Transforming Education Beyond Common Core: Getting the Word Out About Gaming for Social Change

Part 2 of a Series of Articles about the Brave New World of Gaming in the Classroom

The dangers of indoctrination become clearer when one considers the fact that the games being supported by the Department of Education focus on “social change.” Most of the presentations at the four-day Games for Change event involved lessons about tolerance of the Muslim “other,” global warming, sustainability, bullying, Native American culture, nuclear disarmament, and sexuality.

By Mary Grabar l May 25, 2015

As recounted in my previous article, gaming, or the use of video games for classroom instruction, aligns with the goals of the current Department of Education and the Common Core initiative.  Gaming helps to overcome the “achievement gap” by enabling students to proceed at their own pace.  Poor readers have less need to improve their reading skills as they are given access to curricular materials through images and sound.

Abstract thought is replaced by presumed “real-world problems,” and proponents tout gaming as a way to give students experience in solving such problems.  Realistically, the problems are pretend problems, and students give pretend solutions.  There can hardly be an objective evaluation for a fourth-grader’s proposal for solving world hunger or global warming (the stuff of lessons these days).  Instead of measuring a student’s knowledge of the subject matter, points are given for such things as “creativity” and “critical thinking.”  Such subjective criteria give teachers greater leeway in evaluating students and closing the achievement gap.

But through constant auditory and visual stimulation, gaming stymies independent thought.  The constant noise and moving images make it impossible to reflect in the way one can with books.  Thus, gaming allows even greater opportunities for indoctrination.

The dangers of indoctrination become clearer when one considers the fact that the games being supported by the Department focus on “social change.”

Such common sense observations are supported by the facts: the research does not show that gaming has a positive effect on learning.  The lack of credible research, of course, has had no bearing on the Department of Education’s push for the increased use of “digital learning.”  For years now the Department has been doling out grants to game developers to teach everything from math and science, to social and emotional intelligence, to ethics, and history.

This year it took the step of co-sponsoring the “Games for Change” festival in New York.  This first-day session, attended by Department of Education representatives, was called “Games for Learning.”  The theme of gaming in the classroom continued, though, into the following days, when government employees continued to participate.  At the event, developers were invited to apply for grants from non-profit arms of technology companies and associations, as well as from the U.S. government.

The Department of Education also used its resources to promote the event.  An announcement was made by Chad Sansing, who “teaches technology and project-based learning at the BETA Academy in Staunton, Virginia,” and Antero Garcia, a “Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education” and Assistant Professor at Colorado State University, at, where Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had promoted the event himself.  Sansing and Garcia announced that The U.S. Department of Education and Games for Change, “with support from the Entertainment Software Association,” would be hosting “the Games for Learning Summit April 21 at the 2015 Games for Change (G4C) Festival.” Expected participants (over 250) included “nationally recognized educators, the designers of some of today’s most popular video games, and members of the U.S. Department of Education.”

Sansing and Garcia recalled participating in the White House “Game Jam” with teams of game designers and some “amazing teachers” at the beginning of the school year.  Sansing’s game-design project, they claimed, demonstrated the benefits of game-based learning: “media literacy, soft skills like collaboration, and technical skills like managing an online repository of A/V assets, to say nothing of the logic, math, reading, and writing skills . . . in navigating tutorials, communicating online, and building . . .  games.”  They added excitedly, “Students even discussed gender norms in character design and traditional gaming narratives.”  They listed the same benefits of gaming as commonly ascribed to Common Core: “critical thinking, persistence, and problem-solving to master, critique, play, and make.”

Who participated in the event?  What kinds of skills were promoted?  Industry spokespeople, government officials, and game designers came together to discuss “partnering” with each other as they uncritically promoted the benefits of gaming. The partnering is much like the “partnering” that has been revealed in the production of Common Core curricula and assessment, the crony alliance between the U.S. Department of Education, technology companies, and their non-profit arms (that serve to advance sales of the for-profit companies).

In spite of Sansing and Garcia’s claim that games would teach “logic, math, reading, and writing skills” most of the presentations at the four-day event involved lessons about tolerance of the Muslim “other,” global warming, sustainability, bullying, Native American culture, nuclear disarmament, and sexuality.

The cronyism and disturbing indoctrination lessons will be discussed in following installments.

Mary Grabar, Ph.D., has taught college English for over twenty years. She is the founder of the Dissident Prof Education Project, Inc., an education reform initiative that offers information and resources for students, parents, and citizens. The motto, “Resisting the Re-Education of America,” arose in part from her perspective as a very young immigrant from the former Communist Yugoslavia (Slovenia specifically).  She writes extensively and is the editor of EXILED. Ms. Grabar is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.