Hack Education, as perhaps you've noticed, has been on hiatus for a while. What with the pandemic, the death of my son, and the publication of Teaching Machines, I really couldn't continue to pay attention to the day-to-day nonsense of ed-tech. (The book, in fairness, did have me focused on some of the mid-20th century nonsense.) And after taking a long break from "current events," I am not quite sure I'm ready to face any of it again.

But I suppose I must. There is no safety net for freelance writers and independent scholars; no bereavement leave; no institutional support to help me get through tough times. I need to get back to work — that is, I need to start earning some money again. I have toyed with the idea of leaving the field altogether, letting this website go dormant permanently. I thought about looking for a job here in the Bay Area where I could pretend to be an instructional technologist or project manager or something along those lines. But I'm not sure who'd hire me.

Thanks to an invitation to speak to the UN — part of a research project on ed-tech and the privatization of school — I was reminded that it'd be an uphill battle to launch a brand new career in a different or even adjacent field — particularly at my age, particularly if I want to be recognized as a global expert.

But then again, do I? Expertise is kinda weird these days.

I know that — whatever I do — it has to involve some political bent, some fight for a better future for everyone. And while my work for the past couple of decades has been on education and technology as the means/obstacle to justice, I'm not sure that's a fight I care to engage in. The past year-plus — "pandemic schooling" — has demonstrated how much of what I've said and done and written about has been pretty fucking pointless: the bullshit goes on. Indeed, in the chaos, folks have doubled-down on the very worst aspects of ed-tech, peddling the horrors of surveillance and control as yet education salvation.

Even though I haven't really been on social media for the past year, even though I haven't seen a single headline or read a single RSS feed about ed-tech, I bet I can tell you exactly what happened in 2021. I bet all the issues are the same as I've covered in my Year in Review essays in the past: surveillance, behaviorism, white saviorism, exploitation, extraction, control.

I can't keep throwing myself at the machine to the detriment of my well-being — mentally, physically, financially. It's time to do something a little different.

Rather than focusing my attention on the day-to-day ridiculousness of ed-tech, I'm going to continue to write essays on the history of ed-tech. I believe that these can help illuminate why schools and ed-tech take the shape they do today. Despite my passionate indifference to ed-tech as an industry, I do remain fascinated by the stories that we tell about the history of the future of education and how these narratives are often invented and wielded by those peddling educational reforms. The first essay, coming later this month, will be about one of the key technologies invoked this way: the school bell.

I also plan to start writing about some of the (histories of) technologies of health and "wellness." There's an important overlap here with ed-tech — not just due to the heavy reliance on pseudoscience. Much as, in the last few years, education reformers and entrepreneurs have sought to promote "social emotional learning" as a new avenue for kids' well-being — or rather, data collection and compliance — technologists and investors promote "wellness" for workers, parents, and citizens alike.

These non-ed-tech essays will appear on my personal website. All of my writing will go out on the HEWN newsletter — no longer the Hack Education Weekly Newsletter, but rather a monthly one. HEWN will continue to be free, but you can support my work via Patreon (or PayPal or Venmo) — or, you can hire me to speak to your class, conference, etc. I'll even talk about ed-tech, if that's what you really, really, really want. And pigeons. There will, of course, still be pigeons.

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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