If Then

Public Education, Facebook-Style

A computer-based learning program funded by Mark Zuckerberg was supposed to transform these Kansas schools. Why didn’t it?

Listen to If Then by clicking the arrow on the audio player below, or get the show via Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or Google Play.

In this episode, April Glaser is joined by co-host Meredith Broussard, a data journalism professor at New York University and author of Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World.

First, they talk about the history of Silicon Valley’s decades-long quest to replace teachers with computers. Then, the hosts have a conversation with Nellie Bowles, tech reporter for the New York Times, about a Kansas town that’s struggling with the implementation of Summit Learning, a personalized web-based education program funded by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan.


Also joining the show is Tom Henning, a parent in Kansas who pulled his son out of his local public school after Summit Learning was adopted. Henning discusses how he and other parents organized to try to bring human-centered learning back to their schools, citing the physical and emotional problems their kids came home with after being stuck in front of a computer all day.


Stories discussed on the show:

Silicon Valley Came to Kansas Schools. That Started a Rebellion.

Don’t Close My Tabs:

April: “A Libertarian Nirvana at Sea Runs Into a Stubborn Opponent: the Thai Navy

Meredith: Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World

Podcast production by Cameron Drews.

You can follow April @Aprilaser and Meredith @merbroussard. If you have a question or comment, you can email us at ifthen@slate.com.

If Then is presented by Slate and Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, New America, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, follow us on Twitter and sign up for our weekly newsletter.