Poverty Won’t Be Solved By Committee: Education For Liberation, Less Data More Freire

The video below is public testimony I gave to the Jobs and Education Subcommittee of Philadelphia City Council’s Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention on Thursday December 5, 2019 at Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School in North Philadelphia. It is my belief that this committee was created to jump start pay for success initiatives in our city, a city of deep poverty. You can read about the predatory nature of pay for success finance here.

Philadelphia Impact Economy

In 2016, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia prepared a white paper lauding Philadelphia’s potential to become a center for the impact economy. Perhaps we could even aspire to be the Silicon Valley of “impact!” Yes, we have THAT MUCH poverty, and Main Line venture capital interests are falling all over themselves to package the data of misery management for a tidy profit. See my previous post on social impact investing and public education in Philadelphia.

Here is my testimony. It’s about ten minutes long.

*Correction. I misspoke at the beginning of my testimony. Mass school closures in Philadelphia took place in 2015 not 2013.

It was SUCH a long hearing with six official panels and over twenty “approved” speakers. As the final panel wrapped up two-and-a-half hours later, I inquired to see where I was on the list of public speakers. A small group of us, including two wonderful kids who had kept themselves busy drawing on the extra agendas, had been sitting patiently with our banner (Children Are Not Data, Human Capital, Or Impact Investing Opportunities-see featured image) all that time. Only then was I was told there would be only ONE more speaker. The rest of the twenty-plus folks, including me, who had pre-registered with the intention of sharing our thoughts on education, workforce development, and poverty, were out of luck. Too bad.

At that point I loudly protested. I had shared 30+ copies of my testimony with a bunch of folks in the audience letting them know I was on the list to speak. I saw a lot of people reading it. They knew I had things to say, and quite a few nodded in agreement when I spoke up. Ultimately the subcommittee, chaired by Sharmain Matlock-Turner of the Urban Affairs Coalition, acquiesced, allowing those speakers who hadn’t already left (eight of us) to testify. Somehow they STILL left my name off the list even though I had email confirmation from Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez’s legislative aide who was coordinating that part of the event. Finally, I was told I could sit in the front row. I was the last one to speak.

It should be noted that Pedro Ramos, former School Reform Commission member, president  of the Philadelphia Foundation and advisor to ImpactPHL, left before any members of the public came up to testify. During the “official” panel discussion he had inquired about out-of school work-based learning (including what policy changes would need to be made to allow this to happen in public schools), citing the Christo Rey School franchise as a model. Christo Rey seems to have a rising profile in San Jose, too. San Jose is another City of LRNG with many similarities to Philadelphia, which I describe here. This is something we need keep an eye on given the Vatican’s expressed interest in impact investing.

In my testimony I reference the “Parents As Consumer” symposium that Social Innovation Partners had planned for last June. That event ended up being abruptly cancelled when word got out about the agenda, which included both pay for success AND Education Savings Accounts.

Parents As Consumers ESAs.jpg

Parents As Consumers Agenda

Among the panelists planning to participate in the event, which was hosted by Bucks County State Representative Frank Farry and Nicholas Torres’s impact-investment catalyst Social Innovations Journal, was Brian McElwee. McElwee is an investor, but not just any investor. He is apparently known as a “finder,” which according to an investigative article on him from the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2016 is a kind of matchmaker who connects investment professionals to elected officials who control government contracts. McElwee is also board chair of Independence Mission Schools, a non-parish affiliated Catholic school non-profit that was set up in 2012 to run urban schools in Philadelphia, schools where I expect there is a lot of potential for “measurable impact.”

Indepdence Mission Schools McElwee

Even though the symposium was ultimately cancelled, that event is significant. We must recognize that faith-based initiatives will be a growing aspect of privatization efforts moving forward, and families who have children in ESA-funded alternative work-based Catholic schools are likely to be subjected not only to the expectation of compulsory child labor, but that their data will be harvested for impact investing deals tied to pay for success.

After a very long wait, on my birthday no less,  I felt vindicated. Even though there were only about twenty people left in the audience by the time I presented, I was able to add my extensive findings to the public record. I also asked for the California NAACP resolution opposing linking Blockchain digital identity to public benefit systems, which I referenced at the previous hearing on housing, be added to the record.

Below is that resolution, adopted in the spring of 2019. A similar resolution passed, with overwhelming support, at the national meeting of the NAACP in Detroit in July. I believe the model legislation presented here will be useful in helping educate the public about the dangers of digital tracking systems and to protect targeted populations from predatory finance and Internet of Things surveillance. I encourage folks to bring this information to the organizations of which you are a part, and encourage them to adopt or adapt it to your needs. We need to be proactive as the push to link digital vouchers to pay for success human capital contracts begins to ramp up.

NAACP Blockchain Cropped

I streamed my testimony, and people around the country are watching it. It seems I have been able to put the pieces together in ways others have not. Once we start to see the bigger picture, identifying resistance strategies becomespossible. Active non-cooperation is key as my hero John Trudell said. And you know what? People genuinely seemed to appreciate it. Sure it is upsetting information, but better to know so we can plan.

Together we can carve solidarity out of the dystopia capitalism has created. Time to look squarely at the truth and prepare for an age of automation and human capital debt-finance.

All we have is each other. Love and peace folks.

My testimony:

We are living in a time of extreme wealth and devastating poverty. The future of work is highly uncertain. Based on pronouncements from the Markle Foundation, the Aspen Institute, Pearson, and Tom Vander Ark’s Global Education Futures Initiative, we need to be paying attention to the rise of artificial intelligence, globalized, platformed labor, and human-robot collaboration.

The MacArthur Foundation and its spin-off, Collective Shift, have spent millions of dollars promoting gamified digital media and learning. Philadelphia is one of their pilot Cities of LRNG. Many LRNG cities are also “smart” cities: Dallas, Chicago, San Diego, and San Jose among them. Digital learning is central to the premise of the “learning ecosystem” advanced by Knowledgeworks, based in Cincinnati, and its “Cradle to Career” social impact offshoot StriveTogether. The latter works closely with the United Way through a “collective impact” network focused on predatory pay for success human capital management.

Those in power have reimagined education, and in this future:

Decentralized learning ecosystems replace bricks and mortar schools.

Learning is privatized, outsourced to online providers, non-profits, and corporations.

There are a few community drop-in centers, mostly staffed by AmeriCorps youth.

Academic and behavioral competencies are kept in online learning record stores.

AI “mentors” and “synthetic people” supplant human teachers and peers.

Learning is “engineered” by neuroscientists.

Internet of Things sensors and xAPI impose educational surveillance.

Badges, developed in partnership with Mozilla, substitute for degrees.

“Lifelong learning” is funded using digital vouchers that link payment to the delivery of specified performance metrics.

Accept vouchers? Hand over the data. In this way even homeschool families are sucked in.

Algorithms screen job candidates’ stackable credentials along with psychographic information pulled from custom-designed HR video games.

Black and Brown children are risk-profiled from birth and plugged into planned regional economies (or incarceration or the military) managed for the benefit of the corporate state (increasingly Google and cyber-defense interests).

Dystopia? Yes, we are there.

In this future, “opportunity youth” are trained as “middle-skill” fodder for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Dehumanized education employs “virtual apprenticeships” upon which Lumina, Salesforce, and the Robin Hood Foundation place wagers-betting for and against a person’s life outcomes data. That seems to be what motivated bipartisan support for the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, the pay for success provision of the ESSA, seed funding from the Social Impact Partnerships Pay for Results Act to get the ball rolling. Evidently there is a lot of money to be made gambling on poor people.

People are being sold on coding as a pathway out of poverty, not realizing it’s this generation’s piecework. STEM sweatshops to build augmented reality “smart” worlds for those who run the cloud and the hedge funds that finance them will start to emerge in federal Opportunity Zones. Digital-on ramps, put in place by Michael and Lisa Nutter years ago with “smart city” money from IBM, wait in the wings as the Philadelphia Education Fund’s STEM ecosystem ramps up. Authentic knowledge will be replaced with isolating online learning, out-of-school time education, Pokémon-Go-style micro-knowledge aligned to the interests of funders like Dow, Chevron, Amgen, and Motorola.

Those in power see children as raw material to be run through the federal labor database O*NET, in Raleigh; “eds and meds,” skills delivered in quantities sufficient to suppress wages while optimizing profit. Meanwhile educational pathways are tracked for value-added “growth” data to run “pay for success” futures markets. Learning Machine has set up Blockchain transcripts with Paul Leblanc at SNHU. Dr. Hite served with him as an educational advisor at Ridge Lane Limited Partners. But whom should we ask about Amply, the pre-k Blockchain identity app launched by Innovation Edge in Cape Town? I hear folks in Philadelphia have been briefed, but I don’t know who’s the project lead.

Worker productivity is high, wages low, and precarious employment the norm. Closed-door deals are struck as Chamber of Commerce insiders line up the policy, finance, and technological infrastructure needed to control the masses. Pay for success, MoneyBall “What Works” Government, behavioral economics, the nudge…every policy wonk, philanthropist, global consultant and sold-out academic pitches techno-solutions for poverty as the Federal Reserve looks on pretending compliance by the oppressed will somehow magically bring them prosperity.

No, justice will not come from more data. What we need is the will to redistribute resources from a billionaire class steeped in white supremacy. Resources must go directly to poor folks; self-determination is key. It is wrong to channel money through intermediaries whose continued existence depends on intractable poverty.

Solidarity not charity!

Instead of coffels, digital peonage will chain people through biometric digital identity linked to public benefits. Eventually, if they get their way, this will include Education Savings Accounts to purchase competency-based education on the open market, the data being fed back into pay for success education deals. Look up State Representative Frank Farry and Social Innovations Journal’s “Parents As Consumers Symposium” planned for June 15, 2018, but abruptly cancelled. The agenda clearly describes the goal of linking ESAs to pay for success.

And so we are here at Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School to discuss education and poverty. Some still trust elected officials to deliver their children opportunities for stable lives presuming they work hard; and yet the reality of pending labor automation is harsh and unforgiving. Who’s going to tell the public there will be no more shop teachers, that the plan is outsourced work-based learning? No one is going to say they are replacing neighborhood schools with IBM and Ford training centers. No one wants to admit the National Center on Education and the Economy’s proposal laid out by Marc Tucker in the “Dear Hillary Letter” is ready to launch; that most future jobs will be gigs, and even those gigs will only go to those with the right sort of human capital. Behavioral data is becoming social credit currency. Build up your brand starting in pre-k, maybe at a Hatch Education surveillance play table. Those in power are watching, always watching; and the rise of robot class means people are becoming more and more disposable.

The United States compulsory education system has been used, since its inception, to reinforce divisions of race and class. It delivers human capital to meet industrial interests: youth trained just enough to do the work required, but not to imagine a future beyond the one defined by the pathways on which they are put. What is needed to eliminate poverty is revolutionary transformation. Poverty “reduction” is not about narrowing gaps. That rift was ALREADY far too great even as the founding fathers hammered out our duplicitous constitution. The system isn’t broken. Trump didn’t break it. Neither did DeVos. Our education system is working exactly as intended.

Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

With false generosity he attempts not only to preserve an unjust and neocrophilic order, but to “buy” peace for himself. It happens that peace cannot be bought; peace is experienced in solidarity and loving acts, which cannot be incarnated in oppression.”

We need to become conscious, we need the oppressed to wake up to the sinister intent of the planned Fourth Industrial Revolution, and we need education for liberation.

Liberation will not be attained through an appointed committee.

It is created in the streets, doing the work with love and solidarity.

That is where we need to be.



3 thoughts on “Poverty Won’t Be Solved By Committee: Education For Liberation, Less Data More Freire

  1. Karen Bracken says:

    The people of Philadelphia are do fortinste to have you fighting for them and their children. I hope they are aware of how hard you work for them and support your efforts. The people all across this country benefit from your research because what you expose is national (really it is global) in its scope. I for one appreciate you and THANK YOU.

  2. David Crandall says:

    Hi – big fan. The video that comes up in your December 6 essay is NOT your testimony but a pitch for why parents should sign the FERPA release. I hope that’s a mistake. Onward!

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