Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Building a Bridge to an Uncertain Future

So, Neil Postman's last book was entitled, Building a Bride to the 18th Century, the title being a play on then-president Bill Clinton's call to build a bridge to the 21st century.  Postman was not arguing that we should turn back the clock, it is important to emphasize, but rather that as we move into the new century (the book was published in 1999) the best thing we can do is reach back to the Enlightenment and bring the ideals and values that characterized that turning point in human history (which included the founding of the American republic) along with us.

So, a video that was posted earlier this year as a promotional piece by the technology company Intel (as you may recall, Intel Inside is their motto, a reference to their role as manufacturer of computer chips) put me in mind of Postman's final volume. The title of the video is Bridging Our Future, envisioned by Intel, and it presents a vision of grade school education that would be consistent with the emphasis that Clinton and Gore placed on information technology.  Here, take a look:

And here's the write-up from Intel:
By connecting education with smarter technology, Intel offers a look into the future of K-12 education. Watch as students use technology to collaborate with peers and industry experts to build a bridge model, from the initial design phase through the final structure testing. Intel's education solutions help teachers provide innovative, personalized and secure learning environments to prepare students for successful futures in the 21st century.

This is very much in keeping with the call for experiential learning that was part of the educational reform movement of the sixties and seventies, although back then it was all about doing things for real, not in a virtual environment.  But did you notice anything missing from this presentation?

I know Postman would have noted it right away.  There's virtually no reading or writing, or 'rithmetic for that matter.  It's all so very, very visual.  And yes, of course, that goes hand in hand with an architectural type of task.  But that's why Intel chose it to illustrate their vision for the future of education.  The emphasis on imagery is absolutely necessary for constructing an effective and evocative YouTube video.

But there was no looking up of facts, reading of published materials, even the idea of research here was transformed into talking to an engineer, secondary orality as Ong would call it, in the place of reading reference materials, books, articles, etc.  And there's almost no writing being done by the students, a brief exception being an online quiz, and no calculation.  Building a bridge without doing the math. Really?

Okay, they're just elementary school kids, and sure, this looks to be a lot more fun and even more educational then building those stupid dioramas that kids (and parents) have to do, and that enormous screen that takes the place of the classroom blackboard sure looks real cool, as does the teacher with all those hand gestures out of the movie Minority Report.  Granted all that, but still and all, what's the point of all this sight and furor?  What are the objectives of this sort of education? What have these students really learned? And is this our best hope for moving into an uncertain future?

Is Intel inside the classroom the best way to encourage intelligence inside our students? I think we're entitled to ask, where is this bridge that you're building taking us? Is it somewhere we really, really want to go?

No comments: