A series of recent news articles focused negatively on the assertion that ”children of technology” are “lost in cyberspace,” and the constant stream of new technology provides “a profound challenge to focusing and learning.” But technology is a neutral, amoral force, created by human intelligence in the most advanced sub-cultures on the planet, and available relatively easily to virtually most, if not all, humans everywhere.
Technology — particularly the market-driven technology that delivers communication, research and democratic (community building, idea exchanging) capabilities to any relatively isolated individual — is always a menace to the status quo, and probably no more so than when technology disturbs the inculcation of societal mores on the individual student within the ‘teen tribe’ environment.
Technology renders the societal playground level, so to speak.
The first threat to any status quo is not to a student’s capacity to focus and learn in the abstract, but the student’s early discovery of what is “useful information” as opposed to “propaganda” in the irrational aspects of any socialization process, regardless the particular cultural context. Where is any student likely to find an accurate analysis of the U.S. invasion of Iraq for example? In a public school civics class, or in an online discussion with peers (perhaps Iraqi peers) globally, networked through a social site like, say, Facebook?
How does a Saudi student, armed with contemporary individual global technology, come to terms with the profoundly unethical treatment of women under Saudi law? How does a catholic youth, aware of the global Aids situation, compute the latest stance of the Pope on contraceptive use?
For every negative critique of the distraction and misuse of social media among any student base, there’s an antithetical finding that shows students accelerate learning when class study incorporates web-driven individual study and research programs, rather than old-fashioned group classes with an authority figure “teaching.” Both education methods are essential to the individual accumulation of knowledge and skill. For every study that shows a decline in reading and writing skills in tested environments, there’s another report that shows students read more on line (material they are actually interested in) and write (type skillfully) constantly throughout the day.
Vishal Singh, 17, often chooses time on his computer over doing homework. Vishal, whose lighting gear is on the bed, is an aspiring filmmaker. (NYTimes.com)
The challenge facing any educational process now is to provide the kind of meaningful information that is relevant and credible to contemporary students, in formats that accommodate the efficiencies and scope of advancing individual technology. IT functionality in the classroom will always lag behind the immediacy of individual technology, particularly in the hands of the next emerging tribe of teenagers who are instinctively drawn more to each other than to any status quo.
When an educational system and prevailing status quo become irrational, inhumane, or dysfunction, however, this youthful and natural critique is even more prevalent. Fear not; there’s another generational tribe forming as we speak. A friend of mine’s 8-year old recently questioned the need to learn handwriting in his class with the statement, “don’t you know handwriting is obsolete!” His comment was met with incomprehension by the teacher and instant applause from his young classmates.