On November 6, 2019, former San Francisco District Attorney, California Attorney General, Senator, and presidential candidate Kamala Harris introduced the Family Friendly Schools Act. If passed, the bill would create a five-year grant program to restructure 500 elementary schools to “better align” schedules to the work day. The legislation authorizes $1,300,000,000 per year from 2020 to 2024 to pay for the program.
Co-sponsors include five Democratic senators: Kirsten Gillibrand (NY); Richard Blumenthal (CT); Jeff Merkley (OR); Sherrod Brown (OH); and Michael Bennet (CO). Ostensibly this legislation is to aid working families by extending the school day with support from community partners. It is being presented as an “economic growth and child development strategy.” In my assessment, child development = human capital management for impact investment purposes.
While it is true that families struggle with child care before and after school, the motivation behind this bill has less to do with taking care of vulnerable communities and more to do with the planned expansion of pay for success finance and “cradle to career” pipelines for impact investors.
The collection of data and the monitoring of students and families this entails will require an expansive system of what I am calling “soft” policing. We may replace school police officers with social workers, but control of Black and Brown populations is still the primary goal. This shift will be justified as fiscally prudent, “what works” public policy, though it is predicated on predictive profiling.
Harris’s bill will usher in a new era of privatization, one in which community based organizations (CBOs) through data sharing agreements target turnaround schools for predatory “evidence-based” interventions; schools as data factories.
What would be truly family friendly would be legislation advancing stable, living wage employment such that an adult could be home with children at the end of a normal school day. In such a world, children would have time to decompress, have a snack, and enjoy a bit of unstructured play without having to conform to a PlayWorks recess rubric or wear a fit bit.
There would be opportunities for families to build community instead of being forced to navigate crises alone where safety nets have been torn asunder. Sure, it’s aspirational, but the “help” being offered here is not motivated by altruism but rather with an eye toward profit. Besides, what does a “normal” work day for low-income parents cobbling together gigs and driving for insta-cart look like? The days of a single nine-to-five job are rapidly coming to a close.
Careful consideration must be given to the context in which this legislative proposal has emerged. Deconstructing language matters. Relationships of money, power, and influence matter. Harris’s career as a functionary of the carceral state matters. It is at our peril that we accept any politician’s framing of an issue at face value. Just because a bill professes to be “family friendly” doesn’t mean that it is.
Restructuring The School Day
The Center for American Progress (CAP) is a liberal think tank affiliated with the Clintons that promotes evidence based policy, impact data, and social finance. It also supports the Family Friendly Schools Act. Catherine Brown, a CAP senior fellow and former Vice President of Policy at Teach for America, provided a ringing endorsement stating the bill would advance “educational equity and provide a needed boost to our economy.” CAP has been pushing extended learning time for over a decade. Kamala Harris, a regular at their events, presented at the 2017 CAP Ideas Conference and at a maternal health disparities event in October.
As indicated below, the language of the Family Friendly Schools Act states a preference for applicants willing to restructure the school day rather than simply adding extra time. This is a red flag.
Source: Family Friendly Schools Act
This approach aligns with CAP’s assertion that “At the core of expanded learning time is a critical and fundamental principle that cannot be overlooked – the complete redesign of the school’s educational program. Successful implementation of expanded learning initiatives occurs in tandem with other reform strategies and practices that take place through the redesign process. Without conjoining expanded learning time with the redesign principle, more time risks being “more of the same” and a promising school improvement strategy becomes a band aid.”
The image below is taken from a white paper funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for CAP in 2007. More about that foundation’s ed reform and impact philanthropy efforts here and here. Two years later, Arne Duncan created flexibility waivers through Race to the Top that allowed turnaround schools to use 21st Century Community Learning Center funds to “personalize” learning for college and career using “evidence-based” practices IF they partnered with organizations that “demonstrated experience improving student achievement.” The report goes on to laud KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), noting ELT provides “flexibility to exercise innovation in a very deliberate manner.”
Source: Choosing More Time for Students: The What, Why and How of Expanded Learning
You’ll notice an emphasis on data and community partners both of which are prerequisites for outcomes-based contracting. The United Way has developed a sizeable network of Out Of School Time community service providers, as well as playing matchmaker for the questionable Salt Lake City pre-k social impact bond.
With Obama’s gutting of FERPA and the United Way’s campaign to get parents to sign waivers, the floodgates are now open for the data that will place children on “lifelong learning” pathways to digital indentured servitude. Imagine the number of community partners that will be involved with these 500 “family friendly” schools.
That’s going to be a lot of data!
Source: Data-Sharing Federal Rules and Best Practices To Improve Out-of-School-Time Programs and Student Outcomes, Partnership for Children and Youth, Funded by Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
Source: Youtube: United Way, “Helping Students Through Data Sharing”
The video above was created as part of a United Way campaign to get parents to waive their FERPA rights. Materials for the Salt Lake City’s Promise Partnership community school program were created in both English and Spanish. For more information read Save Maine School’s post, United Way To Parents: Give Us Your Gold.
Another supporter of the bill is the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), a Gates and Lumina-funded “anti-poverty” think tank with ties to Connecting Credentials and the Workforce Data Quality Campaign. The organization prepared a white paper on Social Impact Bonds for the MacArthur Foundation back in 2014. Olivia Golden, Executive Director, noted it was a positive step towards job stability, child wellbeing, and economic security. I guess she hasn’t read the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act reports. The ones where they say a majority of jobs will be automated and the ones left are going to be gigs that pay less than a living wage. More on that here.
There’s yet another think tank behind the bill, the bipartisan First Focus, a lobbying outfit that advocates for the breaking down of program silos (all the better for the creation of data lakes for profiling) in support of federal budget policies having to do with children and families. First Focus has ties to the Institute for Child Success that ran the groundbreaking South Carolina maternal home visit pay for success project. More on ICS here.
And Randi Weingarten and the American Federation of Teachers are backing the bill. Of course. They’ve already embraced reimagined education with partners, and they’re holding the door wide open for community schools. In her statement of support Weingarten talked about “solutions that work.” Sounds about right; “what works” government.
Other supporters are shown on the map below.
Source: Supporters of the Family Friend Schools Act (click link for interactive version)
Expanded / Extended / Out-of-School Time Learning
The After School Corporation, ExpandEd, Wallace Foundation, Mott Foundation, United Way, YMCA, and Boys and Girls Clubs, among others, have been constructing a national Out of School Time Network (OST) that is poised to extend its reach into the school day through Extended or Expanded Learning Time (ELT). These folks are more than happy to participate in all the “restructuring.” In fact, they can hardly wait.
The seeds for this were planted decades ago by affiliates of Marc Tucker’s National Center on Education and the Economy. In a 1987 presidential address, Learning In School And Out, Lauren Resnick, Pitt research professor and close collaborator with Tucker on what would become Common Core State Standards, goes into considerable detail about Out-of-School Time and Extended Learning.
As technology for digital credentialing (badges) and education/training vouchers (ESAs) begins to scale, the extended school day Harris has proposed would be a logical precursor to un-bundled “anytime, anywhere” learning. See recent coverage of IBM’s Blockchain credential platform launch in partnership with the National Student Clearinghouse and this article on new payment systems linked to alternative education delivery, Charter Schools and the Unbundling of K12 Education Services.
Folks at the Heritage Foundation are eagerly anticipating the day fin-tech links up with free market education “choice,” but traditional homeschooling/un-schooling families need to be paying attention.
Source: Financial Technology and School Choice in Education, Heritage Foundation
Digital vouchers are meant to control and commodify out-of-school, informal community learning, too. Libraries, arts organizations, recreation centers, robotics leagues; all the resources home school families have used in the past will be sucked into the “what works” data vortex. Organizations accepting ESAs or awarding digital credentials WILL be harnessed to the standards-aligned, data-surveillance pipeline. We all need to get on the same page. Unbundling schools, if conditioned on standards-aligned competencies for the gig economy, is going to be bad, really bad, for EVERYONE (but especially for Black and Brown communities).
In a previous post I compared hyrid-blended learning to cicada killer wasps (above) that paralyze their victims while consuming them from the inside out. I warned that privatization was taking place from within AND without. Still, too few people are paying attention to the “within” part. While school closures and charters have unquestionably been destabilizing forces for public education, the end game is outright colonization of remaining neighborhood schools through “personalized” learning and outsourced instruction to non-profit providers (teaching artists, etc.) as would be permitted by this bill.
Now we are seeing the rise of innovation networks and portfolio schools that remain titularly “public,” but have been handed over to private managers. These operators are often given free reign to be “innovative,” deploying all sorts of reformist practices often centered around ed-tech. This transformation is coming to fruition, make no mistake. The $6 billion+ behind the Family Friendly Schools Act would take this game to the next level.
The letter below shows how community partners offering out of school time instruction are well suited to participate in alternative (read Competency/Mastery/Proficiency) assessment pilots authorized under ESSA.
Source: Open Records Request, Comments on Pennsylvania Education Plan
How much time is there before gig tutors and “citizen school” mentors largely replace full-time certified teachers? With mastery/competency/proficiency based education we are seeing a shift with credit flexibility to individual student contracts, coursework set up as ELOs where students can earn graduation credit “learning” at a local rock climbing gym, on the job, or even teach themselves! I’ve written a number of posts about how ELOs and after-school programs have opened the door to Ed Reform 2.0 here, here, and here.
Blended Learning: Digital Data Theft
It is hard to ignore the fact that schools are now data factories: academic data, behavioral data, health data, and mental health data. The language of this bill says as much given the “evidence-based” services they plan to provide. Tele-medicine and tele-therapy consultations carried out in educational settings under weakened FERPA protections will open new frontiers in data extractivism. Meanwhile, the populations creating all of this value remain uncompensated and surveilled.
Source: Family Friendly Schools Act
Of course the mother lode remains digital curriculum and online behavior management. That data is mediated through screens and wearable tech, an apparatus through which the elite plan to to exert sustained discipline over the minds and bodies of the masses. In unstable times controlling volatile populations becomes a priority, which loosens the wallet and makes the funding of “family friendly” initiatives like this more of an imperative.
In the summer of 2011, Karen Kator, head of the US Department of Education Office of Science and Technology, convened a meeting in partnership with The After School Corporation (TASC) to discuss the nascent “blended learning revolution” that would be carried out through Community Based Organizations (CBOs) in extended day programs, the type of program being promoted in this bill.
Out-of-School-Time instruction was seen as a great opportunity to expand online learning, because CBOs were viewed as risk-tolerant team players, that would tap into a predominately youthful workforce deemed to be “unafraid of technology.” Note close ties between the Boys and Girls Club and Comcast and the YMCA and United Way.
Meeting participants from City Light Capital expressed excitement about obtaining access to “users in early stages of product development” and the “variety of testing environments” offered.
Source: Blended Learning Partnerships For Community Based Organizations, US DOE, 2011
Extended day programming would allow privatization interests to refine Ed Reform 2.0 strategies like digital badges, e-portfolios, and interoperable data systems, the latter being incredibly important to the future of human capital impact investing. Over the past decade the Wallace Foundation (money from Reader’s Digest) led the creation of OST data systems and pushed for student information sharing as well as the collection of social-emotional learning data.
Source: Blended Learning Partnerships For Community Based Organizations, US DOE, 2011
Among the thirty-five attendees were:
Tom Vander Ark, Learn Capital and Global Education Futures Forum
Jaime Casap, Senior Education Evangelist at Google
Matthew Wicks, Vice President of Strategy iNACOL
Gary Chapman, Executive Vice President of Communities in Schools
Ursula Helminski, Vice President of External Affairs at the Afterschool Alliance
KJ Lavoie, Senior Director of Government Relations, Boys and Girls Club
Ivana Alexander, Senior Public Policy Manager, YMCA of the USA
During the week the Family Friendly Schools Act circulated through my social media feed, many teachers voiced anger and frustration at the prospect of longer work days. They shouldn’t have worried about overwork though; the whole point of the bill is to push teachers out of schools as much as possible.
Mercedes Schneider, blogger at deutsch29, said the problem with the bill was a presumption that schools were “stable” places. She hints at the real issue in the closing line of her post where she notes the program should “exclude schools operated by third parties that are not directly responsible to the public.” Her analysis stops short, however, sidestepping the fact that the proposed legislation overlaps with the roll out of “community” school initiatives; initiatives enthusiastically supported by union leadership through AROS (the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools) and many social justice activists who seem not to realize what is actually going on.
Community schools have an important role to play in this privatization/financialization scheme. The Family Friendly Schools Act would create a vast network of schools tasked with collecting detailed family information, including social determinants of health. The plan is to bring intervention services (tele-medicine, tele-therapy) into schools where data is less protected and can be leveraged for impact investing purposes.
The selection below is taken from a US Department of Education FAQ on Expanded Learning Time under the ESEA Flexibility Waiver. Note references to anytime/anywhere learning, digital instruction, data sharing, e-portfolios and badges.
Source: 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Frequently Asked Questions, Expanded Learning Time Under the ESEA Flexibility Optional Waiver.
There continues to be deep denial about the plan for “community” school wrap around services to be delivered by outside organizations funded through pay for success finance; that the system will run on data. Wake up everyone. When they say “community,” they mean the United Way. “Community schools” is Orwellian doublespeak, and it is diabolically hard to get double-thinking people to recognize that.
In a 2015 whitepaper Where It All Comes Together: How Partnerships Connect Communities and Schools, Martin Blank, former president of the Institute for Educational Leadership (supporter of the bill) and director of the Coalition for Community Schools, states that Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, made community schools a central part of her platform when she assumed leadership in 2008. That is the same time GIIN (Global Impact Investment Network) and human capital data markets (see Gambling With Our Futures) in privatized public services were getting off the ground. Coincidence?
The Coalition for Community Schools is funded by foundations known for investing in human capital: Annie E. Casey, Ford, JP Morgan, and Atlantic Philanthropies. It has partnered with the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), the grandfather of wrap around service providers, carefully tended over the decades by billionaire hedge funders Paul Tudor Jones and Stanley Druckenmiller. HCZ is where hundreds of impact equations have been refined, equations that will be leveraged across Promise Zone communities once conditions are right. Do Harris’s backers think that time is now? See this series of posts for further information.
While not as yet on record as supporting the bill, I want to bring to your attention Communities In Schools(CIS), the other high-profile “community” school organization with a national reach. They have advanced adoption of ISS or Integrated Student Supports and lobbied for it to be part of ESSA. In Work To Be Done: 2018-2022 Business Plan they describe their planned market expansion where affiliates are trained in evidence-based culture and data collection and pay for success targets and guidelines are developed. The following screen shots make it clear that “community” schools are in the business of “collective impact.” Affiliates that don’t deliver desired outcomes lose access to the “Communities In Schools” license and branding. This is not at all about altruism, but earned income, a growth model built on poverty and misery.
Source: Work To Be Done: 2018-2022 Business Plan, Communities In Schools
SEL Investment Markets in Behavior Modification
Speaking of mental health, the timing of this legislation has everything to do with a growing demand for student social-emotional data (SEL). This is ostensibly for the purposes of “safety,” “well-being,” and career pathway alignment. While it may be a bit of that, the real deal is that engineering SEL data on dashboards creates opportunities for investors sold on the Heckman Equation to gamble on child data. Gross, right? They want the data to assess how “investible” students are, according to the numbers.
Proponents of SEL recognize that for a variety of reasons, listed here, they’re not going to get as much data as they want during a TRADITIONAL school day. But they DO want the data. So they’re planning on pulling in ELT/OST partners to get it. A 2015 study out of the Center for Cost Benefit Analysis in Education, Teachers College Columbia University suggested a whopping 11% return on investment for every $1 put into SEL programming. The Novo Foundation (Buffett $ via Warren’s son Peter) funded the study. They’re also one of the primary supporters of CASEL (Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning).
Source: The Economic Value of Social Emotional Learning, Center for Cost Benefit Analysis in Education, Teachers College Columbia University 2015
That’s an outcomes-based contract opportunity impact investors are not about to walk away from; so if Harris’s bill creates new opportunities to get that data through a “restructured” school day with complicit partners, they’re all in!
In fact, the language of the bill says each school receiving a grant must come up with a 10% match. The total award could be up to $5 million over five years per school. Right there is the open invitation for impact investors. Even with a bit of money in the game, they’ll be able to demand outcomes-data tied to grant performance. In this way they can exert pressure on partners to adopt digital “solutions,” because they provide “evidence” “with fidelity.” Among the supporters of the bill in Harris’s press release is the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), home to the Coalition of Community Schools. Current president Johan Uvin expressed excitement over enacting “innovative policies.” Martin Blank, president of IEL until 2017 was a promoter of student data sharing, touting the potential of community schools to expand partnerships (outsourcing) and leverage outside investment. See screenshot below from a report Blank co-authored.
Source: The Afterschool and Community School Connection: Expanding Learning Opportunities and Partnerships
Community school data sharing agreements brokered within the context of a reimagined school day open up quite the treasure chest. In the diagram below I show the interrelationship between extended learning, social-emotional learning (SE), community schools, and student data sharing..
Source: Community Schools / SEL / ELT / Family Friendly Schools Act (click link for interactive version)
Pay for Success in California
Kamala Harris is allied with Governor Gavin Newsom, Silicon Valley’s golden boy. Newsom is making strides setting up infrastructure for speculative human capital investing through early childhood education and trauma screening initiatives. Tech interests poured a substantial amount of money into Harris’s senate race. Her donors include Marc Benioff of Salesforce, the company that developed ImBlaze for Big Picture to track student behavior competencies; recently launched a social impact investing fund with Lumina and the Robin Hood Foundation; and partnered with China’s Jack Ma (Alibaba, social credit scoring).
Harris also helped found, with California’s first Surgeon General, Nadine Burke Harris, the Youth Wellness Center that focuses on childhood trauma. The center has a deep stable of funders, many of whom are playing major roles in the development of data-driven human capital investing: Annie E Casey, Google, Tipping Point, JPB Foundation, Irvine, Packard, California Endowment. As I have written previously (here), my feeling is that the universal ACEs screenings reimbursed through Medicaid and promoted by Newsom and Burke Harris will be weaponized and fed into the machine of Big Data, creating the baselines required for NGO management of the lives of the poor.
California is five years into a pilot program to advance pay for success finance with support from the Irvine Foundation. Santa Clara County, in particular, has been a test-bed for various data-driven “innovative” financial contracting schemes, see my post on Silicon Valley Surveillance here. Harris’s co-sponsors all come from states that have pay for success pilots in the works. Make special note of Michael Bennet, because Colorado (along with Washington State) is in the lead position to adopt work-based education tied to digital identity and 5G / IoT infrastructure.
Source: Family Friendly Schools Act Sponsors (click link for interactive version)
Kamala Harris: Ventura County Re-Entry Project, Project Welcome Home, Just In Reach, Partners in Wellness, Alameda County Asthma, Alameda County Justice Project, First 5 LA, Nurse-Family Partnership Orange and Sonoma Counties, San Diego REDF/CEO, San Francisco Homelessness
Richard Blumenthal, CT: Connecticut Family Stability Pay For Success Project
Sherrod Brown, OH: Partnering For Family Success, ResultsOHIO
Jeff Merkley, OR: The Way Home: Lane County Re-Entry Collaborative
Kristen Gillibrand, NY: Employment To Break The Cycle of Re-Incarceration, Rikers Island Social Impact Bond
Michael Bennet, CO: Denver Collaborative Runaway Youth, Multi-Systemic Therapy, Fostering Opportunities, Denver Supportive Housing (proposed)
As we consider the implications of an “anytime, anywhere” system of education where oversight is limited and pay for success profit derives from “fixing” poverty and trauma, it is worth noting that the when Harris was the District Attorney of San Francisco, her office refused to release information about their investigation into the sexual abuse of children by individuals associated with the Catholic Church. This non-disclosure continued despite repeated public records requests. San Francisco’s Archbishop William Levada was instrumental in the suppression of information about those crimes not only in the Bay Area, but nationally.
Compiling vast electronic dossiers on children, including the status of their families, mental health, and trauma scores, could put them at grave risk. We must give serious consideration as to the ethics of collecting and sharing sensitive data with community partners and mentors knowing full well that predators exist, and the most vulnerable children will become targets of abuse.
Even though it is unlikely that the Catholic Church will have a presence in a public school setting, the Vatican is a major investor in social impact projects globally. It has hosted three conferences in Rome on the subject in partnership with Notre Dame’s Mendoza Business School, and numerous representatives of technology companies from Silicon Valley, including Omidyar Network, attended. Many social welfare programs, including housing and healthcare, are administered through Catholic affiliated entities. There could easily be overlap with referrals for housing or other services made through “community school” networks. More on the Vatican and impact investing here, here, and here.
Source: Kamala Harris and the Carceral State (click link for interactive version)
As California Attorney General, Harris established a Bureau of Children’s Justice with federal funding from Eric Holder’s Defending Childhood Initiative. The effort was aligned to “My Brother’s Keeper” an early-stage human capital management effort launched by Arne Duncan. Harris is a close friend of President Obama.
Truancy was a central focus of the bureau. In her acceptance speech for Attorney General, Harris stated “In San Francisco we threatened the parents of truants with prosecution, and truancy dropped by 32 percent. So, we are putting parents on notice. If you fail in your responsibility to your kids, we are going to work to make sure you face the full force and consequences of the law.”
Harris spearheaded a 2010 law under which a $2,500 fine or a year prison sentence could be imposed on parents whose children missed too many days of school. A March 2019 feature, The Human Costs of Kamala’s War On Truancy, shares the story of one such parent, Cheree Peoples who at the time of her arrest was in the process of challenging the school district to obtain an IEP for her daughter who was chronically ill with sickle cell anemia. Harris then pushed for an expanded statewide data system to track truancy. That was a recommendation of her 2013 report on the “absentee crisis” In School + On Track. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it in 2014.
Source: In School + On Track: Attorney General’s 2013 Report on California’s Elementary School Truancy and Absenteeism Crisis
Of all the pressing justice-related concerns in the state of California, why would Harris make truancy such a high profile issue? Well, it turns out that in the United Kingdom where social impact finance is considerably more advanced, truancy is an impact metric for investment purposes. This screen shot is taken from a 2015 Brookings Institution report that documented lessons learned from five years of social impact bond development.
Source: The Potential and Limitations of Impact Bonds: Lessons From The First Five Years Of Experience Worldwide, Global Economic Development Brookings Institution, 2015
AttendanceWorks is a non-profit that spun out of the Casey Foundation in 2006 just as the human impact markets were getting set up. Since 2010 they have been advancing national policy around the truancy issue. Same old funders: Gates, Open Society, Casey, Kaiser Permanente, United Way. So it comes as no surprise that the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 combined provisions for pay for success with a requirement to select additional measures of school quality, one of which was attendance!
In the lead up to the passage of the ESSA, Harvard conducted an attendance study using Philadelphia School students as test subjects, Reducing Student Absences at Scale By Targeting Parents Misbeliefs. It was the quintessential nudge effort where parents were sent form letters comparing their child’s attendance with peers. Our family opted out, but I remember a flurry of negative parent comments when the ridiculous letters came home. Even the title of the paper, published a number of years later, speaks to the industrial nature of this intervention. The system doesn’t really care why a child is absent. The system is not willing to devote material resources to addressing problems. They just want to get data and game it for their benefit.
When you consider whether or not you believe Harris’s Family Friendly Schools Act is truly intended to be “family friendly,” think about Cheree Peoples and these truancy rate cards.
Source: Molly Redden, Twitter
Pay for Success finance presumes/predicts a degree of future criminality and/or brokenness for targeted populations: Black, Brown, poor, disabled, and LGBTQIA. Through data analytics people are pre-emptively designated “broken” so they can, in turn, be “fixed” by “evidence-based” programs documented on data dashboards. This is the sleight of hand that allows financiers to filch the profit built into outcomes-based contracts for privatized services run by community partners.
These predictions are not in any sense “real,” but asserting pre-crime/ or pre-disease characterizations further marginalizes individuals identified as “at risk.” The judicial system, where Harris launched her career, is the largest cost-off set for impact investing, though chronic illness and under-productivity are in the mix, too.
According to James Heckman, the data that can be most readily manipulated for impact investing purposes is character data, or SEL (Social Emotional Learning) data. Informal learning provides a wealth of opportunities to gather SEL data via projects and group activities. The passage of Harris’s bill would expand opportunities to collect behavioral and workforce data and link it to speculative pay for success investments.
I have been theorizing the imposition of impact interventions and the profiling that goes along with it as a form of “pre-carceration.” In a world driven by predatory human capital investments, the poor are designated “pre-criminal,” because that is how they become valuable to fin-tech. In an augmented reality (AR) future, the world becomes a digital prison with an overlay of geo-fencing that can be arbitrarily deployed to restrict a person’s rights. This is what we are hearing about in China with social credit scoring. Privileges are conditioned on one’s compliance to prescribed behaviors. It is the role of compulsory education to prepare youth for such a future.
As a former Silicon Valley prosecutor turned faux-progressive policy maker, Kamala Harris embodies this pivot towards pre-carceration aligned to the interests of surveillance capitalism. We’re swapping the school to prison pipeline for a “cradle to career” pipeline, and yet the humanity and self-determination of Black and Brown students continues to be subordinated to the interests of transnational global capital.
Old Wine, New Bottles
Capitalism is a violent enterprise that expands through primitive accumulation, taking value without paying for it. Education and social welfare data are part and parcel of this enterprise. Given the explosive growth in the ed-tech sector and the “community” school movement, it is not at all surprising that this bill would aim to expand the school day and further commodify social relations and facilitate the harvest of ever more stolen data.
As Dr. Justin Leroy, professor of African American history at UC Davis, notes, the afterlife of slavery (and I would add Indigenous genocide) persistently interrupts the presumption that history follows a progressive course; that its arc must by its very nature bend towards justice. While we desperately want to believe “family friendly” school legislation will bring justice, if you scratch below the surface, even a little bit, the charade starts to fall apart.
Because racial capitalism is embedded within the settler-colonial economic systems of the Americas, new manifestations of oppression and struggle play out as slavery re-emerges and adapts to new conditions. Our present condition is one characterized by the combined influences of technology, debt-finance, globalization and militarism. We organize and protest. They replace police with social workers. The control systems recalibrate, and the cycle of resistance begins anew.
I’d like to adapt a quote attributed to Jay Gould, nineteenth century railroad baron. Recognizing seismic changes are afoot with anticipated automation of worldwide labor, including platformed service and knowledge work, I anticipate we’ll see global capitalists attempt to impose systems of control along Gould’s line of thinking. One half of the population will be deputized to police the other half. This policing will take many forms from overt, state-sanctioned violence to subtle yet insidious forms of data surveillance carried out by outsourced social welfare providers, including educators. That is the “soft” policing of “community” schools. The elite are hoping this move towards pervasive “soft” policing will keep the pot from boiling over, and it might…for awhile.
Schools have always been sites for the powerful to instill societal expectations, such that everyone knows their place, fears stepping out of line, steady as she goes for those at the top and to hell with everyone else. In a world of ever-greater uncertainty teachers are no longer trusted to teach, but must cede their autonomy to playlists of scripted lessons said to produce “results.” Free thought, creativity, and self-determination in schools are extinguished in the name of accountability and safety. In schools today few feel safe, and that is by design.
How better to manage surplus labor than to sort the masses into oppressors and oppressed? Those “fortunate” enough to escape oppression thus become accomplices in unfolding atrocities, triggering self-delusion that makes it difficult to acknowledge let alone escape the circumstances into which they have been thrust. This may account for the profound sense of torpor and denial I see as technologized carceral systems lock into place. Where is the outrage over putting toddlers and un-housed people on Blockchain so people can gamble on their lives? The surveillance play tables? The nudges? So many desperately want to believe nothing bad is happening, because there isn’t yet an obvious Plan B.
This is not to imply struggle is for naught. Leroy notes that history moves in unexpected, cyclic, and palimpsestic ways. See Chilean protestors demanding their Pinochet-era constitution be trashed and Indigenous opposition to the Bolivian coup mounted in El Alto. Resistance to neoliberalism is demanded, tactics of non-compliance with the forces of transnational global capital must be embraced.
And yet those of us attempting to advance the cause of justice must proceed with caution. We have to recognize the ways the powerful seek to confuse and control the narrative. When does a “community” school imprison the community? When does a family-friendly school turn children into a speculative data commodities? Strategic framing is being used to conceal venal intent. We have to be savvy and alert and expose the hypocrisy.
Frederick Douglass spoke of pouring “the new wine of liberty into the old bottles of slavery.” That is what I believe is happening with Harris’s plans for an extended school day and expanded family services. Under the pretense of providing “help,” this law will install an apparatus of “soft policing” tied to pay for success finance to discipline and manage the poor for the profit of investors while undermining the social fabric of targeted communities.
I so appreciate Dr. Leroy’s analysis, and it was a gift to stumble across a new talk of his as I pondered how to write this post. His speech was delivered as part of an “Archiving Colonialism” panel given at Barnard in February of 2019. If you have fifteen minutes, watch it here. It provided me with a valuable framework within which to situate the digital carceral systems I see emerging with breathtaking speed under a banner of data-driven social justice. Eyes open everyone. Things are often not what they appear. A good rule of thumb; look at everything through a lens of racial capitalism. It’s amazing the clarity that brings.
Source: Archiving Colonialism, full panel