Pay for Success & the Opioid Crisis: Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign Radical Social Work Breakfast Presentation

The Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign hosts a monthly breakfast to discuss radical social work and issues relating to the non-profit industrial complex. Follow us on Facebook here. I was invited to participate this month and wanted to post my presentation on pay for success and the opioid crisis, so the information could be shared more widely. Below is a video matching the voice recording to my slideshare, which can be accessed here.

Select resources mentioned in my presentation:

Blog post on the Connecticut Family Stability Project: here.

“Meet Kathy” community care coordinator video: here.

Saving Maine Schools on Tripp Jones, Mentor Network and New Profit: here.

Scottish Named Person legislation: here.

Machine Learning on social welfare records in the UK: here.

Harvard’s Next Generation of Human Services: Realizing the Vision: here.

Obama White House Pay for Success Opioid Report: here.

Illinios Blockchain Task Force Report: here.

Blockchain Disability Payments (Programmable Money) Australia: here.

Digital nudges in healthcare: here.

Philadelphia Behavioral Science Initiative: here.

Intel and Amazon “smart” tiny house video: here.

Philadelphia City Council Resolution 19077900″

“Authorizing the establishment of a “Special Committee on Child Separation In Philadelphia” to investigate child separation in Philadelphia’s child welfare system and develop recommendations to ensure compliance with State Child Protective Services Law to protect children and due process rights of families and prevent the unnecessary break-up of families. Sponsors: Councilmember Oh, Councilmember Bass, Councilmember Quiñones Sánchez, Councilmember Blackwell, Councilmember Johnson, Councilmember O’Neill, and Councilmember Squilla.”

David Oh Resolution On Child Separation in Philadelphia

David Oh Resolution on Child Separation in Phialdelphia Part 2


Has the Chamber of Commerce Hijacked YOUR Education System? Engineering Students For A Low-Wage, Gig Economy

I remember it well, a casual conversation with a neighbor on the sidewalk. It was a brief exchange, the kind that should’ve been quickly forgotten. At the time I knew nothing of Marc Tucker’s “Dear Hillary Letter” or the National Center on Education and the Economy. I hadn’t yet started mapping IBM and Digital On-Ramps, and Ideas42, the behavioral science research institute incubated at Harvard. I can’t remember the exact year, though it was probably some time after the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) but before Colorado and Washington State started talking about adopting the Swiss Apprenticeship model.

But it happens sometimes, certain moments stick with you over the years, important, even if you didn’t know exactly why at the time. Over the course of this particular chat, it came up that the board of the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) had begun to weigh-in on what courses would be offered at the school. Evidently classes were expected to align to economic indictors. For example, pre-architecture courses would need to be phased out, because “the numbers” indicated there wouldn’t be enough architecture jobs.

Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Education

Source: Closed Door Event on Business and Education, January 29, 2018, more here

Whose numbers? Not enough architecture jobs? At the time the city even had a charter high school specifically for architecture and design. Philadelphia’s four-year universities, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, and Temple, all offered architecture coursework. So why should students choosing to pursue an Associate’s Degree first be shut out of the field?

In 2012, then mayor, now what works, Moneyball government talking head, Michael Nutter, appointed himself and six allies to the fifteen-person board of CCP. The president would be let go within the year, replaced by Dr. Donald Generals. Generals had formerly worked as an administrator at a questionable, now defunct, for-profit secretarial college in New York. The faculty did not support the appointment.

All of this happened shortly after the city accepted a Smarter Cities Challenge grant from IBM to develop our “human capital” via Gates and MacArthur Foundation-funded badging and career pathway initiatives. Did I mention Lisa Nutter, wife of the mayor now social impact investor, was executive director of Philadelphia Academies, the Digital On Ramps project lead, at the time?

IBM Smart Cities Grant Philadelphia

Source: IBM Smarter Cities Challenge, Philadelphia Report, 2011

MacArthur Badging

Source: Josesph DeiStefano, Philadelphia Inquirer

Quite a few of Nutter’s new board members were cozy with the Chamber of Commerce. You remember, that influential group that held a closed-door meeting on business’s role in public education at Girard College during the winter of 2018 (see below).


Well, this is the current board of CCP:

Patrick Clancy: CEO of Philadelphia Works who implemented Pennsylvania’s Welfare to Work program and helped draft the state’s WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) plan.

Harold Epps: Philadelphia Director of Commerce and co-chair of Comcast’s National African American Advisory Council

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend: CEO of Philadelphia Youth Network, data-driven school-to-work effort and Digital On Ramps partner

Lydia Hernandenz-Velez: Long-time board member of Aspira charter schools and retired administrator from the city’s Department of Aging

Steve Herzog: Former Vice President at Philadelphia Energy Solutions and board member of Philadelphia Academies, work-based learning and original host of IBM’s Digital On Ramps Program

Sheila Ireland: Executive Director Philadelphia Office of Workforce Development and co-founder of West Philadelphia Skills Initiative

Sharon A. Jean-Baptiste: Regional Director for Solutions and Technology at Jacobs, an architecture, engineering, and science firm

Rosalyn McPherson: President of The Roz Group, publishing and cultural consulting, former President of the Urban League and board member of the National Philanthropic Trust

Mindy Posoff: Managing Director of Golden Seeds, institutional investor on board of the Philadelphia Foundation and Ben Franklin Technology Partners

Hon. James Roebuck: Pennsylvania State Representative 188th Legislative District, board member Philadelphia NAACP

Michael Solieau: Vice President of Strategy at Comcast (Comcast was a sponsor of the Chamber event above)

Jeremiah White: CEO White Associates, business development and non-profit fundraising and co-founder Intercultural Family Services

A scan of credentials indicates a group representing the interests of technology, finance, and data-driven human capital investment. No educators in the mix. Skills, skills, and more skills! For the past few years the media has been beating the drum around the “skills gap.”

Skills Gap

Industry needs more “middle skill” workers they cry. Harness education to industry and re-skill as needed to facilitate “pay for success” payouts. Earn a badge, and investors take their cut. That’s the program Bill Gates and the tech sector have been setting up since at least the early 1990s.

Leverage research coming out of the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative.

Turn education into training.

Put it online.

Track people, especially the poor, using screens, phones, and wearable tech.

Internet of Things “life” shifts to “anywhere” surveillance.

Collect data, lots of it.

Profile people through their digital competency badges.

Predict their futures.

Gamble on their life outcomes.

As in the matrix, people will be the batteries for these hedge fund games.

The image below touting Pay for Success finance for workforce training from the Federal Reserve? That is a direct descendent of Art Rolnick and Steven Rothschild’s Human Capital Performance Bond program, developed in the mid 1990s in Minneapolis-St. Paul (more on that here).

Pay for Success Workforce Skills Federal Reserve

Source: Pay For Success: How Emerging Finance Tools Are Supporting Workforce Development, Federal Reserve of Richmond white paper, 2019

So, I think it best to pause a moment and reflect on the nature of today’s globalized economy. Is it serving the interests of the legions of precarious workers with erratic schedules, heavy workloads, and few, if any benefits?


Is it killing the planet?


Now imagine the consequences of allowing corporate interests to dictate what coursework can be offered in public education institutions. What happens once members of the chamber of commerce are able to order up talent in quantities to flood the markets? They’ll be able to  to cherry pick top applicants for bargain-basement wages, and tax payers will have footed the bill for this just-in-time training, too.

Good for c-suite executives, bad for regular folks.

And what happens when a majority of gigs are STEM-related and entail people building and maintaining the technological infrastructure of the “smart” (extremely hackable) police surveillance state? And why do we have to have so many STEM jobs? Because those in power are systematically diverting manufacturing, service, and knowledge work to robots and synthetic humans. So all that is left for most us to do is to code the shadowy surveillance mixed reality world?

No thank you.

Epic Games Mike Seymour Unreal Engine Synthetic Humans

Does it make sense to feed coming generations into a machine designed to shred their souls, while lifting up a few exceptional individuals whose role it is to convince everyone to stay in the game in the hopes that they, too, can come out a “winner?”

As the mom of a nineteen-year-old, humanities-loving kid, that’s a definite NO from me.

Once the career pathways programs are locked down, plays and poetry and foreign languages and philosophy and history will be pushed so far to the margins as to be almost non-existent outside some dumbed-down Common Core State Standard. Books? Who reads books? They’re raising up cadres of students that know little more than screens and video games.

Already, many young teachers are in a bind. Their education took place under regimes of standards-based repression. They don’t know what it was like before everything was tied to a rubric. Corporate interests play a long game. They look 20-30 years out. They’re patient. Over the past few decades they systematically pushed out veteran teachers and created a school culture that would meet their requirements for a marginally-educated, compliant labor pool that would play well with robots and know their place (or be too afraid to step out of line).

So what exactly is going to happen in this brave new world of “work” and engineered economies when people want to leave their home state or get off their assigned pathway? Where are you supposed to go if regional workforce boards control the types of careers on offer and act as gatekeepers for required credentials? If you do a certain type of work can you only reside in a certain region?

It’s strange to me that so few are talking about any of this as corporate America builds out the cradle-to-gray “lifelong learning” pipelines, and Naviance and Clever and the ACT are tracking our children data point by data point to calculate in precise measure their future productivity ratings for a wretched, broken system.

I direct you now to Pennsylvania’s 2018 WIOA plan. It notes the fastest growing employement sectors in my state are dominated by low wage jobs, wages that are insufficient to support a family especially in areas where housing costs are rising. In addition, many of the jobs are physically taxing, unstable, and come with few benefits. As people are working into their 70s with no retirement security, what are they supposed to do? Now Walmart is eliminating greeters and embracing robot shelf scanners. Even THAT work is gone. People’s labor is being made redundant as levels of wealth inequality grow precipitously.

High Growth Industries 2018 WIOA Plan for PA

Source: WIOA State Plan for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania FY-2018

The excerpt below, from another section of the 2018 WIOA plan for Pennsylvania, makes it crystal clear that the state is looking to short-change its OWN staff, giving preference to online self-serve CareerLink portals over bricks-and-mortar centers with actual people who can assist job seekers face to face and develop relationships with them.

We are aligning education to a crap economy AND the most vulnerable are going to be the ones harmed in the process. They will be funneled into jobs that will never let them achieve independence and they will become ALICE data fodder for the impact investment predators.

WIOA Pennsylvania 2018 Areas of Improvement

So WHO set up these pathways?

The effort really started to gain traction in the mid 1990s after Bill Clinton took office. It very much parallels advances in technology, the idea being that as economic changes speed up, human capital will have to do the same. Over the past twenty-five years education has become more and more data-driven, because Clinton harnessed it to the tech sector when he created the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative through Executive Order 13111 in 1999. IMS global emerged from Educause, heavily funded by Gates, and education was pushed more and more towards the banking model of information consumption to feed growing global computing markets and eventually human capital investment markets via Pay for Success.

Advisory Committee on Training 13111

Source: Advisory Committee on Training Opportunities and Executive Order 13111

In addition to creating a federal infrastructure to grow online learning for government employees and ALL Americans, Clinton also created an advisory committee tasked with linking that digital training to employment. The two committee co-chairs were Christine Hemrick of Cisco Systems and Hilary Pennington who served on the Clinton transition team as a tech advisor and had for many years been CEO at Jobs for the Future (JFF). Eventually Pennington left JFF to work for the Gates Foundation and is now Vice President for programs at the Ford Foundation. In 2017, the Ford Foundation made a commitment to place $1 billion of its endowment into impact investing over a ten-year period.

For Foundation Impact Investing

Source: Ford Foundation Is an Unlikely Convert to ‘Impact” Investing, NY Times, April 13, 2017

Kairos Ford Foundation

One of the Ford Foundation’s current grantees (above) just happens to be the Poor People’s Campaign based out of the Kairos Center. I can imagine the workforce pathway impact investment program dovetailing with this initiative.

Clinton had signed the School-to-Work Opportunities Act in 1994, a year or so after Marc Tucker sent the “Dear Hillary Letter.” That jump-started work-based learning efforts. Jobs for the Future, the American Youth Policy Forum and the National Association of Secondary School Principals developed a paper on “revitalizing” high schools to advance the career pathway effort. This 1995 report embraced many of the ideals promoted in Tucker’s letter to Clinton and includes concepts I have called Ed Reform 2.0: certificates of completion, alternative work-based learning programs , competency-based education with performance assessments, and alternative credentialing systems. The plan was to create a workbased-learning program that would be attractive to employers due to its flexibility, responsiveness, and alignment to regional workforce goals. Excerpts from the report below.

University of Wisconsin CBE Competency Based Education

Peformance Asseessments

Certificate of Initial Mastery

Workforce Education Flexible

It is no coincidence that JFF brands itself as a social-impact enterprise. Tracking “opportunity youth,” immigrants, and returning citizens into training and employment has become an enormous “pay for success” investment sector in recent years. In fact the US Department of Education awarded JFF and Social Finance $2 million in 2016 to pay the cost of giving technical assistance to partners interested in piloting pay for success financed work-based learning initiatives. This award was one of the first two issued after the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA included authorizing language for the controversial pay for success finance initiative. These are JFF’s partners.

Jobs For the Future Partners

Below is a list of grants from four of the organization’s major funders, including a combined $120 million in grants from the Gates Foundation.

Gates Foundation Grants Jobs For The Future

Nellie Mae grants link JFF to the competency based education model.

Nellie Mae Grants to Jobs for the Future

Lumina Foundation grants link JFF to talent development and alternative digital credential systems.

Lumina Foundation Grants to Jobs For The Future

William and Flora Hewlett foundation grants link JFF to Open Education Record (OER) meta-data and impact philanthropy.

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to Jobs for the Future

So now we imagine college students placed on digital on-ramps to lifelong-learning pathways defined by plug-and-play competencies. Students set up to exhaust themselves curating portfolios of high-demand micro-credentials in the hopes they can successfully run the algorithmic, gig-economy gauntlet that is being built around them.

In this current landscape of economic uncertainty, education at all levels is becoming less about knowledge creation and more about training for the next job and the next and the next; because the only constant is that there will always be the NEXT job. The idea of career stability swept away as the door closed on the twentieth-century.

Jobs for the Future Little Sis

Interactive version of map here.

People are expected to suck-it-up-buttercup, because life on the Blockchain is coming. Earn your badges and integrate yourself into the borg. That’s why schools are pushing ten year olds to start career portfolios; why middle schoolers must have Naviance accounts so Hobsons can data-mine them; and why high school students are expected to participate in work-based learning so they can find their “passions” while having their “soft skills” assessed, even though most experts agree the “future of work” in a mixed-reality world industrial automation remains one big question mark.

After that conversation I wondered what other changes were underway and what was motiving those changes. Fast-forward a few years. I now see how we’re moving towards an engineered economy designed to serve the interests of transnational global capital. Our futures increasingly shaped by the mandates of workforce-planning boards, each region assigned a handful of growth industries.

The letter Marc Tucker sent to Hillary Clinton as Bill prepared to take office in 1992 proposed a vision that was “very complex, will take a long time to sell, and will be revised many times along the way.” And so it began, this kernel, evolving over twenty-seven years into a tech-mediated program of global human capital management where people are reduced to the stackable credentials in their learning lockers and predictions about their productivity as workers.

Lumina Salesforce Robin Hood Workforce

Source: New Alliance Will Invest In Education And Workforce Development Companies, October 29, 2018

Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, Every Student Succeeds, all advanced the vision fronted by Tucker, step by step with the support of Democrats and Republicans and the computer industry and the military research often carried out in the labs of esteemed universities. It was a vast network of public-private partnerships that generated the framework for this coming cybernetic dystopia.

And so as I went back over the “Dear Hillary Letter” in detail, it sunk in that these people must have envisioned a future of financialized humanity. Maybe they didn’t know it would involve Blockchain smart contracts, but they certainly understood the policy changes that would be needed to turn people into commodities in vast talent marketplace managed by transnational corporations who expected to be able to bend the law to their will, operate above it if need be. IBM, Exxon, Battelle, the true “globalists” would harness people to an Internet that was insinuating itself into our lives in unsettling and intrusive ways.

Tucker carried the ball as far as he could and recently retired after a long career at the National Center on Education and the Economy, founded under the guidance of the Carnegie Corporation. This January he turned the reigns over to Australian Anthony MacKay, ushering in a new era of openly globalized education for digital age learners. MacKay also co-chairs the Global Education Leaders Partnership with Valerie Hannon of the UK Innovation Unit and has ties to the OECD, “deeper learning,” and innovative schools across a dozen countries.

OECD Impact Investing.jpg

Interactive version of map here.

I suspect given levels of economic uncertainty, some find solace believing this digitally engineered system will work for people. I mean who wouldn’t want students to have good options? Isn’t that what they are pitching? Follow the pathway to prosperity. Trust us… we’re the techocrats.

We WANT for students to be able to get good jobs that allow them to pay back their debt. But do we REALLY think schools and employers will prioritize the interests of students and workers over those at the top of the economic pyramid (looking at you Bill Gates)? Especially when those students and workers are Black and Brown and poor?

It doesn’t take much looking around to realize the Fourth Industrial Revolution is offering no guarantees of living wage work that might enable a majority of people to support their families in dignity and contribute to their communities. Keyword searches “Task Rabbit,” “gig economy,” or “just-in-time workforce” for confirmation of that. In fact, the workforce plan for Southeastern Pennsylvania specifically references the gig economy as a GROWTH AREA.

SE PA WIOA Gig Economy

The top ten high-growth jobs for our region? Six of them pay well below $15 per hour.

SE PA WIOA Plan 2017-1

How will we ever escape our collective Stockholm syndrome if we allow our public institutions to be subsumed within toxic public-private partnerships? Testimony given by former Ohio Senator Ralph Regula on the High Skills Competitive Workforce Act of 1991, stated that “Business knows what sort of formal education is best and what would help their employees and their profit margins, and I think if this is to be successful, the business and industrial community needs to be very much a part of shaping a final package.”

But education, alone, is insufficent. Credentials are meaningless if after 13, 15, 17, 21+ years of knowledge creation young people are pushed into a world where their talents have no perceived economic value. We must reimagine an economy of care, not austerity. One that is just, cooperative, and works within the environmental constraints of our dangerously compromised planet. That will not emerge from this straight-jacketed model. Chamber of Commerce-endorsed pathways of human capital processing will only usher in greater inequality and ever more repressive labor tactics.

To successfully navigate the immense challenges coming our way, the next generation needs a system of education that acknowledges past harms and pushes towards collective liberation. It will have to heal the damage caused by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, no small task. It will require free thought, creativity, human relationships, and opportunities to experiment freely and learn from mistakes. It will require culturally responsive practice and time and space to relearn how to be together in community.

It will also require a decisive redistribution of resources and power away from predatory consultants, think tanks, bean counters and “vulture philanthropy” back into the hands of people at the local level. If we hope to get to a future that is less financialized, less data-driven, less debt-burdened, less racist, there will have to be a great reckoning and a rebirth. It won’t be easy, but what else is there to do but try?

I highly recommended the book Between Earth and Empire by John P. Clark. It includes some difficult truths but is balanced with a sense of hope, too.

Between Earth and Empire


Vanquishing the Windigo: Standing Up to Marc Tucker and Digital Capitalism

I’ve embarked on some intense Internet peregrinations lately, and work has been super busy. But it keeps me grounded in the real, physical world for which I am eternally grateful. It is captivating, full of generous people and natural wonders. It’s worth fighting to protect, which is why I continue to wander and try to share the information I stumble over along the way.


I’m excited to finally have a free weekend to write. I feel a growing sense of urgency as I connect with more and more folks across the country. Alaska, California, Utah, Illinois, North Dakota, Oklahoma…the pressure is intensifying, everywhere. If these thoughts seem somewhat scattered, bear with me. This is more an exercise in unburdening than some of my other posts.

Our current education system, admittedly far from perfect, is in the process of being dismantled. Its replacement? Digitally mediated, “lifelong learning,” workforce-aligned pathways. They’re being pitched in Colorado and Washington State as the “Swiss Model.” Other states are seeing the emergence of Markle Foundation-funded Skillful initiatives. Then there’s the normalization of gamified behavioral compliance tied to digital economic incentives paralleling this transformation.

Frighteningly, it appears education settings from P-20 are being set up to train future generations to accept and participate in the construction of STEM-centric worlds steeped in cyber-security. No hard hats required, just an up to date eyeglass prescription. Everyone expected to do their part to build and secure these new “worlds.” No one spared, not even preschoolers.

We must understand the nature of worlds built in code.

They will exist as augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality.

They will be digitized, data-rich, and surveilled.

They will come with embedded nudges imposed by algorithms.

They will become automated, eventually beyond human control.

These are worlds where human agency could be extinguished.

They will be alluring, tempting by design.

They serve the interests of finance, technology, and incarceration/defense.

They are fraught with danger, and the oligarchs want our children to build them.

pre-k coding

Source: 250 Preschoolers Learning Coding, Global Hour of Code, School4Kidz

If you take a peek behind the curtain, you’ll see transnational global capital is strategically lining up new profit centers to feed off the social disruption wrought by impending (or in many corners of the world, ongoing) economic and climate catastrophe. As the real world falls apart, the masses will be herded into gamified shadow worlds where they can be data-mined and controlled. Norbert Weiner saw it coming decades ago, and now technological advances are catching up. Life processes, including education, are data-driven with a laser focus on performance management and “growth.” Our behaviors are sources of profit, human capital an investable commodity where the elite play with lives, predict futures, and gamble on outcomes. If this is new you, take a minute to read this post.

Given recent remarks by Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, it seems likely today’s toddlers will be navigating a 5G world of ubiquitous computing where wearable technologies track their every movement, and perhaps emotions, in real time. Our interactions in Internet of Things environments will generate the data to run human capital impact markets.

AT&T 5G Randall Stephenson

Source: Randall Stephenson, Banking At The Speed Of Light, Fin-Tech in a 5G World

Exactly what kind of education does one get in a panopticon, especially a mixed-reality panopticon where state surveillance and military interests had a hand in building the simulations that surround you? I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by the military’s keen interest in weaponized narrative. In the dreams of Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg, and Pierre Omidyar, our AR future will be navigating worlds with “personalized” digital overlays (see Vernor Vinge’s book Rainbows End for insights into this) that maintain tight control as populations are acclimatized to volatile environments of violence and scarcity.

It continues to amaze me what we attempt to normalize. I learned today that SoftBank’s Nao mini-robots are being piloted for handwriting instruction, and in a cruel plot twist it’s the children who are supposed to be teaching the robots! Scroll through the project list for GAIPS, a Portuguese lab specializing in human-computer interaction, social robots, intelligent agents and synthetic characters. Seriously, take your time and get an eye-full; maybe then you’ll begin to feel the intense dread rising in my gut.

Nao CoWriter Project

Source: Nao CoWriter Project

What does the rise of social robots and avatar companions portend for the future of work, the digitization of personal relationships, and even our grip on reality? Who put the computer scientists in charge, and why are they building a world where robots replace people?

This, for me, is a somewhat rhetorical question, since I recognize that as we exceed the carrying capacity of the earth, capitalism really has no choice but to jump into the virtual realm and take us, as digital commodities, along with it. That is the logic of overconsumption united with lean production: a redundant workforce continually performing material acquisition on a dying planet. I had a fleeting insight into this back when my child “played” with Webkinz a decade ago. We’re conditioned as consumers to think plush animals “mining gems” in order to furnish virtual rooms is perfectly normal. In retrospect, I’m rather appalled that I didn’t give it a second thought at the time.

Human Robot Interaction Robot Work

Source: ACM / IEEE Human Robot Interaction Conference

Epic Games Mike Seymour Unreal Engine Synthetic Humans

Source: EPIC Games, Unreal Engine Presentation, Disney Accelerator 2017

Notre Dame is coordinating a team of researchers tasked with refining wearable sensors to predict workplace performance based on biomarkers including sleep, stress, and daily patterns of behavior. I-ARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency) funded Project Tesserae to the tune of $8 million. Imagine how that will interface with these workforce pathways programs.

Tesserae Project

Source: The Tesserae Project: Large-Scale Longitudinal, In Situ, Multimodal Sensing of Information Workers

It’s the type of labor surveillance Frederick Taylor and the scientific management crew could only dream of. Bluetooth beacons tracking movement throughout one’s home, and based on the data predicting one’s future performance. Precision tools to rate productivity; it’s just the thing for an era in which only top-tier applicants will actually be allowed to work. The Hunger Games funded with our tax dollars, rolled out in cooperation with esteemed institutions of higher education. Are we getting our money’s worth?

Project Tesserae Beacons

As the Davos crowd gears up for a Fourth Industrial Revolution that doesn’t need all that many people, employment desirability is going to hinge on a worker’s proof of compliance, conformity, flexibility, and resilience. The elite want cogs that can be re-machined as needed. No squeaky wheels allowed in a digital economy that moves like the wind. Schools are being re-tooled to accommodate the new industrial system. With that re-tooling comes disruption and destruction. The existing system has started to crumble, but not enough people realize the nature of what is to come.

According to a talk Robert McChesney gave in 2016 for his book “People Get Ready: The Fight Against A Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy” major industrial firms are poised to gut their workforce. They have the capacity to do it now, but the transition would burn down the middle class, and so they’re trying to figure it out. See the excerpt from his talk below:

Robert McChesney

Source: Robert McChesney and John Nichols-The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy, 2016

“Just a couple of professors at Oxford researching artificial intelligence, economists actually, now have determined that roughly fifty percent of existing jobs in the United States will be eliminated within the next ten to twenty years by robotics and artificial intelligence. That’s not an uncommon feeling at all.

There’s a leading CEO a few months ago, of one of the largest industrial corporations in the world, in a private meeting a former PhD student of mine was able to attend recently in Germany. He gave a very interesting presentation. He’s head of a large company, several hundred thousand workers in Germany and factories all over the world, and his workers in Germany are union workers. They have really good wages, the sort of jobs American workers had forty years ago. They’re the backbone of the German middle class, and someone in the question and answer period asked the CEO, he said is all that stuff about automation and robotics really something serious that we should be concerned with?

And he (the CEO) said, not only is it serious, we have the capacity right now to completely automate every factory we have in the world, including Germany. And he said, but we can’t do it politically right now; that’s the only thing that is stopping us. Because, and this is the quote translated from German, “If we were to automate our factories in Germany, the middle class would burn.” German social order would collapse. That’s how serious, in his view, it was. In Germany companies like the one he has, has workers on the board of directors by law, so it makes a bit dicier to do things like that than it would be in the United States, but he also said it’s just a matter of time until that happens.”

People sense something is wrong. They realize neighborhood schools are becoming places of dread: toxic buildings, live shooter drills, teachers held captive to rigid curricula, and students data-mined in ever more intrusive ways. Universities are merging, shuttering whole departments, reinventing themselves as digital diploma mills, an outcome predicted by David F. Noble. All of this this is happening as a full court press is being made to implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. If you’re not already aware, education is UN SDG 4 and fully embraces digital technology as the “solution” to global poverty. Not coincidentally it creates markets for ed-tech, cloud computing, and human capital social impact investments, too.

UN SDG 4 Playbook ICT

Living wage employment opportunities shrink as student debt grows, and we are confronted with the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) gatekeepers that deploy facial recognition technology to determine if a job candidate’s smile is fake or if they’re prone to boredom. It’s looking pretty bleak out there.

With all of that weighing me down, it’s hard to motivate myself to sit and focus and sift through my scattered thoughts to bring some order to these trends that are both grim and overwhelming. So, before I took to my chair I made a batch of scones, chocolate chip scones. And as I prepared the dough I listened to the reassuring words of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s audiobook “Braiding Sweetgrass.” I so love her voice.

In the chapter I was listening to Kimmerer spoke of the Windigo, a mythic beast of the north woods’ winter that stalks families during the hunger time. It represents insatiable, destructive, all-consuming greed. The Windigo’s nature is isolation. It stands in opposition to the affirming qualities of reciprocity, connection, and belonging. It is cast out, a prisoner to a hunger that can never be satisfied. You see, the Windigo is a manifestation of capitalism, a force that would turn all our social relations, including knowledge creation, into commodities to be devoured and obliterated.


As Tim Scott notes in Common Schools and the Nationalistic Aims of Public Education in the U.S., “compulsory mass education serves as an essential element in cultivating dutiful citizen subjects who will consent to (or champion) the demands and interests of those in power.” In the United States those are the capitalists, the ones who demand the digital worlds be built.

With the rise of technology public education has become a node not only of social reproduction, but also of profit extraction. The Carnegie Corporation (Andrew Carnegie, steel money) created the “Carnegie Unit” credit hour to ensure children would be systematically exposed to the ideas that would maintain the his social order. Schools were set up to transform agricultural laborers into the factory workers needed by the new economic system. Scott notes this social order was born of a marriage of nationalism and industrialization. For over a century, children had to be physically present in a school building with other children and a teacher to accomplish the required conditioning.

Now we have new system, one where robots will push out human labor: physical labor, service labor, and knowledge labor. For this new age Carnegie plans to jettison the eponymous credit unit, along with the old-fashioned notion of “seat time.” Adoption of 1:1 device-based education means learning IN school buildings is no longer required. The ruling class will soon be able to farm out young children under pay for success contracts to non-profit providers and send the older kids home.

Work-based learning is the new thing. “Learn to earn.” People are drawn to it, hoping such a program will offer their children stability, when precisely the opposite is true. Regional workforce plans being adopted under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act foresee a world where a majority of folks are yoked to the gig economy; the education level required only a bit above a high school diploma. It doesn’t serve the interests of the elite to over-educate people they plan to control. Too much free thought is a threat. Washington State is on the leading edge. Seattle is tech’s test-bed.

WIOA Washington Workforce Plan Precarious Labor

Source: Talent and Prosperity For All: The Strategic Plan For Unlocking Washington’s Workforce Potential, 2016

Personalized learning will advance social efficiency in ruthless new ways, turbocharged by AI feedback loops. Gamification will condition students to loyalty and competition. Instead of relying on school communities to instill social cohesion, the elite are tapping learning engineers to maximize the profit that can be squeezed from the “educational process,” while tracking students into career pathways that will replicate long-standing patterns of oppression tied to race and class. In digital systems of education, students have no idea how the system is set up (rigged). Those who make the rules have the advantage as Wharton professor Kevin Werbach points out in the clip below. Rules can be surprising; therefore it’s always better to be the person making the rules. Thus, hegemony is maintained even as the population transitions to digital “second lives.”

Kevin Werbach Rules Matter 1 .jpg

Source: Professor Kevin Werbach on Gamification, Wharton Lifelong Learning Tour

Today, playlist education is becoming the default. Device-based instruction isolates children, making them vulnerable to the Windigo. Ed-tech conditions students to see themselves as the center of their own universe, to view their accomplishments numerically, to work within the set system, to be obedient. In the “knowledge” economy, brains are commodities to be mined and shaped through “evidence-based” interventions. As digital worlds gain prominence, we will see a doubling-down on systems of control, discipline of body and thought. In a world of centralized power, creativity will be seen as a threat, unless channeled into acceptable outlets like video game design.

Minecraft Education

Thus a new system of education will be established to meet the needs of the new world of digital capitalism as it is being constructed, for it is a very substantial undertaking that will require extraordinary effort. This education system will be designed for a globalized gig economy; “human capital” futures traders; and carceral systems tapped to police surplus labor. As STEM takes center stage, the humanities and arts are left to wither. How will the digital worlds be built on schedule if students are given the option to paint, write stories, perform concerts, deconstruct historical mythologies, or theorize new economic systems? Those in power do not want alternate thinking. Executive function, focus, grit and resilience are traits they deem desirable for a world where the speed of technological advances will constantly test the mental endurance of the global labor pool.

WIOA Washington State Hiring Difficulty SEL

Capitalism continues to evolve. Many say that the system cannot hold; it is has come to a breaking point. That I would dispute, because I can see its tentacles already reaching into nascent virtual worlds. I suspect the Windigo is already poking around the corners of Minecraft, seeing what it can turn up. Gates knows this and has been preparing along with the Entertainment Software Association. Disney, the military, the simulation experts are out there setting the templates for the worlds to come. They will attempt to herd us into false universes, populated with avatars and synthetic people. For many it will be hard to tell what is real from what is not. It will be difficult to construct a cohesive identity. It will be a strain. Those in power know that, which is why we are seeing a ramp up in mental health assessments. They will use Big Data to cull those perceived to be weak, even in the trans-humanist realm.


Source: Decentraland

The building of these new worlds and the plan to track private property as digital assets on Blockchain demonstrates the flexibility and tenacity of empire. As in previous eras, colonizers are bound to seize assets. While some contemplate a utopian crypto-commons, the reality is corporate and carceral interests will have already staked out the choicest amenities well before commoners make themselves at home. The crypto valley is the playground of global finance and the state (surveillance / military). Battalions of cyber soldiers are being assembled across the country in places like the Virginia Cyber Range.

Virginia Cyber Range

Source: Virginia Cyber Range

Assets will be seized as they are created, new worlds stolen, even as they are made manifest, through the unwaged or under-waged labor of refugees, prisoners, and students. It is their lives that will be sacrificed to the creation of the virtual realm. After the frontier was closed and imperial pursuits exhausted, Silicon Valley stepped up to offer a new world ripe for plunder. They’ve been laying the groundwork for nearly fifty years. Capitalism always has a back up plan.

In closing, I want to bring in Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). Tucker made a lengthy career as a tool of Carnegie. In the late 1980s NCEE floated the idea of restructuring education, planting the seeds of the Competency-Based Education agenda that would eventually be wedded to technology through SCORM and xAPI interfaces. Its progressive branding cloaked the toxic elements it advanced, including a technology-based “total quality management” approach that relied on national standards and constant assessment. Marc played a key role in setting up the “cradle to gray” human capital pipeline.

Marc Tucker C-Span

Source: Marc Tucker Testimony, Competitiveness of the American Worker, 1987

In revisiting Tucker’s 1992 “Dear Hillary Letter,” it is clear the NCEE program is well underway. I’ve shared a summary of its recommendations at the end of this post, so you can see for yourself. The problem is that few on the Left have directly engaged with the content of the letter, which was read into the Congressional Record six years later in 1998. Why? Because it has been taken up by conservative interests as evidence of a globalist Socialist or Communist plot to undermine the United States Constitution.

The letter Tucker sent to Hillary Clinton on the eve of Bill’s inauguration has become a touchstone for those on the right who oppose Common Core State Standards and the United Nation’s education initiatives. Now is the time to move beyond partisan politics and do a “close read” of NCEE’s extensive proposition. It is remarkable how much of the program has been put into place with bipartisan support over the past twenty-five plus years.

In that time, data-driven device-based learning has replaced authentic human instruction for even our youngest learners; ten year olds are being pressured to choose career pathways; third-party software programs are tracking the social-emotional traits “soft skills” of students; community college course offerings are being shaped by regional labor boards; as four year colleges are dismantled through debt, austerity, and mismanagement.

What many conservatives fail to recognize is that we (the United States) ARE the “globalists.” Sure, the United Nations has been structured as a vehicle to turn the dispossessed into human capital for “impact investment” purposes. That’s what ID2020 is about after all, the interests of Microsoft and Accenture are inextricably woven into the advancement of digital identity systems. But is it vital to understand that the UN is doing this in service of transnational global capital, which in turn is dominated by US technology, finance, and manufacturing interests.

We are fighting the Windigo, that which would consume through greed and destruction, all that is good in the world. We are at a point of crisis. That crisis is capitalism. We are rapidly approaching the creation of a techno-fascist state the likes of which has never before been seen.

Abuse of Social Robots Japan

Source: Escaping From Children’s Abuse of Social Robots

How do we organize to stop this? My bet is on the kids from Kyoto. I think they’re on to something and should probably be tapped as leaders in the anti-robot resistance.

We must wake people up and collectively knit back together the rent social fabric needed ward off the Windigo’s depredations. It is community versus corporatism; but the community must be mobilized. We can refuse to code this world of domination. It cannot be built against the will of the people, but the people have to know what is happening and unite.

Can we embrace lessons of Indigenous resistance and begin to reclaim our humanity in the face of those who would perpetrate a planet-killing Fourth Industrial Revolution? Can we in unity stand up to techno-fascists and expose the digital “freedoms” temptingly proffered by oligarchs for the lies that they are? Can we stop capitalism’s next phase of colonization by creating an education system that starves digital worlds rather than feeds them?

In this liminal time, we must come to terms with and own up to the destructive history of this nation. It is imperative that we look to the example of those who have continually resisted both the destruction of human relationships and of the planet. We must build something new, in right relationship. There is not an “ism” out there that can do what must be done, stand up to the Windigo, cut the Doctrine of Discovery off at the knees. We must look hard at the destruction wrought by Whiteness and begin to set it to right. I want so much for us to make it past this Hunger Moon to the sweetness of the Sugar Moon beyond.

Summary of the Dear Hillary Letter recommendations for an engineered economy where people are re-skilled as human capital in service of global investment markets:

Emphasize perpetual skill development.

Create a board to set uniform professional and technical standards, performance standards, licensures, and to administer related exams.

Align national standards, exams, and licensure systems to international benchmarks: K12, sub-baccalaureate and four-year degrees, technical degrees, and certificates established by employers.

Modular system of occupations established, each with specified skill requirements.

Institutions taking public funds must provide outcomes data in a uniform format.

Data remitted to government includes client characteristics, program costs, and “success rates.”

Consolidate dislocated worker programs, adopt national vouchers, and integrate those programs into the national education and training system.

Free market “choice” embedded into standards-aligned pathways.

General education certificates awarded at age 16 to students meeting basic standards.

A certificate makes students eligible for additional education or training.

Combine the last two years of high school with the first two years of college into a three-year program resulting in sub-baccalaureate degrees / credentials.

Shift to work-based learning, “learn to earn.”

Phase in national implementation starting with a cohort of willing states, some with big cities. Later scale it up through “voluntary” federal government grant incentives.

A single unified training system is used by all: young adults, dislocated workers, unemployed, and returning citizens.

A comprehensive computerized database of job openings and candidates is maintained.

A system of local, state and federal labor market boards is established to oversee training and placement, linking education to the workforce.

Deregulate, eliminate means-tested programs, tie compensation to outcomes.

Make service providers compete.




“Sustainability” for Financiers: What Climate Marchers Need to Know About the UN Sustainable Development Goals

I’m writing the day after the climate strike. With so many people taking to the streets, it made me wonder how much people actually know about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs)? Why is that important? Well, there are powerful interests seeking to misdirect people who want to do the right thing. If we go down the wrong path, irreversible harm will be inflicted in the name of “carbon trading,” “green” growth, “financial-inclusion,” and “resilient cities.”

Global Green New Deal UNEP


In 2009 the UN advanced a Global Green Deal. The policy brief was prepared in the aftermath of the housing crisis with the intention of directing stimulus money into “green” economic activities managed through the World Bank, centering technology and innovative finance. 2009 was also the year the Global Impact Investment Network was founded, having been shepherded along by former University of Pennsylvania president Judith Rodin and the Rockefeller Foundation. It now has over 20,000 members.

Today, the United Nations Development Program is working in cooperation with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to set global standards for impact measurement that will drive investment, in part, into SDG projects. This effort, the Impact Management Project, has too many participants to list (2,000!) but includes Ronald Cohen’s Social Finance, Bain spin-off Bridgespan, and Larry Fink’s Blackrock, the largest asset manager in the world.

Clearly there is an endless supply of money to throw at the environmental crisis, but only if profit can be readily captured for those who already have most of the resources. Capturing that profit means data, and in today’s world obtaining, storing, and processing that data comes with its own immense environmental consequences, and that is something few are eager to discuss.

Impact management project

Above is only a selection of participants in the Impact Management Project. Source

In a previous post I touched on The Red Deal and explained my belief that the environmental movement is split. One path, grounded in right relations and the Indigenous sovereignty struggle, might begin to heal the planet IF the masses stand with the colonized people of the earth and reckon with the immense harm wrought by capitalism, especially racial capitalism.

The other path, grounded in technology, Internet of things, 5G, artificial intelligence and Big Data, will, through financialization, probably kill it. But before the final nails are put in the coffin Goldman Sachs and other financiers will have wrung out the very last drops of profit. The UN SDGs are of the second path.




Seventeen goals were adopted by the 193 member states of the United Nations in 2015. The stated intention was to eliminate poverty and protect the planet. They’ve essentially set the rules for the global hedge fund game that will run on data extracted from Internet of Things (IoT) sensors. There are two parallel programs of financialization: 1) people as human capital and 2) nature: carbon, energy, stormwater, etc. The sensor networks will be incorporated into smart city planning via programs of the type being hotly contested with Google’s Sidewalk Labs in Toronto.


I suspect folks might be surprised to find out twelve of the goals are human-centric. So, there are a dozen different opportunities where data can be used control populations: education, employment, health, and housing to name a few. Only four of the sustainability development goals are, in fact, climate and energy-focused. The final goal deals with implementation, picture public-private partnerships with social impact financiers.

These goals must be seen for what they are, an apparatus crafted by vulture philanthropists to maintain flows of transnational global capital at a time when growing wealth inequality renders the purchasing power of the masses woefully inadequate. Goals 4 and 8 also play into the results-oriented “evidence-based” techno-solutions being imposed on our education and training systems. Don’t get me wrong; poverty and displacement from environmental, economic and political upheaval are, and will continue to be, an immense humanitarian catastrophe. We must commit ourselves to caring for our neighbors, the land, and our non-human kin. What we must grapple with now is how to do that from a place of justice and caring rather than data-driven opportunity engineering that is fundamentally dehumanizing, disrespects the earth, and flies in the face of community self-determination, ceding power to the cloud bosses.

We know the game is on. The question this is how does it play out in the United States? Not many people seem to be talking about it. It’s puzzling.

There is much to commend in House Resolution 109: Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal. Public investment, creation of good jobs, an emphasis on frontline and vulnerable communities and Indigenous consultation are vital elements of any just transition program. Yet we must carefully consider if FDR’s New Deal, a deal designed to save US capitalism, preserve a fundamentally racist social order through select accommodations, and reign in radical labor, is the right conceptual framework. In this time of crisis, let the scales fall from our eyes, let the myths be disrupted. We need a new path.

My other concern is that House Resolution 109 will be vulnerable to cooptation by these predatory impact investors. Senator Markey who co-sponsored the resolution with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, spent his legislative career in Boston, home to Harvard, MIT and a powerful venture capital community. It is where many elements of of the pay for success program have been refined: Internet of Things, Blockchain, crypto-economics, and data-driven, neoliberal privatization policies. He will be lobbied hard to craft legislation that fulfills the desires of the Global Impact Investment Network. Digitally mediated social impact investing is the tool intended to save capitalism this around.

In 2018 Senator Markey lectures at MIT on “Combating the Climate Crisis From Regulation To Legislation.”

As the Green New Deal moves from aspiration to legislation we must be prepared to go toe to toe with transnational global capital interests to refuse to allow public private partnerships or outcomes-based contracting  to be inserted into the legislation. We must not open the door to “pay for success” finance, an “innovative” abomination that would weave lives and lands into vast data-gathering networks to serve the rich. Bottom up organizing, outside the limits of electoral politics, must also continue, and we should be following those who have been resisting the longest, Indigenous people.

If we’re not careful, the outpouring of energy from these well-intentioned climate marches could be channeled to dangerous ends. If we don’t take the reigns from the Davos crowd, instead of healing the planet they’ll end up incentivizing things like monoculture genetically modified forests, Liquefied Natural Gas processing, and biometric monitoring of the poor. Worst case scenario we end up in an eco-fascist police state where the masses are forced to live off meager Universal Basic Income (UBI) allotments, farmed for data like aphids milked by ants.

Ok, so that last one might a bit sound extreme, but people DO sense something is not right. There is palpable feeling of anxiety. While not everyone can pinpoint the source, a growing number of communities are on the right track, opposing the imposition of “smart” surveillance technologies and the roll out of 5G cellular networks needed to scale the coming Internet of Things (IoT), mixed-reality world. They need this infrastructure to capture the impact data for the financiers.

AR Simulation Training


To get a sense of the imperative pushing 5G deployment you can watch this 2016 press briefing with FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, puppet of the cable and telecommunications industry and Obama bundler. We will be told we need IoT to fight climate change and solve poverty (more data!), when in fact the technocrats want it so they can turn people and ecosystems into a cybernetic bonanza of signals intelligence to be tapped for manipulative investment schemes and social control as required. We can look to the “Smart Nation” policies of Singapore and China’s social credit scoring protocols for a preview.

Internet of Humans


Many people know about the kind of sensors that track pollution, storm water run-off, and air quality. Those are sort of things most people imagine technology will be used for in order to achieve “green” outcomes. What people are probably NOT prepared for is the Internet of Humans. The European Union and the Institute Electrical and Electronics Engineers are already planning that out with fair trade data markets and harmonized digital citizens. The push towards single data markets and self sovereign identity systems seems to be the logical conclusion for the GDPR privacy regulations. We are our data. We own it, but most of us, the poor, will have to sell it to survive. It is the new global currency. When I stumbled upon this I really wondered if perhaps the EU had been set up with this in mind all along.

For years we’ve been groomed to accept the primacy of STEM, the imperative of closing the digital divide. Now as our precious actual world is flooded and burned, they’re planning to scale up their fictitious worlds where digital people will be easier to manage. They’re also going to have to maintain it and police it. It takes a lot of people to build a parallel universe. Why do you think Microsoft is pushing Minecraft in schools? They need workers. What? Did you think Ready Player One was just a book / movie? And while this may seem a bit over the top, I have been reflecting on a panel discussion hosted by Atlantic Magazine I attended in Philadelphia during the 2016 DNC.

The topic was “Teaching for Tomorrow in the Creative Economy,” and it was all about video games and IoT. There was nothing about actual education. During his portion of the panel president of Epic Games, Paul Meegan, emphasized how crucial it was for him to have access to talent to build out his video games. Epic Games, in case you aren’t aware, developed Fortnite with capital from Chinese company TenCent.

The next phase of capitalism is virtual, gamified worlds in which avatars consume digital products and earn and transfer value through crypto-economic systems. It will take awhile, but we’re definitely baby stepping our way there. And to make that transition, the tech oligarchs need masses of kids to be funneled into coding and cyber-security career pathways, humanities be damned. Reduce your carbon footprint, spend your life in a video game!

While the mirage of high-paying coding jobs remains out there, the reality is for every hoodie-wearing tech executive playing foosball, there are many, many poor people doing the soul-sucking sweat shop work of annotating photos and cleaning and organizing the training data for the robots with whom they intend to replace us. These are the hidden “Task Rabbits” that do the work of teaching the autonomous vehicles how to move.

Increasingly those are going to be high school kids doing “work-based” learning, houseless people earning their keep in “pay for success” shelters, or refugees in detainment camps. Bottom line is we’ve been pitched faux digital liberation, one that if embraced will ultimately render us fuel for a “smart” world where human labor, human contact, human relationships are digital and disposable.

Tech Jobs for Refugees

Fake worlds are not the answer to climate change.

IoT social impact markets are not the answer to climate change, either.

Under the auspices of a climate emergency, one so many have unthinkingly demanded, the technocrats will have free reign to ensnare the earth in digital webs of sensors and EMF radiation. They’ll have our blessing to “count what matters” as the IXO Foundation video says. And count it they will in the most brutal, Orwellian ways. Given the present imbalance of power and growing militarization of police, whose interests are going to be served through such a declaration? Sounds like an excuse for martial law to me. I have seen nothing to convince me elected officials favor the interests of regular people over those of Google and Goldman Sachs. I guess all of this is to say be careful what you ask for; you might get it.

In this pending augmented reality, digital surveillance future each person will be expected to be an entrepreneur of the self, curating a digital brand, interacting with sensors in the world around us. Probably even our encounters with nature will be fed into some damn data channel. These sensors will monitor our behaviors and nudge us to make the “right choices,” so investors can achieve the success metrics that will allow them to siphon profit from the public trough.

That’s what those dozen UN SDGs are really about. That’s the reason Ideas42 was developed out of Harvard, to leverage research in behavioral economics to force compliance in a world of precarious employment and environmental devastation. Behave or starve, technology as enforcer. Behavior change, or else. But that change is always individual change, not the structural change that could lead to actual redistribution of resources and the healing that is needed.

At the next march, it is vital to understand what the demands are.

To be prepared to make the vision of the Green New Deal one for the people, not GIIN.

We must be vigilant that the right vision is advanced, that collective power is not diverted to bitter ends.

We demand a future  grounded in right relations not financialization.

The change we need doesn’t come from a line of code.

It comes from the work being done face to face. Keep going.

If you haven’t looked over The Red Deal, check it out.

I’ll spend more time talking about this map later. But if any of this seems to come out of left field, it didn’t. It’s real. You’ll find it in here.


Two paths diverge. Follow the red one.

Above taken from The Red Nation’s Principles of Unity, ratified August 2018.

I write this at the beginning of the Global Climate Strike in the hopes of raising questions, provoking conversation, and perhaps bringing some clarity to a fight that has life or death consequences for untold millions of people as well as our non-human kin. The path we take means everything. While I am encouraged to see the mass mobilization of people around the environmental devastation capitalism has wrought upon this planet, I also have grave concerns that misdirection is taking place.

It is a moment when so many are wrapped up in the fervor of participation that they do not recognize there are two paths in the environmental movement. The first path is one that has been maintained by Indigenous peoples throughout the colonization and industrialization of their lands. They have been waging the battle for right relations among people, the land, and their non-human kin for centuries. Theirs has been a fierce resistance, one where the magnitude of sacrifice is simply incalculable. Few have been on their side. It has been a terrible struggle, and yet they have persisted. Thank god. Thank for the youth who ignited the water protector movement at Standing Rock. Thank god for the efforts of the Red Nation in drafting the Red Deal.

The Red Deal

The second path is one built on carbon trading, Internet of Things, 5G, and innovative “pay for success” finance. It seeks to control nature and the global poor as “human capital.” It will ultimately kill the Earth, while pretending to “save” it, wringing the last drops of profit from a dying planet to pad the bottom line of Goldman Sachs, the Vatican Bank, MetLife, etc.

This path ends in pension funds being poured into outcomes-based, “pay for success” contracts that rely on data from sensors to prove the “success” of the deals. No one is talking about the fact that the rare metals in those sensors are mined by child slave labor in Congo or will require 5G whose EMF radiation may very well kill off invertebrate populations, including vital pollinators. No one is talking about e-waste.

This path is setting up young people to demand the creation of “smart” surveillance cities that will be controlled by militarized policing. This path leads to a future of device-based education, virtual reality training for gig jobs as robot wranglers, tele-medicine, and tele-therapy, where our behaviors are monitored for the “impact” data investors in privatized public services demand.

This second path follows the UN Sustainability Development Goals (UN SDGs) that center high-tech “solutions” intended to financialize life in all its forms. It is about turning nature into a data commodity and turning our social relations, especially those of the poor and dispossessed, into data commodities, too. That data will fuel a massive gambling enterprise catalyzed by social impact philanthropies on behalf of transnational global capital interests. This is the path envisioned by IXO Foundation. Let no global crisis go to waste when it can be harnessed for the benefit of financiers.

ixo: The Blockchain for Impact from ixo foundation on Vimeo.

Will we allow them to put IoT sensors on all the trees to “count what matters?” Will we stand by as they create self-owning cyborg forests? And what are the tech-oligarchs’ plans for the global poor in this coming age, one defined by surplus labor and automation? What are we prepared to do to halt their plans? As AI intercedes in our lives in the most intimate and intrusive ways, will we give ourselves over to the borg, adopt Blockchain identities, and allow transhumanist technocrats to control us?

Climate Refugees IXO

Or will we stand with the peoples of the world who have suffered under the brutal, extractivist conditions of colonization, advocating with them for their right to self-determination and land sovereignty? In that process, in solidarity, might we also begin to heal ourselves?

There are two paths. Know which one you are on. The correct one won’t come with branded logos paid for by social impact investors (I’m looking at you Tom Steyer).

More on the principles of the Red Deal here.

  • What creates the crisis cannot solve it.
  • Change from below and to the left.
  • Politicians can’t do what only mass movements can do.
  • From theory to action.

Goldman Sachs Green Bonds.jpg

Goldman sachs stormwater


The Mixed Realty Commute: Education for the Telepresence Gig Economy

First there were remote-operation robots for nuclear waste clean up, then remote-operation drone warfare. Now we’ve moved on to the rather more mundane task of remote-operation fast food delivery. I was motivated to finally sit down and start to write the back-story to defense department simulations and workforce-aligned project based learning after seeing a tweet about Kiwibots.


It’s a complex story, so this will be the first of a multi-part series.

Here I will touch on robotics, mixed reality, and Blockchain within the context of a globalized service-sector workforce. I then plan to discuss:

1) How Executive Order 13111, signed by Bill Clinton in 1999, set up a national training advisory committee whose members linked the work-based education model described in Marc Tucker’s “Dear Hillary Letter” to technology and debt finance.

2) The military origins of competency based education and “intelligent” digital tutoring systems.

3) How the entertainment industry teamed up with the Defense Department in the mid 1990s to develop mixed reality training environments using games and simulations, which resulted in the creation of USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies.

4) How global philanthropies and video game developers plan to using Transmedia storytelling, developed by the military, to catalyze behavior change in service of impact investing markets, and how that intersects with developments in digital medicine, executive function brain training, and mental health assessment.

5) How Blockchain credentialing will link wearable technology and virtual reality to demonstrations of competencies for globalized AI human resource contracting.

6) The role the National Laboratory for Education Transformation has played in creating infrastructure for the digital engineering of US labor.

7) Lastly how Convergence’sEducation Reimagined” campaign aligns with the above.

I want to first draw your attention to an excerpt from a 2014 white paper prepared by the American Alliance of Museums on the future of education. In it Elizabeth Merritt, founder of their Center for the Future of Museums, posits a future where today’s children no longer have access to “traditional jobs,” but rather must patch together bits of work meted out in a TaskRabbit economy. Thus schools need to be transformed to facilitate that transition.


The last time I was in New York, over the summer, it seemed TaskRabbit had bought up much of the advertising space on the subway system. Poster after poster extolled the merits of hiring someone via app to watch children or put together Ikea bookcases. What I want to point out here is that while TaskRabbit represents SOME of the work being contracted out on gig platforms, quite a lot of precarious labor is actually service sector work that has been pushed online. Consider the many underpaid teachers trying to pay their bills by picking up early-hours shifts tutoring kids in China through VIP Kid. Now combine platformed work with remote control robotics, and looks like we’ve got a whole new ball game for dislocated “labor” coming in the next decade or so.

Ok, now more about Kiwibot.

Frank Pasquale Kiwibot

Kiwibot pays Colombians $2 per hour to operate vehicles with GPS and cameras. The robots complete the last leg of app-initiated fast food delivery runs thousands of miles away on Berkeley’s campus. Apparently someone decided it was more cost effective to use robots for part of the route than to pay human couriers to do the entire thing: globalized lean production enabled by human-computer interfaces. I have a friend who’s quite prescient in her assessment of labor automation. In her view, robots won’t actually replace people over the short run, but instead ensure the work left to be done is wretched, physically and mentally taxing, and under-paid. A squad of contingent labor, remote control fast food robot operators waiting on college students at an elite, Bay Area university seems to exemplify this perfectly. So many layers of wrong here. SO MANY.

Kiwibot Burrito Robot

It’s not surprising this would show up at Berkeley. This spring, university researchers announced the roll out of Blue, a relatively inexpensive ($5,000) lightweight robot for domestic use. Blue is designed to learn by doing AND from human assistants-remote operators. Yes, it seems we are supposed to teach the robots to be more human so they can replace us.

Domestic robots are now under development in Japan, which has actually welcomed the use of social robots as pets and companions for the children and the elderly. By 2020 wealthy households may be able to rent glorified Roombas with a low-wage workers in other countries attached. Beyond clothes folding, advances are also being made in remote-control robots designed for security, policing, and ground-based combat. Coming upon one of QINETIQ’s MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System) robots, developed in coordination with the US Army and Marine Corps, in a remote corner of the Arizona desert would be like something out of a Black Mirror episode. For all you parents with kids in school-based robotics programs, here’s a sneak peek at where this is all headed. #Progress (?)

MAARS Security Robot

Robot Butler Remote

We need to understand the “future of work” so keenly discussed in Davos and at Aspen Institute meet-ups revolves around the so-called “knowledge economy,” stuff folks get paid to do, mostly online. People mashed up with digital technologies, labor conditions where human-computer-robot-artificial intelligence interactions in mixed (augmented and virtual) reality environments will become increasingly commonplace. Labor broken down into an infinite menu of “skills,” both cognitive and social-emotional-behavioral, that are represented as badges or codes (imagine health care billing codes) that can be screened at lightening speed by algorithms assigning micro-work.

Besides remote-controlled robotics, we also have telepresence robots where a moveable apparatus holds a device allowing a person to interact remotely through the screen. The first time I saw this was an interview with Edward Snowden who’s evidently been using a “Snowbot” since 2014. It’s being normalized in education and healthcare settings, too. The latter got quite a bit of negative attention after a robot doctor gave a patient at a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Fremont, CA a terminal diagnosis.

And now telepresence robots with hands and haptic sensor gloves for the operators.

While there are benefits, like the ability to work from home, the flip side is that if YOU can do the work remotely, OTHERS can, too…from parts of the world where wages are much lower. Hence the Kiwibot scenario. So now freelance “knowledge workers” are going to be forced to compete for gigs against peers across multiple time zones. Everyone will have to become an entrepreneur of their quantified self, curating a digital brand to sell over and over and over in a globalized marketplace.

We started with offshored customer service and IT support, and now we’re looking at the worldwide Uberization of education, healthcare, and other service jobs. On demand skills for just-in-time-tasks contracted out with no stability or benefits to profit those who already have way too much stuff and power. It’s a plan only Bezos, Thiel, Zuckerberg, and Goldman Sachs could love.

To add yet another wrinkle, advances in haptic controllers (technologies that provide tactile feedback in digital environments like virtual reality) mean we will likely see remote workers not only managing screen-based work, but also being virtually present in remote locations doing “physical” work via robotic interfaces in the not too distant future. So, not just burrito delivery robots, but also remote-operation machinists or, as depicted in the Microsoft video below, blackjack dealers. Ericsson in Sweden is a leader in developing cutting-edge, fourth industrial revolution factories. They, too, are developing remote operation, virtual reality haptic systems.

Ericsson Haptics

Another crucial take-away from the Kiwibot business plan is the concept of micro-work. In the repressive world of managerial consulting, everything revolves around creating efficiencies in globalized supply chains. Imagine Fordism, but without living-wage salaries; breaking down tasks into smaller and smaller chunks people must cobble together to attempt to meet their basic needs.

Amazon launched the MTurk crowd-sourced micro-work platform in 2005, a decade after the WTO was set up. A 2015 study done by Donna Vakharia (now at PayPal) and Matthew Lease at UT Austin compared paid crowd work platforms other than MTurk, identifying areas for further investigation to advance the market sector. The info-graphic below shows areas needing improvement: namely, collection of worker analytics for quality control and automation of work assignments.


Crown Work Table UT Austin 2014


The other part of the micro-work equation is how the outsourcing is done, the micro-contracts for work and payments. In late-stage, globalized capitalism, scale and speed are paramount. There is little time for back and forth evaluating a worker’s skills or contracting out the tasks. That’s the niche Blockchain is intended to fill. Self sovereign digital identities are intended hold a person’s competencies, reputation scores, legal documents and facilitate work and payment agreements.

Given the globalized nature of the digital TaskRabbit economy, there are bound to be serious implications for labor compensation. Rather than wrangling transactions among various fiat currencies, isn’t is more likely the trend will be towards virtualized tokens, essentially scrip? In late August at a meeting of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Mark Carney of the Bank of England proposed the idea of a”synthetic hegemonic currency” along the lines of Facebook’s Libra digital currency to replace the US dollar as a reserve currency.

During his tenure, Carney has been a supporter of using government funds to catalyze impact investing in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and to mobilize private “social capital.” He’s quoted in this 2017 report on impact markets in the UK, “The Rise of Impact: Report of the UK National Advisory Board on Impact Investing.” The board was launched two decades ago under Gordon Brown and established Big Society Capital, Sir Ronald Cohen’s vehicle for Social Impact Bond development.

Carney Libra Currency

UK Outcomes Lab Carney

UK NAB Impact Investing

And when powerful individuals corner the market on digital labor, compensation, social credit scoring, and access to basic necessities-imagine Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, or Jack Ma? Then they truly become global overlords with the capacity to algorithmically control huge segments of the population, forcing people to comply to draconian behaviorist programs. It’s pretty terrifying to contemplate.

People are conceptualizing how Blockchain contracting and payments could work as seen in the Chinese paper “CrowdBC: A Blockchain-based Decentralized Framework for Crowdsourcing.” Now, they just have to figure out how to scale it.

Blockchain Crowdsourcing

Reputation Management

While Richard Branson, Pierre Omidyar, Bill Gates, and other social entrepreneurs tout digital ID as a way to bring the unbanked into the world economy, what they really mean is they want to be able to tap into the ranks of the global poor to build and maintain “smart” surveillance cities with sweatshop coding work and AI and robotics support. One such program targeting low income people for the digital gig economy is Harvard-educated, Bay Area techie Leila Janah, who set up Samaschool to train low income people to become self-entrepreneurs doing piecework like tagging images to train artificial vision sensors.

SamaschoolLeila Janah Samasource

Automated systems want to be able to tap into a fully flexibilized workforce to get who they want, for the task they need, at the cheapest price, as quickly as possible. They don’t want to pay for workers to live near their factories, which will be located in areas able to be safeguarded against environmental calamity and social unrest. Workers will be forced to live in the flooded or ablaze margins and “commute” via haptic controllers. Oh, and refugees are a growth market for this kind of work, too. See the Dignify platform.

Dignify Microwork

I can’t help but wonder if Bill Clinton had any conception of this when he pushed Congress to support the creation of the World Trade Organization allowing free trade of intellectual property in 1994? Or when Hillary advocated for the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Now we have officials at the EU talking about an Internet of Humans while the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) sets up working committees framing out fair trade in data sales, global competencies, the harmonization of digital citizens, neurotechnologies for brain machine interfaces, systems of learning engineering, and social impact management systems. With IoT and digital identity, it seems we are on the brink of an era where digital engineering of society at the global level may indeed become a realistic threat, just as Norbert Weiner anticipated all those decades ago.

Below is a timeline with select dates that shows how technology developments intersect with legislative policy, globalized platformed labor, ed-tech, Internet of Things, and impact investing.

I include Clinton’s policy around “Three Strikes” and “Welfare Reform,” because they are relevant to the discussion of “surplus labor,” especially as automation ramps up. Hard policing as well as the soft policing by bureaucrats of the welfare state will be tapped to manage those who are not inclined to comply with the TaskRabbit global mandate. Those who are unemployed or underemployed or incarcerated or under electronic surveillance will become data-generating profit centers for social entrepreneurs. In the algorithmic gig economy many, many people will be targeted for processing by “evidence-based” impact interventions. Their compliance will be enforced through the Internet of Things and digital public “benefits” proffered as  conditional, programmable money.

Timeline Towards A TaskRabbit, Fin-Tech Economy

1992: Marc Tucker’s “Dear Hillary Letter” (Workforce Aligned Education)

1993: NAFTA Signed

1993: European Union Created

1994: Goals 2000 (Financial Incentives for Education Reform)

1994: Improving America’s School Act (ESEA Renewal, Funding Charters 1995)

1994: School To Work Opportunities Act (Career Pathways)

1994: IBM Launches Reinventing Education Campaign

1994: Three Strikes, “Law and Order” Act

1994: Nick Szabo Proposes First “Smart” Contract

1995: Philanthropy Protection Act (Securities Issued By Charities Exempt From Some SEC Regulations)

1995: World Trade Organization Created, Pending GATT Uruguay Round

1995: Big Picture Learning and Citizen Schools Created

1996: Welfare “Reform” Act

1996: E-Rate Program, Digital Connectivity In Schools / Libraries Established

1996: Entertainment and Defense Interests Meet To Discuss Simulation Technology

1996: Tom Vander Ark Creates First Virtual School, Federal Way Outside Seattle

1997: Florida Virtual School Established Statewide

1997: Rosalind Picard Publishes First Book on Affective Computing

1998: Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative Launched, Military e-learning

1999: IMS Global Launched (Standards for E-Learning and Credentials)

1999: Executive Order 13111 Technology Based Training Program

1999: New Profit Created, Social Impact Investing

1999: First Reference to Internet of Things by Kevin Ashton, Procter and Gamble

1999: Institute of Creative Technologies Launched at USC

1999: Euro First Came Into Use

2000: US Military Begins Using Predator Drones

2001: Embedded Everywhere Whitepaper / Gathering on Internet of Things Agenda

2001: SCORM Launches, Software from ADL for Screen-Based E-Learning

2001: Nellie Mae Founded

2001: Chugach Schools Win Baldridge Award for Competency Based Education

2002: First UNESCO Summit on Open Education Resources (OER)

2002: Naviance Launched

2002: First Grants Issued for Longitudinal Databases

2002: No Child Left Behind Becomes Law

2003: Parchment Digital Credentialing Founded

2003: iNACOL Created To Promote Online Learning

2005: Amazon Starts MTurk Microwork Platform

2005: Immersive Education Initiative Begins to Promote Mixed Reality and Gaming

2005: Data Quality Campaign Established

2006: Strive Together Founded And Project of Knowledgeworks

2007: B Lab (Benefit Corporations) Established

2007: First Discussions Around Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN)

2008: Concept of MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) Developed

2008: First Behavioral Ideas Design Lab Created at Harvard, Became Ideas42

2008: USC Institute for Creative Technologies: Conference on Lifelong Learning Companions

2009: Global Impact Investing Network Formally Launched

2009: Common Core State Standards Launched

2009: Race To The Top Introduced Value Added Model VAM

2009: IBM Launches Smarter Cities Campaign

2010: First Social Impact Bond Issued

2010: Open Badges for Lifelong Learning (MacArthur / Mozilla) Whitepaper

2010: National Broadband Plan Promotes Digital Education

2011: Contract for xAPI Issued for E-Learning on Mobile Devices / Wearable Tech

2011: Google Chromebooks Introduced

2011: Class Dojo Behavior Software Launches

2012: Google Glass Tested

2012: Microsoft Domain Awareness System Installed In Lower Manhattan

2012: EverFi Universal Authentication

2013: Results for America Begins Moneyball for Government

2013: Angela Duckworth Starts Characterlab

2013: United Way Gets Families to Waive FERPA Rights at Community Schools

2013: First Iteration of xAPI Released

2013: inBloom Launched

2013: Utah Data Storage Center Built for NSA

2013: Rockefeller Foundation Promotes Resilient Cities Program

2013: Clinton Foundation Backs Digital Badging Program

2013: First Meeting Education Reimagined

2013: Apple Launches iBeacons (Internet of Things)

2014: Altschool Becomes a Benefit Corporation

2014: PERLS “Anywhere” Micro-Learning App Piloted by ADL for Adult Learners

2014: Lumina Foundation Funds Creation of Competency Based Education Network

2014: Yet Analytics Founded

2014: Baltimore Lighthouse 1:1 Device Program Implemented

2014: Obama Creates Promise Zones

2014: Google Cardboard (VR) First Demonstrated

2014: Google Begins Physical Web Project

2014: Workforce Opportunity and Innovation Act Updated (Education Aligned)

2014: NY State Passes Smart Schools Bond Act

2015: Media Buzz Around Private Micro-Schools

2015: Congressional Caucus of Internet of Things

2015: Learning Accelerator / Blended Learning Incubator Started

2015: IBM Investigates Blockchain for Financial Transactions With Central Banks

2015: Pay for Success Program Funded by Arnold Foundation at Urban Institute

2015: Bloomberg Launches “What Works Cities”

2015: MIT Digital Currency Initiative Started

2015: Upwork Freelance Talent Platform

2015: Google Creates Sidewalk Labs for Ubiquitous Urban Computing

2015: Hickenlooper in Colorado Creates Experiential Learning Commission

2015: IBM Promotes Use of Artificial Intelligence in Education at AFT Conference

2015: Every Student Succeeds Act Passes

2015: Council of Chief State School Officers Set Up Career Pathways Program

2015: Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Begins

2015: Charities Aid Foundation, “Giving Unchained” Blockchain Charity Paper

2016: Microsoft Hololens Goes Public

2016: Gamification Begins To Be Used In HR Recruiting / Screening

2016: Institute For the Future Releases “Learning Is Earning” Video

2016: Clever Single Sign-On QR Codes Come Into Use

2016: ID2020 Forum With UN

2016: FCC Authorizes 5G Wireless

2016: Platform for Advanced Wireless Research Systems Established by NSF

2016: Array of Things IoT System Installed in Chicago

2016: Income Sharing Agreements for Tuition Piloted at Purdue

2016: Big Picture Partners With Salesforce on ImBlaze Competency Tracking App

2016: First Congressional Hearing on Evidence Based Policymaking

2016: First Trial of Blockcerts, Blockchain Credentials by MIT

2016: Trans Pacific Partnership Signed (Never Ratified, Defunct)

2017: IMS Global Joins Mozilla Badges

2017: Rhode Island Becomes Personalized Learning State

2017: Center For the Fourth Industrial Revolution Opens at the Presidio

2017: Augmented / Virtual Reality Congressional Caucus Established

2017: The Future Is Gaming, Entertainment Software Association Panel

2017: Alphabet Launches CityBlock IoT for Urban Healthcare

2017: World Bank Summit on Blockchain

2017: Alibaba Joins ALEC

2018: Ridge Lane Merchant Bank for Impact, Public Private Partnerships Launched

2018: Knowledgeworks Whitepaper on AR/VR Wearable Tech in Education

If we don’t contest the tech oligarchs’ vision, the future of work, for all but the upper echelons, is going to be many flavors of grim, dehumanizing, and soul-sucking labor. Let’s not turn over the reigns to Kiwibots, or Blue, or virtual reality simulation commutes. Instead let us support those groups, like Indigenous peoples and the descendants of the enslaved, who have continually resisted settler colonialism and the devastation of capitalism, now holding hands and jumping into the digital realm. Let us find ways to stand with those fighters as allies in their struggle for community, self-determination and grounded normativity. It won’t be easy, but what other choice do we have? Inaction is not a option.


Digital curriculum, an answer to equity? An Open Letter to Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

I was prompted to write this after watching the closing keynote address Dr. Ibram X. Kendi gave at UnboundEd’s July 2019 Standards Institute conference. A video of his lecture, “An Argument Between Racist and Anti-Racist Ideas, can be viewed here. Dr. Kendi is a professor of history and international relations at American University. He received the National Book Award for Stamped From the Beginning and considerable acclaim for his new book, How To Be An Anti-Racist.

Kendi Unbounded

UnboundEd is a Brooklyn-based non-profit founded in 2016 that promotes standards-aligned (Common Core) educational content based on EngageNY curriculum modules. The organization hosts two conferences annually, Standards Institutes, that attract over 1,000 educators.

UnboundEd EngageNY

Its primary funders are the Gates Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The latter has been a primary force advancing Open Educational Resources (OER, mostly digital) and has used its considerable philanthropic assets to catalyze the field of human capital impact investing (more on that here). The Gates Foundation has made $11 million in contributions to UnboundEd since 2015. The address provided for the organization on a 2015 Gates Foundation 990 was a WeWork co-working space located at 81 Prospect Street in Brooklyn.

UnboundEd Gates Grants

Unbounded Gates 2015 Grant

Interactive version of the  map below here.

UnboundEd Learning Funders

Current members of the UnboundEd board include:

Doug Borchard, COO of New Profit, ed-tech and human capital impact investing

Peter Cunningham, ed reform operative with ties to Arne Duncan, founder of Education Post, aka Results in Education Foundation

Jeff Livingston, former derivatives trader turned educational technology salesman who now runs a consulting firm promoting scalable innovation for “at risk” youth

Shaun Neems, career educator in Rochester City Schools, home to Marc Tucker’s National Center on Education and the Economy

Arun Ramanathan, former San Diego Unified School District administrator and “opportunity gap” non-profit director, now CEO of Pivot Learning, a turnaround consulting firm

Judy Wurtzel, former director of the Learning First Alliance with ties to Aspen Insitute, now Executive Director of the Schusterman Family Foundation, a lead investor in Blue Meridian Partners

Jason Zimba, lead writer of the Common Core math standards and close friend of David Coleman

Interactive version of the map below here.

UnboundEd Board

UnboundEd’s founding director, Laura Smith, worked as special assistant to New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, later joining him at Amplify Education, a data-driven, tablet-based digital learning platform that evolved from News Corp’s (Rupert Murdoch) Wireless Generation.

Smith’s prior association with Amplify is of importance to this conversation, because in May 2019, the Seattle Public Schools adopted Amplify as the district’s new elementary and middle school science curriculum.

The contracting process became highly contentious, after concerns over potential conflicts of interest surfaced. An anonymous donor had covered the fees associated with use of the Amplify curriculum by 20 schools in 2017 without the knowledge of the school board.

Amplify is an online curriculum critics say requires too much screen time, especially for young children. Proponents counter it’s really just a fun, interactive textbook and helps address the digital divide. The latter group framed access to technology based learning as equity issue. As heated discussions continued from spring into summer, it was not uncommon for those who questioned the adoption of Amplify to be told they were racist.

Amplify Equity Seattle

I have to wonder if those advocating for adoption of digital textbooks fully comprehend the amount of data that is captured on the students and how it is used? If it’s an “equity” issue, are we actually talking about equal access to online surveillance? Is that what we want for Black and Brown children? Is that liberation, or is that commodification and control?

A response made by Amplify representatives to a 2014 request for information regarding “pull mechanisms” for “High Impact Learning Technologies” sheds light on the true nature of the technology and the level of monitoring it imposes. The whitepaper submitted to Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy states: “At Amplify we believe that education will become a primarily digital endeavor in five years. Devices are becoming less expensive, connectivity investments are increasing, and a generation of educational breakthrough software is in development.”

Amplify High Impact Learning Technologies

As shown above, their submission notes numerous ways digital devices track online activity. That data is then used to evaluate “learning outcomes” and “impact.” The data/outcomes piece is important, because ed-tech has been set up as a conduit for global social impact capital tied to UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, which preferences ICT education.

The Amplify paper specifically mentions interest in using social impact bonds to fund implementation, though they note they have not worked out how to integrate SIBs into the current education finance landscape or “control for implementation in measuring success.”

Amplify Social Impact Bonds

Amplify software captures pages read, time spent on devices at school and at home, “collaboration metrics” mapping student-to-student and student-to-teacher online interactions, parent portal log-ins, and email click throughs. For historically oppressed communities closing the digital divide could very well end up feeling like being put in digital jail.

I’m sure the children feel it and the parents. They know they are being tracked, which is incredibly stressful. What happens once “textbooks” become digital minders? When analytics claim to know students better than they know themselves? When data create unassailable profiles in the cloud that cannot be contested? When one’s pre-k performance determines one’s career pathway?

Does data become destiny?

In the future will offline, human-to-human learning become a fugitive practice?

Is that what “education transformation” in an age of global connectively really means?

Kendi’s keynote draws on personal experience to convey how a Black child’s ability to survive and thrive in a racist society is tied to finding adults and peers who affirm them and let them know they do not need to be “fixed” within a broken system, a system that is broken on purpose to concentrate power in white hands. What challenged him to invest himself in learning and pursue his life’s work wasn’t a compelling Online Education Resource, it was his fourth grade teacher, his high school friend, his school counselor.

Structural racism is not going to be undone with information Black children get from a “personalized” learning playlist. I doubt gamified behavior charts will award badges or token scrip to those intent on upending oppressive systems. Are rigorous standards developed by Ivy League academics tasked with creating revenue streams for their MBA counterparts the answer if they are implemented with fidelity? Will freedom to think outside the boxes imposed by whiteness emerge from a WeWork cubicle situated in the tech corridor of Brooklyn?

If the tech oligarchs and those fronting for them say digital curriculum is the answer to equity and start funding anti-racism rubrics, should we co-sign? Maybe not.

Dear Dr. Kendi,

Acknowledging and beginning to meaningfully address the structural racism upon which the United States was founded is crucial, especially in this 400th year since abducted Africans were first brought to Jamestown and sold as slaves. I am grateful for your writing and the commitment you’ve made to bring this message to audiences across the nation and around the world.

As society advances towards digitized dispossession we have precious little time left to come to terms with our nation’s brutal history. New worlds are being constructed in computer code. Capitalism and settler colonialism have jumped through the screen, sucking us into a netherworld where behaviors can be engineered through gamified nudges. Education transformed into “personalized” feedback loops of corporate content calibrated to reinforce the system’s expectations of you, to “fix” you to whiteness. Hybrid worlds of flickering ones and zeros contained on server-farms, largely controlled by powerful men and the algorithms they deploy.

Their hired guns, the programmers, are tasked with encoding whiteness into the foundations of this shadow world, one where struggles against racism will continue even as social systems are increasingly mediated by AI (artificial intelligence). In a panopticon where devices have evolved to analyze emotion, assess risk, and predict behavior, new strategies of resistance will be required.

I’m taking time to write, because you’ve made a point of saying each of us needs to decide who we are striving to be and act on it. That we must have hope, because losing hope guarantees racism will continue unabated; that while policies are the structural elements that enable racism, individuals can make choices to disrupt the status quo. You’ve also stated that racist attitudes emerge from a place of denial, while anti-racism comes from a place of confession.

Therefore, I will open by sharing that I am a white, middle-aged mom, graying hair, kid just off to college. I grew up in a corporate suburb in the south. I excelled at whiteness, though I didn’t understand it as that at the time. I am a late-blooming activist who initially worked on issues of public education and opting out of standardized testing.

My scope widened to encompass an analysis of institutionalized poverty management and social impact investing as mechanisms of social control (background here). I am endeavoring to reflect on my life choices and how they uphold or disrupt structural racism. I try to disrupt as much as possible, but managing the disease of whiteness requires ongoing attention. My success, admittedly, is inconsistent. I am trying to do better.

Through my activism I’ve developed relationships with people who come from different life experiences than my own, people forced to navigate racism on a daily basis for their survival. Friendship opened my eyes to the machine of structural racism, and I undertook to learn its operations. So, for the past three years, I’ve been untangling the knotty threads of global finance, militarized policing, machine learning, educational technology, digital surveillance, human capital speculation, and risk profiling of vulnerable communities.

I’m pretty good at it. It frightens me that I can so easily get into the headspace of these awful people, piece together clues from whitepapers and LinkedIn profiles, anticipating the next phase of their plan. Maybe that is my gift, or my curse, a curse of whiteness.

The tangled, macabre net of next-gen racial capitalism they have woven poses a dire threat to people I care about, to my fellow Philadelphians. Philadelphia is a city of deep poverty, making it an attractive target for social impact predators. More on that here.

However, it is also a city of Black resistance, of DuBois and Coltrane and MOVE. This gives me hope. I believe the way out of this morass, a direct extension of the Doctrine of Discovery carried out over centuries through land theft, genocide, and enslavement, will come from the combined power of the Black radical tradition and Indigenous sovereignty movements. As I wait for things to coalesce, I try to use my privilege to follow the money, ask questions, and share information.

We know the revolution is not going to be funded. An establishment managerial class will instead proffer superficial interventions, remedies designed to placate while distilling profit from misery. Black children in under-funded schools, unhoused people, chronically ill patients reduced to data and managed as metrics on dashboards while exhortations to secure “equity” and close “gaps” perfunctorily scroll by on power point presentations.

Consultants get paid; data is gathered; people are labeled and managed, but things rarely get better, which is exactly how those in power want it. This is part of the assimilationist strategy you lay out so clearly in the opening of Stamped From The Beginning. Data-driven “equity,” a false sense of “progress” that allows systems of racism to continue unimpeded.

With resistance, the machine evolves. In schools end-of-year tests are replaced with 1:1 devices, benchmark assessments, and data analytics demonstrating the amount of time students spend “on task.” In the end they still intend for Black and Brown kids to be put on pathways to the gig economy, or the military, or prison. Tech and finance interests, intent on turning public education into a global market, continually refine new ways of selling hardware, software, cloud storage, data, and futures-children’s futures.

In such an environment, racism can become automated under the false pretense that the data are neutral, that turning schools into data factories is ok. Digital feedback loops promise improved outcomes if programs are implemented “with fidelity,” but that processing is incredibly dehumanizing. There are few people in the “personalization” products blended learning peddlers sell; it’s mostly algorithms and profiling and surveillance.

As you have noted, it’s not that those in power don’t know better. They know exactly what they are doing. Racism is systemic. It is a power structure that we must either accept or resist. Policies of violence were encoded into the founding documents of the United States. Dr. Tim Scott notes in his analysis The Duplicitous US Constitution, “…the white supremacist and patriarchal ideologies of the wealthy, slave-owning Christian men who founded the nation were fused with free market ideology, the engine for the emerging interests of industrial capitalism.”

And now they are coming at us with a Fourth Industrial Revolution of automated labor where people are dying of trauma and self-medication, where telecom and tech giants have teamed up with the state to watch us through our doorbells or digital assistants or “smart” home conveniences-for those who still have homes. Our schools are filled with Orwell’s telescreens; only they come on laptop carts, having been sold to us as liberation, a way to close the digital divide. The oligarchs have thirty-year plans, and we are always behind, in crisis mode, reactive.

Those in power want oppressed communities to resign themselves to living their lives as a high-stakes game in which they are tracked in real time on leaderboards, where they must unlock rights and privileges through good behavior, and fin-tech makes all the rules. But we don’t have to go along. We can question. We can dialogue. People can build something outside institutionalized power’s framework of false accountability.

We must, however, be able to have authentic, frank conversations about our nation’s racist history, and we must not allow those in power to camouflage their nefarious plans with a veneer of anti-racism. That sows confusion when what we most need is clarity. The powerful, especially the tech oligarchs, must not be allowed to control the conversation or set the terms of engagement.

Gates Foundation SEL Competencies

Bill Gates is extremely interested in evaluating the social emotional competencies (SEL) of children, Mark Zuckerberg and the Bechtel Foundation, too (defense contracting and toxic FEMA trailers). As the world falls apart, “character education” has become a key concern of the corporate-state. That’s what is driving Council for a Strong America, a vehicle for impact investors designed to groom children to conform to the expectations of the military, police, workforce boards, evangelical religious groups, and athletics. Those in power need to keep the lid on lest things begin to boil over.

Council for A Strong America

Controlling mindset is important, and profitable with the Heckman equation in full swing. Now with advancements in digital technologies, neuroscience, and brain training these apparently mad scientists seem pretty confident they’re going to be able to do it (check out Jonathan Moreno’s book Mind Wars). Children have been set up as lab rats to test executive function video games, building new markets in digital pharmaceuticals, leveraging public funds to fuel private profit taking. More here.

Akili Time To Play.jpg

They must know people would totally rebel if they were to admit this straight up; so instead, the powers that be will probably lead with SEL competencies that are hard to push back on. If I had had to guess (and my record is pretty good) I imagine anti-racism could easily be shortlisted as a desirable pilot SEL competency. Very hard to question, because most educators would be wary of putting themselves in a position where they might be called out as a racist.

So let’s let this scenario play out. Imagine Gates and his collaborators have underwritten the development of anti-racism standards along with attendant rubrics and assessments and data collection schemes. It’s not unthinkable, a perfect way to establish boundaries that allow a certain amount of social justice activism, but not too much. As long as people play by the establishment rules, nothing is going tip the apple cart. Those who participate in the endorsed program get to be part of the club, the good guys, deputized to police those not inclined to go along with the pre-authorized, standards-aligned “solution.”

VR Empathy Machine

These imagined SEL assessments could even employ empathy-invoking virtual reality scenarios with biometric data capture-you can get a lot of physical, emotional, and behavioral data via haptic systems. These anti-racism interventions would be a great candidate for pay for success finance. Paid behavior change! Would we be ok with that? I’m sure the gaming and entertainment industries would welcome such an approach.

Would such systems be used to ameliorate power asymmetries or entrench them?

Whose interests would ultimately be served?

Is digital programming a short cut to the elimination of racism?

Or, more likely, a means to commodify and constrain the real human work needed to enact permanent change.

Does anyone believe Gates and the many backers of CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) would cede power, support grassroots organizing, and redistribute resources to eliminate structural racism?

Hmm… it is far more likely the financiers, foundations, and non-profits intend to incorporate anti-racism training into burgeoning portfolios of “impactful” solutions for the purposes of speculative human capital investment, allowing hedge funds to gamble on behavioral “growth” and ensuring people remain monitored and isolated. See my writings on the Heckman Equation and his work with Angela Duckworth that veers eerily into eugenics territory. When the SEL rubrics come along there will probably be ones for grit and resilience, too, racist bootstrap constructs that they are.

SEL engineering through digital technologies is not being developed out of ignorance. People know full well the intent of this larger program-social reproduction, meritocracy, and compliance. The reality of anti-racism SEL standards is on the horizon; technologically feasible, though not quite yet socially acceptable.

So the question is if/when they arrive will we buy into it?

Will we agree that the answer is plugging into top-down standards, following the script, and stifling our humanity for fear of doing it wrong? Or will we disconnect and refuse standardized SEL metrics as we have done with end of year standardized testing?

Will we refuse to upload data about the mental states of our children, about their behaviors?

Will we set ourselves to the challenging, messy, face-to-face work required to undo centuries of toxic American myth making?

Will we commit to holding one another accountable, outside pre-approved “evidence-based” solutions?

Where will we find support outside the NGO construct, which is by its very nature, is held hostage to their funders’ agendas?

Because the work has to be done; the path out of technocracy demands we nurture anti-racist activity beyond the clutches of Gates, Zuckerberg, and Bechtel.

We have to figure it out.

In a recent talk you related a childhood experience, where you were punished for speaking up against an injustice at school. Your mother told you she wouldn’t discourage you from protesting, but you had to be prepared to accept the consequences. Some have expressed to me that white people should not participate in conversations about racism; that it is our place to listen. Yet, I feel in some things I cannot remain silent, because silence means withholding information that could fundamentally reframe the conversation, the tactics, and the nature of struggle.

Thus, I hope you will take this post in the spirit in which it was intended, an open dialogue that provides information affected communities might use to inform strategies of resistance.

I hope you will think of Mrs. Miles. Imagine her in a public school classroom today, perhaps a school targeted for “turnaround.” Based on how you described her, I imagine she would probably recognize the digital disconnection and profiling being ushered in by chromebooks. She would see that as a threat to her professional training  and a threat to the children in her care. I hope lots more people can tap into their inner Mrs. Miles, speak out at school board meetings, and pursue policies of non-cooperation.

You raised this question in your talk, “How will historians write about this time?” Well, this is a time in which incredibly powerful people are building an “Internet of Humans” to be run by AI (artificial intelligence) and monitored by Internet of Things sensors. It is an era of biocapitalism, racial capitalism. While some may believe automation and robotic or avatar learning companions could offer some measure of protection to Black children from structural racism, I personally believe it is codifying whiteness. I don’t know how historians will write this, but I am doing my best to raise questions and provoke conversation. I would very much welcome your thoughts in response.


Alison McDowell

Mapper of Money and Power

Question Asker


These screen shots are of select grants given to UnboundEd over the past three years.

HP Unbounded Learning 2019

UnboundEd Chan Zuckerberg

Unbounded Learning Bloomberg 2015

Unbounded Carnegie