A Brief Note to K12

you are the resistance

Dear K12,

I’m sorry I have to be the one to tell you this but the vendors are not your friends. You are not one “big family.” Maybe you can be “partners” but really even that is a distant dream most of the time.

Anything they seem to do for you is done with a firm look at the bottom line and how they can use you to make money. These are not gifts.

Seriously. You can’t afford to be this naive any longer.

That “award” certifying you as a really super X-brand teacher, that free conference registration- these are not things they do for you out of kindness1. This is for them. Every single bit of it, bought and paid for. Their return on investment is pre-calculated. If it didn’t make them money, they would not do it.

Don’t get me wrong. Take the awards, take the trips or whatever- just don’t forget that they are getting what they want out of you. Make sure you’re getting what you want out of them in return. This is a transaction, a business transaction. Make sure it’s an equal transaction.

Think about what you’re doing and what it is worth. Don’t sell yourself short2 and don’t ever mistake a business transaction for a favor. These people are not your friends.

And please, please, don’t sit there thanking them for using you like some obsequious lap dog. It makes you look stupid and further encourages them to regard K12 educators as easily manipulated pawns.

1 Granted, you may be awesome. I’m not disputing that- although listing every award you’ve ever gotten in your email signature is a bit much in my opinion.

2 This includes doing tricks for candy at vendor booths at conferences.

38 thoughts on “A Brief Note to K12

  1. I’m only wondering which vendor-sponsored event you’re referring to… but I can’t disagree with what you’ve said and I’m all for ridding the world of the e-mail signatures that look like the trophy case of a blue ribbon middle school.

    1. John – This post is probably the result of way too many conferences, vendor events, meetings etc. in the last month.

      Dan – I’ll be interested to see your thoughts on ADE camp.

  2. I really like the post Tom. I’ve seen too many great educators wrapped up in being an Apple Distinguished Educator, a Google Certified Teacher, a Microsoft Innovative Education, or a Smart Certified Interactive Teacher…what else am I missing here…. It becomes about how many badges, how many trips, or how they can force in a technology that might not be the best choice. It may be the best choice, but having corporate ties makes me question the motivation.

    Now I say this because I’ve been through the process with Microsoft in Canada and a bit in the UK. I was wisked around the world and it wasn’t ever about the learning of my students, but how their product was showcased, what country people were from, and how much traffic and publicity they could get. Now I believe there are some fantastic projects that were showcased, but it wasn’t about supporting education, it was about showcasing product. When I learned more about the process and even looked at a position it really wasn’t about learning, it was about customers. They are companies, why should I have been surprised!?

    I’m not saying I wouldn’t use a fabulous tool, but I would rather make that choice based on the project, my class, and the learning, not about affiliations.

    As educators we have to make sure it is about learning and students, not about our own egos and our own profit. I’ve learned, I hope others do as well.

    1. I’ve done the Apple thing and have some of the same feelings. I don’t have a problem with participating in the programs. I just think people should do it with their eyes open.

      I get really frustrated when I hear educators saying things like “we’re family” and they are referring to vendors. When the relationship becomes something where teachers are hesitant to criticize a product/company or reach the stage of zealotry, that is something that negatively impacts education at a variety of levels. There’s probably a lot of gray in there where teachers can get what they want from a company (product, PD, connections, etc.) and the company can get some positive PR as well. It’s when things get wildly lopsided towards the company and the teacher thanks them for that inequity that things get really depressing for me.

      1. But look at our role models though Tom?

        Many, if not most of them, have been so twisted by the corporate world, that they set a standard for us that we should be ever so thankful for all of the opportunities and the prestige that comes with being an ADE, or a DEN Star, or an Adobe Educator. These are the people headlining the keynotes at our conferences, these are the people that we hold up in front of thousands of our peers at large ed tech conferences (something with which you are aware of I hear). These are the people we implicitly tell our teachers to emulate.

        There’s a huge problem with the way the system is built, and the way that ed leadership “sells” its members out when it comes to these devices and branding. We need to make sure that we’re doing our best to put up the BS detectors, but it’s hard when you’re at a large conference, completely surrounded by benefits, goodies, and opportunities being paid for by those big corporations.

        If anything, I’d say force people to attend more EdCamps, tone down the “personal brand”, and just asking more questions than making declarative statements.

        1. People need to choose better role models. I would suggest major league sports personalities or movie stars. Charles Barkley may be available.

          I guess where I’m not being clear is I don’t care about the designations so much as I worry about the misunderstanding of the corporate/education relationship. The vendor understands things. Teachers/educators do not. You don’t need to prostrate yourself before someone who pays you for what you do- no matter the form of that payment. Nor does that person become an unimpeachable member of your family.

          To reference your analogy from G+, you don’t thank the time share people for having to attend the day long sales pitch that got you the free stay in Florida. It’s work for pay. They won’t become your child’s god parents. You wouldn’t hesitate to public state things about them that you felt were true.

          Perhaps so little recognition is given to teachers that the badge of approval, or t-shirt or whatever, means far more than it should. In comparison to the standard award of a novelty holiday-themed pencil, just about anything looks like love and respect.

  3. Is it bad form to leave a bunch of links on a blog post? Just realized it might be. It’s just that I had this conversation so many times before. I will however try and re-engage as the debate grows here on your blog.

    Bottom line: This is a transaction, a business transaction. Make sure itโ€™s an equal transaction.

    Well said!

  4. Thanks for this post, Tom. (And thanks to Jabiz for directing me to it.) I share so many of these concerns. I know I’m middle-of-the-road on this — as I am about most things, really! I tend to be quite wary of extremes, and this issue is no different.

    I have long thought and still do think that for education to be successful, we need creative and active private + public partnerships. Involving Google, Apple, Microsoft, Intel, and whichever else corporation into the education conversation is generally a good thing, IMO. I’d go even further to argue that for various reasons, they need to be in the conversation. My concern is, as you emphasize here, when we go too far and make the conversation about them, as it seems many are wont to do as soon as they’ve returned from ADE, GTA, IntelTeach, or whatever’s next.

    I once regarded teachers who were “graduates” of these programs in awe, thinking, “Wow, they must be so good to have been chosen!” but the longer I’ve been an educator (12 years now), the more I’ve adjusted my perspective on this. I now realize that perspective — that of having been “chosen” to be part of the PD — only serves to perpetuate the culture of “specialness” or — to put it bluntly, smugness — that many of these corporations already embody. That’s not a culture I want in a learning environment I’m going to be a part of. If these corporations truly did feel that their PD was valuable, they would offer it to any educator, not just the “chosen ones.” But the truth is that education is not where the majority of their budgets go. They’ve allotted a certain (small) amount and so it goes to “the chosen” teachers — those who often (though not always) also become the corporation’s biggest advocates. It’s unsurprising, really, when you deconstruct the whole thing.

    I’ve met and worked with many educators who have received such corporate-designated titles (and I won’t lie — I intend to acquire a handful of my own) and they are, for the most part, dedicated and innovative educators. But I’ve met and worked with plenty more who don’t have the three-letter acronyms behind their names, who are just as dedicated and innovative, and don’t give a rat’s behind about which tool they’re using in their classroom, be it corporate or FOSS, as long as it meets the learning needs of their students. Many of those in the corporate-titled group, in my experience, thankfully still do that too, but to a lesser degree, and I find they tend to first cheerlead for whichever corporate tool they know best (read: were sponsored to learn about) before exploring the other options, even if they’re better suited.

    Thanks for opening up the conversation. I hope more teachers who are aspiring “vendor teachers” approach it with the truly wide-eyed perspective you’re getting at here.

  5. Touching letter, Tom, but you know must rescind that gold bowl and palette of Kibbles awarded to you as a CogDog Distinguished Educator, as biting words put you outside The Family.

    Also we do not appreciate the use of “lap dog” metaphors; only a small minority of barking slipper dogs are truly lap residents and you besmirch the canine Family. Please in the future reach for a feline analogy (a useful one begins with “p”).

    Barks and sniffs

    The CogDog Federation

    1. Mr. Levine,

      I regret to inform you the gold bowl was hocked. The kibbles were eaten. However, I will redact my use of the word “dog” as, clearly, I meant “dawg.”

      Your in perpetuity,


  6. I’ve been surprised and disturbed at how much of the educational tweeting is marketing for these companies. I would like to think that most of it is unwitting, but even so there seems to be a surprising lack of media literacy going on here. We as a group are surprisingly uncritical of the so-called web 2.0, a marketing term in its own right.

    In a larger sense, I wish we said more about how our enthusiasm for technology advances a consumerist and acquisitional culture with us professionally and even passed on to our students, in some cases making it a central element of learning in that context.

    1. At this point, it would be very interesting to see if anyone could effectively be critical of anything in the K-12, or higher ed, educational marketplace, and not immediately be set upon by the larger social sphere as spreading “sour grapes” or be branded as “a whiner”.

      I would use the case of the pushback on Khan Academy, in which many educators are now starting to openly disregard and bash Khan for it’s methods, but are met with legions of teachers, parents, and other interested parties slamming their blogs, discrediting them on twitter, etc. That’s not to say we shouldn’t speak up….but whose willing to be the martyr for this cause? Someone who would be willing to stand up, very publicly, and denounce some of these abusive practices in the very places they need to be brought up; the large state-level ed tech conferences and ISTE.

  7. A colleague who went to ISTE was complaining that Apple was not exhibiting there and also about their lousy education discounts. I tried to explain that all Apple, or any other vendor, owed to schools was a well-made product, sold at a fair price, with good support. That’s it. Discounts, gifts, dinners, large show floor booths and the rest of the trappings all cost money and are included in whatever price you pay for whatever they’re selling.

    And on a related topic, let’s get past the concept of vendors offering “solutions”. We need to create our own solutions using the best tools we can find. Even if those tools don’t come with a sales rep.

  8. I am quite glad to have happened upon this post. No matter which company, their alliance with education and educators goes only so far as the bottom line. Follow the money. Get their training, use their products, but always remember your goals and their goals diverge at a certain point. Thank you.

  9. I think nonprofits such as COSN or ISTE should develop similar certifications for teachers; even though sometimes they align themselves with private sector companies, I suspect such certifications would be much more aligned with educators’ goals and purposes.

    1. ISTE is one of the worst offenders of setting a poor example with their own name-brand. ISTE published books are extremely high priced, often for material that is out of date within weeks of publishing (I’m looking at you all you google books), and material that can often be found for free on the internet (Free Tech 4 Teachers has lots of great free ebooks). A single 60 minute webinar costs $40 for members, when I can often attend training in person for an entire day at our local intermediate school district often for around that much, and I get lunch!

      I know ISTE has to make money to continue as a non-profit, but when they do it in such an overtly “We’re ISTE, look at our AMAZING offerings” while charging an arm and a leg, it sets a poor example for educators to follow.

      I’m done venting now, my apologies if I offended anyone’s admiration of ISTE, and keep in mind that this is from an outsider looking in….although I have served as conference chair and communications chair for Michigan’s largest ed tech organization.

    1. Nothing wrong with selling yourself, as long as you’re making it very clear to everyone what’s your opinion, and what you’re being paid to say.

      1. I don’t think you should ever lie or omit the truth in exchange for money- that’d apply inside/outside education for me. I don’t have a problem saying things I’d otherwise say or doing specific things under a corporate banner in exchange for things I find reasonable.

        There’s probably a definition of “for sale” that would need to be agreed upon if we wanted this conversation to get anywhere.

    2. I am in agreement that we ought not be for sale but if you can trade x, y and z for whatever PR they generate from using your name or whatever- I don’t have a problem with reasonable exchanges among consenting adults. There’s a big difference between selling yourself and intelligently engaging in a symbiotic relationship for a period of time.

  10. Happy to have lucked into this conversation. I am a teacher-turned-vendor! Added to this, I started out British and am now American. My company does not offer trips or certifications. My customers are not my family. However, I do welcome lots of dialogue with teachers, administrators, parents, and students. I encourage constructive criticism and my products have benefited from this professional back-and-forth.

    I bristle when people confuse education with philanthropy. Teachers need to make an honest living, so do I. I cannot apologize for wanting to grow my business. I am thrilled to be developing new online products based on a book frequently cited in the CCSS called BRINGING WORDS TO LIFE: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. At the risk of seeming horribly self-promoting — please take a look at http://www.my400words.com and tell me what you think ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Excellent point, Jeff and I believe that both ISTE and COSN are in development on such certifications.

    1. No one’s talking about being for sale, we’re talking about the fact that if you want to enter into a financial or similar arrangement with a company that you believe in, then that’s fine. Speaking as someone is is usually VERY idealistic, I’m not going to be able to feed my family and fix the leaky roof over our heads with ideals in the short term, and if someone asks me about representing someone, I’m going to do it in a honest, no-nonsense manner. I will not be compensated for lying or “selling” something, but I gladly accept partnerships that are mutually beneficial.

      1. OK so you are talking full disclosure, which is admirable. But on the “entering business partnerships” thing….where do you draw the line? When is it not ethical? When you bring more of their products into your district because of your “belief” in them? When they pay for your expenses to go to a conference on the other side of the country to do a “presentation” on instruction that just happens to showcase their line? When their rep calls you and asks you if you will post a response to a blog that criticizes their brand? Where is the ethical line once you start down that road?

        1. I doubt we’ll ever end up in a happy place based on where our doctors, professors, and politicians sit in this same discussion. They have a lot more power, money etc. and still end up in the same place. I think the less power/influence you have the more seductive these relationships become.

    1. I’m your friend- but I’ll always figure you hang out with me because people pay you to. There’s really no other reason to hang out with me otherwise.

  12. Tom – exactly. And therein lies the danger. And in my experience no matter how high I climb there are always whole new circles of influence above me that are enticing. We have to impose our own limits on what is ethical or the temptation is always there to keep wanting more and more…

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