The biggest problem, though, may be that AltSchool's ceilings are filled with surveillance cameras and microphones that they say help teachers look back at "breakthrough" moments throughout the day and learn more about their learners and classrooms. They say they are preparing kids for the workplaces of the future. Far from challenging students to think critically about our societies, this will only serve to prepare kids for the frightening and constant surveillance we all endure in industrialized countries today. Their growth will likely be deeply stunted as they internalize the fact that this for-profit enterprise is deciding whether they pass or fail each step of the way, and given that they are always watching, it is best for the 4 year old or 14 year old to never, ever step out of line.
Here is how the article describes the surveillance:
“What is a castle?—that was your starting question today,” the teacher said. After the girl wrote a response, on paper, the teacher snapped a photograph of the page, in order to upload it to the girl’s playlist card.
She might also send it to a parent’s phone, using AltSchool Stream, an app that enables instant communication between home and school. Meanwhile, above the students’ heads, a network of white audio recorders hung from the ceiling, and fish-eye lenses were embedded in the walls. The goal of this surveillance system, AltVideo, is to capture every word, action, and interaction, for potential analysis...
Teachers also wanted faster access to the video recordings of their classrooms, to better evaluate students’ breakthrough moments, or to see what was going wrong when the classroom grew disorderly. Currently, Johnson said, teachers were using Slack, the group-messaging app, to alert her when there was a moment in the classroom that they wished to review. She’d watch the footage in order to find the right clip to bookmark, then send a link to the teacher through e-mail. This process could take days. “That would be a cool thing to automate,” she said.
Contrary to the school's stated goals (I mean their goals after their legally mandated goal of gaining profit) as communicated in the article, this school is set up to ensure that critical thought is rarely if ever expressed. Surveillance and quantitative assessment of everything will only help to quell visionary thinking that bucks trends and challenges those in charge, and to convince learners to believe that anything without a number attached to it, whether it is a song or a conversation or something else, is not really worth much in the 'real' world.
It is clear that there are numerous problems with the education system in the United States. It is slow, it is impersonal and has built a pyramid of standardized tests that have harmed educators and learners alike. The system needs to change. It needs to build human interaction into every facet of the day. It needs to challenge kids to experiment with problem solving; to succeed and to fail without the constant knowledge that they are being watched and reviewed. It needs to call on young people to see themselves as important members of communities. Despite the company's insistence that it is only for teacher's use, this surveillance footage can find its way into the hands of third party sales people, used as leverage, or simply kept aside to be used at some later date. After all, these are people who put all of their eggs in the big data basket. They think big data will solve it all, so getting rid of data like that footage could be determined to be sacrilegious in their book; Counter-revolutionary for the digital revolution as envisioned by the rich and homogeneous capitalists of Silicon Valley.
The system that AltSchool is setting up is dangerous. It puts kids at risk and therefore puts us all at risk. We should be building a society based on critical thought and action as well as genuine human interaction, with technological advancements at our side helping us as we move forward, not hovering above us recording every single picked nose and test answer. What we need is an education system that is learner-centered and focused on critical pedagogy that challenges us to learn technology, art, science, math, and one another. Instead we are getting algorithm-centered data gathering from a for-profit startup.