SXSW Edu

How to Terrify Children and Stifle Creativity

by Kristin Powers

I attended the 2016 SXSWEdu conference in Austin, Texas this last week. Being from Florida, I thought that Texas would be a welcoming place for me, and my district got a wild hare to send someone to this conference. However, there was a serious lack of representation by educators, like myself, who believe in traditions. I’m from the South and proud of the legacy we’ve left for education. Why should we feel ashamed for being better at knowing who the problem kids are?! I expected a wide range of presentations like, “How to Kill Incentive Without Even Trying”, “Discipline and the Dictator in You”, or even “Shaming Students For Fun and Profit.” Instead, I witnessed an assault on my delicate sensibilities.

I lost count of the companies claiming innovation this, disruptive something or other, or blah blah blah holistic hootenanny. Where were all my corporal punishment supporters? Where were the dominating disciplinarians? What has happened to our education community? We’ve lost of sense of duty and we need to be reminded of why we became educators in the first place: to terrify children and stifle creativity.

I talked with Move at the exhibitor floor and learned that they think that students can’t learn when they are afraid. Ha! I’d dress up like a witch every day if it terrified them more to stay in their seats.  I was pleased that see that no one in Florida is a trying to “drive change in the education landscape” as a “Change Maker” School for the Ashoka Start Empathy program. Dang right, we like everything the way it is. We’ve traversed into dangerous ground starting to acknowledge that students have feelings that matter. This laughable movement of Social Emotional Learning is all touchy-feely, woo-woo nonsense. We all know children are simply sticky meat bags of snot and tears. They are not capable of rational thought and thus, any emotions they feel are simply extraneous to any conversation. You don’t have pencils at home? Cry me a river. You haven’t eaten all day? Suck it up buttercup. Some kid called you fat and embarrassed you? Well, you could stand to lose a few pounds. Trying to connect with children is like trying to have empathy for goldfish.

Another strange theme of the week was equity, access, and creating opportunities for students. I sat in on one session on Challenges with Student Success, thinking the idea was that we’d brainstorm new challenges for students to impede their success (what if we only gave them 15 minutes to do tasks that would take us an hour?). Instead it was a bunch of personalized learning dogma; who’s got time for that? There were even students talking like they have some authority over their learning! I wandered into a higher-ed focused event called ImagineCon that had several different companies and institutions who think that engaging, interactive curriculum and free textbooks are going to help students. How are they supposed to learn financial discipline if we don’t charge them $800 for textbooks we don’t use? Who’s going to teach them about exclusivity if we let everyone join online courses? Con is right; they are out to trick us with their shiny technology and fancy interwebs.

From the packed hallway, I thought this room called “Playground” was where teachers go to smoke between classes.  There was all this nerdy science stuff like VR field trips, students using satellites in space, robots to build and control, 3D printing, and a ridiculous amount of games. Yes, you read that right, games in education. I imagine that only clowns with no sense of instructional efficacy teach those “playful” classes. They should hand out red noses as swag next time, so we can spot the idiots who teach with games. I seriously had to stifle a laugh when I saw the “Electric Girls” booth; these people are trying to get girls engaged in STEM (which, incidentally, does not stand for Strict Teachers Encouraging Meanness).  Why would a woman ever want to seek out a software job? I just don’t get it.

SXSWEdu 2016 had the audacity to invite Todd Rose for the closing ceremonies who presented “scientific” evidence of how there is no average student and we can’t treat them all the same. If they didn’t want us to treat students the same, they wouldn’t give us standardized tests to do so, and we all know how great those have been at predicting student success. I was appalled at the amount of cheering that erupted out of sheer delusional participation. Go back home to your districts, sit your students down, and teach as you always have, because there was nothing good to learn this year in Austin. I will not be returning next year to this convention of lunatics who think they can make a difference and change lives.