Disruptive DeVos and the AFC Push “Personalized” Virtual School Privatization

By John Klyczek

Virtual School in a Computerized Box (Part 2)

Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen forecasts that “smart learning platforms,” such as stimulus-response adaptive-conditioning computers, will effectively overthrow human teachers. In his book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Technologies Will Change the Way the World Learns, Christensen analyzes how smart-learning technetronics are “disruptive” technologies that will radically “disrupt” the traditional status quo of face-to-face education between a human teacher and a human student in a brick-and-mortar school.

Christensen’s book is corroborated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is a corporatist interest group that lobbies to advance the for-profit expansion of privatized virtual charter school corporations. According to ALEC, “although current ‘consumers’ of online learning are few in number, a ‘disruption’ will occur when the market realizes the benefits of this practice. Then, it will become the dominant provider.” Once virtual edu-conditioning through mobile technetronics becomes the “dominant provider” of schooling, human teachers will be relegated to virtual extinction [1].

Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is currently calling for the expansion of virtual schools and blended-learning classes that emphasize “individualized” or “personalized” learning, which are merely euphemisms for the same “disruptive” types of computerized adaptive-learning that substitutes human teachers with CBE stimulus-response algorithms programmed for career-pathways training. In fact, DeVos’s technetronic workforce training agenda as Secretary of Ed is actually the culmination of her long history as a corporate-philanthropic activist who touts “individualized/personalized” career-pathways education through virtual charter schools, online courses, and computer-hybrid blended-learning classes.

In a speech at the 2015 SXSW EDU Conference, DeVos advocated for expanding “virtual schools and online learning” into an “open system of choices,” which is merely a euphemism for privatizing virtual schools in a corporate-fascist system of competitive public-private charter school corporations that parents and students can choose between [2].

During this SXSW EDU speech, DeVos spelled out her techno-fascist vision for the future of “individualized/personalized” education:

[t]his is not a battle of left versus right or Democrat versus Republican. It’s a battle of Industrial Age versus the Digital Age.  . . . It’s old factory model versus the new internet model. It’s the Luddites versus the future. We must open up the education industry (and let’s not kid ourselves that it isn’t an industry); we must open it up to entrepreneurs and innovators.  . . . This is how a student who’s not learning in their current model can find an individualized learning environment that will meet their needs. We are the beneficiaries of start-ups, ventures, and innovation in every other area of life, but we don’t have that in education because it’s a closed system . . . As long as education remains a closed system, we will never see the education equivalents of Google, Facebook, Amazon, PayPal, Wikipedia, or Uber.

In other words, DeVos envisions a future in which the cognitive-behavioral workforce training of each student is “individual[ly]” conditioned by disruptive ed-tech streamlined across privatized virtual charter schools through public-private contracts with monopolistic Big Tech corporations managed by venture capitalist oligarchs such as Eric Schmidt, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Peter Thiel. Anyone who contests this corporate-technocratic edu-conditioning endgame, according to Billionaire Betsy, is nothing more than a backward crank, or a techno-phobic Luddite [3].

Prior to being appointed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos was a founder, funder, board member, and Chairperson of the Great Lakes Education Project, a nonprofit interest group that pushes “school choice” privatization through virtual schools and other public-private charter schools. Additionally, DeVos was formerly Chair of the American Federation for Children (AFC), which is another “school choice” nonprofit that lobbies for virtual charter school privatization. As Chair, DeVos made the following statement on behalf of the AFC in 2015:

[f]amilies want and deserve access to all education options, including charter schools, private schools and virtual schools.  . . . [V]irtual schools are growing across the country. Greater innovation and choice will contribute to better K-12 educational outcomes for our children.

After taking office as the US Secretary of Education, technocrat DeVos reasserted her commitment to the AFC’s mission to “individualized” edu-conditioning through virtual charter school corporatization. During her address at the AFC’s Eighth Annual National Policy Summit entitled Opening Doors, Opening Windows, Secretary DeVos promoted “school choice” and ed-tech innovation as “the only way to give kids an equal opportunity to a quality education and an education that fits their unique individual needs.” In particular, she endorsed “charter school[s],” “online school[s],” and “any customized combination of those schools . . . in an educational setting yet to be developed.  . . . Education should elevate the role of technology to fully enter the twenty-first century.”

In sum, Secretary DeVos and her cronies at the AFC have a consistent track record of teaming up to lobby for virtual school choice privatization under the presuppositions that digital learning technetronics such as adaptive-learning computers will “individualize,” or “personalize,” educational methods of cognitive-behavioral conditioning.

The Atlantic affirms my analysis of the DeVos-AFC mission for “personalized” virtual schooling through stimulus-response adaptive-learning technetronics: “[t]his vision was clear throughout the American Federation for Children [Eighth Annual National Policy] summit: that schools need to be reinvented with an emphasis on technology.  . . . [O]nline schools were a key part of that vision . . . Advocates say that online schools have the potential to harness ‘personalized learning,’ a term that generally means using technology to provide an education tailored to each student’s needs.” As I have documented throughout this article, online and blended-learning ed-tech that can “tailor” lessons on a “personalized” basis require stimulus-response adaptive-learning software that data-mine students’ cognitive-behavioral UII.

The Atlantic’s summation of the AFC’s “personalized” ed-tech summit is confirmed by comments from Kevin Chavous, who is a founding board member and executive counsel of the AFC. At the AFC summit, Chavous predicted that “[t]he endgame . . . is personalized learning.  . . . We are going to get to this place where, as opposed to every child being shepherded into a schoolhouse where they sit in a classroom and where a teacher stands and delivers, and then they regurgitate back . . . those days are not going to be the future.” Notice here how Chavous is highlighting that a fundamental feature of “personalized” digital learning is the removal of “a teacher [who] stands and delivers.” Clearly, if there is no human teacher who delivers the curriculum in person, then this upgraded system of “personalized” edu-conditioning must supplant the human teacher with a network of computerized “teaching machines” that deliver the lessons through stimulus-response adaptive-learning technetronics.

Chavous, a longtime DeVos crony at the AFC, is also the Chair of the Foundation for Online and Blended Learning, and he sat on the Executive Team of Jeb Bush’s Digital Learning Council alongside representatives from Apple, Google, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Intel, Dell, SMART Technologies, Blackboard, the Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, Educational Testing Service, Pearson Education, Houghton Mifflin, Connections Academy, K12 Inc., the AFC, the US Department of Energy, and ALEC.

It should be noted here that Chavous is playing both sides of the Hegelian-dialectical fence via his coalition with Republicans Jeb Bush and Betsy DeVos; for Chavous is a staunch Democrat who co-founded Democrats for Education Reform shortly before he served on President Obama’s education policy committee as part of his re-election campaign. Indeed, to complete the Hegelian-dialectical dance, Jeb also spoke at Chavous’s AFC summit where the neo-conservative urged the expansion of “student-centered, . . . customized” “school choice” that addresses the “uniqueness of each person” through “personalized” ed-tech. Bush called for more students to become “career ready” to be “capable of riding this technological wave” into the future of hi-tech jobs in “artificial intelligence,” “wireless technology,” “the internet of things,” “robotics,” and “innovations across the board.”


The Hegelian-dialectical perpetuation of corporate-technocratic schooling continues on: just as the neo-liberals Barack Obama and Arne Duncan carried the technetronic torch of leftist Zbigniew Brzezinski while perpetuating the charter school corporatization schemes of the rightwing George W. Bush Administration and the neo-con Heritage Foundation; so too will alt-right DeVos perpetuate this very same corporate-fascist charter school agenda championed by both Obama and Bush alike, while her bipartisan collusion with Democrat Chavous and Republican Jeb will perpetuate the Obama-Brzezinski mission to mainstream edu-conditioning through online and blended-learning technetronics that utilize stimulus-response adaptive-learning algorithms.


[1]  In his book, Schooling and the Struggle for Public Life: Democracy’s Promise and Education’s Challenge, the acclaimed “critical education” theorist, Dr. Henry Giroux, deconstructs the technocratic stratagem behind “teacher-proofing” policies and pedagogies such as “MBO (management by objectives), PBBS (performance-based budgeting systems), CBE (competency-based education), CBTE (competency-based teacher education), and MCT (minimum competency testing)” (qtd. in Giroux 180). Debunking this alphabet soup of techno-education jargon, Giroux reveals how “[t]he growing removal of curriculum development and analysis from the hands of teachers is related to the ways technocratic rationality is used to redefine teachers’ work. This type of rationality increasingly takes place within a social division of labor in which thinking is removed from implementation and the model of the teacher becomes that of the technician or white-collar clerk. Likewise, learning is reduced to the memorization of narrowly defined facts and isolated pieces of information that can easily be measured and evaluated” (180).
[2]  In my article, “The Corporatization of Education,” I explicate how the buzz phrase “school choice” is nothing more than a hucksterish code phrase for the corporate-fascist privatization of public education through public-private charter schools, publicly subsidized private school vouchers, and other public-private school partnerships.
[3]  Not long after her commencement as Secretary of Education, DeVos even used the ad hominem “flat-earther” to denounce her detractors who reject virtual school choice. Techno-elitist DeVos spouted this pejorative during her speech at the American Federation for Children’s National Policy Summit in Indianapolis, on May 22, 2017.

(This article is excerpted from Klyczek’s soon-to-be-released book, School World Order: The Technocratic Corporatization of Education, which can be pre-ordered from Trine Day Press). John Klyczek has an MA in English and has taught college rhetoric and research argumentation for over seven years. His literary scholarship concentrates on the history of global eugenics and Aldous Huxley’s dystopic novel, Brave New World. He is a contributor to the Intrepid Report, the Dissident Voice, OpEdNews, News With Views, and Natural News. He is also the Director of Writing and Editing at Black Freighter Productions (BFP) Books.

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2 Comments on "Disruptive DeVos and the AFC Push “Personalized” Virtual School Privatization"

  1. lightingstrikesthrice | May 13, 2018 at 6:12 am | Reply

    Excellent article. Footnotes: These people pushing this all have minds of metal cogs and wheels. Why they love robots and automation so much I assume. People such as DeVos, Bezos, Musk, etc, are ‘new money’ created by ‘old money’. The same way oligarchical corporate control was gained in the 1930’s. Why I postulate that they fight so hard on bringing in more universal control, to keep their newly acquired wealth/status. Wheels of the garbage truck go round and round. I will research into Dr. Giroux and should be interesting.

  2. Still today gradeschoolers of above average intelligence are sitting bored in the classroom and become disenchanted with learning , the reason for reason.

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