As Vermont schools rush to be the “first” to spend taxpayer dollars on nouveau educational technologies (Ed Tech) that will revamp the public education system to condition a generation of “social justice warriors,” the casualties may extend beyond impressionable children to the traditional human teacher. Using artificial intelligence (AI) and an array of modern technological advances, entire industries of novel techno-creation are evolving a generation of algorithms that will create feeling, responsive, behavior-shaping, individually-focused “teachers.” Will human instruction diminish in prominence?
Teachers unions are asleep at this Ed Tech wheel, or perhaps they accept industry assurances that teachers will be “helped” by the technologies that will replace them. Yet why would teachers be exempt from the human labor displacement that has eliminated the need for millions of traditional jobs? Yes, teachers are human, but the AI being developed is “better than human.”
Home learning under COVID accelerated a techno-shift to home teaching, but it fell short of the quality afforded by human teachers:
Distance education has failed to universalize equitably or without substantial dropout rates. As educational philosophers, developers, and evaluators have noted, simulated, impersonal digital learning environments just do not seem to be able to replace the classroom. … Without the teacher, digital education simply does not have the tour de force to achieve its ambitious aims.
Meanwhile, Vermont schools are leading the push to implement “social and emotional learning” (SEL) “persuasive” technologies, including virtual reality interactions, to press the social justice campaign of creating “equity and inclusion” — by segregating students by race and labeling all white people bigots. Teachers can’t have it both ways: they are courting their own early terminations (which perhaps are justified, given the widespread abandonment of children’s best interests in favor of a radical, untested political ideology).
If this sounds like a false alarm, consider where the AI technology for teaching is leading. Technological “social actors” such as Facebook already gauge viewers’ content as data to process into relations with others — assuming a traditionally human role. Teachers are key “social actors” in our children’s lives, but technological advances in AI Education (AIEd) are making them expendable, replaced by “anthropomorphized educational agents, which most commonly simulate teachers”:
The intelligent tutoring systems that are central to AIEd seek to reproduce one-on-one human instruction, with personalized and real-time feedback. … AIEd tools are becoming capable of social–emotional engagement and can even be integrated into scale-focused distance education technologies. Moreover, while AIEd has been used in applied settings for decades, its prospects … and usage … are now greater than ever before, thanks to research advances and especially increased access to personal computers and the internet. In short, AIEd is leaving the laboratory and entering the classroom. This is why AIEd is so enticing: it offers to close the quality gap by tackling the most insoluble barrier—teaching.
The author specifically cautions that despite assurances to the contrary, these technologies will displace teachers if achieved:
I argue that the central ambition of modern AIEd is to simulate teachers. I then highlight a subset of intelligent tutoring systems known as educational agents, effectively anthropomorphized software-based characters. Educational agents represent the attempt to tackle some of the hardest challenges in simulated teaching, namely perceiving and portraying emotion in a way that engenders authentic student response. … Along with improving the ability of ITS to measure and interpret emotional data through affective computing, efforts are increasing to portray emotion, encourage motivation, and “care” about students. … [T]hese efforts to simulate humans as educational agents are revealing in terms of how they are encroaching on the traditional niche of human teachers and what that might mean for the future of education. … It is impossible to predict the limits of AI. Moreover, as we have seen, the AIEd community is undertaking very deliberate efforts to close the social–emotional gap, and to computerize the very tasks that currently insulate teachers.
In Vermont’s current fiscal climate, the implications are immediate. The state pension scheme, including provision for Vermont’s teachers, has been consistently underfunded and will require a massive infusion of capital to be sustained — this pits teachers against parent taxpayers, in a situation created by the progressive social justice warriors who ignore economics in the name of making “equity” (a demonstrably impossible, and inequitable, goal) paramount. As this battle intensifies, where do teachers think they will be in 10 years?
Many teachers have been swept innocently into this ideological usurpation of traditional education by overzealous partisans who have betrayed Vermont schoolchildren. Such teachers are currently silenced — it is verboten for teachers to speak against the toxic, foolhardy critical race theory being foisted upon them: they face dismissal. Once the new AIEd teachers are installed (also sharing student data widely for profit?), it is simple to see who the first teachers would be to have their heads on the block: any who hesitated to exuberantly endorse the new fascism. Further, older teachers — who are more resistant to, and often less proficient in, modern technologies — will be on the top of the list for early retirement regardless of their fealty to left-wing dogma. These teachers are paid the highest salaries, and threaten to receive the highest pension and benefits packages. They are doubly at risk — they are the most costly, and the least equipped to “master” the new brainwashing technologies.
The union charged with protecting the interests of teachers has already been asleep on protecting children, or taxpayer-parents, in its zeal to advance its own political agenda. It would be quite surprising if it suddenly “woke” to the threat to those it is bound to protect. But then, maybe the teachers union will also be replaced by AI: it is, after all, a social actor. And a computer algorithm would have little trouble acting with more human intelligence and compassion than the unions that have done zippo to shore up Vermont’s unfunded pension obligations.
Even technological chickens can come home to roost. Imposing radical social experiments on our children may bite the teachers’ hands that enslaved them.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and the former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2021. All rights reserved.