National Education Association Seems to Endorse Replacing Teachers With Computers



When all the teachers are gone, will America’s iPads pay union dues?


It’s a question educators across the country are beginning to ask after yet another move by our national unions that seems to undercut the profession they’re supposed to be supporting.


The National Education Association (NEA), the largest labor union in the U.S., published a shortsighted puff piece on its Website that seemingly applauds doing away with human beings working as teachers.


In their place would be computers, iPads, Web applications and a host of “devices” that at best would need human beings to serve as merely lightly trained facilitators while children are placed in front of endless screens.


The article is called, “As More Schools Look to Personalized Learning, Teaching May Be About to Change,” by Tim Walker.


Teacher-blogger Emily Talmage led the charge with a counter article on her site called “Anatomy of a Betrayal.” She outlined the NEA’s change from being critical of such initiatives to joining with the likes of Jeb Bush and various foundations, tech firms and school voucher advocates in celebrating it.


Make no mistake.


This is not merely an examination of changing teaching practices. It is a movement by tech giants to further standardize and privatize America’s public schools.


This isn’t to say that technology can’t enhance learning. But classroom teachers with any kind of experience know that simply plopping a child in front of a computer screen is a terrible way to do it. It’s the equivalent of having all your questions answered by an automated voice on the telephone versus being able to ask questions of a living, breathing person.


And they have the gall to call it “personalized learning” as if it were meeting all the needs of students one-on-one. It isn’t.


It’s one-on-one, but it isn’t meeting anyone’s needs except bankers, hedge fund managers, charter school operators and tech investors.


It’s a way to drastically reduce the cost of education for poor and minority students by removing the need for a teacher. It’s the educational equivalent of an automated cashier in the grocery store, but unlike at Giant Eagle, it doesn’t just tally your bill, it pretends to teach.


This is the definition of a McEducation. It’s the logical extension of policymakers who think that 5-week trained Teach for America recruits are equivalent to education graduates with four-five year degrees and years of classroom experience. They’re just replacing TFA recruits with Apps.


Don’t get me wrong. America’s public schools have a lot of problems. They’re segregated by both economics and race. The poor and minority schools are inadequately funded and inequitably resourced. They are forced to compete for what little money remains with charter school vampires who are allowed to spend it however they like with little to no accountability or transparency. More money disappears down the gullets of voucher schools to subsidize the rich and indoctrinate Christian fundamentalists. And to top it all off, our public schools are forced to give scientifically invalid standardized assessments that are incentivized to fail as many students as possible so the same corporations that make the tests can sell districts remediation materials. Meanwhile, a large portion of these profits earned off public schools are reinvested in lawmakers reelection campaigns so they’ll pass legislation that continues to treat our children as golden geese for business and industry.


The NEA should know that. We have more than enough enemies to fight. But instead of taking arms, our national unions have been racing toward the bottom to compromise and keep that proverbial seat at the table. They’ll fight for teacher tenure. They’ll fight right-to-work legislation. But policies that undermine the very fabric of the profession? NAH.



We saw the same thing with Common Core. Educators knew you can’t teach higher order thinking skills to children without first doing the groundwork of process. But the book publishers had new textbooks to market so the NEA backed a horse they knew was dead at the starting gate.


And now we have the tech giants – the Zuckerbergs and Gates – slobbering over the profits they can make by callously removing teachers from the equation.


I’ve seen this first hand.


My district has a one-to-one iPad initiative. For two years, each of my students has had a device in every class. It hasn’t dramatically improved learning. At best, it’s increased students’ computer literacy. At worst, it’s a toy that actually distracts from authentic learning.


They allow me, the teacher, to give all assignments digitally. But that requires the network to function perfectly, the devices to be fully charged, the assignments to be entered precisely, the students to engage with them correctly and creatively – when handing students a paper and having them hand it back is actually much more efficient.


They allow students to look up unfamiliar vocabulary quickly, but they rob students of the context skills necessary to know which definition is appropriate, and experience using prefixes, suffixes and roots.


They allow students to easily access infinite information but without the skills to critically read it. More kids read the summary on the Internet than read the book – and even then, they don’t understand it.


They allow students to make colorful Keynote presentations and iMovies, but do nothing to prepare them how to intelligently organize the materials.


And – worst of all – they convince number crunching administrators that assignments, tests and lessons can be given digitally with hours of screen time. As if that was equivalent to authentic learning.


That is the end goal.


Everyone knows it. Isaac Asimov wrote about it in 1954 with his classic science fiction story “The Fun They Had” about a future where computerized home schooling was the norm. But even in his story, kids felt like they were being cheated out of something important that their ancestors had experienced in a traditional public school setting.


Instead of heeding his warning, our unions are rushing to make that world a reality.


You don’t strengthen unions by undercutting the professionals they’re supposed to represent.


Somebody needs to tell our union leaders – preferably by replacing them.


17 thoughts on “National Education Association Seems to Endorse Replacing Teachers With Computers

  1. Thanks for this, Steven. That image you chose at the top is powerful. If you haven’t already seen this, take a look at the “American Revolution 2.0” report published by Global Silicon Valley Asset Management group to get a sense of how the tech takeover of education has been mapped out for years and is now unfolding right before our eyes:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right before our eyes is right as the strategy now comes to fruition in state upon state: Step one, begin the teacher blame game. Step two, legalize “VAM” test-score evaluations for all teachers. Step three, use VAM evaluation laws to fire more and more teachers. Step four, start ominously publishing the “looming teacher shortage” theory. STEP FIVE: bring in the technology-as-teacher billionaire takeover.


  2. Reblogged this on Exceptional Delaware 2017 and commented:
    The National Education Association leadership has sold out their membership and the students of America by endorsing this. Myself, along with several other bloggers, have been warning about this for years. We are at a crossroads, at this very moment. Wanting a seat at the table isn’t good. Because you are ON the table and the hedge fund investors are going to eat you alive.


  3. Please if you are going to Boston, we need some NBIs to address digital curriculum. You all are going to need to take major steps ASAP to salvage your profession and protect our kids.


  4. All true. It will be, I think an educational disaster. But teachers unions did it to themselves by deprofessionalizing first and then holding Evangelicals in contempt, when all they had to offer was treacly socialism. Charters and vouchers from now on. Private education is the only place education will be occurring henceforth. Sad end of a truly great and noble idea. Progressivism has failed the country. We all know what could be done, but conservatism will never pay for it.


    • Harlan, there’s much we agree on. However, I don’t think the unions have ever held Evangelicals in contempt. Perhaps everyone does now though – they overwhelmingly voted for Trump, a man who represents everything they say they’re against. As to “treacly socialism,” that’s been here since at least FDR, and it’s actually worked out pretty well. I doubt you’ll be giving up your social security or medicaid. We need to get beyond the far right lies as much as we do the far left ones. Clinton was a disaster. So is Trump. Time to join together to fight both sides for a future we can all believe in.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Here are the facts on NEA’s Digital Learning Policy. Unlike the misleading headline, NEA is not endorsing the replacement of teachers with technology. Read:
    I helped develop this policy while serving on the NEA Board. Do get your facts straight before making such false charges. @JimGrimesNEA


    • Jim,

      Thanks for responding. However, a policy statement is one thing and action is quite another. Your stated policy is unclear. You say you want to increase technology without minimizing a teacher’s role, but then you support programs that do just that. Many classroom teachers like myself have been forced to cede increasing amounts of class time to forcing students to sit in front of screens and do test prep. In my district, I had to do this to my students for two periods a week with iStation. Now there is pressure to use IXL. Where is the NEA fighting these measures? The answer: nowhere. You’re hypocrites. That is why teachers are writing articles criticizing their unions. That is why we took offense at this article. Despite any policy statements to the contrary, the NEA does not appear to be on our side on this. It is a feeling we are getting uncomfortably used to.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is pretty strong, but the piece on NEA’s website is to say the least ill advised.

    Our experience with the Humanities Research program at Montville Township high school is showing more and more how important the teacher will continue to be to the learning experience of students. With no initial introduction of material and guidance throughout the creative process, students are complaining they are lost and in some cases their frustration leaves them feeling like their high school learning process has left them less ready, knowledge wise for what they face in college.

    A more detailed piece with a stress on the teacher’s role would have been better received.


    • The people selling us this depersonalized learning keep telling us the teacher is essential. However, many of us in the classroom actually using these programs find that they are being used to subvert the teacher and authentic learning for big business profit. It is naive to assume that the people making billions from this are doing it solely for benevolent ends when they can make so much more by mechanization. Teachers need to take a stand and their unions should be on their side.

      Liked by 2 people

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