Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.
The future is uncertain and unlikely to play out exactly as described. Nevertheless, we must begin to comprehend how technological developments combined with concentrated power and extreme income inequality are leading us to increasingly automated forms of oppression. My hope is that communities will begin to incorporate an understanding of this bigger picture into resistance efforts for public education and beyond. Let us join together, embracing our humanity, to fight the forces that would bring us to “lockdown.” How can we preserve our lives and those of our loved ones outside the data stream? How can we nurture community in a world where alienation is becoming normalized? What do we owe one another? What are we willing to risk? I have divided my story into seven parts. I hope you’ll read along and consider sharing it with others.
We are entering an age where companies can be composed of code rather than people; where philanthropy can be managed by artificial intelligence; and where citizens exist as datasets to be quantified and mined. Part five of this series examines how the ledger (blockchain) emerged as the force that enabled the complete automation of education and poses the question “What does education mean for those living on the margins outside the Citi Badge system?” To read from the beginning, follow this link to Part One: Plugging In.
Part Two: A World Without (Much) Work
Part Three: Smart and Surveilled
Part Four: Data Mining and Life on the Ledger
The total reinvention of public education could not have happened without the ledger. The ledger makes it possible to disconnect students from school buildings and human teachers and shift to a learning ecosystem model. For years the mantra had been “any time, anywhere learning.” By the time lockdown came, deferred maintenance had resulted in such horrific building conditions that few neighborhood schools could maintain their occupancy permits.
It was cheaper to send older children home with a device and farm the younger ones out to community-based partners. With IoT sensors that could sync with learning management systems through xAPI, whatever children “learned” could be recorded automatically without the need for a human instructor. Most educational content had been broken down into such small standards and micro-credentials that it was almost impossible for human teachers to keep up with all the data entry as the system transitioned.
Internet of Things technology, combined with Citi Badges, allows the ledger to control Cam and Li’s access to online education resources. Besides the ability to edit or veto the content of the online modules, education administrators have the ability to adjust algorithms to steer students towards certain pathways, into VR warehouses, or in extreme cases offline entirely.
Cam knows that the playlists Li has been accessing, online sets of educational activities the algorithms provide, are very different from the ones Cam had just a few years ago. Cam isn’t sure if it is because the content has been removed, or if it’s that Li is being fed different information based on her behavioral profile. Outside the sanctuary zones, knowledge is strictly “need to know.” The Solutionists have the power to decide who needs to know what and ration information accordingly.
After cloud-based computing came on the scene, the powerful tech industry entered the education sphere. Thousands of start-ups now compete to design adaptive software systems that curate “personalized” resources for educational playlists and facilitate behavior management. Foundations and benefit corporations poured in money to ensure these markets took hold. With children reading fewer books, digital media – particularly games – have become the primary form of education delivery. Executives in the entertainment industry are thrilled since they, along with the tech executives, had long sought to eliminate local oversight of curriculum and the influence of elected school boards.
Investors need their products to demonstrate impact on student achievement. However the impacts they seek prioritize efficient human capital management over personal fulfillment. Online programs dole out basic information aligned to set standards. Education is consumed passively, and students are expected to demonstrate “success” by improving their scores, collecting badges, and providing evidence of an appropriately resilient or gritty mindset.
If an investor’s online systems can attain “evidence-based” status, it is given a preferred ranking in the Citi Badge platform, which means significant profits. It’s every programmer’s dream to create the next Skyward Skills, the global ed-tech giant that has dominated the market since it had been introduced into regular schools twenty years ago as a blended learning program.
The ledger also links the sisters to project-based learning opportunities in their community. Algorithms match Cam and Li’s varied learning styles, academic talents and behavioral factors with available placements. These placements have taken on great importance as education has moved away from intellectual engagement towards a program of workforce-aligned skill development. Coding is king, and education administrators have complied with industry demands, stripping arts and humanities from the curriculum and giving exclusive attention to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Most project-based learning programs are STEM-aligned.
Talia remembers the shift to community-based learning. It was pitched as a way to reduce education costs and provide free labor for local companies. Parents wanted to believe the reformer’s pitch that their children would be able to “follow their passion” through “hands-on learning” opportunities. But, it is hard to rouse much passion for the job placements provided. The apprenticeships are rarely as exciting as those featured in the exuberant promotional videos. Corporate partnerships tailor students’ educational experiences to very specific industry needs. This model permits companies to have the public underwrite their training costs and gives them opportunities to screen potential employees.
Starting in middle school, children are matched through Future Jobs+ to apprenticeships. Apps track and evaluate their performance according to character trait metrics associated with workforce readiness. Project-based learning opportunities allow Solutionists to monitor skills like empathy and collaboration through face-to-face encounters and compare that information with the data gathered by gamified education platforms. Cam has participated in three Future Jobs + programs so far, most of them related to the community’s assigned labor sector of healthcare. Li, age 10, is still too young for an apprenticeship, but she’s been doing maker space programs since she was three. Since she hates online learning, her hours at the maker space are some of the few enjoyable moments of her week.
Whenever Cam or Li demonstrate mastery of a certain standard, a smart contract written in computer code sends a Global Coin payment to the online provider or project-based learning partner. Through the ledger, payments are debited from their Citi Badge accounts, and badges and micro-credentials are uploaded. IoT sensors monitor all educational activities.
For years activists had petitioned the government to implement weighted student funding: this meant allocating more money to students living in poverty as well as to students whose first language was not English and students with special needs. No one realized then that education funds would wind up in Citi Badges rather than school budgets; that weighted funding would make vulnerable children targets of predatory education schemes; and that in short order school buildings would disappear entirely. No one expected Artificial Intelligence philanthropy would replace public funding for education, either.
As austerity ate away at funding for education, foundations, benefit corporations, and impact investors used outcomes-based smart contracts to direct private dollars into communities using the ledger. Dwindling public funds opened the doors to this private investment, but a condition of that investment was that it had to yield measurable results. Education administrators in the various sectors now redistribute private education investments into students’ digital wallets according to weighted formulas.
At first the program was well received. Once Pay for Success rate cards were approved by municipal procurement, and learning management systems were selected, the process of securing online learning services became fully automated. Now it is the ultimate free market with deliverables in student data driving access to and pricing of various platforms. Payments are contingent on student performance. If an educational app is not meeting required growth targets among users it can be put on probationary status and may ultimately become ineligible for Citi Badge compensation. The most popular apps tend to be the least expensive, but for strivers who have money to supplement their account, specialized instruction is available at higher price points.
The structure of the payment system means most instruction now takes place online, though with Tin Can API, even non-digital activities can be captured and uploaded for evaluation. Every time Cam or Li finishes an e-book, watches a video, or participates in an activity, documentation of the standards that have been met is uploaded via Citi Badge to their e-portfolio. That way Oracle can keep track of what everyone knows and what information they are accessing at all times.
No one particularly likes relying on private investors to fund public education, but the Solutionists claim it is efficient, transparent, and keeps everyone accountable. The ledger, remember, is all about trust. People’s feelings changed dramatically, however, after DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) took over. DAOs run smart contracts automatically, without any human control. Once put into place and activated, they draw on vast pools of capital from a growing network of benefit corporations and can run indefinitely. The system, designed to generate “impacts” upon which venture capital profits are built, completely disregards human life. When problems arise, as they inevitably do because glitches and hacks are intrinsic to the system, no humans are there to address it.
There have been years when data from Cam and Li’s learning sector didn’t meet the terms of the contracts. When that happened, students were cut off from enrichments and project-based learning opportunities. Turnaround sectors can use Citi Badge payments only for drill and kill online courses until scores improve. Students spend most of the day on Skyward Skills, which is enough to make any child mentally shut down.
During those years, Talia opted to go into debt to pay for outside enrichment for the girls with the hope that their sector data would improve and get them out of turnaround status before the next round of payouts. At the time, the family’s risk score was ok, and they were able to secure a repayment program that still left room in their budget to eat, but just barely. They have friends whose families don’t have that luxury. It is not uncommon for children in turnaround status, after being force fed Skyward Skills day after day, to just drop out of public educational altogether and check into a virtual reality warehouse.
As far as education, the off-line children are an anomaly. They exist outside of the structure of the formal education system. They are still connected to the real world, because revocation of their Citi Badges means they have no access to the VR warehouses. Many spend their days pushing DNA vials through the claustrophobic corridors of the data mines. Unlike their badged counterparts, the off-line children can’t be paid in Global Coin, so their labor is informally exchanged for a bit of nourishment and the chance to be out of the elements. After their shift, they drift off to one of the off-liner encampments that emerged in old cemeteries in the post-lockdown years. There, tree cover and gravestones offer some protection from drones and robot patrols.
For off-liners, education is visceral and grounded in harsh life experience. Being in the real world without the safety net of digital supports is terrifying and immediate. This is a feeling those in the VR warehouses and the strivers plowing through Skyward Skills modules will never know. Off-liner children learn from peers and elders. You learn fast or you don’t survive.
No matter their age, citizens of the off-liner encampments generously share their skills and knowledge. They need one another. Disconnecting from the data dashboards freed them from the cutthroat competition of life on the ledger and opened space for them to find their own ways to meaningfully contribute to the eclectic communities that grew out of their expulsion from the Solutionist world. Off-liners bear witness to the grim reality the terrorist regime has imposed in a way that strivers, who have become accustomed to their oppressors’ controls, cannot. Being off-line means being anchored in reality, morality, and humanity. It is in this space that the possibility for revolutionary thought is sustained.
Continue to Part 6: A Community of Resistance
Learning is Earning / Edublocks: Link
A Learning Day 2037: Link
Gig Economy / Teaching Workforce: Link
Open Education Resource Commons: Link
EU Blockchain in Education: Link
Blockchain E-Portfolios: Link
Learning Registry: Link
Playlist Education: Link
Jefferson Education Accelerator / UVA: Link
Reed Hastings / School Boards: Link
Smart Contracts and Learning Ecosystems / Knowledgeworks: Link
Hackable High School: Link
ImBlaze Salesforce/Big Picture Learning: Link
Big Picture Learning: Link
Bechtel Foundation / Character Development: Link
Skills Gap: Link
Learning on the Block / Knowledgeworks: Link
Blockchain and Badges: Link
Blockchain Identity: Link
AI Philanthropy / Giving Unchained, Philanthropy and the Blockchain: Link
Weighted Funding, Digital Learning Now P. 8: Link
Pay for Success / Brookings Institute: Link
Pay for Success / Outcomes Rate Cards: Link
Municipal Smart Contracts on Blockchain / Procurement: Link
Pay for Success Rate Cards: Link
Open Badges IMS Global / Mozilla / Collective Shift: Link
IoT Classrooms / Wildflower Montessori Slippers: Link
Decentralized Autonomous Organizations: Link