This provocative article was shared on Facebook recently. Teachers sharing and talking about education during March Break, I know, crazy, right?
There is an technologist slant to this article that, like everything else people do in the age of information, reduces complex human interaction into a simplistic informational exchange. We fall into this trap in every age we live in. When society was church based we defined ourselves as souls and saw ourselves as intangible spirits in a material world. When we industrialized people started to see themselves as machines. In the information age, unsurprisingly, we treat ourselves like computational nodes in a network. We always seem trapped in our sense of self by the reflection our society casts casts back at us. In every case we’re taking what we are and reducing it to the limitations of the flawed technology we are producing.
By forcing our definition of people to fit the technology at hand we make humans an integral and exploitable part of that technology. If you can reduce complex human social interaction into simplistic social media exchange and centralize the profits from those interactions you’ve made a fortune. The same companies doing this do everything possible to avoid paying taxes to support the societies providing that data. This is one of the best examples of business leaching off society (other than the stock market itself) that I can imagine.
The fortune to be made reducing students to data is often dressed up under the guise of happier more engaged children, but in my experience the self directed learning suggested by the author of this article is neither efficient nor particularly engaging. Self directed learning requires the kind of focus, self discipline and appreciation of future benefit that most children are incapable of because they haven’t developed that bit of their brains yet.
Many adults are equally stymied by self-direction. For most, getting into a directed course of action means happily surrendering free will in order to work out of habit. This a much less stressful way to live a life. Developing routines and sticking to them means you get to off-load responsibility for the outcomes of those routines onto the people or devices that manage them. Being able to complain about this while taking no responsibility for what is happening (you’re a helpless cog in the system) is one of the most cathartic things your typical human being does in modern society. Schools are a favorite target of the lazy or aimless; an easy institution to hate because they are trying to develop you into a more fully functioning human being against your every effort.
The brave new world of self directed child geniuses being monitored by cheap, non-professional facilitators that require no special training get a lot of neo-liberals excited about the cheap and engaging de-institutionalized future of education. In the coming age of machine intelligence computers will do all of the thinking and management. Human beings won’t have to do anything more than assimilate with those machines… and complain about them.
Perhaps this writer has a point. In 20 years when AIs are doing the jobs of most of the non-specialized workforce, why waste money educating them? Students can go to school and perform the same mind numbing habitual activities they do at home. Once we’ve achieved this nirvana we will have taken the final step toward becoming nothing more than the technology we create.