backlashInevitably as advancements occur in a culture the excitement of new ideas will surely be followed by anxiety and then a backlash.

Educators are in the midst of this phenomenon as we see our classrooms inexorably invaded by smartphones, Ipads and computers.

It is the end of the year, and as is so common when faculty are both tired and in a place to reflect a little, there are those “faculty-all” e-mails in which colleagues are sharing their thoughts with everyone all at once. This year the topics seem to be about technology.       No surprise.

There are links to scientific articles proving that smartphones will damage children’s brains, or a piece telling us that good old fashioned pencil and paper is a better tool for imprinting memories in the human mind than any of these distracting electronic devices. As I write this blog piece, the latest entry in my e-mail box is a proposal to institute restricting rules around technology in public areas. Well, good luck with that folks. Pandora’s box has been open for some time now.                                                                    LOL.

We love innovation and want to have the latest fashionable dress yoga pants, the newest go-pro camera, the most up to date safety features in our cars, and yet we also love the retro stuff, the music of our youth, the backpack that has seen a thousand trail miles, a comforting morning routine of coffee and a newspaper.                                                          The human condition.

Maybe this apparent oxymoron comes from our evolutionary heritage. We have survived as a weak and clawless creature mostly as a result of our culturally acquired skills and knowledge. We know how to hunt and find wild edibles because our elders taught us. They learned from their elders. We have the longest childhoods of any species because so much time is needed for that transfer of knowledge from parent to offspring.

And yet we also survived the Earth’s upheaval of Climate change through the last ice age because we are the most adaptable mammalian species ever. Perhaps the defining characteristic of being human is the ability to have a cultural conversation about ideas, to discuss and debate, to try things out, and to discard or improve. We have no fangs and we are slow runners, but our minds are fertile grounds where new ideas compete with older traditions. Often what results is a creative blend of “all of the above,” and thus the tribes of humans have learned to inhabit every corner of this varied planet from jungle to desert to tundra.                                                                                                                                                  We have always been experimenters.

Let me return to the debate about technology in the classroom. A calculator is a poor tool for pounding in nails, but it sure works nicely when you need to find the area of a circle.

Of course some of us are old enough to remember the outcry against calculators in classrooms too.

But I find the debate about technology in the classroom fascinating, and revealing too. Maybe we are not asking the right questions yet? Is this really the fundamental question “What is better for learning my History or English facts, a notebook or an Ipad?”

The Wright brothers asked the question “Can humans fly?” Watson, Crick and Franklin asked “What does DNA look like?”  Maybe we educators could be asking some new questions?                                                                                                                                                It is finding the right question to ask that might get us somewhere.

Here are a few that plague me all the time.

“What is truly most important for our students to learn in school right now, as humanity will face this century, the greatest challenges it has ever faced, the very limits of the Earth to sustain us all?”

“What social, technical, scientific and cultural skills will our students need, to be able to help find solutions to the seemingly insurmountable problems ahead?”

“How can we educators help our students to be prepared for the future that none of us really understands yet?”

I don’t have the answers… but let’s talk!


About Sue Houston

I've been teaching high school science for over 25 years. The more I learn, the more questions I have about how good education really works. This blog is an attempt to explore the fundamental question of "How do Kids Learn?" This blog will include posts related to technology in education, neuroscience, behavioral science and real life experiences in the classroom. Please, I invite you all to join the conversation in the comments sections. Perhaps together we can find more insights into how kids learn! If you are a student, educator, or past student (that covers everyone, right?) you have something to contribute! :)
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2 Responses to Backlash

  1. The Beagle says:

    >> …most important for our students to learn right now…[as we face] the very limits of the Earth to sustain us all?

    I think the most urgent need is to make students (which should include all of us, of course!) able to distinguish between fact, opinion, and B.S. Until we as a country get better at that, the rest is hopeless.

    >> What … skills will our students need … to be able to help find solutions…?

    We need people with every skill: not just technologists but also writers, lawyers, historians — everyone. What we can’t afford are people who don’t care or are dishonest.

    >> How can we educators help our students to be prepared for the future that none of us really understands yet?

    Help them to see what a wonder it is to be alive, and what and privilege it is to be alive at this time in history, when we have more prosperity and, more important, more intellectual freedom than ever before. Demonstrate the correlation between tolerance, empathy and honesty on the one hand and prosperity and happiness on the other. Show what life is like where there are no civil rights or religious freedoms, or where the environment has been ravaged. Recall where such situations have prevailed right here in the United States, and in recent memory. Show them that our current blessed state cannot be taken for granted. To keep it, the best in each of us will have to rise up and take a stand.

    Liked by 1 person

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