I’ve been out of the classroom for just over two months now* and I still teach online as an adjunct. I’m certainly not anti-technology; in fact, technological connectivity is what has allowed me to move to a rural area and pursue my dual passions of outdoor recreation and teaching. But as I’m occupied with the minutiae of setting up a new life in a new place I’ve realized that I’m enjoying the absence from my radar screen of constant hyperventilating from “thought leaders” about the need to push digital technology into every bit of the school day and every aspect of the curriculum and student life. Even the Maker Space movement is largely tech-centric, focusing more on assembling things with expensive electronic kits than really learning a craft or engaging in any non-technological forms of creative tinkering.
Since I’ve been here in rural northern New England, I’ve chatted with jewelry makers, shop owners, artisan cheesemakers, craft beer brewers, whiskey distillers, organic farmers, designers of unique outdoor recreation equipment, writers, contractors, carpenters, nurses, caregivers, and social workers. These are jobs that involve either skilled craftsmanship and/or excellent social skills and a capacity for empathy. They are jobs that do not revolve in their essentials around technology. Technology is rather an adjunct to the core work itself. Work that by all accounts is deeply satisfying, creative, and meaningful to the people who do it.
I also know that quite a few of my former students are deeply interested in issues of law, politics, and sustainability. Rather than blindly embracing the “gig” economy, for example, they have questions about wages, employment security, benefits, and worker rights. Instead of making a YouTube rap video about Machiavelli, they would rather read and talk about the implications of his political views for the modern world in a venue that is facilitated by a teacher/historian who possesses some -yes- expertise on the subject. Students do not tend to see teachers as “hoarders of knowledge” wielding their credentials over students and marginalizing their role in their own education. Technology alone does not give students agency. The critical guidance of a teacher who knows and works with them over a long period of time is what allows students to deepen and sharpen their critical faculties. And that is what provides them with agency and opportunity.
So I find myself wondering if all those coding boot camps, Maker Spaces, and “High Tech Highs,” all that shouting at teachers to use Twitter in the classroom and implying that they are outdated, ineffective Gradgrinds if they don’t, is crowding out opportunities for exposing students to a truly broad range of human activity from which they may discover their own passions and talents.
*Update: I am very happily back in the classroom and leading outing trips after a brief period of disruption.