Wednesday, July 22, 2009

From the Archives: The Times They Are A-Changin'

Originally published March 4, 2009

He calls the Xerox a mimeograph machine. He writes in 'Scantron' on the sheet passed around during the faculty meeting about new technology in the classroom. He might even refer to the Internet in the plural.

But he is a teacher. Maybe a great one. And we need him on our side.

Regarding how the Stimulus should be spent in Ed Tech, reader Ms. Chow writes:
The reality is that school faculties consist of a diverse group of people. For the sake of this argument, they will be the divided into the tech-fearful and the tech-savvy. Billions of dollars spent, thousands of hours of man-power/training/logic utilized, and we will still be left with these two groups.

Ms. Chow, thank you for the honest insight. And Mimeograph Man -- prepare yourself -- 'cause this one's for you.

Teachers are on the front-line. We as teachers know that. Whether you teach in a public school or a private school; in the city or in the farmland; in packed classrooms in over-crowded suburbs or as a home-schooler in your own kitchen, we know the front-line.

It is the future. And it is ever closer. Either we approach it or it approaches us. But it is ever closer.

In light of this, we as educators have to make a few things public with regard to the future and with regard to the role of technology in our classrooms.

First: We have to state to ourselves and to the public that the point of educational technology is not to facilitate the use of technology but to use technology to facilitate education. Why do we need to do it via technology? Because that's where the world is. And that's the world our kids need to be prepared to engage.

Second: Long have we striven for 'authentic learning experiences and assessments'; well, in the context of the Digital Age which is upon us, it is inexcusable to ignore the authenticity of technology in the experience of our culture -- whether or not our students themselves are able currently to afford technology or access.

Third: We need to petition our government: Internet Access is a matter of civil rights; nothing produces democracy and growth like the transparent spread of information -- and especially as educators we need to see to it that all of our school-aged children have equal access to a free and independent Internet.

Fourth: We, as teachers, no longer have the luxury of being 'tech-fearful'. I know that there are people on your faculty like Mimeograph Man who swear they are 'against' technology. While I admire their perseverance, and I respect many of them and see that they possess a wealth of experience and have often delivered excellent educations to countless children, I dare say that they do not realize the precipice we stand upon with regard to preparing our next generation of children for a digital future.

The future of the Internet is going to make paper look like the manuscript codex which made papyrus look like wax and clay tablets which were a minor improvement on a stick and wet sand. There are few instances in the history of communication that produce times as important as this: it is a time to either acclimate to the new paradigm or be left disheveled and confused at how the rest of the world passed us by.

This isn't about our 'comfort-level' with technology. This is about the Digital Age being a cruel reality. Things have changed. Our children need us to buck up, come to terms with and learn how to use the new technology, and help them navigate the digital world.

Please understand, I'm talking not from the point-of-view of a tech guy. I'm not some computer whiz. I'm a high school Latin teacher. And I also teach Art History and dally in the art department to the occasional chagrin of my chairman.

I spent most of my time in college translating Plato and Homer and reading about archaeological digs.

I am a firm proponent of the Liberal Arts.

In fact, I think a Liberal Arts education should be the first qualification for any content teacher in America.

Furthermore, I understand and appreciate Ed Schools -- even when I criticize them. I am the product of an M.S.Ed. program and the tutelage of some excellent professors in GT and Reading certificate programs.

I'm not trying to beat your brains in about this Ed Tech stuff because I'm some geeky square with a chip on my shoulder or a means to capitalize on this stuff; I'm trying to express to you my experience and my admittedly limited insights because I really see this as something that is going to have a direct impact on the future of our children. And that's why I became a teacher to begin with.

So help us out, or get out of the way. But don't just stand there over-analyzing and complaining and pretending this Digital Age is not happening. No one is taking away your paper and pencils; no one is gonna force you to learn HTML. We just want to help you get up to speed and we want you to continue helping our kids. Because the future for my children and your children and all of our children depends upon us doing the right thing in this moment.

Lastly, as I've said before: educational technology is not one of the various useless educational theories that have been recycled again and again in endless classrooms and faculty development meetings over the last thirty-odd years. Rather, educational technology is the way in which the education experience will exist within the broader context of the Digital Age. That age is upon us. We don't have a choice in the matter.

So, Mimeograph Man, think about it this way: when your grandchildren sit on your knee and ask you what you did to help your students during the Great Digital Revolution, you won't have to tell them you were busy complaining in the faculty lounge.

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