Saturday, 30 June 2012

Smoke screens.

"Knowledge comes from crafted bindings and pages, Buffy, not ones and zeroes."

I don't like technology. Not just a slight aversion based on unfamiliarity; we're talking about deep-rooted loathing. Seriously, my friends and family all make fun of me for being such a zealous Luddite. In fact, I named my blog after a cherished fantasy of mine: to start a school on a lighthouse island. All the faculty and students would live there together, or perhaps just on the mainland, and I would also tend the lighthouse. In addition to a core curriculum like any other school, with rigorous and passionate instruction in math, history, languages, a wide range of literatures, and the sciences, we would also teach our students how to whittle and identify plants and sail and garden. It would be an education that connected students to the world around them, both socially and geologically, as much as I feel the digital age has removed us from it. Despite what my loved ones think, though, this abhorrence of a computer-obsessed world isn't just an eccentric affectation by a woman infatuated with earlier times.

We think of technology as magic: infallible. But it's not, is it? After all, how many of us have gotten in a fight with our darn computer not printing, or freezing up right in the middle of that paper, or not connecting to the Internet at the exact wrong moment even though the router's right there? We put all of our trust in something that could so easily break down at any minute, and does.

Not only that, it's separating us from each other. More and more, people aren't communicating anymore, not really. Instead, we're settling for connection, and that just barely. It's more the illusion of connection. So what happens if we bring that into the classroom?

In our first class, we talked about an article by Bill Sheskey, "Creating Learning Connections With Today's Tech-Savvy Student," in which he described a project that took the power out of the hands of the teacher and put it into the hands of the students. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for engaging students in their own education. But if we're putting education online in such a fundamental way, aren't we contributing to the death of the classroom? More and more, people are going back to school online; a great fear of mine is that in time, the physical classroom will be as obsolete as printed books or wax-sealed letters (two of my greatest passions). Where does it stop? I know that we need to reach out to students on a level they understand, a level that feels natural to them, but how far do we go before we're digging our own graves, or at best just pandering? I want future generations to love the smell of books, to love sitting down in the tangible presence of real human beings and sharing ideas, to respect and value and understand organic conversation that can't be deleted or drafted. Am I modeling that sort of behavior if I'm encouraging them to put everything online? Can they really not get just as much benefit from demonstrating things in front of other people, in person, not in cyberspace?

Perhaps not, come to that. In his article, Sheskey mentions that in 2006 -- that's six years ago now, mind -- "two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of two hours per day." By this time, who knows if they can develop perspective without seeing something on a screen. Because that's the difference, after all; the interactive aspect, the personal control, the self-determination, the intra-classroom constructive criticism, those could all happen without a camera or a computer. Why is it so important for them to see this work on a screen?

Perhaps technology can be equated with magic: powerful. Evolving. In the wrong hands, disastrous. In the right hands, though, maybe...maybe we can teach students that they don't have to choose between the old world, the world I love, and the new world that belongs to them. Maybe they can have both. I'm looking forward (kind of) to learning how to do that.