Confessions from DarknetED

Elaine Menardi

Coming soon to a theater near you: Darknet

(Roll film credits. Cue scary music. Cross-fade to backstreet alley shadows. Super villains cackle in the deep dark and we shiver.)
What the average person knows about the darknet typically comes from movies and television. We have the mental image of an online black-marketplace to find unsavory people to do unsavory things. An underground cyberworld for criminals, hackers and data thieves. Good wholesome people don’t go anywhere near the darknet for fear of being swallowed by the shadows.
This is only one facet of life in the secret shady corners of the internet. Darknets were created to hide information from the general public but still make it accessible online to the right people. They are highly encrypted to ensure security and privacy; in fact, you need a special browser to even get there. Darknets are an overlay network embedded within and above the internet we use every day, what sci-fi enthusiasts might call a parallel universe. We know darknets exist, but for the most part, we simply ignore them… until we need them.


Most of us are more familiar with the Clearnet or surface web where our search engines help us find content. The information economy magically appears with a few keywords and the click of a mouse. Virtually any piece of information can be found in milliseconds which has led to a huge upheaval for educators of all persuasions who have historically hailed themselves the gatekeepers of knowledge. Slowly, EdWorld is learning there are no more gates, and that everyone holds their own key card called internet access. Clearnet is available to anyone with access and mobile devices allow for accessibility anywhere and everywhere 24/7/365. There are currently about 3 billion smartphones subscriptions globally with the number predicted to surpass 6 billion by 2020. [6.1B Smartphone Users Globally By 2020, Overtaking Basic Fixed Phone Subscriptions ]
How well we use technology for educating young people determines the depth and breadth of the transferable, scaleable skills we can give students to carry into the future. The wheels of systemic change are grinding at a painfully slow pace as EdWorld tries to keep up with the learning needs of digital natives.

A World We Are Leaving Behind

Since the beginning of public education in the United States, we have been using an operating system of compliance. In a previous article on, I coined it edOS 2: Learn-Test-Forget. Education in the early 1900’s was entirely oriented toward training workers who would be compliant to the demands of employers. It drove the public economy as skilled laborers entered factories to manufacture a wide range of products. The ultimate goal of schooling was to create the right employees who would do the right job at the right time in the right way. Watch this:

Education still drives the public economy today. Although education leaders are quick to report their shifts to 1:1 school environments or mobile in the classroom, the way we teach kids is no different than it has been for decades or even millennia. Fundamentally, nothing much has changed. Simply forcing technology-laden devices into the hands of students does not mean the practice of instruction has evolved or become more effective. In some ways, readily accessible devices in the classroom have become more a distraction than a learning tool, merely replacing the golden age bound book with internet for the sake of speed.

Adding devices may shape the environment, but it is the reciprocal relationship between the technology, classroom, culture, behavior and cognition that ultimately represents the shift in learning that many schools have been seeking to find. If the goal of technology integration is to innovate schools and classrooms, then we need to change more than just adding technology. In other words, we need to take a similar approach as the creators of Sesame Street. They did not begin by creating a neighborhood in New York full of Muppets; they started by envisioning an environment to nurture literacy, learning, language and culture.

Education Week: Innovation in Schools–Changing Environment, Behaviors and Beliefs

Innovation in education must begin with a shift in mindset and school culture. Where compliancy in students characterized the original goal of public education, today we must look toward instilling agency at the heart of learning and teaching practice. Compliancy is a world we are leaving behind. Agency is the world we are moving toward. EdWorld is long overdue for renewal. Now is the time to pivot the education model with a sense of urgency.
Darknet-Brandon-Sentences-400pxwConsider the story of Brandon who is a seventh grader in my math class. He barged into my classroom and shoved his paper in my face.
Me: What’s going on?
Him: She’s making me write sentences!
Me: Why?
Him: Because I forgot to bring my paper to class!
Me: Where is it?
Him: I did it. I have it. Somewhere.
Me: Well then, why don’t you turn it in?
Him: I don’t know where it is.
Me: So what lesson can you learn here?
Him: Don’t forget my assignments for her class.
Me: Ok. Good. And?
Him: I dunno. What?
Me: Get yourself organized! I can help you with that.
Brandon hoists his bulging Trapper Keeper up on my desk. It literally erupts like a volcano when he unzips it. Papers fly everywhere. Thirty minutes later, the lost essay is found, the Trapper Keeper is sans five pounds of old assignments, and Brandon has promised to maintain his new-found organization. He is worried about how his dad will react when he has to sign the teacher’s note. I offer: Just tell him that you’re better organized now and you’ll try not to let it happen again.
Brandon smiles. His day has ended on an up-tick. I ponder: How were sentences even remotely going to help? Such flawed thinking persists in 2016. Brandon brought me candy the next day. In his eyes, the high agency teacher beat the high compliancy teacher hands down.
[The corollary to this story: Other teachers in my building are also threatening students with sentence-writing; in some cases, 100 or more depending on the infraction. They truly believe this is an effective strategy that teaches students to take responsibility for learning. Sadly, it’s working. Students don’t want to waste time or endure the hassle of writing sentences, so they don’t talk in class or forget to turn in assignments anymore. The flip side—perhaps unintended consequence—is that they are completely un-invested in their own education. All they care about is getting out of those teachers’ classrooms as quickly and painlessly as possible. Compliance-culture at its ugly best. P.S. Brandon told me that math is his favorite subject now.]

A World We Are Moving Toward

The abundance of happy school stories via blogs, websites and conference keynotes masks the reality that upwards of 80% of students still drown in this type of school culture. Brandon’s story is not an isolated incident, nor is this school an isolated example. Too many educators at all levels are stuck in the Compliancy-Mindset and, on some level, believe this is the proper way to educate students and train them for the future, because in most cases this was how they were taught.
In his recent talk at the Texas Association of School Administrators Mid-Winter 2016 conference in Austin, Sir Ken Robinson inspired listeners:

For most kids in this country, public education isn’t their best shot at the future; it’s their only shot. Getting public education right is the safe admission of future success for all of us. Some things we need to challenge or rethink because they were suited for the world we are leaving behind, but not the world we are moving toward.

Think for a moment about the arc of technology in your professional career alone. If you are a 15-year veteran educator, you have seen all of this develop during your adult life.
Most of the digital advances we take so much for granted these days are less than ten years old, meaning they are just entering early adolescence, as are tech’s analog adult users. Like the young people in our classrooms, the ‘tween years are consumed with identity-building, emotional upheaval and a steep intellectual learning curve. Analog adults navigating the integration of new technology in education will pass through the same growth phases to discover a higher level of maturity and understanding. What will come in the next decade? In the next five years or even short three years?
In his TASA talk, Sir Ken reminds us that technological advancement includes unintended—often, unimagined—consequences. When cars started rolling off Henry Ford’s assembly line, no one knew what the development of fossil fuels would require, or the impact of carbon emissions, or what traffic gridlock even was. When Apple released the iPhone, no one could predict that students would one day walk around with a mini-computer bulging with global access in their back pockets.
The GenZ learner receives more visual stimuli in thirty minutes than his or her 1950’s counterpart did in a whole year. This alone has impacted everything from learning styles to thought processes to work ethic and the ability to persevere through challenge and hardship. Compliancy in students once served a purpose, but no more. The world is not going to stop moving forward; it will only move forward faster. Our survival depends on people who will invent new pathways for progress.

Confessions from DarknetED

DarknetED is the online home of the Un-Compliant (as opposed to the non-compliant). Here you will find the disruptors/instigators/change makers/game changers/avant garde educators who are restless and dissatisfied waiting for EdWorld to catch up with modern times.
DarknetED is hiding in plain sight while teachers-in-the-trenches fly underneath the radar to provide the “real” education that young minds need and want. I know because I am one of them. [But let’s just keep that between us.]
I am midway through the first year in a new teaching situation and though all educators face highly challenging circumstances anymore, I find this one is stretching me to my limits. The learning gaps of students play a significant factor in how effectively I can teach math, but the leadership of my administrators has a much deeper impact.
They are stagnantly rooted in a compliancy-mindset and we clash when it comes to doing what is in the best interest of students.I feel discouraged and disheartened knowing that their flawed thinking persists in 2016.
On DarknetED, I hang out and learn with inspired educators in #DTK12Chat and #reimaginePD Twitter chats. I regularly visit these sites and all the great links they point me toward:

I participate in webinars with bold educators around the world who dare to push the boundaries in classrooms to give students what they truly need to succeed in life—authentic and relevant problem-solving mindsets and skills.
I am restless and dissatisfied following the dictates of heavy systemic inertia that originate in compliancy-mindset leadership. For me, DarknetED is teeming with inspiration and life that feed my spirit but more importantly, has its fingers on the pulse of the modern student. DarknetED motivates me to reach the child who hungers for purpose where my everyday context does not.


Grades and test scores do not measure mastery or competency; they measure compliancy. Standardized test scores will tell me if my students can solve systems of linear equations but will not tell me if they can comparison shop to lower a grocery bill or figure out how to make their robots zig instead of zag. Scores will tell the principal if I have taught my students the grade level curriculum but not if I have piqued their curiosity or sparked their motivation toward lifelong learning.
Scores do not reflect students’ skills; they reflect students’ knowledge. Wouldn’t we all agree that we have a whole lifetime to learn knowledge?
The kicker is that a significant number of students simply go through the motions on standardized tests. They are not invested in the outcomes of the tests so the scores don’t mean anything to them.
How proficiently my students perform on standardized testing this year will be used as 33% of my overall performance evaluation, so the tests matter to me in a big way. But if my students come into the year already one grade level or more behind in their skillsets—and I can only teach the grade level curriculum—how can any of us be measured for mastery or competency? The most accurate assessment will be our compliancy, whether or not we did what we were told.
In his best-selling book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell introduced the famous 10,000 Hour Rule—that it takes 10,000 hours of consistent practice to become an expert at anything. Keep in mind there are a huge number of factors to consider in the idea, but the bottom line is:

“What makes ridiculously successful people so successful is they’re experts at practicing—they can push themselves to the exact limit of their skillset and thus expand their abilities day after day.”

Malcolm Gladwell Explains What Everyone Gets Wrong About His Famous ‘10,000 Hour Rule’

Let’s apply the 10,000 hour rule to students. If young people spend 7 hours per day in school for 180 days per year for 12 years, they will have accumulated over 15,000 hours of expertise. The question is: What will they have mastered? Will they be masters of compliancy or agency? For way too many, like Brandon and his peers, it will be compliancy.
Compliancy does not promote deep learning. At best, it feeds rote-learning that fuels the Learn-Test-Forget mentality that produces information-economy students. Compliancy in education served a purpose at one point in time—circa 1910—when knowledge was growing vertically and the acquisition of knowledge was truly only available to the privileged elite. Today, knowledge grows horizontally. Internet has equalized access to information and education. The curious mind can easily satisfy its burning questions.

Students’ Cry: #MakeMeALinchpin!

I am not alone in my quest for a better school experience for young people. There are plenty of educators who live on DarknetED sharing ideas and work around design-thinking, project-based learning, inquiry-based classrooms, grit and growth mindset and how to best implement opportunities to teach students the 4C skills—creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking. Many will admit outright they do not have the freedom or authority to change the fundamental platform of education in their contexts, but they do it anyway for the sake of the students. Some have to be more subversive for fear of losing their jobs or enduring official reprimands that will follow them throughout their careers.
I specialize in subversive. I take the risk because students deserve more than they are getting. This year, I have secretly added several design thinking projects when administrators were looking the other way. But observation season begins in earnest very soon, so I will have to proceed with more caution. I shouldn’t have to live in this fear, but I do. Parents and families entrust their children to educators to prepare them for successful futures and yet, every year 1 in 4 students leaves school without graduating. Any sensible CEO would look at an annual loss of 25% of its customer base as a dire reason to change the business model.
Today’s education system is not creating job-ready employees. The future demands idea-economy students—young people who have invested themselves in the personal journey of education, who can explore the contemporary complexities of this post-modern world and who will be able to problem-solve solutions to the critical questions that will affect us all in the future.
High agency learning begins with culture. Students need teachers who will help them get organized instead of making them write sentences. Teachers need administrators who will trust them to be the content experts they are instead of micromanaging lesson plans. Marketing guru Seth Godin points the way toward our goal: We aren’t training factory workers anymore. We are creating Linchpins.

Linchpins are the essential building blocks of tomorrow’s high-value organizations. They don’t bring capital or expensive machinery, nor do they blindly follow instructions and merely contribute labor. Linchpins are indispensable, the driving force of our future.

Linchpins are artists. Artists are people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection, or a new way of getting things done.

Linchpin by Seth Godin

Linchpins solve problems and make ideas happen. They connect us and inspire us with creative solutions no one else can see. Linchpins are idea-economy, innovative thinkers who astound us with elegant solutions to complex problems. They make the world a better place by pursuing their art with passion and purpose and then sharing it for the benefit of all.
Educators must be about the business of creating linchpins. We do not lack the ingenuity, ideas or tools. Everything we need is out there on DarknetED. We simply lack our own self-agency to give students what is essential for their success. We must arrive at this center of critical mass now:

The needs of students vastly outweigh—are more morally imperative—than our need to preserve an outdated, ineffective model of public education.

We have no choice but to pivot our antiquated method of schooling if we are to move toward a new world. It is time to get unstuck.
Inspired? Locate in Denver? We will be hosting an original event on June 4, 2016 at Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver, Colorado titled: ed OS: A New Operating System for Education. Speakers include David Kelley, Founder of IDEO and Ted Fujimoto, Edutransformer from New Tech Network. Click here to reserve your spot.
For more check out:

Elaine Menardi is Co-Brain at Never Summer. Follow Elaine on Twitter, @ELMenardi.

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1 Comment

Stevan Kalmon

As another member of the Darknet... I'm slightly more hopeful than you, Elaine - not about the Educational Institution but about the changes in learning that will occur regardless of what changes the Institution makes. My primary concern is that these changes will exacerbate the growing disparity between those who have and those who have not. For me, a new educational operating system must embrace the radical notion that everyone should have the right to powerful learning - not more standardized compliance nor more buckets of information but experiences that fire the mind and cultivate habits of vigorous exploration.
How do we open the future for Mrs. Crosby, as well as Brandon?

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