Losing Our Humanity: A Toolkit To Talk About The Tech Takeover Of Our Schools

On Saturday, April 7, 2018 I had the good fortune to spend a day with education activists from across Massachusetts and beyond at the Boston Area Educators Social Justice Conference at Fenway High School in Jamaica Plain. My colleague, Worcester-based educator, Brian Leonard submitted a proposal for us to present on ed-tech that morning:

Losing the Human Connection: tech-takeovers in classrooms and schools
What is the role of technology in the classroom? How does technology affect child development and social relationships? Do children have a right to relationships with humans in education? Who profits from the commercialization of education and how can we defend our public schools from being consumed by commercialized tech-products that computerize education? How can we extend human and social relationships in the existential struggle against computer companies and machines? These are some of the questions we would like to explore with students and educators.

We wanted to model a meeting people could adapt for use in their own communities. We wanted it to be participatory and not require in-depth knowledge of Ed Reform 2.0 to pull off. The agenda we came up with features a welcome, read aloud, video clip discussion, group activity, and exploration of possible next steps. We hope people will use the tools provided to create spaces to engage in critical thinking about technology in the classroom and begin to counter the dominant narrative that disruptive “innovations” like “personalized learning” are beneficial to public education. If you have your own meeting, please get in touch and let me know how it goes!


Tech Takeover Meeting Toolkit


  • Community space for two-hours
  • Chairs and tables for 15-30 people, room to move around
  • Wall space for 12 sheets of poster paper (or table space)
  • Tablet paper (large post-it pads are great) and markers
  • If you don’t have room for tablet sheets, you can adapt and use 8.5×11 sheets. Have people each fill out this sheet, and cut it into six parts and group by topic heading.
  • Copies of “The Fun They Had,” informational packet and one-page definition list.
  • Overhead projection system for slide share (Google slides link or PDF). If you don’t have projection, print out this sheet (cut in half) for the introduction and skip the video portion of the program, or read my testimony for Philadelphia City Council, here.
  • Sign-in sheet to gather contact information

Slideshare intro


  • Welcome: introductions, initial slides, read aloud and discussion (25 minutes)
  • Video clips: choose 2-3 to set the stage (15 minutes)
  • Information gathering: 15 minutes for individuals to record thoughts on sheets, 15 minutes for small group discussion of results, and 15 minutes to report out takeaways to the larger group (45 minutes)
  • Next steps: full group discussion (25 minutes)
  • Close: whip, one final word per person (10 minutes)

Results of Our Discussion April 7, 2018

Response to PhotoScreens Faces

  • Dehumanizing
  • Anonymous
  • Impersonal
  • Loss of Identity
  • Disconnected
  • Cyber-Kids
  • Digitizing Childhood
  • Depersonalized
  • Distracted
  • Unsettling
  • Isolated
  • Over-Quantified
  • Loss of Identity
  • Too Much Technology
  • Hiding behind an identity
  • Denying individuality in an age of “personalization”
  • You can’t see their faces!
  • This is the reality I have been watching slowly invade my classroom for 15 years.

Responses to the Prompt Sheets



  • Gig economy – implications for labor
  • Teaching via machines vs humans
  • Teachers/educators become “attendants”
  • Breakdown of social contract, creating permanent underclass
  • Bandaid solutions to the systemic education issues-ie support for ELL students
  • Teachers as supervisors of a factory system
  • Role of teacher?
  • Loss of autonomy?
  • Loss of voice, writing and power
  • Teaching to the test
  • Teachers find it appealing because it’s “easy” while working conditions have gotten worse

Workforce Pathways

  • Tracking from in-utero to grave
  • Social reproduction model of education
  • Depersonalization, breakdown of personal choice disguised/packaged as “personalization”
  • Naviance-surveys and profiles
  • Employment based on quantified categories/ “mastery”
  • Robotization-capital reproduction
  • Controlled / restricted
  • “Coding” as job prep
  • Who will continue to get the most lucrative jobs?
  • Coding=new sweat shop work
  • Capitalism
  • Serving the gig economy
  • Future job opportunity – do we even know what the future jobs are?
  • The current economy doesn’t work for many. Where are these pathways going?

Writing Prompts


  • Humanity
  • Contact / social skills
  • Psychosocial harm
  • Connection with a trusting adult
  • Joy of learning in community
  • Problem solving
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Real communication
  • Identity
  • Individualized feedback
  • Of collaborative learning processes
  • Jobs
  • Community

Screen Time

  • 24/7 control
  • Lots-Even more!
  • Wifi exposure
  • Unsupervised / confused
  • Losing sleep
  • Anxiety, depression, isolation (ad busters)
  • Kids don’t do required activities, forced to sit until they comply.
  • Addiction, isolation
  • Mental anguish


  • An observed population is a disciplined and controlled population.
  • Normalization of a lack of privacy
  • More prisons
  • Privacy no longer exists
  • Big Brother
  • School as iteration of prison
  • Control
  • Schools can see activity on devices ALL THE TIME
  • Called kids to police interviews
  • Tracking – in utero to grave
  • Internet of Things
  • Counterinsurgency



  • Analytics
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy of who receives what instruction and what roles they are expected to fill
  • Systems that “learn” children via unique log ins are problem
  • Past performance should shape future learning opportunities
  • Making teaching “easy” teachers embrace these tools are overwhelmed by diminishing working conditions
  • Data breaches and biased algorithms
  • Compartmentalization
  • Tracking
  • Police control across the globe
  • Used to triage children as human capital.
  • Who is deemed “worthy” of investment of resources?


  • Academic and emotional conformity
  • Obsession, Anxiety
  • Follow orders, non-feeling
  • Surveillance and tracking
  • Robotic
  • Lack of self-discipline
  • Quantifying SEL is a problem
  • Pressure
  • Military-industrial complex
  • State-finance nexus
  • Special education I-pad as reinforcer
  • Data informs school to prison pipeline
  • Limits open-ended thinking
  • Personalized learning pushes kids to consume rather than create


  • Controlled by elite
  • No nuanced sensitivity
  • Profit
  • Privatization of education resources
  • Education is a business!
  • Control (should be balanced, but instead concentrated in a few hands)
  • Collective power and unionism is the best source of power to resist
  • Employ collective action
  • *Special emphasis on the people of color, low-income students, and immigrant populations who could be hit the hardest!
  • Financialization
  • Capitalist
  • Classrooms as data factories
  • Parents should have a right to refuse ed-tech for their children

Student Learning Conditions

  • Non-collaborative
  • Impersonal
  • Isolation
  • Boooring
  • Less social interaction
  • Controlled
  • Sterile
  • “Just ask Google.”
  • Don’t work hard anymore.
  • Obsession with levels/goals/points, reading levels for example
  • No teacher feedback
  • How can they ask questions?


  • Currency
  • A 4-letter word
  • Can be abused.
  • Children aren’t numbers.
  • Always being collected
  • Tracked
  • Overwhelming amount of it
  • Data-driven instruction and intervention for struggling students
  • Lacks qualitative context (heart)
  • When data dehumanizes ê
  • Where is the “why?”
  • Data can be helpful, but when is there too much data?
  • How to protect it?
  • Can children give consent?
  • Data, the new oil–fracking children


  • Complete control by ed-tech companies
  • Austerity
  • Control isolates people and limits relationships, organizing potential
  • Austerity
  • Hidden motive
  • Google (and Facebook) gives us a nice “box” to live in, but it’s THEIR box.
  • Creates the illusion of total control
  • WHO is in control: government, corporations, and/or military?
  • The political is eliminated-no space for contestation.
  • Leads to conformity/compliance
  • Creates an illusion of freedom
  • Are human’s masters of the machine…or are machines mastering humans?
  • Colonization
  • Fragmented groups don’t have agency.


  • Divide/rule
  • Superficial
  • Happen in personal spaces. Tech can keep populations isolated, separate, and preserving the class system.
  • Fragmented relationships
  • Social anxiety
  • Self-defeating
  • Eroded by competition
  • No social skills practice / public speaking / group communications
  • Loss of student-teacher relationship
  • In isolation we are controlled by Big Brother.
  • Loss of agency
  • Students as freelancers
  • Challenges with phone use in schools
  • How does monitoring impact online relationships?
  • How do platforms track social interactions?
  • What happens with children become attached to AI or chat bot avatars?



  • Raise issues of technology use to school boards / elected officials
  • Use issues of big data to unite different groups: labor, immigrants, farmers, poor, teachers, parents
  • Involve doctors re: wifi risks
  • Requires education to build resistance-educate one another
  • Union participation
  • Parent groups at each school
  • Less online organizing, more face-to-face communication
  • Demos in each town
  • Opt out / disrupt the data

Opportunities / Allies

  • Facebook / Cambridge Analytica raising awareness of data collection / breaches
  • Some communities are ditching technocratic programs (Cheshire, CT dumped Summit Basecamp)
  • Use creativity to revolt
  • Tap into groups that organized around Ed Reform 1.0, raise awareness of new threat
  • Peer-reviewed research
  • Little-Sis crowd-sourced relationship mapping / follow the money
  • Follow up on MTA resolutions against MAPLE / LearnLaunch
  • Union
  • Students / parents / teachers / communities / honest politicians (ha!)

Possible Next Steps

  • Local action committees
  • Coopt “ed-tech pledges” and enact our own
  • Signatories agree to take steps to implement an education campaign
  • Local action committees that can work regionally, too
  • Education campaign to inform the public
  • Reframe “digital divide” narrative / contextualize ed-tech as a tool of privatization
  • Survey the community / research how this is manifesting in schools
  • Gather personal stories / create exhibits in writing, video, online / share
  • Build grassroots resistance / look for opportunities to creatively disrupt
  • Push-back on workforce pathway mandates
  • Map the power – use Little Sis to follow money, grants, influence locally and nationally
  • Create tool kits of resources that make it easy for people to have these conversations



6 thoughts on “Losing Our Humanity: A Toolkit To Talk About The Tech Takeover Of Our Schools

  1. Larry Lawrence says:


    This looks like a dynamite session, I wish the 3,000 mile separation (San Diego area) didn’t make it so difficult to join you. What you did in that brief session makes me think of the “action” suggested by Naomi Klein in her latest book “No Is Not Enough.” After detailing the oncoming disaster caused by Anthropomorphic Climate Disruption (ACD) she stresses that we must develop powerful plans to turn things around. She ends by describing a multi day gathering which was designed to create and implement a plan to stop pipeline construction in Canada. What could you have done with this group if you were sequestered for a week of intensive planning?

    I’m going to try to steal some of these ideas for a workshop I’m scheduled to present (I volunteered) at the October NPE conference in Indianapolis. My effort is to describe the “Nongrading” concepts (a la our Director, John Goodlad) we applied to children at the University Elementary School, UCLA in those glorious days of old and attempt to provide a vision of how this fits in today’s world. It’s important that the multidimensional development of children be primary and that technology is only as useful as it contributes to that goal.

    Thanks for your great work!

    Larry Lawrence


  2. Graeme says:

    So, you published your expose about how bad learning things through computers and the Internet is … on the Internet? Interesting. Why didn’t you print in on paper and distribute it? Hmm…

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