Let’s find out what happened in what is currently a terrible video game.
What Was That Learning Island Game Online
Nothing like an evil cult leader to teach a generation the basic principles of social engineering and manipulation.
Though you probably won’t be needing to stage a school board meeting, more than 60 years later you’ll probably need to build a covert killing machine, with dissidents as focus pieces. This is what Elon Musk thought he was developing—the peacekeepers of space—as a solution to any and all levels of international conflict. He even trademarked the name, appropriately, “Musk’s Peacekeepers.”
It was a development that should have dissuaded anyone who considered Earth worth defending against. But rather than create a dedicated organization that would not only outwork its competition, but also outperform them, Musk hatched a clever educational technology project that was unprecedented in its effects on human behavior.
In theory, the project seemed simple enough: teach educators worldwide how to plot, control and control their children’s online behavior, and they will create a self-regulated citizenry more responsive to the demands of corporate and government regulations. At the start, the revolution’s engine seemed unstoppable. But three months later, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the program was shelved at Elon Musk’s request—right before the hedge fund Institutional Shareholder Services and four institutional investors, including the University of California, proposed putting the project on the ballot in California.
Musk apparently felt that these controls would be too restrictive—could not be gamed like Google Search—and too intrusive. But ultimately, he didn’t think his kids should have all the fun and he didn’t want to face the consequences, and the reason he started the program in the first place is why we shouldn’t allow it to ever happen again.
The adage that bad things happen to good people is a favorite for propagandists, politicians and cult leaders of all kinds, but it probably comes from the worlds of adventure and adventure gaming, a hobby that can go beyond the obvious. Without the proper training, steps should be taken to prevent disasters like the one that Musk encountered.
Those steps are as follows:
1. Ensure that teachers and lecturers are responsible for their own classrooms and their classrooms alone.
2. Weaken any child or youth control over the course selection and content of the class work.
3. Develop the ability to decide for yourself what is permitted in a language, science, art or sports program.
4. Create the ability to take classes or programs to see what your vision of success looks like.
5. Develop the ability to listen to the kids.
6. Create the ability to have kids collaborate on any subject—online, physically, through videogames, and in whatever form.
Musk’s learning tool appeared to have failed when the states shut down the program just six months after it began. The seven institutes licensed to use Musk’s methods lost $100 million, and eight future donations were canceled.
What Musk didn’t have, however, was a political audience or the wisdom to know that his perception of what the user group was going to want and need changed over time.
There is a lesson here for educators in general and teachers in particular. The teachers who founded Musk’s Peacekeepers were forthright and honest about what they were doing. Our teachers today are often irresponsible, self-serving and secretive about their activities. They are practicing cognitive denial, a form of denial that we have perpetuated in education for many years.
Awareness and honesty are essential for educators to engage the trust of the student body, whether they are students or citizens. Without that trust, our lesson plans are mere propaganda. We should start to address this at once, as it is an insidious issue that opens the way for tyranny.
SpaceX vs. bureaucracy
Elon Musk’s learning tool was re-launched by Imagination Academy, a 20-year-old nonprofit that developed curriculum specifically for use by public schools. They are currently exploring and developing their own tools to help the classroom engage with content using resources from an interdisciplinary work.
The actions of those involved with the Space Force are indicative of a larger shift in the way we view what education can accomplish, and why the party that started it all is losing steam. We don’t have to be stuck in an iron cage of secrecy as students, nor do we have to become subject to Musk’s and Musk’s manipulative demands. We can instead create an educational agenda that serves all participants, not just those that have the means and power to help shape that agenda.