Students Rebel Against Zuckerberg Schooling Program, ‘Computers Teach And The Kids All Looked Like Zombies’

Mark Zuckerberg (R) and Priscilla Chan
Adam Berry / Getty Images

A learning program developed in Silicon Valley and funded by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, has made its way to public schools in middle America and in many cases, students and parents are not enjoying the revolution, The New York Times reports. When Zuckerberg and Chan set out to deliver a personalized learning approach that uses online tools to customize education, tailoring the experience for each child, they expected to revolutionize classroom learning.

Families like the ones in small Kansas towns, which have struggled with dwindling budgets and falling test scores, looked to the program as a technological hope in the face of long-running pessimism when it comes to the prospects of educating Kansas students. The approach, known as Summit Learning, made sense: students spend the bulk of their time on their computers, going online for lesson plans and quizzes, which they can work through at their own pace. Teachers are available to assist as needed and lead special projects. There’s no cost to the schools and it felt to many like the solution they had been waiting for.

Then, as The Times reports, came the side effects.

Students reported headaches and hand cramps, They felt more anxious than they had under traditional schooling, not to mention more isolated. As work is largely completed individually, many students found themselves spending the bulk of their time deeply focused on their own work with little regard for their surroundings.

“We’re allowing the computers to teach and the kids all looked like zombies,” said Tyson Koenig, a father who visited his son’s fourth-grade class. Shortly after the experience, he withdrew his 10-year-old from the program altogether.

Koenig was not alone in his feelings.

A school district survey of middle school parents revealed that 77 percent said they preferred their child not use the Summit program, and over 80 percent said their children had concerns about using it.

Abby Lunardini, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s chief communications officer, released an official statement in response to the groundswell of concern emanating from Kansas communities and elsewhere.

“We take the issues raised very seriously,” the statement reads, “and Summit has been working with school leaders and parents on the ground to address them.”

Chris Smalley, a father of two with experience with the program has put up larger and larger yard signs in front of his house with the word “Summit” in red with a slash boldly through the text.

“It sounded great, what they sold us,” Smalley said. “It was the worst lemon car that we’ve ever bought.”