The way billionaires and ideologues use big data to drive both election outcomes and education reform is an epic warning. It’s heartbreaking to see our Democracy betrayed in one election after another. Thousands of incumbents went unchallenged in the 2014 midterms thanks to legislatively packed and stacked districts where no voter has a real choice.
During this cycle, record breaking bucks were spent to create chaos with incessant mudslinging and manufactured “breaking poll results.” Substantive debates are off the table. The intent behind the hype is to use data to manipulate the media, make sweeping predictions and cause a disgusted 80% of all registered voters to give up their voice and stay home.
As in politics, data, testing, sorting, labeling and psychometrics are central to the education reform scheme. Both are obsessed with using data to predict outcomes, lure investors and marginalize average hard working Americans and their children. Parents and teachers know that high stakes testing, a dangerously narrowed curriculum, using test scores to justify teacher pay, alter school funding and deny high school diplomas is the result of a profoundly unfair use of data.
The fallacy behind Education Reform is the calculated rush to force small human beings at the dawn of their brilliance into mind-numbing sameness to justify a flawed social experiment. There will never be any room in Education Reform for creativity, spontaneity, critical thought, self-determination, joy or the breathing space to make mistakes and recover. The very things that make us human stand in direct contradiction to the use of big data to manipulate outcomes.
The same thing is true about elections. New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote in Death by Data:
“Over the past decade or so, political campaigns have become more scientific. Campaign consultants use sophisticated data to micro-target specific demographic slices. Consultants select their ad buys more precisely because they know which political niche is watching which TV show. Campaigns trial test messages that push psychological buttons.
….Unfortunately, the whole thing has been a fiasco. As politics has gotten more scientific, the campaigns have gotten worse, especially for the candidates who over-rely on these techniques.
That’s because the data-driven style of politics is built on a questionable philosophy and a set of dubious assumptions. Data-driven politics is built on a philosophy you might call Impersonalism. This is the belief that what matters in politics is the reaction of populations and not the idiosyncratic judgment, moral character or creativity of individuals.
Data-driven politics assumes that demography is destiny, that the electorate is not best seen as a group of free-thinking citizens but as a collection of demographic slices.”
So there it is. As in elections, data driven Education Reform is based on sorting children, even communities, into slices based on racial and economic demographics that somehow always reflect predicted test results. The reform boast that zip codes don’t determine destiny is disputed by the very data they collect and the outcomes they manipulate.
Big data proponents see everyone as sheep, willing to follow, easy to control. Using data in this way only benefits investors and ideologues.
The silent majority of hundreds of millions of free-thinking creative individual voters have the ability to restore our Democracy and give our children a truly powerful voice.