Who Knows? Who Decides? Who Decides Who Decides?

I was recently reading a section of the book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power” by Shoshana Zuboff.  This is an eye opener and an excellent book about surveillance capitalism.

Many of the things being addressed in this book are things I see related to or can relate to what I observe happening in our country today, especially in education.  Chapter Six, Hijacked: The Division of Learning in Society asks and addresses three questions:  Who Knows? Who Decides? Who Decides Who Decides?  While the chapter addresses these questions at more length, below are two quotes from the book.  The first briefly explains the questions and the second provides an extremely brief answer to each question.

“The first question is “Who knows?” This is a question about the distribution of knowledge and whether one is included or excluded from the opportunity to learn. The second question is “Who decides?” This is a question about authority: which people, institutions, or processes determine who is included in learning, what they are able to learn, and how they are able to act on their knowledge. What is the legitimate basis of that authority? The third question is “Who decides who decides?” This is a question about power. What is the source of power that undergirds the authority to share or withhold knowledge?”

“As things currently stand, it is the surveillance capitalist corporations that know. It is the market form that decides. It is the competitive struggle among surveillance capitalists that decides who decides.”

To me, this is scary to think that we are not only heading in this direction but that we are well on our way.  I would say we are already there except things related to technology are always evolving.

Think about this in terms of our education system during three periods of time:  1) prior to the recent education reform era, 2) during the recent education reform era, and 3) the surveillance capitalism present and future.  Shifts have taken place in the transition from one time period to the next.  The answers to the questions Who Knows? Who Decides? Who Decides Who Decides? with regard to our education system in this country have shifted from parents/local community to state/federal government to surveillance capitalist corporations.  These shifts, like their corresponding time periods, as simply stated here does not capture or adequately convey the complexity.  The shift to surveillance capitalist corporations driving our education system is well underway, or has already taken place and continues to evolve.

Below is a table that in a simple but incomplete way shows Who Knows? Who Decides? Who Decides Who Decides? for each of the three time periods.

QuestionPrior to Ed Reform EraRecent Education Reform EraSurveillance Capitalism Future
Who Knows?Educators and subject matter experts
parents/local community
state/federal governmentsurveillance
Who Decides?Educators and subject matter experts
parents/local community
state/federal government
Who Decides Who Decides?parents/local communitystate/federal governmentcompetitive struggle among surveillance capitalists

Different people may place different entities in the various boxes in the table.  There are definitely more players involved than just those mentioned.  It is possible that others dubbed as “experts” may be included with state/federal government.  Such “experts” may be more driven by an agenda or ideology than by any real expertise based on evidence, factual data, or true knowledge.

Foundations and the influential wealthy seem to go hand in hand with the surveillance capitalist corporations in deciding who decides.

These shifts have taken place gradually over time.  Has it happened so gradually that most parents and local communities have yet to realize their rights/responsibilities have been usurped?  Are parents and local communities okay with this?  Have they willingly turned those rights/responsibilities over to the surveillance capitalist corporations?  If not, what can be done to restore those rights/responsibilities back to parents and local communities?

What is Surveillance Capitalism?