A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from my friend Eli Luberoff, the founder and CEO of Desmos. It was news I'd been anticipating — dreading, really — for some time: the startup had been acquired. Amplify was buying its curriculum division; the calculator part would become a free-standing public benefit corporation. The subject of the email from Eli said "good news," and I don't mean to imply that it isn't a good deal for him, for his employees, for his investors, or for Desmos users. But for me, well, it was a sign of something else altogether. (That said, let's check back in in a few years and see how this all has panned out, okay?)
For a long, long time, if anyone asked me if there was any ed-tech I liked — and I would get this question a lot, often asked as though it was some sort of "gotcha" — I'd reply in a heartbeat, "Desmos." I adore Eli; and Desmos has always had a great team, including, of course, the incredible Dan Meyer (who I also adore, even though I blame him whenever I chose the slowest check-out lane in the grocery store.)
I loved that Desmos' free online graphing calculator subverted the $100+ graphing calculator racket — a racket controlled by a couple of manufacturers and a handful of standardized test companies.
But even more than that, I loved that the spirit and culture of the company, which despite providing an instrument for math, was not strictly instrumentalist. This is absolutely a rarity in ed-tech, where almost everything is touted for its supposed productivity, efficiency, time- and cost-savings, student or learning or behavior management. Better, cheaper, faster, smarter — those are the values that most folks in ed-tech like to tout. And yes, I'm sure plenty of teachers used Desmos that way. But that wasn't the intent of Eli or Dan or even necessarily the design of the instrument, the graphing calculator. Kids made art with Desmos; kids made art with math; and with the Desmos curriculum, kids deliberated with and about math, a learning practice that runs counter to this firmly-held belief we have that math, unlike other fields of knowledge, is merely about getting a right or wrong answer and that the best way to develop and wield mathematical knowledge in school is to fill out worksheets as quickly as possible.
Desmos never bent its design or its trajectory, even in response to the most mundane usage, towards what are these common practices and pedagogies of ed-tech: "we can help students do their homework faster" or "we can help teachers automate their grading" or "check out our features that showcase some bullshit metrics that our investors like to see."
Now that the company has been acquired, I don't have an answer when someone asks me that "gotcha" question. You got me: "Nope. There's not a goddamn thing." And that certainly means it's time for me to step away from ed-tech for good.
I’ve already taken time away from this site to grieve the loss of my son. I’ve taken time away to write and promote my book. I’ve repeatedly told myself that I’m just tired from all of it — death, the pandemic, [gestures widely] etcetera — and that eventually my passion will return. But I don't think it's going to. It's time to move on to something else. I cannot, I will not be your Cassandra any more.
This site won't go away — I'll still pay for the domain for a while longer, at least — but the HEWN newsletter, the Patreon, and all Hack Education-related social media will. You'll be able to find my latest writing on my personal website. Remember blogging? Yeah. I'll do that for a while until I can figure something else out. I have to put this decade-long project to rest so that I can move on to something that doesn't consume me in its awfulness and make me dwell in doom.