"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Welcome to the Classroom of 2021

After reading this article about tablets in school I couldn’t help but picture the classroom of the future and wonder whether teachers have tried this exercise for themselves.

Welcome to the classroom of 2021

The teacher has loaded the common cartridge for the morning.  All the students are sitting at their desks where the new pressure sensitive chairs read how they are sitting and adjust the digital material on the white board to try to keep their attention as long as possible.  The camera at the front of the room observes that a student in the back row has stopped watching the white board and is looking at something outside the window. Noting that her student file says her hobby is dancing, the cartridge selects a video from the massive support database that includes some children dancing to continue the lesson. The change is registered as effective as the student is now back to looking towards the front of the classroom.

By 8:45 the class has moved on to reading. Student 165789-F3 is working on her reading assignment on her school assigned tablet. The rest of the students are reading a paragraph about William Jefferson Clinton to fulfill their non-fiction reading requirement. The paragraph talks about how proud he is of his daughter who has just been elected state representative. The passages the software has chosen for 165789-F3 do not include any references to a father as she has never known her father and is unlikely to be able to answer a prompt about one.

In the seat next to her, student 178946-W2 has automatically been added to the school dinner program because the system has noted that his mother lost her job ten weeks ago and has not found new employment. His name is added to the late bus list and his homework adjusted downward because he will not be getting home until later now. His mother’s WIC funds have been adjusted to reflect that she will no longer need to provide this meal for her child.  All of this has seamlessly happened in the ether world to her state issued debit card.  The teacher gets an alert from the district of this change and tells 178946-W2 of his new schedule. She senses a slight welling of tears when he learns that he will have to be at school for an additional two hours in the afterschool program instead of at home and she promises to stay and get him settled in with the other kids there today.  This does not seem to have much of a calming effect on him. Though she knows all kinds of intimate details of his life, she is a relative unknown to him. His only relationship with her is to get suggestions for other websites he can log on to when he is stuck or as someone who can get broken tech fixed.

It’s 9:00 and already the teacher has had to log a tablet repair order and move student 49861-J4 to a different assessment station since the camera on the one he was at stopped working and was unable to complete his weekly formative assessment without knowing when he had turned his face from the screen, bored or frustrated with the questions for even a moment. The teacher is glad the camera is not registering her frustration. This is the 5th tech repair report she has had to make this week, and it’s only Wednesday.

Little 562890-R3 raises her hand and asks to be allowed to go to the bathroom for the second time today. The teacher sighs but allows her to go. As she walks out the door her student ID registers her move in her student file, triggering a visit to the community counselor in the office be scheduled to make sure there are no physical or emotional problems causing her frequent trips from the classroom. Sensors in the bathroom read her ID and assure that she has made it to the bathroom, how long she is there and log any other IDs that might be in there with her.

Back in the classroom the children have gathered for the morning math lesson. Today they will be covering shapes, whole numbers through 12,  angles, fractions (denominator only), and some idea of the area of a circle. The lesson requires them to draw a truck reflecting these concepts, talk among their group and agree on which part of the truck best represents the angle and the denominator.  The teacher goes around the classroom with her tablet and marks off the elements of the preset rubric designed for this assignment for each student.  She is glad she has this tool as she is not sure herself how to explain how we know the area of a circle to second graders who only know the bottom part of 22/7th.  

She notices that the group in the front of the classroom has already completed the assignment. No surprise there. Student 498615-J4 is part of that group and has secretly been getting supplemental lessons after school. That information isn’t in the system so she can’t accuse his parents directly, but there seems to be no other way he could be so advanced in his skills compared to the other students. Even if she had proof she wouldn’t say anything because he is helping her keep her job with his scores on the assessments. The other students are happy that 498615-J4 is part of their group. They always get good scores when they agree to his answers.

The teacher graduated in 2018. Her degree in global studies made her a great candidate for teaching. She wishes she had more credit hours in statistics though, which would help her make sense of her classroom and the daily reports she receives about her students.  It is hard for her to imagine the olden days when teachers, like Mrs. Jones down the hall in 5th grade, didn’t have all the SES data on their students to help them in the classroom.  How in the world would you pick the right lesson cartridge from the network if you  didn’t know things like how many single children you had or which ones slower progression might be due to low birth weight?

Mrs. Jones has just announced she is retiring at the end of this year. She, at age 36, is one of the oldest teachers in the school. Unlike some of her predecessors she is not moving on to an administrative role. She seems kind of wistful about it all. At lunch, she joins the younger teachers less and less in their conversations about  which website has the best digital master teachers and what the latest glitch in software has been. There was a time when Mrs. Jones talked more, tried to engage the other teachers in exploring other curriculum materials, questioned whether what they were doing was right for the children. That was before the closed door meetings with district administrators. Since then, Mrs. Jones has said little to the other teachers. When asked what she plans to do after she leaves, she has vaguely suggested something with homeschooling although it is unclear how much longer that will even be legal.  Nonetheless, she appears to be looking forward to leaving the public school.

If they haven't already, teachers really should be thinking about the future education reformers have envisioned for them.


  1. So very sad, but right on the mark. I know "some" children are given access to programs they can "play" with on their own time after school or at home. I wonder how changing the program to include an interesting icon might keep children from learning to how to stay focused on their own? Not everything is interesting, but must be worked through. This is just a sad view of how school will be very soon if this continues, completely managed.

  2. Aamzing....not in a good way, but too prophetic (like 1984)...this needs to be shared with the world, as it is what I truly fear coming true if we don't stop it.
    Keep up the good work as always!

  3. Remarkable piece Angie - You're a very good writer to start with, and this is one your best

    Now- If it was just science fiction instead of today's reality.. Soon our kids will have less freedom than worker bees ..


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