Today I came across a tweet that turned my stomach. The tweet referenced a promotion video from Hero K12, a “student behavior management” software provider that just raised $150 million of venture capital.
The video itself is only two and a half minutes, but the way they efficiently pack in so much of what is wrong in schooling today is remarkable. To put it bluntly, it was a bunch of behaviorist garbage. It makes the argument that students are animals that need to be conditioned to do what is expected of them through punishments and rewards. This is music to many educators’ ears, because they all know from their teacher training that the foremost priority in school is classroom management. And when classroom management is taken care of, then they can focus on what really matters—test scores.
Hero K12 attempts to walk through the benefits of their technology offerings by following imaginary students Chris and Jill through a day at school. Chris seems to be doing everything right. He starts the day off with a bang, showing up on time, and dressing just how the school wants him to dress. He gets a ticket for performing just how the adults expect him to. Jill, on the other hand, has a rough morning. She shows up late, and is immediately given a tardy pass, assigned detention, and has a message sent to her parents to remind them that Jill has already failed at school, just a few minutes into the day.
In class, students get rewards for completing academic assignments. The video does not tell us how Chris and Jill did, but let’s let our biases take over and assume that Chris did his assignment, and Jill could not seem to pull it together.
A behaviorist would expect that these rewards to confer some sort of special privileges, and Hero K12 shows us that it does. Because Chris got a reward ticket, he gets to skip the line at lunch. Perhaps this means that Chris can spend some extra time with his friends, or get caught up on schoolwork. Jill, because she is labeled a failure, must wait in line with the other failures. Her slow start to the day prevents her from getting the chance to get ahead.
The punishments and rewards continue to compound on themselves. Chris gets to go to the pep rally later in the day where he can let loose and have fun. Chris is a good boy, and gets to do good boy things. Jill, however, is a bad girl, so she must go to detention instead of going to the pep rally. Perhaps making Jill sit in a room by herself while everyone else is having fun will teach her to ‘act right.’
When Chris goes home he finds out that his principal called his parents to rave about what a wonderful student he is (based on behavior alone). Things just keep getting better for Chris, and perhaps this will give him the confidence to recognize his superiority over his classmates. For Jill, home may not be as welcoming.
Hero K12 reaffirms everything that is perceived to be right with Chris, and everything that is perceived to be wrong with Jill. However, what if Jill had a good excuse for being late? Like she needed to take care of a sibling in the morning because of a family emergency? Or what if she works a part-time job in the evening and is not getting enough sleep? It does not matter in the world of Hero K12, though, because only zeroes fail to show up on time.
On top of this, let’s imagine that Chris comes from an affluent white family, and that Jill comes from a lower income black or brown family. And let’s recognize that implicit bias colors how we interact with children. It does not take an expert in child psychology or education to understand that Hero K12 is not so much a solution for schools as it is a disaster for children. Hero K12 promises to promote a positive culture in schools, reinforce accountability, and recognize great students. But the reality is that they are simply putting a more efficient, tech oriented spin on the heavy compliance, no excuses approach that schools have been using as weapons against already marginalized students.
When you think that schools are not harming children enough on their own, you can likely find an EdTech company that can come in and finish the job.