Robo-Education

The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.” –B. F. Skinner

It was just a matter of time.

And time’s up.

And to think how many Sunday afternoons I sacrificed reading and rating essays. All those margin scribbles … and all those chin-up, keep-the-faith notes of encouragement.

Had I taught in this moment instead … I’d have those Sundays back … because … soon it’ll all be done by ‘Robo-Graders’.  

Machines. Droids. Cyborgs.

Students will get a “thumbs up” … or down …  from some faceless, brainless box that’ll “scan” everyone’s essay in a robo-blink … and determine if a student gets it or not.

No scribbles in the margins.  No jotted bits of teacher-inspiration.  No corrections in spelling … or grammar. No comments about style … or structure. Nothing about logical sequencing … or word-eloquence.

Just a score. An icy score.

Because it can’t do real human stuff. At all. It’s a machine.

I’m not anti-machine. I know how they ease my life. But I know where they belong in my life, too.

I expect machines to be coldly competent … because they’re not doing warm things … things that yank at something inside me. They’re not part of my humanity.

But … 

“…now, machines are also grading students’ essays. Computers are scoring long form answers on … the fall of the Roman Empire …”

Livy is gonna be livid. Tacitus, too. The history of Rome … freeze-dried.

This is the emerging reality.  That this round of technological “upgrades” might well begin a scary deconstruction of a universal institution … the collapse of education as we’ve known it for … for thousands of years.

The end of human interaction in the creation of new thinkers. New artists. New imaginers.

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All in the name of … efficiency.

And in its place will stand drive-thru learning centers offering kiosk-educations from B. F. Skinner touch-screens.

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“Developers of so-called ‘robo-graders’ say they understand why many students and teachers would be skeptical of the idea …”

Skeptical?  This is Pearson, for God’s sake.

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Yes, THAT Pearson. 

They’re the AI geniuses who slipped 7th grade reading selections into 3rd grade assessments … reminding us that artificial intelligence is only as intelligent as the human intelligence that creates it.

Pearson’s been part of this reform anguish since dungeon-master Gates  … and his co-conspiring, classroom-allergic geniuses … decided that teaching and learning should be condensed to algorithms … because that soothed their freaky obsession for tidiness.

So why not robo-scoring of essays? Then … creative writing will fall victim, too. Art work will be scanned  … and rated on the DaVinci Talent Scale. And music recitals will take place in front of a blinking box … and scored by a Chopin Applause-O-Meter … which will send a score via text message … in a musical jingle.

How memorable.

How inspiring.

How dreadful.

So the heck with teachers … “researchers and psychometricians” will  algorithmically rate your child’s reasoning capacity by some artificially-intelligent whirligig that will tell you … probably in a robo-voice … whether or not your kid’s a conforming thinker and an antiseptic writer.

Education in a can. Nice and tidy.

And that is the promised monotony. The efficient boredom.  The coming cultural coma of sameness.

There’s already disturbing fall-out from this digitized drowsiness. The droning repetition of kiosk-education is morphing schools into numbing centers that will deliver us a generation of dullards. A stimuli-expecting batch of boors who can only be vaguely excited by blue screens and audio-prompts.

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Those “new schools” … those futuristic centrifuges of modernity … are bound to smother personalities … ignore talents …  and kill passions.

I couldn’t breathe in such a classroom.

Denis Ian

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