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Inside Higher Ed asked a group of “experts” “what should Ivanka Trump read in order to learn about education technology?” I submitted an answer but it was not what they were looking for. So I’m publishing my thoughts (or 500 words, at least) here.

Perhaps the better question is: what should Ivanka Trump not read in order to learn about education technology. It’s clear from her op-ed in The New York Post that she is quite familiar with the slogans and statistics that organizations like Code.org promote. She seems familiar too with the kinds of arguments readily found in tech and ed-tech industry publications and press releases: that computing is inevitable, and progress demands it. We have all heard these stories about the future: new technologies will make education more efficient, more accessible, more scalable; students’ education will become more “personalized”; and/or it will be increasingly oriented towards the demands of the technology industry and a “new economy” – “training” as Trump repeats five times in her op-ed.

“Learning” is only mentioned once. Lots of other words that might be used to describe the purpose of school – higher education or otherwise – are also missing from Trump’s essay. Curiosity. Civics. Citizenship. Scholarship. Research. The liberal arts. We can probably tell a lot already about her reading list by their absence, because again, this reflects the monomaniacal focus on framing education as about “skills” and jobs – a focus shared by the Trump administration and by the educational marketing and storytelling emanating from the tech industry.

Trump contends the White House will push for computer science to alter “not just what we teach, but how we teach.” This would require a shift not only in the curriculum but in the process, the pedagogy. But other than the repeated invocation of “training,” there’s no real sense of what a new pedagogical direction might involve – unless, that is, you read her call for more “problem solving” as some sort of twenty-first century update to “project-based learning.” But I don’t think Ivanka Trump has read much John Dewey.

Problem-solving, Trump suggests, is not being taught in schools today. Of course it is, but in her formulation – one that’s been repeated by former Obama administration officials recently as well – computer science is touted as “the universal language of problem solving.” This implies that all problems are technical problems; all problems are engineering problems. There are no problems of ethics, beauty, or justice – or rather, ethics, beauty, and justice are now subsumed under the realm of “code.” To see coding as a “universal language” also subsumes the needs to communities – scholarly and otherwise – to the needs of the tech industry, to the demands of global capital.

Trump has clearly read enough and knows enough already to recognize education technology is a perfect vehicle for Silicon Valley ideology. And there’s not much about much of that ideology – steeped in individualism and libertarianism – that she or her father oppose.

I’ve also written about Ivanka Trump’s ed-tech industry network – what we know about her ed-tech investments and the people who’ve also invested in the same (and same types of) companies. To claim that she’s uninformed about all this seems to be to be wildly naive.

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Audrey Watters


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