A recent blog post by the always-inspirational Richard Louv converged with an after-hours conversation with a bunch of my equally inspirational and magnificently generous teaching colleagues (thanks for the beverage, friends!) to spark an interesting idea for me. It goes like this:
At one point, schools were the central repository of information. Colleges and universities were judged partially on the merits of their libraries, which comprised remarkably potent concentrations of the artifacts of the entire human endeavor to date. Faculties were valuable in part because they possessed knowledge and skills not to be found in many other places on the surface of the planet.
Fast forward to October 2013. The computer in my pocket is more powerful than those housed in secured basements at the not insignificant research institutions of this fair city circa 1980, and even more surreally has access to information many scales of magnitude broader and deeper than those housed in the colleges and universities of decades past. If anyone knows of a good graphic encapsulating this shift, I’d love to hear about it – I imagine it would be staggering.
In short, knowledge and information has shifted from a scarce resource to a ubiquitous presence. Certainly, we have to contend with the demands of sorting the valuable from the crap. And this should be a primary goal of any contemporary digital education.
However, it is a false assumption that the near omnipresence of digital media requires the elevation of digital education to the forefront of our educational systems. In fact, it may be the opposite: Now that what was once scarce (information) has become abundant, a new scarcity has revealed itself, one with no digital solution. In short, our society now faces a shortage of healthy, productive, flesh and blood relationships.
Out here in meat-space, where satisfaction and happiness and exhilaration and quality of life actually exist, we deeply misunderstand our humanity when we look for that satisfaction and quality of life in the confines of a glowing screen, regardless of the pixel count.
Relationships are the stuff of life, not technology. And my experience as a teacher and counselor would indicate that while it can be helpful for students to learn the ins and outs of scholarly database queries and search-engine-optimization, these things are not nearly as necessary to producing happiness as is having genuine friends with whom you can laugh or cry, as circumstances demand.
When we neglect the social and emotional realities of human development, and when we misconstrue technology as the source of happiness and well being, we do a disservice to entire generations, and risk missing the poetry, beauty, and tragedy of the human condition. An education that favors the digital over the relational is not serving humanity, it is serving technology. More to the point, we cannot hope to employ technology wisely and effectively without doing so in the context of our human, biological existence.
For many educators and politicians, it is all too tempting to throw money at iPads without considering who they’re being thrown at – human kids, with human hearts. And few indeed are the hearts that have been moved to genuine kindness, wisdom, or dogged persistence by the hypnotic but essentially inhuman glow of the magical ones and zeroes. One needs another human for lessons of that sort, and those are the lessons that in today’s classrooms are few and far between.