Dont smash the machinery
June 9, 2008 · Updated 9:34 PM
Sudden technological leaps bring social and economic unease. Skills and professions may be rendered obsolete overnight, familiar ways rendered quaint.
The poster boy for anxiety in such times would have to be Ned Lud, a possibly apocryphal figure credited with leading several minor uprisings in England around 1811, in which machinery (primarily in the fledgling textile industry) was smashed to bits by roving bands of displaced workers. The movement even added a word Luddite to the popular lexicon, for folks wary of technological change.
Paradoxically, the new ways also bring demand for new skills and technical understanding, and thus create new fields of employment. So it is perhaps this fundamental tension Do we shape the tools, or do the tools shape us? that explains some resistance, as school officials seek voter approval for an $8.9 million levy for technology upgrades in our classrooms. Weve had several letters rueful of the social changes that have come with the newly wired world, or suggesting that chalk and blackboard were good enough for past generations, thus good enough for this one.
But the dichotomy better technology or better education rings false. More computers and interactive displays will not supplant the human interaction between student and teacher, but can certainly enhance the experience at both ends.
If an instructor can simultaneously type up a lesson on a
laptop, display it for assembled students to discuss, and record the information for kids who are sick at home to access via their own computer, how is this a bad thing? Let us further say that video-conferencing allows a classroom to dial up a real-time tour of a NASA facility, or perhaps the Louvre in Paris. Critics might call this virtual learning, but its arguably more experiential than a lecture based on static pictures in a musty textbook thats probably already out of date.
Nothing excites young minds like exciting teachers, and the success of the Bainbridge Island School District suggests that we have those in spades. Why should anyone believe that the excellence of the local curriculum will suffer, just because the tools of instruction change?
If theres one thing thats unfortunate about the May 17 tech levy, its that the school district allowed a decade to pass since the last one. The community is now asked to make up ground, to bring our classrooms current again. Even so, the cost for the average island homeowner 55 cents per day for the next 48 months doesnt strike us as unreasonable, particularly when the state and the feds give mandates for student technological proficiency but no funding.
Do we shape the tools, or do the tools shape us? We believe the generations that succeed us will go on to shape their own world by the lessons they learn around the community campfire, even if that campfire happens to be a digital display. The technology by which they learn is itself neither good nor evil; the instruments by which technology is defined at a given time are just that instruments by which to negotiate the circumstances around us. Denying our teachers modern machines because were dissatisfied with some aspects of the wired world is foolish; technology is revolutionizing as many noble fields science, medicine, environmental study as it is mind-candy pursuits like video games or chat rooms.
The best education will always begin and end with caring
parents and good teachers, and neither is going to be
displaced by newer, better computers in our classrooms.
So heres a parting question for our local Luddites: If
you oppose the school levy because youre uneasy about the
technology of the modern world, why exactly do you keep sending us your letters by email?