I haven’t read the story in the New York Times a friend just forwarded me yet, but I think know the premise with the blurb “In City Schools, Tech Spending to Rise Despite Cuts By SHARON OTTERMAN: Some local officials are questioning a spending increase as New York City is planning to cut 6,100 teaching positions.”
Everyone who knows me well enough to have a beer out with me knows I have strong opinions on both technology and education, so I’m not really going to get into the nuts-and-bolts responding to the story itself, moreso the premise as a whole: technology replaces teachers … some day in the not-too-distant future you’ll have disciplinarians and workstations, kids will come in and plug in, 100s or maybe 1000s to a classroom with only a monitor to make sure they don’t hurt one another or destroy the machines.
it’s the same premise as what happened in manufacturing (a horrible, horrible comparison I’m sure I’ll be berated for, but i’m also sure that sadly, a lot of progressives will overlook as they look toward a technological future), there was a very costly upfront on putting robots onto assembly lines at times when companies struggled to pay salaried employees. it was an outrage that they would invest in techonolgy while claiming too tight a budget to pay salary. So, between layoffs and atritian it opened up space for the robots who eventually made their human counterparts obsolete. No, manufacturing doesn’t employ manufactures it employs IT people who make the machines run, and it takes a lot less of them to accomplish the same task with greater efficiency.
It’s taken on a similar effect in how we structure our daily lives. Consider what I wrote back in 2008 about technological desocialization and last year about technology’s moral disengagement and how we’ve already allowed technology to overtake some basic elements of our lives under some flawed premise and blinded guise of it making things “better.”
it’s a tantalizing prospect. teachers are human and come rife with human problems. The backlash against paying shitty teachers (hey look, there’s shitty in every profession, teachers get a different microscope because society likes to point blame rather than take responsibility in some cases) or not knowing how to “grade” teachers for their efforts, how to apply grades to students in general, etc. become wiped out because the computer is inhuman. It dispenses the lesson and grades black and white if the lesson is completed (note completed, not comprehended, computers, no matter how powerful right now to not have that computing ability). It is unidimensional learning, to be sure, but it’s also something that in a very Orwellian / Huxleyian way is of interest to those that want to 1) level the playing field so everyone gets the same thing 2) strive for effeciency (even at the sake of effectiveness) and/or 3) strive for cost reduction to the n’th degree.
Before we could ever get to that point though, technology must be a teachers friend. As the younger generation becomes more plugged in, there’s a segment that believes the only way to truly engage them is to plug in too. There’s also this theory that the only way they will really be prepared for the next version of the real world is to plug them in early. then finally, there’s the whole notion of some people wanting to appear at-or-ahead of the curve, hence this whole rush to supply children with netbooks and iPads and all, while, at the same time forgoing other aspects of education because those things create a certain image and perception is reality for those who are blinded by the image.
Even if we never make it to the future I proposed in the first paragraph, the idea that a great piece of technology could ever do more than merely augment a teacher misses the point of what we should be striving for in education in the first place. Technology, at its best, is meant to facilitate. It might replace itself, but rarely could it be said that it completely replace the need for the underlying human skill. It also misses the point that part of eduction is socialization and teaches skill sets beyond the core functions a multiple choice scan-tron test can capture. To take that away would be detrimental, to even consider subjugating would be folly, and yet, there are some who consider hopping on unproven trends en masse a good way to test theory, a flaw that has plagued education for generations even outside of our own already confused system.
That’s not to say I don’t believe in the power of technology. I absolutely do. It is a core part of my daily life and I know the good it can do when it’s leveraged against difficult issues. It can, and should, play a core role as an instrument of learning, for it wields a tremendous wealth of collective knowledge. Unlocking that knowledge means more than merely having access to it and that’s where technology alone falters and why the discussions should include a much broader scope of how it fits into the greater puzzle along with better working environments, more well rounded teachers, better organized and integrated administrations, greater parental involvement and students that are held more responsible for their actions in and out of the classrooms.