. “We favor product over process which begets one bad policy after another.” “Learning should be by design, not product.”
Fundamental Attribution Error and Harm Reduction Theater: Disguising the Ways They Kill Us
Lee Ross defined Fundamental Attribution Error as a tendency for people, when attributing the causes of behavior, “to underestimate the impact of situational factors and to overestimate the role of dispositional factors in controlling behaviour”. That’s very aligned with neurodiversity and the social model of disability. It’s at the heart of equity literacy, structural ideology vs. deficit ideology, designing for the edges, and changing our framing.
US culture and education are vast engines of Fundamental Attribution Error. Special Education is a gauntlet of FAE attitudes. Our community gets tired of wading through bad framing.
Compulsory, top-down mindfulness (and mindset marketing more generally) is too often used to situate structural problems within individuals while “disguising the ways they kill us.” It contributes to the gauntlet.
This is harm reduction theater. Practicing pluralism, for us, means triage and harm reduction. Harm reduction theater wastes resources and bikesheds deficit ideology instead of embracing equity and structural ideology.
We’re awash in behaviorism and mindset marketing that directs thinking away from systems and toward individuals, individuals who are structurally stressed.
Design is tested at the edges, and you need structural ideology to do something about it.
Corporate and ed-tech mindfulness aren’t structural or equity literate. When you aren’t equity literate, you risk engaging in harm reduction theater. When you aren’t equity literate, you fail at triage and harm reduction.
Mindfulness Nation is another example of delivery of low intensity services to mostly low risk persons to the detriment of those in greatest and most urgent need.
Those many fewer students in need more timely, intensive, and tailored services are left underserved. Their presence is ignored or, worse, invoked to justify the delivery of services to the larger group, with the needy students not benefiting.Unintended effects of mindfulness for children | Mind the Brain
Stop Bikeshedding Bigotry and Harm
Shiny Thing Racial Equity Arithmetic: Racism + diversity programming + an anti-bullying program + Kindness Matters + SEL, PBIS, and restorative practices + grit and growth mindset = RacismPaul Gorski via Soni Gill on Twitter
All of this is just deficit ideology. We keep painting the shed.
Talk of “emotion” has also been the focus of several education reform narratives for the last few years – calls for students to develop “grit” and “growth mindsets” and the like. (So much easier than addressing structural inequality.)
“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” – Eric Hoffer
(I’m keeping track of all these predictions. It isn’t simply that folks get it right or get it wrong. It’s that the repetition of these stories, particularly when framed as inevitabilities, shapes our preparations for the future. The repetition shapes our imaginations about the future.)
It’s incredibly dangerous too, as Stirling University’s Ben Williamson cautions, as the kind of control that these devices promise should raise all sorts of questions about students’ civil rights and “cognitive liberties.” Williamson argues,
In that Baffler article, I make the argument that behavior management apps like ClassDojo’s are the latest manifestation of behaviorism, a psychological theory that has underpinned much of the development of education technology.
Skinner was unsuccessful in convincing schools in the 1950s and 1960s that they should buy his teaching machines, and some people argue that his work has fallen completely out of favor, only invoked when deriding something as a “Skinner’s Box.” But I think there’s been a resurgence in behaviorism. It’s epicenter isn’t Harvard, where Skinner taught. It’s Stanford. It’s Silicon Valley. And this new behaviorism is fundamental to how many new digital technologies are being built.
It’s called “behavior design” today (because at Stanford, you put the word “design” in everything to make it sound beautiful not totally rotten).
There’s a darker side still to this as I argued in the first article in this very, very long series: this kind of behavior management has become embedded in our new information architecture. It’s “fake news,” sure. But it’s also disinformation plus big data plus psychological profiling and behavior modification. The Silicon Valley “nudge” is a corporatenudge. But as these technologies are increasingly part of media, scholarship, and schooling, it’s a civics nudge too.
They believe that they have our best interests at heart, and they will guide us – algorithmically, of course – to “good” academics and “good” thoughts and “good” feelings and “good” behavior, defining and designing, of course, what “good” looks like.Education Technology and the New Behaviorism
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.When “Big Data” Goes to School – Alfie Kohn
At the first level, I question the ideological motivation for doing research to find the source of success and failure within individuals—assuming that individual character and behaviors are primarily or solely the source of both success and failure.
At the second level, I am cautious about the quality of growth mindset and grit research as valid, and that caution is grounded in the first level—both concepts fit well into American myths about rugged individualism and the Puritan work ethic; thus, even so-called dispassionate researchers are apt to see no reason to challenge the studies (although some have begun to unpack and question Angela Duckworth’s studies on grit).
Scarcity, mentioned about, is a compilation of powerful studies that make a case unlike what most Americans believe about success and failure: those living in scarcity struggle because of the scarcity (think poverty), and those living in slack are often successful because of the slack. This work has not been embraced or received the celebrity of growth mindset and grit because it works against our narratives.
Privileged researchers blinded by their own belief in American myths as well as trust in their own growth mindset and grit, I fear, are not apt to challenge research that appears even to a scholar to be obvious.
The third level is the most damning since growth mindset and grit speak to and reinforce powerful cultural ideologies and myths about meritocracies and individual character—ones that are contradicted by the evidence; and thus, growth mindset and grit contribute to lazy and biased thinking and assumptions about marginalized groups who suffer currently under great inequities.
Finally, stepping back from these levels, I also remain skeptical of growth mindset and grit because they are very difficult to disentangle from deficit perspectives of students and from monolithic, thus reductive, views of identifiable groups by race, class, gender, or educational outcomes.Rejecting Growth Mindset and Grit at Three Levels | radical eyes for equity
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.
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.”Grit and Growth Mindset: Deficit Thinking?
You see, no kid needs “a growth mindset” (or the more odious and racist “grit”), being a child is to be a growth mindset. What they do need is for adults to support them in that growth by making their world safe enough to explore — even when that exploration must go to truly uncomfortable places.Hard to Write – Ira David Socol – Medium
Proponents of this idea like to point out that cognitive ability isn’t the only factor that determines how children will fare in school and in life. That recognition got a boost with science writer Dan Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence in 1996, which discussed the importance of self-awareness, altruism, personal motivation, empathy, and the ability to love and be loved. But a funny thing has happened to the message since then. When you hear about the limits of IQ these days, it’s usually in the context of a conservative narrative that emphasizes not altruism or empathy but a recycled version of the Protestant work ethic. The goal is to make sure kids will resist temptation, override their unconstructive impulses, put off doing what they enjoy in order to grind through whatever they’ve been told to do — and keep at it for as long as it takes.
The most impressive educational activists are those who struggle to replace a system geared to memorizing facts and taking tests with one dedicated to exploring ideas. They’re committed to a collaborative approach to schooling that learners will find more engaging. By contrast, those enamored of grit look at the same status quo and ask: How can we get kids to put up with it?Grit: A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad (##) – Alfie Kohn
1. Money doesn’t have to be an obstacle
2. Race doesn’t matter
3. Just work harder
4. There is a college for everyone/everyone can go to college
5. If you believe in yourself, your dreams will come trueNathan, Linda F.. When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College-for-All Promise (p. 6, p. 8). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry. We have to stop making everything about the individual.
But as I began to visit more schools and talk to my alums who were incredibly “gritty,” I became actually disgusted with the “movement.” It is a movement, for the most part, “owned and operated” by white folks and executed onto black and brown bodies.
Of course you don’t get ahead without determination and persistence, and it’s one of the reasons I’m such an arts advocate. That’s what you learn in the arts: how to practice, how to work together, how to persist through difficult scenes, lines, choreography, etc. . . . but this notion that “if we show grit by having strict behavioral codes/rules, all will be well” is ridiculous.
I’ve seen too many boys (especially black/brown boys) suffocated by what has become grit pedagogy. Kids need to jump and play and yell and run. Of course not in the classroom all the time, but we must ensure that there are multiple methods to reach and teach our students. I think this “movement” needs to be curbed and I am pleased that even some of the “worst” offenders are now questioning their tactics.Principal: “Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry.” – The Washington Post
A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort.
Recently, someone asked what keeps me up at night. It’s the fear that the mindset concepts, which grew up to counter the failed self-esteem movement, will be used to perpetuate that movement. In other words, if you want to make students feel good, even if they’re not learning, just praise their effort! Want to hide learning gaps from them? Just tell them, “Everyone is smart!” The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them. It is about telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter.
I also fear that the mindset work is sometimes used to justify why some students aren’t learning: “Oh, he has a fixed mindset.” We used to blame the child’s environment or ability.
Must it always come back to finding a reason why some children just can’t learn, as opposed to finding a way to help them learn? Teachers who understand the growth mindset do everything in their power to unlock that learning.
Maybe we originally put too much emphasis on sheer effort. Maybe we made the development of a growth mindset sound too easy. Maybe we talked too much about people having one mindset or the other, rather than portraying people as mixtures. We are on a growth-mindset journey, too.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t like just about every five year old have a “growth mindset?” I mean, depending on parents and other circumstances, I’m sure even kids that age can see themselves as limited. But most of the tail-waggers I’ve seen in kindergarten feel like they can conquer just about anything. They’ve already got a “growth mindset.”
The reason we need all sorts of “growth mindset” books and workshops is not because we need to develop that in kids. It’s because we’re now in the business of trying to restore that in kids, something that by and large schools strip away.
We really think ranking and sorting with grades are good for kids? We really think that telling them that they can’t continue to pursue their interests is good for their “growth mindset?” Or that focusing on problems with one answer makes them more confident in their potentials to achieve?
It would make more sense to focus simply on nurturing and supporting the learning mindsets that kids already bring with them, rather than forcing them to adopt a “school mindset” that has little connection to their real lives.
Similar to the popularity of “grit” and “no excuses” policies, growth mindset has gained a great deal of momentum as a school-based inoculation for the negative impact of poverty on children.
However, the media, the public, and educators often fail to acknowledge two significant flaws with growth mindset: (1) the essential deficit ideology that focuses all of the blame (and thus the need for a cure) in the individual child, and (2) the larger failure to see the need to address poverty directly instead of indirectly through formal education.
Any person’s success or failure can be traced to a number of factors, but in the U.S., our blind faith in the rugged individual defaults to ascribing credit and blame at least initially if not totally to the individual’s character traits such as “grit” and a growth mindset.
The entire traditional approach to formal education in the U.S. is a deficit ideology, but the hyper-emphasis on children living in poverty, and black/brown students and English language learners, has increased the power of deficit approaches through growth mindset, “grit,” and “no excuses.”
Despite the enduring power of the rugged individual and meritocracy myths, the burden of evidence shows that privilege (race, class, and gender) continues to trump effort and even achievement in the real world: less educated whites earn more than more educated blacks, men earn more than equally educated women, and so forth.
But research also refutes the claims of growth mindset and “grit” that achievement is primarily the result of the character of the individual. The same person, in fact, behaves differently when experiencing slack (privilege) or scarcity (poverty).
In other words, if we relieve children of food insecurity, home transience, etc., we are likely to find that those students in poverty who appeared to lack “grit” and growth mindset would then demonstrate those treasured qualities.
We are currently misdiagnosing growth mindset and “grit” (as deficit ideologies) as causal characteristics instead of recognizing them as outcomes of slack (privilege).
This image is actually a great example of deficit thinking — an ideology that blames victims of oppression for their own situation. As with this image, deficit thinking makes systemic forms of racism and oppression invisible. Other images, like the one of different animals having to climb a tree, or of people picking fruit, suffer from the same problem. How would we make these root causes more visible in our “equity vs. equality” image?
Well, if we began with the metaphor of the fence, this would require making clear that the reason some people have more difficulty seeing than others is not because of their height, but because of the context around them.
With this in mind, my purpose is to argue that when it comes to issues surrounding poverty and economic justice the preparation of teachers must be first and foremost an ideological endeavour, focused on adjusting fundamental understandings not only about educational outcome disparities but also about poverty itself. I will argue that it is only through the cultivation of what I call a structural ideology of poverty and economic justice that teachers become equity literate (Gorski 2013), capable of imagining the sorts of solutions that pose a genuine threat to the existence of class inequity in their classrooms and schools. After a brief clarification of my case for the importance of ideology, I begin by describing deficit ideology, the dominant ideological position about poverty that is informed in the US and elsewhere by the myth of meritocracy (McNamee and Miller 2009), and its increasingly popular ideological offshoot, grit ideology (Gorski 2016b). After explicating these ideological positions and how they misdirect interpretations of poverty and its implications, I describe structural ideology, an ideological position through which educators understand educational outcome disparities in the context of structural injustice and the unequal distribution of access and opportunity that underlies poverty (Gorski 2016a). I end by sharing three self-reflective questions designed to help me assess the extent to which my teacher education practice reflect the structural view.
Like deficit ideology, grit ideology is no threat to the existence of educational outcome disparities. In the end, it only can lead to strategies that sidestep the core causes of those disparities, requiring students to overcome inequities they should not be experiencing.
No set of curricular or pedagogical strategies can turn a classroom led by a teacher with a deficit view of families experiencing poverty into an equitable learning space for those families (Gorski 2013; Robinson 2007).
Next, you must resist fatalism in two forms: (1) the fatalism at the root of “grit” being racist and classist—that life for black/brown and poor people is going to be hard so we need to make them extra “gritty” to survive and excel (washed through by the racist/classist assumptions black/brown and poor people are inherently less apt to have the effort and engagement we associate with white privilege), and (2) the fatalism of life is inherently unfair for black/brown and poor people so why bother to try at all?
The very ugly consequence of championing “grit” with uncritical missionary zeal is that the students most often targeted—racial minorities and the poor—are soon to learn that their “grit” will get them less than the gift of white privilege for other people who show even less effort and engagement as they have worked to acquire.
The “grit” movement is racist, classist, and counter to the very effort we seem to be making to support the value of effort and engagement in a meritocracy (which isn’t even close to existing).
On the path to becoming a teacher, I had learned to shed all elements of my teenage self. Not being able to smile till November robbed me of the opportunity of seeing myself in the students in front of me. Instead, the structures of schooling forced me to devalue anyone who brought any semblance of my teenage self into the present-day classroom. Today, with thousands of hours of teacher observations under my belt and having spent innumerable hours reflecting back on my own teaching, it is clear to me how teachers develop and maintain a deficit view of students. This is particularly evident when I think of how teachers of color have been taught to manage the behavior of students who do look like them, despite knowing that their neoindigeneity requires their voices being heard and their ideas validated.
“We are asking students to change a belief system without changing the situation around them,” he said. It can be irresponsible and unfair to talk about grit without talking about structural challenges, he said, referring to the recent interest in interventions tied to the concepts of grit and perseverance.
So, what are those challenges? If a hypothetical classroom of 30 children were based on current demographics in the United States, this is how the students in that classroom would live: Seven would live in poverty, 11 would be non-white, six wouldn’t speak English as a first language, six wouldn’t be reared by their biological parents, one would be homeless, and six would be victims of abuse.
Intertwined with the push for “personalization” in education are arguments for embracing a “growth mindset.” The phrase, coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, appears frequently alongside talk of “personalized learning” as students are encouraged to see their skills and competencies as flexible rather than fixed. (Adaptive teaching software. Adaptive students.)
The marketing of mindsets was everywhere this year: “How to Develop Mindsets for Compassion and Caring in Students.” “Building A Tinkering Mindset In Young Students Through Making.” “6 Must-Haves for Developing a Maker Mindset.” The college president mindset. Help wanted: must have an entrepreneurial mindset. The project-based learning mindset. (There’s also Gorilla Mindset, a book written by alt-right meme-maker Mike Cernovich, just to show how terrible the concept can get.)
Promising to measure and develop these skills are, of course, ed-tech companies. Pearson even has a product called GRIT™. But it’s probably ClassDojo, a behavior tracking app, that’s been most effective in marketing itself as a “mindset” product, even partnering with Carol Dweck’s research center at Stanford.
Ben Williamson argues that ClassDojo exemplifies the particularly Silicon Valley bent of “mindset” management:
In doing so, ClassDojo – and other initiatives and products – are enmeshed both in the technocratic project of making people innovative and entrepreneurial, and in the controversial governmental agenda of psychological measurement. ClassDojo is situated in this context as a vehicle for promoting the kind of growth mindsets and character qualities that are seen as desirable behavioural norms by Silicon Valley and government alike.
ClassDojo is, Williamson argues, “prototypical of how education is being reshaped in a ‘platform society.’”
The inequalities that I’ve chronicled above – income inequality, wealth inequality, information inequality – have been part of our education system for generations, and these are now being hard-coded into our education technologies. This is apparent in every topic in every article I’ve written in this years’ year-end series: for-profit higher education, surveillance in the classroom, and so on.
My own concerns about the direction of education technology cannot be separated from my concerns with digital technologies more broadly. I’ve written repeatedly about the ideologies of Silicon Valley: neoliberalism, libertarianism, imperialism, late stage capitalism. These ideologies permeate education technology too, as often the same investors and same entrepreneurs and the same engineers are involved.
These novel apps, bearing names like ClassDojo and Hero K12, promised to help by collecting students’ behavioral data and encouraging teachers to project the stats onto their classroom’s interactive whiteboard in order to keep students “on task.” It is, they claim, all part of a push to create a “positive classroom culture.”
The apps come with the assurance of making schools operate more efficiently. But such management technologies don’t simply reflect Taylorism, schoolwork monitored and fine-tuned; they are part of a resurgence of behaviorism in education, and in education technology in particular.
But of course, that has always been the underpinning of behaviorism—an emphasis on positive reinforcement techniques in order to more effectively encourage “correct behavior.” “Correct behavior,” that is, as defined by school administrators and software makers. What does it mean to give these companies—their engineers, their designers—this power to determine “correct behavior”? How might corporate culture, particularly Silicon Valley culture, clash with schools’ culture and values? These behavior management apps are, in many ways, a culmination of Skinner’s vision for “teaching machines”—“continuous automatic reinforcement.” But it’s reinforcement that’s combined now with a level surveillance and control of students’ activities, in and out of the classroom, that Skinner could hardly have imagined.
Source: Dunce’s App | Audrey Watters
In other words, usage becomes engagement and engagement gets equated with successful learning and expert teaching. But we cannot let ourselves believe that usage is anything besides usage—and even that assumption is subject to a certain questioning.
The video itself is only two and a half minutes, but the way they efficiently pack in so much of what is wrong in schooling today is remarkable. To put it bluntly, it was a bunch of behaviorist garbage. It makes the argument that students are animals that need to be conditioned to do what is expected of them through punishments and rewards. This is music to many educators’ ears, because they all know from their teacher training that the foremost priority in school is classroom management. And when classroom management is taken care of, then they can focus on what really matters—test scores.
The punishments and rewards continue to compound on themselves. Chris gets to go to the pep rally later in the day where he can let loose and have fun. Chris is a good boy, and gets to do good boy things. Jill, however, is a bad girl, so she must go to detention instead of going to the pep rally. Perhaps making Jill sit in a room by herself while everyone else is having fun will teach her to ‘act right.’
Hero K12 reaffirms everything that is perceived to be right with Chris, and everything that is perceived to be wrong with Jill. However, what if Jill had a good excuse for being late? Like she needed to take care of a sibling in the morning because of a family emergency? Or what if she works a part-time job in the evening and is not getting enough sleep? It does not matter in the world of Hero K12, though, because only zeroes fail to show up on time.
“Strength,” “Courage,” and “Bravery” are virtues often heaped upon individuals undergoing hardship. These compliments come from a deep-rooted cultural value that sacrifice should be praiseworthy and that performing in the face of difficulty is a sign of virtue. In tech, strength is valued to the point of caricature, creating a culture of depersonalization and overwork that disproportionately affects people who by their identities or job descriptions are asked too often to “take one for the team.”
Look at the consequences that we are now seeing from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The platforms that we use in education for learning are not exempt from this issue.
- The marketing of mindsets is everywhere.
- “Mindset” joins “grit” as a concept that’s quickly jumped from the psychology department to (TED Talk to) product.
- 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.
- The science of personality testing is slowly entering into education as a form of behavioural governance.
- Behaviorism is a core feature of almost all ed-tech.
- There is a long history of educational interventions grounded in some interesting research that escape the lab and wreak havoc on students and classrooms.
- The practice and implementation of these mindsets are always suborned by deficit ideology, bootstrap ideology, meritocracy myths, and greed.
- Mindset marketing without equity literacy, structural ideology, and restorative practices is more harmful than helpful.
- This marketing shifts responsibility for change from our systems to children.
- We define kids’ identities through the deficit and medical models, gloss over the structural problems they face, and then tell them to get some grit and growth mindset.
- The misbehavior of behaviorism is an ongoing harm.
- The behaviorism of PBS is of the mindset of abusers and manipulators.
- PBIS is coercion.
- No one can identify and rebel against an unfair system as efficiently as a kid or adult with ID, except perhaps an autistic person. They know the system is unfair!
- The word ‘resilience’ is often used as gaslighting, victim blaming, and derailing.
- It is not the child’s responsibility to sort out the utter mess that the adults have made of their school life by not understanding autism. It is not up to the child to just be ‘more resilient’.
- The difference between ‘resilience’ and ‘don’t let the bastards get you down’? The latter places the problem with the bastards, the former places the problem with you.
- We must not allow pressure for resilience to permit broken systems to persist
- Resilience does not reduce risk or vulnerability.
- To judge someone with high resilience as lower risk is to betray them.
- It’s already a feat of endurance for autistic learners just being present in environments that repeatedly fail to meet their needs.
- An autistic child who is in school is already being hugely resilient, each and every day, overcoming exhaustion and bewilderment.
- Operant-conditioning teaches us the not newsy proposition that if an animal is deprived of its natural environment and society, sensorily deprived, made mildly anxious, and restricted to the narrowest possible spontaneous motion, it will emotionally identify with its oppressor and respond in the only way allowed to is.
- Get rid of extrinsics, and adopt instead the intrinsic motivation of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
- Provide fresh air, sunlight, and plenty of time for major muscle movement instead of mindset bandages.
- Self-esteem that’s based on external sources has mental health consequences.
- We favor product over process which begets one bad policy after another.
- Learning should be by design, not product.
- Deficit ideology is about fixing marginalized people. Equity is about fixing the conditions that are marginalizing people. Do we see the difference? Are we practicing deficit ideology in the name of equity?
- The Fundamental Attribution Error is that we overestimate the power of the person and underestimate the power of the situation.
- US culture and education are vast engines of Fundamental Attribution Error. Special Education is a gauntlet of FAE attitudes.
- Compulsory, top-down mindfulness (and mindset marketing more generally) is too often used to situate structural problems within individuals while “disguising the ways they kill us.
- Mindfulness matters, but make no mistake: Corporations are co-opting the idea to disguise the ways they kill us.
- Practicing pluralism means triage and harm reduction.
- Harm reduction theater wastes resources and bikesheds deficit ideology instead of embracing equity and structural ideology.
- We’re awash in behaviorism and mindset marketing that directs thinking away from systems and toward individuals, individuals who are structurally stressed.
- Design is tested at the edges, and you need structural ideology to do something about it.
- When you aren’t equity literate, you risk engaging in harm reduction theater. When you aren’t equity literate, you fail at triage and harm reduction.
- Investment in universal mindfulness training in the schools is unlikely to yield measurable, socially significant results, but will serve to divert resources from schoolchildren more urgently in need of effective intervention and support.
- Shiny Thing Racial Equity Arithmetic: Racism + diversity programming + an anti-bullying program + Kindness Matters + SEL, PBIS, and restorative practices + grit and growth mindset = Racism
- The kind of control that these devices promise should raise all sorts of questions about students’ civil rights and “cognitive liberties.
- Behavior management apps like ClassDojo’s are the latest manifestation of behaviorism, a psychological theory that has underpinned much of the development of education technology.
- Growth mindset and grit speak to and reinforce powerful cultural ideologies and myths about meritocracies and individual character.
- K-12 applications of growth mindset and grit have disproportionately targeted racial minorities and impoverished students.
- Students 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.
- Equity literate educators … reject deficit views that focus on fixing marginalized students rather than fixing the conditions that marginalize students.
- No kid needs “a growth mindset” (or the more odious and racist “grit”), being a child is to be a growth mindset.
- The more we focus on people’s persistence (or self-discipline more generally), the less likely we’ll be to question larger policies and institutions.
- We have to stop making everything about the individual.
- The entire traditional approach to formal education in the U.S. is a deficit ideology.
- We are currently misdiagnosing growth mindset and “grit” (as deficit ideologies) as causal characteristics instead of recognizing them as outcomes of slack (privilege).
- Deficit ideology is a worldview that explains and justifies outcome inequalities— standardized test scores or levels of educational attainment, for example—by pointing to supposed deficiencies within disenfranchised individuals and communities.
- Deficit ideology discounts sociopolitical context, such as the systemic conditions.
- At the core of deficit ideology is the belief that inequalities result, not from unjust social conditions such as systemic racism or economic injustice, but from intellectual, moral, cultural, and behavioral deficiencies assumed to be inherent in disenfranchised individuals and communities.
- The function of deficit ideology is to justify existing social conditions by identifying the problem of inequality as located within, rather than as pressing upon, disenfranchised communities.
- And this is the surest sign of deficit ideology: the suggestion that we fix inequalities by fixing disenfranchised communities rather than that which disenfranchises them.
- The function of deficit ideology: to manipulate popular consciousness in order to deflect attention from the systemic conditions and sociopolitical context that underlie or exacerbate inequities and to focus it, instead, on recycling its own misperceptions, all of which justify inequalities.
- Deficit ideology defines every social problem in relation to those toward the bottom of the power hierarchy, trains our gaze in that direction and, as a result, manipulates the popular discourse in ways that protect and reify existing sociopolitical conditions.
- Deficit thinking makes systemic forms of racism and oppression invisible.
- The preparation of teachers must be first and foremost an ideological endeavour, focused on adjusting fundamental understandings not only about educational outcome disparities but also about poverty itself.
- It is only through the cultivation of what I call a structural ideology of poverty and economic justice that teachers become equity literate.
- Like deficit ideology, grit ideology is no threat to the existence of educational outcome disparities.
- No set of curricular or pedagogical strategies can turn a classroom led by a teacher with a deficit view of families experiencing poverty into an equitable learning space for those families.
- The most obvious trouble with grit ideology is that, of all the combinations of barriers that most impact the educational outcomes of students experiencing poverty, which might include housing instability, food insecurity, inequitable access to high-quality schools, unjust school policies, and others, not a single one is related in any way to students’ grittiness.
- The “grit” movement is racist, classist, and counter to the very effort we seem to be making to support the value of effort and engagement in a meritocracy (which isn’t even close to existing).
- The “platform society” offers merely an entrenchment of surveillance capitalism, and education technologies, along with the ideology of “personalization”, work to normalize and rationalize that.
- “Mindfulness,” “grit,” “growth mindset:” Every good thing becomes dysfunctional/toxic in a compulsory context.
- “We applaud our children for surviving a ruthless system as if it is an initiation into being a functional human being.” —Malaika Mahlatsi
Fix Injustice, Not Kids: Justice, not grit. Justice, not growth mindset. Justice, not behavior “management.” Justice, not rearrangement of injustice.
So many of us in this system want to do better. Students and teachers find themselves in spaces guaranteed to result in feedback loops and meltdowns and the eventual burnout of everyone involved. Responding to fires and stresses caused by overloaded sensory spaces and deficit ideology consumes more time, people, and passion than available and starves a better future of oxygen.
On the next page, we describe how to fix injustice, not kids, and welcome neurodiversity and disability into your classroom.