Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

Technology: Black Hat Or White Hat?

CJW, June 19, 2010 9:01 PM


Classic Content = White Hat 
Technology= Black Hat 
What Makes One Think You Can't Learn Classics With Technology?

- C.J. Westerberg

Lately, we've been deluged with numerous articles about how technology is ruining our ability to function like human beings, here, making us even more stupid, here, less empathetic, here, and responsible for the destruction of any sensible way of life, let alone education.

"All things are true," is what a dear mentor  once told me very early on in my career life.  "To what degree?" was his "jolly" rejoinder to most all-encompassing statements.   Well, in this case, the degree of technology infiltrating our lives is intense.  So, folks, when I read this piece by Stanley Fish, here, in The NY Times, "A Classical Education: Back To the Future," it again reinforces the closed-minded silo-like mentality in the academic sphere. 

Fish entices us into believing that there are three disparate views about to be conveyed.  The main premise:  the need for classic education.  Okay, sounds interesting.  Classic is a good connotation.  Who in their right mind would not want their kids exposed to and reading great classics as a part of their education?  Especially those parents reading an education opinion piece in the The NY Times?  
Why is it that technology always seems to rear its ugly head, either as an evil force or this  outlier-ish spoiler?  Are the M.I.T., Yale & Stanford lectures available for free on-line, lacking in classic content?   Or, content-rich games, like the forgotten subject of civics, via recent posts, here, or 1,200 free 10-minute courses available, here, lacking in classic content?  Or, is it because it is delivered in a format that is not classic?  Or because it is an unfamiliar format to Stanley Fish and his cronies?  Or, worse yet, is it opening up a once closed world with  "access for all" and closing the "for the chosen few" door? 

The intruder?  Technology.  The black hat in the pure ivory-tower world of academia.  Oh please.  Technology as the bad actor?

Last time we checked, technology delivered content.  How about Shakespeare online?  Or, what is so terribly wrong exposing kids to BBC's Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet, via DVD, a big hit that combines Shakespeare's "old language" with modern surroundings?

As outlined in the Fish article, here we apparently have three voices represented (disclosure: have not read Nussbaum book and what is stated re: her take on "tests and content" sounds inconsistent w/Fish's statement on technology attributed to Nussbaum, so be it), with Nussbaum caring "solely about content and the means of delivering it" with mentions most disparaging toward technology.   Sorry, Stanley, not everyone had the same opportunities as you, or the same ability to play the education game so well, or maybe having the particular content-consuming talents you obviously have to achieve your multi-degreed creds.  Technology can open worlds to non- elites and flatten the "entry" into educated elite.  Perhaps one day, creds will be not the ability to pay for access to a college degree . . .  access being the operative word.

The most obvious question here:  "Isn't technology a tool, a delivery system?"  Technology isn't another subject or category.  Check out Alan November, here, calling for educators to "think different" (Apple's former tag-line).  Doesn't technology provide opportunities for people to have the world's library of content and talent at their fingertips?   

As a mother, I deal with technology in a love/hate fashion every day. (I won't even get started about business.)  I'm loving the education options for my daughter. . . so do parents, as we hear nearly every day.  Parents are no longer subjected to the constraints imposed by an education system or the school they attend - whether it be public or private.  Parents are learning about the options.  We like options.

Parents no longer only have to follow the "experts."   As importantly, many experts are clueless about what I need to know as a parent, such as Chatroulette, garbage, porn,  time-wasters and culture-trash on the Web.  At home, we also have become aware of "electronic time," where it becomes a separate "space" to be enjoyed, yet limited.  We make a huge effort to balance our high-tech lives with lots of outdoor activities, card and board games, reading aloud, volunteering, and all the stuff that connects us in a different way or slows us down.  We haven't quite defined what "that other way" exactly is as a family, but we have become aware of the balance it brings into our lives.  That is really exciting (and no doubt, challenging too) when, as a family, you start becoming aware and understanding what is happening to your "time".   A yin to the yang world of tech.

The effects of tech are not just up to some collective "them", whoever they are, but it is up to us, individually, as parents and as a community of role models.

Just the other night, "the husband" gave his ticket for a symphony concert to invite our tween- daughter's friend in his place (another effort to expose kids to the beauty of an unwired world).   On the ride home, she was texting and I asked her who she was texting.  She said "her Mom".  I said, "Okay.  Good to know.  But after that, we don't do texting while in the car, unless it is an emergency or an urgent signal."   I've done this several times with tweens in the car, and surprisingly, they are very cool with the whole idea that there is a rule and it's no big deal.  When they ask why, I just say, "I just don't think it's polite to be texting other friends when you are with another friend ".   Short and sweet.  (Music?  Sure, sing along together, but it's not avoiding the one you're with. . . ) 

It's amazing how kids may not even think of their behavior this way. . . have they ever been taught as much?  So much for empathy  - how else would they know?  It's a whole new world for parents (and kids) out there and feel that we have to be that much more aware of how tech affects our kids' world. 

While this tactic works at this age, I would venture that in a couple years, there may be no chance of this message being heard, much less followed.  Point being, we, parents,  are not passive bystanders.  If Mom and Dad are checking their Blackberrys during a dinner together (how often is this occurring?), please don't moan about your kid's shutting out with Nintendo. 

Six or seven years back, when Treo and Blackberry were the new thing in business, I'll never forget one of my long-time, people-oriented friends, who always seems to just cut-to-the-chase in an Anthony Bourdain sort-of way,  say,  "Thank God for these things.  Now I can sit with my assh*** boss and never even have to talk to him while waiting for a plane flight . . ."

Deal With It

Sometimes I wonder if technology is one of those seminal forces in life which require a period of stages, like those we encounter with loss - in this case, a loss of another way of life: 

Denial:  Hiding from the facts
Anger:  Not ready or equipped to take on the new reality
Awareness Of Need To Regain Control:  Finding ways to live with the new reality or fight it
Depression:  Pining for the old days
Acceptance:  Dealing with it already

Yet, just as with something so essential and ever-present as food, kids have to know about technology, whether WE like it not.  What is good, what is bad, what is too much, why it is important to know what's going on and to be able to handle it properly.

Like food, there is a greasy cheeseburger and fries with coke just calling out to us every day.  It's there for the taking. Unless you know better.

Same with tech.  Every day are choices . . . the good, the bad, the ugly.
Let's not just throw technology nillly-willy into the "bad hat" arena just because it is constantly throwing us out of our comfort zone.

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Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. Because everything grows out of work. You do something and it kicks open a door . . .
Chuck Close, artist on 'Charlie Rose' program, Creative Brain

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