Op-Ed by John Klyczek
Democratic presidential candidates, such as Elizabeth Warren, have pledged to fix the American education system by replacing privatized charter schools with “community schools” that incorporate “socioemotional-learning (SEL)” programs. These “Democratic” community schools, which teach “social skills” and “emotional competencies,” might sound like “liberal” or “leftwing” education reforms. But don’t be fooled by the pathos of such leftist “social justice” rhetoric. The Democrats’ socioemotional community-learning centers are no more “progressive” than corporate-fascist charter schools.
Both charter schools and community schools are public-private partnerships between businesses and government agencies that “pipeline” students into “career pathways” curriculums assigned to fill workforce development quotas which have been budgeted for managing a planned economy. At the same time, these workforce “pipelines” and “pathways” at both charter and community schools are being contracted to siphon public tax dollars to pay privatized socioemotional-learning companies to administer SEL services through computerized educational technologies which data-mine the psychometrics of students’ “learning algorithms” so that corporate industries and government bureaucracies can prescribe “personalized” workforce-competency lessons tailored to the SEL metrics of each student’s psychological profile.
It should be no surprise, then, that hi-tech SEL is advocated not only by neo-liberals like Warren, who champion community schools, but also by corporatist neo-conservatives such as President Trump and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who promote charter schools. While Senator Warren’s campaign website hypes “community schools” that “[e]xpand the implementation of . . . Social Emotional Learning,” Secretary DeVos has long been endorsing socioemotional-learning as she posted the hashtag “#SEL” in a 2018 Tweet from the official Twitter account of the US Department of Education.
In brief, proponents of SEL on both the right and left wings of the political aisle are making the case that students cannot reach their full intellectual, or “cognitive,” potentials as learners if they have “mental health” impediments resulting from emotional difficulties caused by social stresses, temperamental “disorders,” or other neuropsychological “disabilities.” As such, both Democrat and Republican SEL advocates are supporting school reforms that hire private companies to data-mine student psychometrics in order to identify which students are in need of emotional, cognitive-behavioral, or psychosocial therapies that will purportedly optimize their learning potentials.
It is certainly true that the logic of a student’s mind is optimized when it is not bogged down with the cognitive dissonance of low self-esteem from social ostracization or neuro-temperamental “disability.” However, the corporate-government data-mining of student psychometrics will only further impede a student’s academic self-esteem by over-pathologizing his or her “social” and “emotional” performances at school. Therefore, SEL data-tracking is not geared to therapeutically remedy students’ low self-esteems so that they can maximize their learning powers in order to freely climb up the socioeconomic ladder by following the reason of their own consciences. Rather, SEL data-tracking is engineered to empirically pathologize student learning so that workforce-schooling partnerships between Big Business and Big Government can “scientifically” diagnose students as socially or emotionally “unfit” for certain job castes in a technocratically planned economy.
Community Fascism, Corporate Communism
There is no doubt that Billionaire Betsy DeVos is the queen of “school choice” privatization as she has dumped millions of her own dollars into the funding of charter school companies which push “competency-based” workforce training through “career pathways” curriculums managed by unelected corporate councils that are subsidized by public tax dollars. DeVos’s charter choice industry is indeed an assault on public education; but if you’re hopeful that the Democrats’ community-schooling reforms will put an end to education privatization and thus restore the publicly elected schoolboard system to local “communities,” take a closer look at Warren’s education plan.
According to the official “Warren for President” website, the Democratic Senator pledges that her community schools will “[p]rovide better access to career and college readiness” by “dramatically scaling up high-quality apprenticeship programs with a $20 billion investment that will support partnerships between high schools, community colleges, unions, and companies” while “leverage[ing] existing federal programs to facilitate education-to-workforce preparedness.” Stated differently, Warren’s “community” education plan will spend $20 billion of the federal budget to subsidize corporate workforce training through public-private partnerships between schools and companies. Hence, despite the “communitarian” labeling, Warren’s community-schooling reforms are essentially no different from the charter-schooling policies of Secretary DeVos, who has proclaimed that “[t]he best workforce is an educated workforce, and this Administration is committed to increasing access to career and technical education for college students and adults alike. By encouraging public-private partnerships, we can help connect students with prospective employers and provide those students with the necessary skills to find a good-paying job in their communities.”
Take a closer look at community-schooling legislation, which clearly defines community schools as “public and private partnerships” between businesses and government agencies contracted together to streamline “workforce” development through “pipeline services.” According to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), community-schooling “pipeline services” are basically synonymous with charter-schooling “career pathways,” both of which are polytechnical job-placement programs managed by public-private school-to-work partnerships between politically connected corporations in bed with state and federal governments:
- Section 4622 of ESSA states that “[t]he term ‘full-service community schools’ means a public elementary school or secondary school that—(A) participates in a community-based effort to coordinate and integrate educational, developmental, family, health, and other comprehensive services through community-based organizations and public and private partnerships.”
- Under Section 4625, ESSA mandates that federally granted community schools must stipulate the particular “pipeline services [that will] be coordinated and provided by the eligible entity and its partner entities” in order to facilitate the “comprehensive services” listed in Section 4623.
- Section 4623 of ESSA states that
[t]he term ‘pipeline services’ means a continuum of coordinated supports, services, and opportunities for children from birth through . . . career attainment. Such services shall include . . . the following: . . . (C) Support for a child’s transition . . . into the workforce . . . (E) Activities that support postsecondary education and workforce readiness, which may include job training, internship opportunities, and career counseling. (F) Community-based support for . . . students who are members of the community, facilitating . . . success in postsecondary education and the workforce.
In sum, community-schooling “career attainment” through “pipeline services” is the functional equivalent of “cradle-to-career” charter schooling through “career pathways” curriculums. Regardless of which way the rhetorical labels are spun, both “Democratic” community schools and “Republican” charter schools are public-private partnerships between government bureaucracies and crony-capitalist companies that pipeline students into career-pathways job placement to fulfill the workforce-development quotas which have been predetermined by a planned economy.
Socioemotional Workforce Conditioning:
If there is any substantive difference between community schools and charter schools, it is perhaps that the former is legally required to incorporate an array of public-private health and social services through “lifelong learning” programs that conglomerate workforce planning and healthcare into a single “educational” apparatus. By blurring the lines between economic management and health and human services under the singular banner of “education,” community SEL schools can streamline their career and healthcare pipelines through public-private partnerships with education-technology corporations that provide medical treatments to enhance school-to-work learning through socioemotional accommodations, such as occupational therapies prescribed according to each student’s digitalized psychological profile tabulated by ed-tech data-mining.
Section 4622 of the ESSA law states that, in addition to “job training” and “career counseling,” community-schooling “pipeline services” include “(G) Social, health, nutrition, and mental health services and supports.” By bundling “job” and “career” services together with “social” and “health” services, ESSA’s community pipelines convert schools into public-private headquarters for managing a planned economy through medical services administered to psychologically and socially engineer the student body into a workforce caste collective.
Moreover, the ESSA legislation states that community-school pipeline services must record accurate data pertaining to the socioeconomic and public health “needs” of the community school district while also keeping track of the data pertaining to the workforce-development and socioemotional-learning “outcomes” of the district community’s “lifelong” students. Section 4625 stipulates that federally granted community-school pipelines must submit to the Secretary of Education “(A) A needs assessment that identifies the academic, physical, nonacademic, health, mental health, and other needs of students, families, and community residents.” In addition, clause “(C)” states that federally financed community schools must also record “annual measurements” of pipeline “outcomes” data in order “to ensure that children are— . . . (iii) safe, healthy, and supported by engaged parents.” Therefore, to provide an accurate assessment of such health needs and outcomes of the community residents, federally funded community schools must accurately record epidemiological data pertaining to the health of different populations living in the school district.
In brief, to keep track of annual assessments that measure the needs and outcomes of career and health services, community-school pipelines are authorized to set up public-private contracts with education-technology corporations that “upgrade” student “competency” with “adaptive-learning” software and computerized biofeedback devices that data-mine students’ cognitive-behavioral and socioemotional-learning algorithms in real time for the purposes of diagnosing learning disabilities while digitally administering psychological therapies in order to medically accommodate a healthy workforce.
And there is more socioemotional-learning legislation in the mix to combine workforce training hand-in-hand with SEL conditioning. In addition to Elizabeth Warren’s presidential plan for “community-based” workforce SEL, a bill titled “The Social and Emotional Learning for Families (SELF) Act” was introduced on June 14, 2018, by Democrat US Representative of Ohio, Tim Ryan, whose pitch for the law proclaims that the SELF Act will improve the workforce competence of the student body:
[t]here is growing recognition that social and emotional skills are essential for students’ healthy functioning and positive academic outcomes. . . . It’s why I’ve introduced the SELF Act which promotes and encourages collaboration between schools and parents around the development of their students’ social and emotional skills. This partnership is not only beneficial to the student’s long term academic success, but necessary for them to be a productive member of the American workforce [sic].
Although the SELF Act of 2018 was never passed by Congress, Ryan is still pressing forward as he has now introduced the SELF Act of 2019. Additionally, during his 2019 campaign for the US presidency, Ryan repeatedly touted his call for workforce SEL.
The Edu-Corporation as Hospital, Ed-Technology as Doctor:
Not only do community SEL schools contract with the privatized healthcare industry to apply medical science to streamline workforce conditioning for a technocratically planned economy. But public-private community SEL partnerships also open the gates for private education-technology companies to secure government contracts for data-mining students in order to “scientifically” administer hi-tech cognitive-behavioral, socioemotional, and occupational therapies to medically treat students who have learning disabilities such as ADHD.
To be sure, Elizabeth Warren has promised that her community-school reforms will “crack down on anti-competitive data mining practices by educational technology companies” by “ban[ning] the sharing, storing, and sale of student data that includes names or other information that can identify individual students.” Nevertheless, notice that these reforms do not abolish student data-tracking; rather, these reforms are merely aimed at better anonymizing student data in order to improve competition between the ed-tech corporations that data-mine student learning algorithms. As a result, Warren’s public-private community schools will still hire education-technology corporations to data-mine students’ SEL algorithms despite her so-called “crackdown” on ed-tech Big Data.
Here’s a menu of corporate leaders in the socioemotional-learning industry that are primed to be favored for public-private SEL contracts with “progressive” community schools:
- Neurocore Behavioral Biofeedback: The corporate website of the Neurocore company states that it treats students with ADHD and other learning disabilities by providing hi-tech biofeedback therapies that utilize the operant-conditioning techniques of “positive reinforcement and repetition” to retrain students’ brainwave frequencies to conduce better attention and memory spans. In particular, Neurocore’s biofeedback-conditioning reprograms a student’s ADHD by utilizing quantitative electroencephalography (EEG) to monitor his or her brainwave responses to video stimuli; whenever the ADHD student exhibits an undesirable brainwave response that indicates distraction, the video stimuli is halted or altered until the student exhibits a focused brainwave response that indicates concentrated attention. It should be noted that Secretary Betsy DeVos sat on Neurocore’s board of directors until she was confirmed to the office of US Secretary of Education. Although DeVos has since resigned from the Neurocore board, she has refused to sell her shares in the company.
- Microsoft-Patented GSR Monitors: The Microsoft Corporation has recently been sending a series of applications to the United States Patent and Trademark Office in order to patent “smart fabric” technologies that are “woven” with computerized biosensors, such as “galvanic skin response monitors,” that can digitally track the wearer’s neuro-emotional status through “electrodermal activity” (EDA) and other biometric measurements which can be wirelessly transmitted through IT telecommunications across the internet-of-things. This Microsoft patent application comes several years after Microsoft Founder and CEO, Bill Gates, commissioned his tax-exempt Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to dump over $1 million dollars into “galvanic skin response” (GSR) bracelets that can biometrically gauge a student’s socioemotional engagement with classroom lessons and coursework. In 2011, the Gates Foundation poured $621,265 into the National Center on Time & Learning “to measure engagement physiologically with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Galvanic Skin Response to determine correlations between each measure and develop a scale that differentiates different degrees or levels of engagement.” Then, in 2012, the Gates Foundation issued a grant of $498,055 to Clemson University to “work with members of the Measuring Effective Teachers (MET) team to measure engagement physiologically with Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) bracelets which will determine the feasibility and utility of using such devices regularly in schools with students and teachers.” (It is worth noting here that the Microsoft Corporation has also developed an “emotion-analysis API [application program interface]” that is an artificial-intelligence (AI) software for detecting human emotions through facial recognition algorithms.)
- BrainCo EEG Conditioning: The BrainCo Corporation data-mines student brainwaves through computerized headbands that scan students’ electroencephalography (EEG) wavelengths to calculate students’ socioemotional “engagement” and cognitive-behavioral “focus.” Prototyped at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, BrainCo’s “Focus 1” headband was awarded the prize for “Most Innovative” ed-tech at the 2017 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference. BrainCo is also engineering Brain-Machine Interface (BMI) headbands which electronically administer cognitive-behavioral therapies that treat ADHD. It should be noted that the BrainCo company is funded by several Chinese firms such as Wandai Capital, Decent Capital, Han Tan Capital, and the China Electronics Corporation, which classifies itself as “one of the key state-owned conglomerates directly under the administration of central government, and the largest state-owned IT company in China.”
- Affectiva Behavioral Advertising: A data-aggregation company called “Affectiva” provides “predictive analytics” services that combine “behavioral advertising” algorithms with “student learning” algorithms in order to “personalize” both commercial ads and school lessons according to individualized psychological profiles. According to Professor of Education at Towson University, Morna McDermott McNulty, “Affectiva uses voice and facial recognition software to track real-time emotions of device users interacting with online content. That company [Affectiva] spun out of the MIT Media lab and contracts with global brands to test advertising campaigns; but it is also used to gather data about student engagement with online education programs.” It is quite telling that Affectiva’s SEL algorithms, which are programmed to scan students’ socioemotional engagement in response to digital learning stimuli, are in essence the same as Affectiva’s behavioral-advertising algorithms, which are programmed to data-mine consumers’ socioemotional engagement with commercial ads. By combining SEL with behavioral advertising, the Affectiva corporation is in a niche to win public-private community-schooling contracts to dispense ed-technologies that data-mine students’ job-competence algorithms to fill workforce-planning quotas.
- Akili “Videogame Prescriptions”: Clinical trials at Duke University have been completed for a prescription ADHD video game called AKL-T01, which is owned by the Akili Interactive Labs Corporation. According to Professor McDermott McNulty, the AKL-T01 digital prescription “looks and feels like a high-end video game, leveraging art, music, storytelling and reward cycles to keep patients engaged and immersed for the delivery of therapeutic activity with excellent compliance.” Akili Interactive Labs is also gearing up for “many other digital treatments in the pipeline.” McNulty demonstrates that “[i]f Akili attains FDA approval for their ADHD game and is able to get insurance companies to pay for it, an enormous new market for prescription digital therapies will open up.” In fact, there is a high probability that the FDA and the insurance industry will approve of Akili’s AKL-T01 and thereby set the precedent to open up government regulations for other socioemotional videogame therapies because the Akili company is heavily backed by the pharmaceutical industry, which is one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States. Merck Ventures, Amgen Ventures, PureTech Health, Canepa Healthcare, and Jazz Venture Partners have all poured a combined $72 million into the Akili Corporation.
Tragedy and Rope a Dope:
Beware of community-schooling reforms that neo-liberal demagogues, such as Elizabeth Warren and Tim Ryan, are hyping as the remedy to “school choice” charter privatization. Despite the “progressive” window dressing of “community-based” socioemotional learning, “leftwing” community schools are pushing SEL curriculums that implement corporate-government workforce conditioning administered through public-private “pipeline” partnerships with private companies such as Neurocore, Microsoft, BrainCo, Affectiva, and Akili.
As historicized in the academic tome, Tragedy and Hope, by Georgetown University Professor of History, Carroll Quigley, the same oligarchy of corporate-industrialists pilots both the left and right wings of America’s two-party political machine toward the same technocratically planned economy. Quigley, who was President Bill Clinton’s mentor, professed that
[t]he argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can “throw the rascals out” at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy. The policies that are vital and necessary for America are no longer subjects of significant disagreement, but are disputable only in details of procedure, priority, or method.
Indeed, more than fifty years after the publication of Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope, the policy “disagreements” between “liberal” community schoolers and “conservative” charter schoolers are merely “disputing” the “details” of how to “prioritize” the “methods” and “procedures” for corporate-government contracts that authorize public-private partnerships to “pipeline” or “pathway” students into medically diagnosed job castes prescribed to fulfill the workforce development quotas of a technocratically planned economy.
John Klyczek has an MA in English and has taught college rhetoric and research argumentation for over seven years. His literary scholarship concentrates on the history of global eugenics and Aldous Huxley’s dystopic novel, Brave New World. He is the author of School World Order: The Technocratic Globalization of Corporatized Education (TrineDay Books); and he is a contributor to the Centre for Research on Globalization, OpEdNews, the Dissident Voice, Blacklisted News, the Activist Post, News With Views, The Saker, and Natural News. His website is https://www.schoolworldorder.