Dear Dr. Cordona,
I am writing this open letter as the parent of a young adult child who spent thirteen years in an under-funded urban school district, a district targeted by consultants, corporate interests, and predatory philanthropists who sought to leverage the challenges faced by our city’s vulnerable children and families as sources of “social impact” profit under the guise of benevolence.
Being the parent of a Philadelphia Public School District student changed my life in ways I could never have imagined. It connected me with fierce, big-hearted activists across race and class who took strong stands for the rights of children to be celebrated as cherished gifts rather than packaged as perceived deficits profiled on data dashboards with assigned growth metrics attached.
The decade since the last economic crash has been about normalizing the idea of an inevitable global gig economy where work is meted by artificial intelligence. Who will get microwork? Well, it will be determined by stackable credentials in a person’s online learning locker combined with social-emotional learning behavioral compliance scores. They’ll call it “anytime, anywhere learning,” or “lifelong learning.” This competency-based education system will ultimately be detached from neighborhood schools and outsourced to community partners through public private partnerships. Navigating these “learning ecosystems” children will be programmed with playlists of “free” Open Education Resources (OER) consumed in virtual reality headsets or games built on behavior modification and persuasive computing. They will collect badges for projects tracked with wearable technologies and pay for them using digital vouchers set up to deliver performance data.
It’s a scary prospect given that the next phase of globalization involves not just platformed labor, but remote-robotic work in advanced manufacturing. Future workers are meant to don haptic suits in co-working spaces in “Zoom-towns,” or living rooms depending on health status, to complete against one another to build and secure the global digital prison or design and process transhumanist gene therapies at a low piece rate. The biosecurity state will have us transitioning to avatar status where, as synthetic, cartoon versions of ourselves, we will attempt to navigate virtual worlds of “work” run by the likes of Gates, Bezos, and Zuckerberg.
They want us in a constant state of fear – fear of our bodies, fear of other people, fear of nature. Contained in virtual realms people are easier to manage. Signals intelligence used to corral the chaotic beauty of spirit and authentic community. If we allow our education systems to condition children from a young age to accept this, how will future generations even know what it’s like to live in the real world? It is time we refuse Google’s box and Alphabet’s smart city bio-surveillance.
Starting in utero, through pre-k, career-aligned pathways, and perpetual re-skilling, children will be triaged for a dystopian future. Ever more sophisticated technologies will identify mindset, grit, and resilience. Labelled gammas, deltas or epsilons, a majority of low-income toddlers will be placed into feedback loops with prescribed digital therapeutics optimizing them to their station in life. Within this established caste system, they will say they are engineering “equity.” Wages, debt, social welfare, and transactions in “smart” environments will be managed through digital wallets, “permanent records” against which a person’s relative worth as a human capital investment can be evaluated in real time.
The elite imagine this future as a game of human-opoly where investors hold children as data commodities in their portfolios. That is why “pay for success” got inserted into the Every Student Success Act. That is why Obama’s gutted FERPA’s student data privacy protections. Social impact futures markets run on interoperable data, and community schools will emerge as rich nodes of data extraction for children and families in need of wrap around services.
Ed-tech, tele-medicine, tele-therapy, online disability services, parent workforce training, and food and housing assistance will be privatized and linked to investment markets matched to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The United Way has partnered with the Federal Reserve on plans to reengineer the nation’s workforce. I expect their ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) program for the working poor will interface with data-sharing agreements they established between schools and community partners across the country in the years before lockdowns catalyzed mass economic dispossession.
Eric Schmidt says data is the new oil. The elite intend to frack the world’s children for it.
My experience navigating the public education system as an adult led me to question much of what I had been taught growing up in well-funded districts in southern corporate suburbs. I began to realize that while pitched as the key to upward mobility, compulsory education in low-income communities serves a sophisticated gatekeeping role. It offers up a tempting illusion of opportunity that keeps the aspirational disadvantaged striving and complying, hoping against hope theirs will be the bootstraps sufficient to prevail against the combined forces of wealth inequality and an increasingly militarized police state.
Some make it. Some get the brass ring, and with that success comes the chance to help run the machine to keep everyone in their place.
As you prepare to establish a new home in Washington, DC, a center of imperial power, I encourage you to pause and reflect on what brought you to this momentous place in your journey. I direct these words not to the mind of a future Federal bureaucrat, but to the heart of the grandson of a farmer, a young man who appreciated art and technical challenge, a celebrant of Puerto Rican culture, an educator who knows the power of a kind word and gentle gesture to unlock the gifts of a child’s spirit.
Have you heard of the Great Reset? The opening shot of a planned Fourth Industrial Revolution fired by global billionaires in Davos, Switzerland? It is a terrible thing, this elite class suffers from a devastating mind virus, wetiko; and I fear the world is about to be pulled into their delusion. They imagine themselves gods with the power, and indeed an obligation, to reengineer the earth and all of its beings into a planetary computing system to be controlled by technocrats steeped in eugenics, behaviorism, and social engineering.
All of it is supposed to be for the good of ourselves and the planet. We are to ignore sophisticated systems of innovative finance riding the rails of ESG (environmental, social, governance) investment promoted by members of the “conscious,” “inclusive” capitalist class like Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates. You remember him? He’s the billionaire bankrolling data-driven education schemes in Connecticut who runs the world’s largest hedge fund and manages the pension of the United Nations.
This week media attention turned to the operations of predatory investment markets. With hedge funds coming up short after rallies propped the GameStop share price, it is important to consider what the larger takeaway is. The Gates, Lumina, Nellie Mae Education, and Robin Hood Foundations are lining up with Edly and Salesforce to securitize and package education and training debt. Will we allow these sociopaths to capture children’s futures, tie them to digital identities, and gamble on THEM? Because that is the plan for stackable credentials in a digital education marketplace of badge-based compliance.
This, sir, is what you are walking into, and I do not relish your situation. There are two roads ahead – one is green, and one is burnt. The course chosen will not be ours alone, but the choice for all generations that follow.
Compulsory education in this country has been designed to feed children into the machine of industry. It created channels for the alphas and betas to manage the gammas, deltas, and epsilons and feel justified in doing so. It transformed children of the soil into children of the factory into children of the call center. Now it appears children are to be virtualized as cartoon representations and confined to digital cages, because that is what the next phase of capitalism, biocapitalism, demands.
We are moral beings; we exist in relationship. We hold power to affect outcomes, even against unimaginable odds. In my heart I believe the way out of this mentally deranged future is one grounded in Indigenous resurgence. Artificial intelligence is the ultimate settler colonizer.
Dr. Cardona, I think you may be the chosen one. Tapping into your heritage, not some gamified version of Taino culture but an energetic essence of right relationship, might trigger a reckoning to bring real justice to the nation’s children, especially Black and Brown children and non-English speakers.
I work part time at a public garden in a community ravished by environmental racism, and last weekend I gathered a leaf from a nicotiana plant, dried by the winter winds. I am going to close this letter now and take a copy of it with this tobacco, a sacred plant grown by your grandfather. I will burn them together and send my intention for a humane future of loving, creative, liberatory education to the realms to the ancestors. They are with us, and I sense they would not want to see the world remade as a computer, even one touting “equity” and “achievement gap” closing. They would want children to be able to be their best selves in a world where wealth is not hoarded and used as a bludgeon against the poor. Let us build that world. Let us give that vision to the children and keep the sparks alive.
It will not be an easy road, but you are not alone. I will keep you in my prayers.
This intention was set with love. Ashes left at the base of the Iroquois statue on the Ben Franklin Parkway.
Full talk on Connecticut hedge funds, technology, and human capital markets in public education with Zakiya Sankara-Jabar can be viewed below. Slide deck here.