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National Ed Tech Educators Acting as Useful Idiots

From wikipedia:
“In political jargon, useful idiot is a term for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause.”

Chris Lehman and his Macbook in happier times.

I was struck recently when it was revealed in an EdWeek article that Chris Lehmann and his school the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) were switching to an all Google Chromebook environment after having been an award winning Apple school for several years. Indeed, he even crows about how his campus was an innovative Apple school here.

"The school was recognized by Ladies Home Journal as one of the Ten Most Amazing Schools in the US, has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished School from 2009 through 2013 and has been written about in many publications including Edutopia Magazine, EdWeek and the Philadelphia Inquirer."

The Edweek article states that Lehmann and his campus will be “the recipient of a new grant from Dell to fund the adoption of Chromebooks.”

Okay, that means that Dell is paying for the Chromebooks. The cash from Dell will also be used for other things as well:

"SLA, which now operates in two separate campuses, is receiving an as-yet undisclosed amount that will cover Chromebook 11’s for each of the 250 students in its two freshman classes, as well as support staff and some desktop hardware. The school will also partner with Dell to create a "center of excellence."

So let’s dissect this for a moment shall we? According to this, Dell is giving Lehmann and his campuses free Chromebooks, SUPPORT STAFF, and some PC’s that they no doubt need to use for things that the Chromebooks simply cannot handle, like say, anything that has to do with Java or say, Skype. So not only does he get free hardware, probably Dell PCs and software, he also gets some actual humans as part of the deal.

Lehmann’s big argument that he uses is that the $300 Chromebooks are a more financially sound choice than say a PC or Mac laptop has to be taken with a grain of salt in this instance. Add the cost of the PC’s. Add the cost of the support staff. It isn’t $300 a laptop anymore.

You cannot fault the guy, an award winning education technologist, for accepting a buttload of freebies from Dell. Heck, if the Dell sales guy showed up at my district and said “Hey, I want to give you a ton of free hardware AND some desktops AND some people to run them AND we want to promote your school all over the frikkin” place, I would probably do what Lehman did and say “dump them 3 year old MacBooks we are going with Dell!” There is no way he could have gotten the same deal from Apple or even Sony for that matter.

Here is my beef:
Lehmann is using his position as probably the nation’s leading ed tech administrator to be a useful idiot for Dell. (see the definition above). Listen how he has now becoming a pitchman for Dell in this clip:

Actually, if you read the EdWeek article, it reads more like a Dell Press release than an article about Lehmann and his school:

"Dell officials said they want to promote SLA’s instructional approach, but stressed they also recognize the wide variety of practices in schools. "One-to-one initiatives are not one size fits all," said Jon Phillips, the company’s managing director for worldwide education strategy. "We are very aware that visions for instruction need to be built by schools, for schools."

And Lehmann sounds like a Dell spokesman already right here:


The article continues:
“That emphasis on flexibility also extends to the various devices and platforms in use by districts, he said. In SLA’s case, students are expected to do video production and other high-powered content creation that is not supported on the Chromebook; through its grant, Dell is paying for desktop and all-in-one stations to be used as supplements.”

I am disappointed in Lehmann here, because it is clear he is pimping himself and his school out to Dell to be some kind of national advertisement for Dell Chromebooks. Maybe he has bigger ideas for himself and his school, and he thinks that Dell is the train ticket he needs to expand that message: “Lehmann said he hopes that partnership will result in a national platform to tout SLA’s “inquiry-driven, project-based” approach to learning, which he described as an important counterexample to the “tutorial” model of personalized learning (in which technology is used to deliver tailored content to students) gaining traction around the country.”

Lehmann, in his position as the leading ed tech administrator in the nation should move to be platform neutral. But, just like his elementary school counterpart Ron Clarke, I suppose that he feels the ends justify the means. (Ron Clarke can’t do a presentation without speaking about how Delta Airlines flew him their and is a major sponsor along with Coke and Promethian. He might as well get a Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola tattoo on his ass.)

He needs to make it VERY CLEAR that this sweetheart deal he is getting from Dell is NOTHING like what every other school will get. He also needs to make it clear that he got a lot of free stuff, and that you will not get free stuff from Dell. Every single times he opens his mouth about how wonderful Chromebooks are, he needs to end the sentence with “…yes, and I got a shitload of free stuff for my schools to say this to you.”

What is even sadder to me is that Lehmann HAS to become a useful idiot for Dell because public education, especially in places like Philly where his school is at, is under great pressure financially, and innovative and successful programs like his have to constantly be proving themselves as useful. Although unlike most public schools, he also gets a big chunk of support from the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

This whole thing says more about the sad state of how public education is financed than it does about any Chromebook vs. Mac argument. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do I suppose.

But this has to be a cautionary tale for educators. Lehman will no doubt start hitting the lecture circuit around the country and globe touting his new friendship with Dell and his new love of Chromebooks. (ISTE Keynoter Chris Lehmann, Sponsored by Dell, TCEA closing keynote Chris Lehmann, sponsored by Dell..and on and on.) Everyone watching however, needs to be aware that what HE is getting at his campus will be nowhere near what you will be getting at your campus.

Ed tech companies love to focus on a single school or district with their products, pour all their resources into that area, and then tout how they became “game changers, ” raising scores and moving mountains. Be aware however, that this attention is NOT the typical. Companies use these single cases to make the case that their products are, as Lehman put it in one of the videos above “game changers.” They are game changers in particular places. Not in your district.

Here is the bottom line:
Dell doesn’t give a shit about Lehmann and his programs or his schools. They know he is well respected and is widely read and copied, so snagging him is a big PR win for their new products in the Ed Tech community and will cause some of the larger brands to rethink their marketing efforts within education. So they throw some swag his way, will sponsor some of his keynote addresses around the country, and highlight his school on their website which frankly, no one will visit because no one is buying Dell anything anymore. This is advertising 101 and Lehmann, knowingly or not, is now Dell’s new useful idiot.

Hey dude, he got a Dell. Whoopie.