Promethean in a tent

I press my hand against the wall of the tent. I feel the wind resist me. I feel it’s cool whoosh up and over my protective tympanum. A staccato of drizzle, encouraged by the wind, greets my palm with dry percussion—promising wet. The membrane between my pocket universe of comfort and nature’s discourse is thin—tantalizing in the nearness of its offer of a disrobed Promethean. Where is your fire, Wind-drowned? Where is your spark, Nature-swallowed? Put your fur back on.

The deficit model is a business model

Update: A new version of this post is available on my main blog.

 

The deficit model is a business model. The assessment and edtech industries will not easily let it go. This business model prevents public education from changing. It turns charter schools into hyper-capitalist deficit model shrines enthralled with data collected for and viewed through their business model—losing sight of humanity and kids. Inclusive pedagogy based on strengths–not deficits–agency, collaboration, play, projects, and self-directed learning is a lot cheaper, which is a threat.

Edtech is built on the deficit model, compliance culture, and greed. Extend our vision beyond deficit ideology toward a school culture built on the social model—where communication is oxygen and inclusion is the normal.

I’m an autistic engineer working in the intersection of tech and publishing who contributed to the creation of a global open source community and one of the first distributed companies. We’re iterating the future of work and collaboration and making it inclusive.

Communication is oxygen, inclusion is the new normal, and the social model for minds and bodies are how we aspire to run our companies and communities. They’re how we design and build software for and with humans. We’re continuously learning and iterating. We’re continuously actualizing the aspiration and sharing what we learn with other creative communities as we all contribute to the shared, open heart of the internet—the heart to which companies offer their intellectual crown jewels as open source.

Learn and iterate with us. Education needs to join in. What we’ve learned building creative, inclusive communities and workplaces for adult creatives applies also to kids. Teachers and tech workers should be collaborating. Instead of buying cronyware from edtech corporations—contributing into the pockets of those destroying public education—use the tools and techniques of the rank and file tech workers building open communities, the workers trying to make collaboration, teams, technology, and the world more inclusive, ethical, and humane. Skip what edtech sells. Use what communities and workers use. Let’s collaborate. Go indie.

Start with communication. Give voice. Give voice to teachers. Give voice to students. Let them collaborate. Let them engage with the digital commons. This is how systemic change happens, with voices collaborating, with teams self-organizing. Communication is oxygen. Without it we will remain in the deficit model script—assessed into despondency and starved of resources.

Resist. Give voice. Communicate, collaborate, iterate, launch. Communicate is first—from it the others cascade.

I enjoy Audrey Watters’ annual reviews of the year in ed-tech. I recommend all ten parts of the 2016 ed-tech review.

  1. Wishful Thinking
  2. The Politics of Education Technology
  3. The Business of Education Technology
  4. ”Free” and “Open”
  5. For-Profit Higher Education
  6. The “New Economy”
  7. Credentialing
  8. Data Insecurity
  9. Personalization
  10. Inequality

These ten parts provide a structural, systemic view of ed tech. I excerpt from parts 1, 2, and 3 below. Read these excerpts, read the entire review, read Communication is Oxygen, and think about how you can build a district-wide collaboration infrastructure and an open by default culture that avoids snake oil and cargo cult shrinkwrap.

Expertise in an Age of Post-Truth

And here we are. A loss of faith in governments, governance, globalization, pluralism, polling, pundits, public institutions, private institutions, markets, science, research, journalism, democracy, each other.

“If the experts as a whole are discredited,” Hayes cautions, “we are faced with an inexhaustible supply of quackery.”

Education technology faces an inexhaustible supply of quackery.

Education Technology and (Decades and Decades of) Quackery

Education technology has faced an inexhaustible supply of quackery for quite some time – those selling snake oil, magic pills, and enchanted talismans and promising disruption, efficiency, and higher test scores. The quackery in 2016 wasn’t new, in other words, but it was notable. It is certainly connected to the discrediting of “expertise,” whether that’s teachers-as-experts or researchers-as-experts. (Students, of course, have rarely been recognized as experts – unless they fit the model of “roaming autodidacts” that society so readily lauds.)

What do we believe about education? About learning? How do we know, and who knows “knowing” in a world where expertise is debunked?

There’s little evidence of how these products or practices will improve teaching or learning. But there’s a ton of snake oil. And a lot of wishful thinking.

Education Technology and (Decades and Decades of) Wishful Thinking

The promise of education technology, like it or not, is mostly wishful thinking. Proponents of ed-tech insist that ed-tech is necessary; that without ed-tech, schools are outmoded and irrelevant; that “the future” demands it. But as I argued in a talk I gave at VCU in November, “the best way to predict the future is to issue a press release.” That is, the steady drumbeat of marketing surrounding the necessity of education technology largely serves to further ideologies of neoliberalism, individualism, late-stage capitalism, outsourcing, surveillance, speed, and commodity fetishism.

Grief and Loss and Education Technology

Perhaps it’s time to ask why – why this is the ritual and the story that education continues to turn to? It has, after all, for at least one hundred years: the promise of teaching machines. What is the loss that we are suffering? What are we grieving? Why are we in this fog of educational make-believe? Why are we so wrapped up in the magical thinking and wishful thinking of education technology? What do we hope the practices of ed-tech will deliver, will relieve? What are we hoping to preserve? What are we hoping to absolve? What might we afraid to admit has died? Why is wishful thinking, in and through and with education technology, a balm for so many of us?

At what point should we just let go…

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: Wishful Thinking

The Politics of Education Technology

The business of education technology overlaps with the politics of ed-tech. The politics overlap with privacy. Privacy overlaps with “personalization,” and surveillance overlaps with data collection and analytics and algorithmic decision-making. Coding bootcamps are related to for-profit higher ed, which is connected to credentialing which is connected to accreditation, which is connected to politics. Challenges to accreditation and certification and the steady drumbeat of “everyone should learn to code” are connected to politics as well as to the business of ed-tech.

Then there’s the question: what counts as “ed-tech”? One of the flaws, I think, of much of the reporting on education technology is that it treats “ed-tech” as a product without a politics and without a practice. It also treats “ed-tech” primarily as a product built by engineers, not for example, constructed through the practices of educators or students themselves – problems with education are, in this framework, engineering problems. This reporting treats “ed-tech” as a product built in and by Silicon Valley, not as something built in and by public institutions around the world. It treats “ed-tech” as the result of markets and industry and “innovation,” and not as the result of policy or history. The reporting often isolates education technology from other developments in the computer technology sector and tends to isolate education technology from education politics and policies more broadly (unless, of course, those policies dovetail with the political interests of ed-tech and ed-reform, which they often do).

There is No Technology Industry (There is Only Ideology)

There is no ‘technology industry’,” technology writer and entrepreneur Anil Dash wrote in August.

Put simply, every industry and every sector of society is powered by technology today, and being transformed by the choices made by technologists. Marc Andreessen famously said that “software is eating the world,” but it’s far more accurate to say that the neoliberal values of software tycoons are eating the world.

Every industry uses computers, software, and internet services. If that’s what “technology” means, then every company is in the technology business – a useless distinction. But it’s more likely that “technology” has become so overused, and so carelessly associated with Silicon Valley-style computer software and hardware startups, that the term has lost all meaning. Perhaps finance has exacerbated the problem by insisting on the generic industrial term “technology” as a synonym for computing.

…There are companies that are firmly planted in the computing sector. Microsoft and Apple are two. Intel is another – it makes computer parts for other computer makers. But it’s also time to recognize that some companies – Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook among them – aren’t primarily in the computing business anyway. And that’s no slight, either. The most interesting thing about companies like Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook is that they are not (computing) technology companies. Instead, they are using computing infrastructure to build new – and enormous – businesses in other sectors. If anything, that’s a fair take on what “technology” might mean as a generic term: manipulating one set of basic materials to realize goals that exceed those materials.

When I write – here and elsewhere – about the politics of education technology, I am interested in these very things: organizations, practices, relationships, ideologies. The politics of education technology shape and are shaped by, as Franklin argues, our ideas of power. And as Bogost and Dash both caution, it’s a mistake to fetishize the tech as product – in ed-tech and elsewhere – especially at the expense of scrutinizing technology in its ubiquity and as ideology.

“Tech” and the Presidential Election

Facebook will appear again and again in this year-end series. Facebook and wishful thinking. Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s education investments. Facebook and personalization. Facebook and algorithmic discrimination. It is one of the most powerful (and frightening) companies – and it has its eyes on “disrupting” education.

President-Elect Donald J. Trump

This isn’t simply a matter of subverting the value of education as a public good. It’s about attacking education as a vehicle for social justice. Some speculate that Trump might dismantle the Office for Civil Rights, for starters, which enforces the compliance for Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and other federal civil rights laws.

The Obama Administration (in Its Final Year) and Education

I’ll write about the Obama Administration and for-profit higher ed in a subsequent post in this series. (And don’t think for a minute I won’t talk about Trump University in all its gruesome details.) I’ll also cover the various efforts to address college affordability in another post, in part through issuing a “scorecard” to help prospective college students decide which school to attend. And in another post, I will look at the administration’s efforts to promote STEM and CS education via the Computer Science For All initiative launched in January; in yet another I’ll look at its efforts to encourage schools use open educational resources via the GoOpen initiative which it launched last year. I also plan to talk about the administration’s support for charter schools (and how charter school chains act as test-beds for software companies, as well as how their missions dovetail with a push for “personalization”). I’ll talk more elsewhere about how testing, about how testing has and hasn’t changed (and might and not changed) – under Obama and thanks to the “opt-out” movement and because of the re-authorization of ESEA (now known as the “Every Student Succeeds Act” rather than “No Child Left Behind”).

See? It’s all interconnected.

Accessibility and Technology (and the Role of Governments and Corporations)

Access to the Internet – at home and at school – has, obviously, been key to education technology initiatives. Bandwidth is necessary, and schools still struggle to provide it, particularly in rural areas.

Certainly access to the Internet for the purposes of education isn’t just about access at school.

In February, CoSN, the Consortium for School Networking, called broadband access outside of school a “civil right” for students.

Education Technology and Political Corruption

The word “kleptocracy” is already being used to describe the incoming administration. And I guess we’ll have to wait-and-see how technology companies and education technology companies will try to benefit from an era of backroom deals and deregulation.

Or, we could look at a couple of dealings – pre-Trump – that occurred this year to see how some in ed-tech operate.

Yes, Epipens count as “ed-tech.” And yes, this is how the politics of the business of ed-tech works. If anything, the privatization and profiteering that Trump’s election portends is just a difference of speed and degree.

Ed-tech, Civil Rights, and Academic Freedom

Who stands in the way of education’s horrors?

Well, students for starters.

Education technology has become inextricable from education reform in recent years – from efforts to improve test scores and bust unions and built charter schools to those that reframe the civic responsibility of education as an individual, “personalized” product.

Who benefits? Who benefits when public education is dismantled and “disrupted”? And who benefits when entrepreneurs and investors get to define “equity”? Who do their policies and who do their rhetoric really serve?

At the end of 2016, the most pressing question is not, as a recent Edsurge headline asked, “Who Thinks Tech Makes Learning More Fun?” Let me suggest some better ones: what role does education technology play in spreading hate and harassment? What role does education technology play in undermining equity and democracy? Can education technology play any role in resistance?

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: The Politics of Education Technology

What Do Venture Capitalists Want?

Some of these areas that are popular for investment do coincide with the popular narratives about “the future of education” – “everyone should learn to code,” for example. But some of them, like the explosion in startups offering private student loans, suggest something is happening quite contrary to the narratives of “free and open,” not to mention to a tradition of publicly funded education or the policies of federal financial aid.

Glaring in its absence from this list: “personalization,” one of the most trumpeted technology “solutions” this year. … Even without funding data to underscore its importance, “personalization” can’t be dismissed.

The word is a crystallization of ed-tech ideology: through technology, teaching will become radically individualized as learners’ lessons are reduced to the smallest possible piece of content, then presented to them algorithmically. Moreover, per this ideology, without the aid of algorithms and “personalization” technology, human educators and traditional institutions have historically failed to meet the needs of individuals as individuals. The responsibility for education therefore must shift to technology, away from the institution, to the individual, away from the public or civic.

The ideological and financial shift from public to private is exemplified by venture philanthropy – that is, venture capital investments framed as charity.

Wealthy individuals often assume that philanthropic donations should be received in gratitude, Reich said, because it’s better for the public than purchasing another house or another boat. “That’s just false to me,” he said. “It’s an exercise of power aimed at the public, and in a democratic society, power deserves attention and scrutiny, not gratitude.”

The Elephants in the Ed-Tech Room

For the last five or six years, education technology has been largely talked about in terms of “startups,” something that helps position the industry as an outsider and an underdog. Of course, most of ed-tech is neither. It’s built and sold by giant corporations.

These are the companies that sell the textbooks; these are the companies that sell the tests.

In response to all these ongoing problems with testing, the Obama Administration said in April it would “take action” in order to “ensure fewer and better tests for students.” “Taking action,” in this case, meant releasing some case studies and posting a notice on the Federal Register about how a competitive grant program could provide a more “innovative” way to build assessments.

Everything’s a business opportunity.

But this notion of an “OS War” shouldn’t be too quickly dismissed. “Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google Are Fighting a War for the Classroom,” Edutechnica wrote in June, with a look at how many colleges have adopted their competing “pseudo-LMSes.” The “war” extends beyond the productivity suite of tech tools and it extends beyond operating system in the classroom. It’s about building brand allegiance with students and/as workers, and it’s about building data profiles to sell ads and other products.

The LMS, of course, needn’t be a permanent line item in schools’ budgets. And its supposed primacy might actually overlook that there’s a great deal of “shadow” technology utilized by instructors who eschew the official LMS for something they find better suited to their classroom needs and goals.

The Procurement Problem

The learning management system is a piece of “enterprise” software after all. That is, it’s built and bought to satisfy the needs of the institution rather than the needs of individual. Purchasing an LMS – or more correctly, signing a contract to license an LMS – requires its own enterprise-level bureaucracy.

There’s a lot that’s wrong with the process, no doubt. For starters, the hefty RFP requirements almost by design tilt purchasing decisions towards big companies and incumbent players. The folks who make the decisions about what to buy typically aren’t the people who are using the products in the classroom.

There’s not a lot of transparency in the procurement process; nor is it easy to find out afterwards which products schools bought or use – although that’s not something you hear companies moan about, funnily enough. You’re just supposed to trust them when they brag they’re used in 90% of schools. (USC professor Morgan Polikoff’s research on textbook adoption, for example, has made this painfully clear. He’s sent FOIA requests to school districts, and in many cases they have been unwilling or unable to share their textbook data. And when they do, the data is often a mess.)

But by and large, procurement issues are a problem identified by companies that companies decide they will “fix” in turn: “Try Before You Buy,” Edsurge reported in June. “Clever’s ‘Co-Pilot’ Aims to Help Schools Pilot and Purchase.” Indeed, an increasingly popular service offered by ed-tech companies and ed-tech investors is “research” into how to buy ed-tech and into which ed-tech products are best, which “work” (whatever that means).

(These companies almost all share the same investors too. And the beat goes on.)

One of the ways in which ed-tech startups have found success in getting their products widely adopted is to sell to charter schools, particularly charter school chains. (Again, they often share the same investors.) Charter school chains, in turn, have started to license their products and franchise their models to others. As such, it’s difficult to separate “the business of education technology” from “the business of charter schools” – and why it’s difficult, as I noted in the previous article in this series, “the politics of education technology” from “the politics of education reform.”

Disrupting the Culture of Public Education

I’ve argued elsewhere that education technology serves as a “Trojan horse” of sorts, carrying with it into public institutions the practices, politics, and a culture of private business and the ideology of Silicon Valley. This is evident in the ways in which you hear many investors and entrepreneurs talk about what needs to happen to schools – that they need to become more efficient; they need to be more like “lean startups” and redesign themselves as a “minimum viable product”; they need to “unbundle,” “unbundle,” “unbundle”; they need to rename job titles and rethink job roles – “learning engineers” or “entrepreneurs-in-residence,” for example; they need to turn to markets, not politics or publics, for solutions.

If you’re looking for a quick read – one that’s hilariously awful – about the culture of startups in order to convince yourself this is the last thing we should bring to public education, I recommend Dan Lyon’s book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, published this spring.

What VC Spells for Sesame Street

In February, Sesame Workshop, the maker of Sesame Street, announced it was launching a venture capital arm in order to invest in startups because everything is terrible. It’s first startup investment – a tutoring app. It also invested $53 million in a VC fund run by Reach Capital, formerly NewSchools Venture Fund.

Sesame Workshop has also partnered with IBM, to extract data from preschoolers in the name of “research” into the “personalization” of early childhood education.

Of course, what drives the programming on Sesame Street now isn’t education research; it’s market research. It isn’t “equity” as in social justice; it’s “equity” as in the financial stake a VC takes in a company.

And that’s what “the business of education technology” gets us.

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: The Business of Education Technology

Marketing the Mindsets

Intertwined with the push for “personalization” in education are arguments for embracing a “growth mindset.” The phrase, coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, appears frequently alongside talk of “personalized learning” as students are encouraged to see their skills and competencies as flexible rather than fixed. (Adaptive teaching software. Adaptive students.)

The marketing of mindsets was everywhere this year: “How to Develop Mindsets for Compassion and Caring in Students.” “Building A Tinkering Mindset In Young Students Through Making.” “6 Must-Haves for Developing a Maker Mindset.” The college president mindset. Help wanted: must have an entrepreneurial mindset. The project-based learning mindset. (There’s also Gorilla Mindset, a book written by alt-right meme-maker Mike Cernovich, just to show how terrible the concept can get.)

“Mindset” joins “grit” as a concept that’s quickly jumped from the psychology department to (TED Talk to) product. Indeed, Angela Duckworth, who popularized the latter (and had a new book out this year on grit), now offers an app to measure “character growth.” “Don’t Grade Schools on Grit,” she wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times. But there are now calls that students should be tested – and in turn, of course, schools graded – on “social emotional skills.”

Promising to measure and develop these skills are, of course, ed-tech companies. Pearson even has a product called GRIT™. But it’s probably ClassDojo, a behavior tracking app, that’s been most effective in marketing itself as a “mindset” product, even partnering with Carol Dweck’s research center at Stanford.

Ben Williamson argues that ClassDojo exemplifies the particularly Silicon Valley bent of “mindset” management:

The emphasis … is on fixing people, rather than fixing social structures. It prioritizes the design of interventions that seek to modify behaviours to make people perform as optimally as possible according to new behavioural and psychological norms. Within this mix, new technologies of psychological measurement and behaviour management such as ClassDojo have a significant role to play in schools that are under pressure to demonstrate their performance according to such norms.

In doing so, ClassDojo – and other initiatives and products – are enmeshed both in the technocratic project of making people innovative and entrepreneurial, and in the controversial governmental agenda of psychological measurement. ClassDojo is situated in this context as a vehicle for promoting the kind of growth mindsets and character qualities that are seen as desirable behavioural norms by Silicon Valley and government alike.

ClassDojo is, Williamson argues, “prototypical of how education is being reshaped in a ‘platform society.’”

Personalization in a Platform Society

Far from being neutral platforms for everyone, social media have changed the conditions and rules of social interaction.” In this new social order – “the platform society” – “social, economic and interpersonal traffic is largely channeled by an (overwhelmingly corporate) global online infrastructure that is driven by algorithms and fueled by data.”

We readily recognize Facebook and Twitter as these sorts of platforms; but I’d argue that they’re more pervasive and more insidious, particularly in education. There, platforms include the learning management systems and student information systems, which fundamentally define how teachers and students and administrators interact. They define how we conceive of “learning”. They define what “counts” and what’s important.

They do so, in part, through this promise of “personalization.” Platforms insist that, through data mining and analytics, they offer an improvement over existing practices, existing institutions, existing social and political mechanisms. This has profound implications for public education in a democratic society. More accurately perhaps, the “platform society” offers merely an entrenchment of surveillance capitalism, and education technologies, along with the ideology of “personalization”, work to normalize and rationalize that.

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: Education Technology and the Ideology of “Personalization”

WordCamp and Education

WordCamp US is happening right now. This is one of the main events for the WordPress community, where we do the State of the Word address. Check out how a worldwide community of creatives comes together.

https://twitter.com/hashtag/WCUS 

https://2016.us.wordcamp.org/

WordCamps are chock full of professional development and inspiration for project-based learning.

https://2016.us.wordcamp.org/schedule/

We livestream it for free.

https://2016.us.wordcamp.org/live-stream/

After the event, all videos and slides go up on WordPress.tv.

https://wordpress.tv/category/wordcamptv/

This is a trove of learning, all for free. When we work and share in the open, we change life scripts.

The State of the Word for 2016 is coming up later today.

http://wordpress.tv/?s=state+of+the+word

@charlie3 and @camworld, educators bringing open to schools, are both at WCUS. @camworld is speaking on WordPress for Schools.

I mention @camworld and the Newark school district here.

https://hypubnemata.me/2016/08/05/communication-is-oxygen/#wordpress

And, I mention @charlie3 and Penn Manor here.

https://hypubnemata.me/2016/11/03/the-open-schoolhouse/

https://hypubnemata.me/2016/08/05/communication-is-oxygen/#the-open-schoolhouse

Presentations of interest to education

I’ll update this as slides and videos are uploaded.

BuddyPress as the Foundation for Training, Distance Learning and Support for Business and Government

Inclusive Education

I’m a parent of two of neurodivergent kids in Dripping Springs ISD. I advocate neurodiversity, the social model of disability, universal design for learning, and inclusion as frameworks for the ethical and compassionate treatment of neurodivergent kids—and all kids.

This primer on neurodiversity and the social model defines terms and offers the self-advocacy perspective. Please invest a moment in getting in touch with the modern neurodiversity and disability movements. Understanding our point of view and listening to our feedback is vitally important to the future of education and work.

Education, Neurodiversity, the Social Model of Disability, and Real Life – Ryan Boren

For education to succeed, it must move from the medical and deficit models to the social model. Unfortunately, education in Texas is out of touch and inaccessible. We need vision beyond the deficit and medical models.

Inclusion > special

We need vision beyond grit and bootstraps.

Growth Mindset and Structural Ideology

The project-based learning DSISD is attempting is a positive step toward inclusive education. Teams are the magic of creative industries. Silicon Valley understands the value of teams, particularly diverse and inclusive teams. Companies employing creatives increasingly understand what education must now understand, inclusion is the new normal.

Inclusion is the new normal

Corporate Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity & Inclusion is a priority at my company, Automattic. We’re not the only ones. There is a rising international Diversity & Inclusion movement, starting in tech. Experimental micro-credential systems are working on Inclusion badges. As pipelines shift from the language of degrees to the language of skills and badges, an inclusion micro-credential will be valuable in industries that increasingly run on diverse, inclusive teams.

Agile and Scrum in Education

Contributor Covenants, Codes of Conduct

To be compatible with contributor covenants and codes of conduct that are a norm in creative communities, public education must be inclusive. The efforts of Texas Values against a transgender student at DSISD breaks the codes of collaboration. Their values are incompatible with neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and the codes of conduct that apply to much of corporate America.

In an era of massive software driven change, the culture of public education should be compatible with the norms of agile teams and distributed collaboration. Self-organizing teams working in open by default, inclusive by default cultures build great things. This is the present and future of work. What we’ve learned over decades of iterating development culture for adult creatives applies also to students.

Our market is the world. Our audience is the world. Designing for the lived experiences of the full spectrum of human diversity requires working inclusively.

Inclusion is the new normal. Inclusion is the way to our boldly better future. Diversity is a fact of the modern world that is good for society and good for business.

Inclusion is the new normal

Regards,

Ryan Boren

Dripping Springs, TX

About

DSISD Commons #8

In this one,

  • Dyslexia and shame
  • Open Education Pedagogy
  • Compliance culture and school to prison
  • The False Promise of Education
  • Special Education in Texas
  • These kids were bursting to tell someone
  • Created serendipity
  • Average social sensitivity and psychological safety in teams
  • Eye contact and neurodiversity
  • Connected Students and Explicit Instruction
  • Critical thinking
  • Coding, Education, and Teams
  • Writing in education in the age of collaboration

Dyslexia and shame

Most schools and reading programs designed for remediation of dyslexia are based on the idea that dyslexia equals brokenness. Their aim is to transform the child into a person who can read without problems. But I’m here to tell you that’s just wrongheaded. I’ve learned that if you make your primary goal teaching your child to read or spell just like every other child, you’re going to decrease your child’s chances of achieving success. It’s like telling a person in a wheelchair that she needs to put in more time to learn how to walk.

I am introducing these terms to address an underlying bias in our schools: that eye reading is the only form of reading. You can help move the needle on this limited assumption by using the terms eye reading, ear reading, and finger reading yourself and explaining them to your child. We need to celebrate children’s love of ideas and quest for knowledge and give them permission to not like standard books at the same time! When we give kids opportunities to gather information and explore ideas in other ways, they will thrive.

Focusing on eye reading overlooks the real goals of education, which are learning, independent thinking, and mastering the ability to make new connections in the world of ideas.

A central theme in this book is that we must question what we are taught is the “normal” way to do things, and instead integrate multiple ways for our children to access information.

Source: Foss, Ben (2013-08-27). The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning (Kindle Locations 387-389). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

For more, see Ben Foss on Dyslexia and Shame .

Open Education Pedagogy

Puyallup provides the following advice to other districts thinking about using OER and joining the #GoOpen movement:

1. Free is good, but open is better. The ability to remix and adapt is more important than just free access – it allows you to keep the focus on teachers, honors their professionalism and improves their practice.

2. Think carefully about your platform. If you truly want to share and be open, you need a method of delivery that is accessible to all.

3. OER allow us the opportunity to be 100% aligned to standards. You have to do the work up front to align the materials, or you will lose out on the power of OER to address core instructional needs.

4. Recruit teachers to be ambassadors of OER – their enthusiasm will help to sustain the work.

Source: Puyallup School District: Investment in Teachers – Office of Educational Technology

For an open platform that provides accessible delivery to all, see Communication is oxygen. Build a district wide collaboration infrastructure and an open by default culture.

Compliance culture and school to prison

A collection of links on compliance culture and pipelines.

The False Promise of Education

This piece is chock full of structural ideology and systems thinking. I worked it into my piece on Growth Mindset and Structural Ideology.

But education cannot guarantee opportunity — it’s government policy and economic practices that increase or decrease the likelihood of success. The centrist promise of education is a false promise. This doesn’t mean education cannot be a force of positive social change, just that in its current incarnation, US education discourse simply works to release those with influence from the responsibility of making a social system that supports working people.

This is the centrist’s promise about education: getting an education will save your life; education will be the difference between success and failure. If your house, which also serves as a private daycare, catches fire — and you’re a single mother and have to work twelve hours a day — school will provide a way out. If your company lays you off after thirty years of service, don’t worry, you can get an education and switch careers.

Millions of new workers will enter the job market in 2017, graduating from their “paths to opportunity.” Yet the path to opportunity might not end up anywhere in the face of sluggish to moderate job creation. The number of graduates doesn’t correlate with the number of available jobs. It’s like saying if we teach people how to play musical chairs well enough, everyone will get a seat.

Education’s real promise is that it is one site among many others in the struggle to transform the social structures that create inequality.

Schools don’t necessarily make a better society; they simply get people ready for the society that exists. Recognizing this doesn’t mean giving up on the radical potential of education or descending into a vulgar or mechanistic view of education.

Blending the lessons of the reproductive view and resistance theory provides a crucial, materialist reality check on the centrist view of school. We must fix the social structures which create inequality and poverty in the first place.

If you want most people to be successful in the economy, the economy itself has to work for most people. It won’t matter if most people work harder in school, or if we reform school ad inifinitum. Schools will largely reproduce the existing conditions of the economy, not serve as compensation for the economy’s faults.

But just because getting a job requires having a degree doesn’t mean that more and better schooling will cause there to be more available positions society-wide. To get a job, you have to have a degree. But you don’t have to get a job because you have a degree.

This causal sleight of hand is symptomatic of the centrist promise. Schooling will not cause economic equality in an unequal economy, but it will certify people to find positions within that unequal economy. It may successfully lead folks to positions within society, but it won’t necessarily lead them to social success.

These data show that wealth goes to the wealthy, not the educated. At the macro-level, there is no relationship between socioeconomic success and schooling.

If the centrist promise were true, then greater educational attainment for the broader US population should have coincided with more economic success for more people. If schools create real opportunities for socioeconomic success, there should have been decreasing income inequality as the general population became more educated.

This is clearly not the case.

Schooling cannot control the number or kind of jobs available in an economy.

They articulated a more critical position on education, arguing that public education is part of a broader process of social reproduction: schooling activities correspond to existing echelons of social hierarchy and opportunity, preparing students for positions within that hierarchy. Schooling does not lead to opportunity in the sense that it creates opportunity; it simply prepares students to exist (or not exist) within the opportunity structure that the government and economy create.

Source: The False Promise of Education | Jacobin

Special Education in Texas

Inaccessible, inhumane, and in need of inclusion, neurodiversity, and the social model.

These kids were bursting to tell someone

@sara_ann_marie presents Design for Real Life in 50 minutes. Included is an anecdote about how lowering communication barriers even a little can help kids.

Design for Real Life

Created serendipity

Collaborate and seek perspective in the commons.

Average social sensitivity and psychological safety in teams

This piece on iterating teams at Google offers interesting insight on social sensitivity and psychological safety. I pulled several quotes here. Here are a handful on teams and psychological safety.

In Silicon Valley, software engineers are encouraged to work together, in part because studies show that groups tend to innovate faster, see mistakes more quickly and find better solutions to problems. Studies also show that people working in teams tend to achieve better results and report higher job satisfaction. In a 2015 study, executives said that profitability increases when workers are persuaded to collaborate more. Within companies and conglomerates, as well as in government agencies and schools, teams are now the fundamental unit of organization. If a company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people work but also how they work together.

Google’s People Operations department has scrutinized everything from how frequently particular people eat together (the most productive employees tend to build larger networks by rotating dining companions) to which traits the best managers share (unsurprisingly, good communication and avoiding micromanaging is critical; more shocking, this was news to many Google managers).

Norms are the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather: One team may come to a consensus that avoiding disagreement is more valuable than debate; another team might develop a culture that encourages vigorous arguments and spurns groupthink. Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. Team members may behave in certain ways as individuals — they may chafe against authority or prefer working independently — but when they gather, the group’s norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team.

As the researchers studied the groups, however, they noticed two behaviors that all the good teams generally shared. First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. ‘‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,’’ Woolley said. ‘‘But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.’’

Within psychology, researchers sometimes colloquially refer to traits like ‘‘conversational turn-taking’’ and ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ as aspects of what’s known as psychological safety — a group culture that the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’

Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,’’ Edmondson wrote in a study published in 1999. ‘‘It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.

Google, in other words, in its race to build the perfect team, has perhaps unintentionally demonstrated the usefulness of imperfection and done what Silicon Valley does best: figure out how to create psychological safety faster, better and in more productive ways.

‘Don’t underestimate the power of giving people a common platform and operating language.’

Source: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – The New York Times

I worked this into my piece on Agile and Scrum in Education.

Eye contact and neurodiversity

Don’t force eye contact. Gaze aversion is a sensory processing tool, one necessary to managing overwhelm.

Source: Eye Contact and Neurodiversity – hypubnemata

Connected Students and Explicit Instruction

“The new information economy, as opposed to the older industrial one, demands more innovation and less imitation, more creativity and less conformity.” In other words, this isn’t just about doing school “better.” It’s about transforming our work.

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology.
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally.
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.
  • Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information.
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts.
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.

Regardless of how we define the skills needed by today’s global graduates, however, it’s undeniable that these needs will continue to morph as our ability to create and share expands and as we face increasingly complex global challenges—climate change, workforce shifts, changing demographics, the growing global threat of terrorism and violence, and more. That’s why, as the late Seymour Papert (1998) said,

The one really competitive skill is the skill of being able to learn …. We need to produce people who know how to act when they’re faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared.

The bad news, however, is that new research suggests that traditional schooling may actually discourage these dispositions. For example, in one experiment described by Gopnick (2016), 4-year-olds were much less likely to find their own solutions to making a complicated toy work when the experimenter “taught” them (“I’m going to show you how my toy works”) than when the experimenter allowed them to observe her trial-and-error efforts and think about the problem (“Hmmm … I wonder how this toy works?”). As Gopnik writes,

Studies show that explicit instruction, the sort of teaching that goes with school and “parenting,” can be limiting. When children think they are being taught, they are much more likely to simply reproduce what the adult does, instead of creating something new.

The new reality is that our students will be required to build their own curriculums, find their own teachers, and assess themselves as learners and doers in an increasingly complex variety of contexts. That is the work of new global-ready learners. And preparing them for it is the work of the modern school.

Source: Educational Leadership:The Global-Ready Student:Getting Schools Ready for the World

Critical thinking

Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.

Source: Evaluating Information: the Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning

 

Coding, Education, and Teams

Adapting, working in groups, are those, in the end, the two necessary elements required to work in the digital world in general?

In my profession, when you want to hire someone who knows how to code, you make them sit and code. You don’t ask them for their diploma. If they have a diploma, that’s great for them, but we don’t care about it. Coding is a job or a know-how in which a diploma has no importance. In the end, people have it, or they don’t. It may be the case in other fields, but in mine, a diploma is not something that permits you to objectively judge someone when it comes to a know-how. Plus, the fact that there’s no diploma takes away some of the stress for the students.

A diploma also means following rules. 42 is a school that’s open 24/7. At 3 a.m., you can still see between 300 and 400 students working there. So we’re used to a system in which a certain number of rules are necessary in order to get a diploma, but those aren’t compatible with our teaching methods.

We’re doing something that works quite well: We rely on cooperation. People talk a lot about Collaborative Economics nowadays. Well, here at 42, we chose Collaborative Education. What does it means? It means putting people together and making them learn together. The knowledge, you can acquire it from the internet. You can type anything into Google, and there’s your answer. So lessons are useless, you’ll find the best lectures in the world on the internet, if you want to learn. But we do not wish to make them learn stuff by heart, we want to teach them how to develop, work, and live together, to build projects together and to make them happen. That’s what we want to teach them.

Source: Xavier Niel explains 42: the coding university without teachers, books, or tuition | VentureBeat | Entrepreneur | by Arthur Scheuer, Ulyces.co

Writing in education in the age of collaboration

As a hacker and writer, I spend a lot of time in text editors. Almost everything I write starts in my favorite text editor. A text editor is my thinking space. My notes are not just a record of my thinking process, they are my thinking process. Iteration and ideation happen in my editor, in plain text.

In the age of distributed collaboration, we are constantly writing. Equip students with the writing tools and flow popular with hackers, writers, scientists, and screenwriters—plain text & Markdown. Let’s infect education with the love of plain text. It’s portable, flexible, ubiquitous, and humane.

Source: Writing in Education and Plain Text Flow – hypubnemata

Ben Foss on Dyslexia and Shame

We should be measured by what we can do, not by what we can’t.

Shame cuts off connection and thrives on hiding.

Dyslexia is a particularly powerful form of shame, and it involves a lot of vulnerability.

Vulnerability can be defined as true courage.

Shame is a very lonely moment.

Reading disabilities often match in intensity the level of shame associated with incest.

Dyslexia is a perfect storm of shame.

  1. Arrives at the time you are first being evaluated
    1. Made harsher by lack of explanation. Fail without context.
    2. Reinforced by peers and institutions

“Retard” is a bullet sent at a child when it gets said.

Guilt is feeling bad about something you did, something you can fix. Shame is feeling bad about who you are.

I knew I was going to be on a bad list. There was going to be a good list, and I was going to be on the bad list, maybe alone.

I was proud because I changed the narrative.

Negative scripts: blame, contempt, comparison

The shame of special education.

Dyslexia is like a bad cellphone connection to the page.

Leadership is changing what people think is possible, or changing what they think is appropriate.

Source: Choose strength not shame: Ben Foss at TEDxSonomaCounty – YouTube

Dyslexia is not a disease, it is an identity. An identity is not something one cures; it is the basis of community and is an element of self you aim to understand and embrace. My hope is that you and your child will learn to own dyslexia, to understand it, and ideally, to celebrate it.

This book— and your mission as a parent— is about moving the model for your child from dyslexia as disease to dyslexia as identity, an identity we can all be proud of.

Most schools and reading programs designed for remediation of dyslexia are based on the idea that dyslexia equals brokenness. Their aim is to transform the child into a person who can read without problems. But I’m here to tell you that’s just wrongheaded. I’ve learned that if you make your primary goal teaching your child to read or spell just like every other child, you’re going to decrease your child’s chances of achieving success. It’s like telling a person in a wheelchair that she needs to put in more time to learn how to walk.

I am introducing these terms to address an underlying bias in our schools: that eye reading is the only form of reading. You can help move the needle on this limited assumption by using the terms eye reading, ear reading, and finger reading yourself and explaining them to your child. We need to celebrate children’s love of ideas and quest for knowledge and give them permission to not like standard books at the same time! When we give kids opportunities to gather information and explore ideas in other ways, they will thrive.

Focusing on eye reading overlooks the real goals of education, which are learning, independent thinking, and mastering the ability to make new connections in the world of ideas.

A central theme in this book is that we must question what we are taught is the “normal” way to do things, and instead integrate multiple ways for our children to access information.

If you are a dyslexic person or the parent of a dyslexic child, I recommend that you allow technology to become your new best friend.

The key to my happiness occurred when I stopped trying to change my brain, and started changing the context around me.

One dyslexic friend of mine described his shame as “slow-drip trauma.” He felt unworthy and “not normal” every day. As an adult, he was treated for post-traumatic stress syndrome that was caused by his experiences in school.

Ninety percent of my injuries happened when I was in school and before I was talking about my dyslexia publicly. Hiding who you are can translate into self-harm. When I talk with my peers in the dyslexia movement, a majority of them had a specific plan for suicide when they were teenagers. I regularly meet dyslexic kids who cut themselves or worse when they were young. I am fine today, but the hiding left scars, figurative and literal, for many of us.

My friend Steve Walker, a very successful dyslexic entrepreneur, tells me all the time that you could not pay him enough money to go back to any type of school setting. He even says that he would sooner kill himself than go back to school. Yet in the same breath he will also say that you could not give him enough money to take away his dyslexia, because it is a part of who he is. Many times when I was in school or taking a standardized test, I rejected an accommodation because I was embarrassed and ashamed: I did not want to stand out, or I was frustrated that it would take too much effort to get permission to have my exam read aloud to me.

The majority of teachers and administrators are well-intentioned and look for ways to help your child. However, they often miss the most important point, which is that the goal is not to fix your child— your child is not broken. The goal is, instead, to play to your child’s strengths, support his weaknesses, and give him access to information.

Dyslexia is a genetic, brain-based characteristic that results in difficulty connecting the sounds of spoken language to written words. It can result in errors in reading or spelling as well as in a number of areas not considered major life activities, such as determining right and left. Individuals who are dyslexic can be highly independent and intelligent. Dyslexia is also characterized by a set of strengths that typically come with this profile in one or more of the following areas: verbal, social, narrative, spatial, kinesthetic, visual, mathematical, or musical skills. Overall, it is characterized by an increased ability to perceive broad patterns and a reduced ability to perceive fine detail in systems.

In this definition, dyslexia is characterized as a “disorder,” as opposed to a characteristic. The word disorder suggests that something is “wrong” or that the person is broken. However, disability can be defined only in a particular context, which is to say if there was no such thing as written text, there would be no disability related to reading.

Often people discuss dyslexia in terms of it having been diagnosed, but that word reinforces the notion that dyslexia is a disease, a scourge, an imperfection, and that someday we can find a cure. As I said in the introduction, there will be no cure because there is no disease! Dyslexia is a characteristic, like being male or female, or from a certain state, or a graduate of a certain university. There’s nothing less than perfect inherent in any of those descriptions, is there? You can start changing this practice in your own house today, replacing the phrase “diagnosed with dyslexia” with “identified with dyslexia.”

Source: Foss, Ben (2013-08-27). The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

See also,

Eye Contact and Neurodiversity

I sometimes close my eyes to better parse the speech coming at me. I swim in sensory overwhelm. I must pick a firehose. Eyes front preserves the illusion of compliance, so I’ll stop listening.

Source: CHAMPS and the Compliance Classroom – Ryan Boren

Don’t force eye contact. Gaze aversion is a sensory processing tool–one necessary to managing overwhelm.

A challenge I am continually faced with as an autistic adult is the misinformed presumption and resulting behavior of neurotypical people when I do not look at them the in way they expect, want or demand of me. It is challenging because society has put the onus on me to change. Often it does not matter to others why I am different. They just want me to stop being different. Recently I was told directly, “If you want to be treated like a real person then act like one!”

Eye contact can be hard for autistics for a variety of reasons. When I was a youngster I received too much bright, bold, painful sensory information from making eye contact. To guard against the intense physical pain I did not engage in eye contact. If my teacher demanded eye contact I obediently did so, but at a price. I would float out of my body, hover up near the ceiling and look down, watching the little girl of me (Endow, 2013).

Donna Williams says, “Dissociation is the ability to cut off from what is happening around you or to you. In its simplest form it is daydreaming. It is a skill all children have and which children with autism tend to overdevelop in managing a world they find overwhelming for a whole range of reasons” (Williams, 2013).

My sensory system has changed over time and eye contact does not produce as much pain as it once did. When I am well regulated I can manage the moderate pain I do experience from eye contact in my day-to-day life. However, avoiding eye contact is something I automatically do to minimize the amount of incoming sensory information and thus cut down on pain. I have to remain on high alert so as to catch when I am automatically moving into this eye contact shut down mode or I will not even know when it is happening.

Yet, even when people know eye contact can be painful and that we will not pick up much social information, we are STILL expected to perform the feat for the social comfort of others. Each time we don’t perform the socially expected eye contact people assign negative character attributes to us such as shifty, sneaky, untruthful, disinterested and hiding something.

Imagine how you might feel if you were asked to stop looking at people – to cease all eye contact. Now imagine how much more difficult that would be if each time you did manage not to engage in eye contact you felt physical pain and the only way to relieve that pain was to look at the person even though you knew it would make others unhappy. This is often what we put autistics through when we insist they go against the way their brain does business by forcing them to use typical eye contact”  (Endow, 2013).

Source: Autism and Eye Contact by Judy Endow, MSW

Educators have been taught that it is essential to get individuals’ attention before beginning instruction and to recapture attention to task when peoples’ demeanors suggest that their attention is waning. To accomplish this task, teachers often first attempt to get attention by cuing “Look at me.” They also often assume that they have individuals’ attention when they “get eye contact” and that those who do not conform cannot be paying attention. Thus, when individuals who have autism seem to avoid looking into the eyes of teachers and others with whom they interact, the strategy that comes most naturally and is often pursued quite intently is the verbal cue “Look at me.” If an individual who has an autism spectrum disorder fails to respond within what is viewed as a reasonable length of time, the cue may be repeated more forcefully. If the person still fails to look as directed, misinterpretations of why the person isn’t “complying” may fuel futile power struggles that only frustrate everyone concerned and further thwart the abilities of individuals with autism to respond. Whether requesting eye contact is a wise approach to focusing attention depends both on the person who has autism and on circumstances surrounding the expectation.

Sometimes getting an individual to “make eye contact” becomes a high priority that falls under the rubric of “compliance and direction following” training. Individualized education programs often include objectives such as “will make eye contact when requested 80% of the time”. Some goals and objectives seem to be stated in context of assumptions that students with autism spectrum disorders have sufficient understanding of social conventions to make routine judgments about where, when, and with whom eye contact is appropriate and expected and/or that they are consistently able to spontaneously initiate and selectively maintain eye contact in social situations. As an example, consider an objective that states, “Will increase eye contact when in social situations with peers. Student will make eye contact X number of times every 10 minutes when involved in shared activities.” Folks who write and strive to achieve such goals and objectives may be as naive in their understanding and interacting with individuals who have autism as individuals with autism are naive at understanding and using social conventions. We need to re- examine assumptions that undergird choices among instructional/interactive strategies, to define purposes that we hope to accomplish, and to candidly assess whether hoped-for outcomes are being met. While attempting to maximize adaptive behaviors on the part of individuals who have autism spectrum disorders, we too must adapt when observed responses clearly indicate that our purposes are not being achieved.

“If you insist that I make eye contact with you, when I’m finished I’ll be able to tell you how many millimeters your pupils changed while I looked into your eyes.”

In addition to difficulties with attending to and interpreting information that is embedded in social context, some have great difficulty with attending to and coordinating two sources of sensory input at once. For example, astute teachers often observe that a student with autism “looks out the window all the time, just doesn’t appear to be paying attention at all, but then can tell me everything I said.” It appears likely that the described student has difficulty with coordinating listening and looking behaviors and, perhaps, with receiving and processing information coming in from multiple sensory channels. Insisting that he make eye contact might well render him unable to take in and store auditory input. Or… he may be able to coordinate looking and listening in some situations but not in others. Educators who are relatively unfamiliar with autism are often understandably perplexed by inconsistencies evident in an individual’s response patterns. There appears to be a natural inclination to assert that, “if he could do it in that situation, I know he can do it in the other…”.

Source: Should We Insist on Eye Contact with People who have Autism Spectrum Disorders

We may not look the interviewer in the eye, especially when it’s our turn to talk.  We may look at the conference table surface, the floor, or the framed art just above your head on the wall behind you.  Please don’t take that the wrong way.  As mentioned, we’re (often extremely) engaged and enthusiastic.  Focusing on someone’s eyes may feel like staring (either we’re doing the staring or someone is staring at us, either of which is uncomfortable), which can interfere with our ability to concentrate.  Focusing on something other than someone’s eyes allows us to concentrate again.  For me, it’s akin to “taking the pressure off”.  Again, it’s nothing personal, nothing specific to the interviewer themselves.

A popular and stubborn misconception says that this indicates dishonesty, lying, or otherwise hiding something.  This is absolutely not true.  Over 40 years of research has completely debunked this myth.  It’s also nothing personal against the interviewer (or to whomever else with whom we’re talking); we’re not trying to avoid the person or express disinterest, dislike, or any other negative emotion.  It’s simply a matter of discomfort, and this generally applies widely; for those of us who are more uncomfortable making eye contact, we will generally experience this discomfort with almost everyone, maybe except for a few very close family members or friends (if that!).  Therefore, please don’t take it as a personal affront, sign of disrespect, sign of disinterest, or “evidence” of dishonesty.

Source: Dear employers ~ How to work with employees “with” Asperger’s / #autism ~ Part 3: Thoughts on Interviewing, Hiring, and Promotion – the silent wave

For instance, a big focus of Evie’s therapy was “making eye contact.”  I couldn’t understand why this was so important.  Finally, I said, “I really don’t care if Evie makes eye contact.  I want to find a way for her to communicate what she needs.”

Who does eye contact REALLY help?  Does it help Evie when it seems aversive to her?  Or does it help other people feel more comfortable with Evie?

Source: the cost of compliance is unreasonable | love explosions

Looking away from an interlocutor’s face during demanding cognitive activity can help adults answer challenging arithmetic and verbal-reasoning questions (Glenberg, Schroeder, & Robertson, 1998). However, such ‘gaze aversion’ (GA) is poorly applied by 5-year-old school children (Doherty-Sneddon, Bruce, Bonner, Longbotham, & Doyle, 2002). In Experiment 1 we trained ten 5-year-old children to use GA while thinking about answers to questions. This trained group performed significantly better on challenging questions compared with 10 controls given no GA training. In Experiment 2 we found significant and monotonic age-related increments in spontaneous use of GA across three cohorts of ten 5-year-old school children (mean ages: 5;02, 5;06 and 5;08). Teaching and encouraging GA during challenging cognitive activity promises to be invaluable in promoting learning, particularly during early primary years.

Source: Helping children think: Gaze aversion and teaching – Phelps – 2006 – British Journal of Developmental Psychology – Wiley Online Library

The global view about liars is that they look away from you (avert their gaze) when they are lying. This is a false belief, which can be backed up with 40 years of research. What you will often find is that liar’s will often consciously engage in greater eye contact, because it is commonly (but mistakenly) believed that direct eye contact is a sign of truthfulness.

For these reasons, no relationship exists between eye gaze and deception.

Source: Guide To Detecting Deceit and Evaluating Honesty