In the Future, Cakes will be Robots: Technology and Education.
Well, here goes another post about education. Education has been on my brain lately because well, I am in an accelerated program working on a teaching license and teaching master’s. So, here is my gripe of the week: education and technology. The reason why I am upset about this is because my program, in many ways, has not challenged me to think deeply. While the program has challenged me to do a large amount of work quickly, I am disappointed with the shallow level of engagement with ideas. Granted, maybe my life is better because I can choose to challenge myself in this regard. Nevertheless, we are taught from textbooks and websites, with little emphasis on exploring scholarly work.
I will illustrate this shallowness with technology. As future teachers, we are encouraged to use technology in our classrooms. The fact that teachers do not use technology is decried as a horrible thing. What’s more, teachers are criticized for being laggards or for not implementing technology in meaningful ways. After all, technology is everywhere! This is a tech savvy generation! No one can stand against the tide? Who would? Worse, teachers who don’t use technology are not preparing their students to work in the technology driven world! So goes the unquestioned narrative of the technological boom and boon for classrooms.
As future teachers, we are taught a very narrow set of approaches to technology. Mainly, we are taught technological determinism and instrumentalism. Technological determinism approaches technology as something inevitable and everywhere. You either adapt or die. Agency to resist or interact with technology is ignored. In fact, teachers who resist technology are viewed as laggards or old-fashioned. On the other hand, technology is also taught from an instrumentalist approach. This posits that technology is a tool. It is neither good nor bad, simply a tool to be used by teachers. Within these perspectives are various assumptions. The first assumption is that technology is necessary for future jobs. Therefore, failure to use technology is a disservice to youth. While technology is certainly pervasive, tech jobs are not the dominant sector of society. Hospitality, retail, health care, construction and finance are among the largest sectors. Certainly a cashier or fast food worker use technology, but advanced technological training are generally not required of those jobs. Another assumption embedded in mainstream approaches is that technology = progress. What is progress? Who benefits from progress? These are the kinds of questions that are ignored within my program. Finally, technology is only treated as positive or neutral. Technology is treated as positive, inasmuch as it is supposed to enhance and support learning or appeal to student interest in technology. Alternatively, it is treated as neutral, again as a tool to be used.
I can think of nothing in society that is neural. Everything that is made has social consequences. There are no neutral tools, as all tools exist for the purpose of supporting society. Society is not neutral. I can think of no neutral technology, as it is either made with exploited labor and with extracted resources. Much of our technology is made oversees, often by women who work long hours under unhealthy conditions. The materials used to make this technology are not kindly removed from the earth, but at times extracted in war-torn places by worn out people. The removal is not gentle and sustainable, but violent and destructive. But, supposing that a school buys “fair trade” technology or union-made technology, it does not mean that the technology itself is good. There are pros and cons to technology beyond the social, environmental, and human consequences of their production and distribution. Spell check may result in lowered spelling ability. Does this ability matter? Online discussion may improve writing skills, but diminish social skills. Web browsing may diminish the ability to pay attention or focus deeply on one piece of information. Technology shapes our patterns and frames of thinking. While there may be some agency to resist or challenge this, there cannot be agency without some level of awareness and critical thinking.
I am not anti-technology. However, I don’t want to be pro-technology simply because it is what is expected of me or the norm in teaching. Technology should be evaluated for its consequences. Assumptions that it is inevitable, all-powerful, and positive should be questioned. Technology should be treated like a tool, but it is a tool that exists in a capitalist system. What does that mean? It means that there is conflict between workers and machines, in so much that machines replace and manage human labor. Of course, there is also conflict between technology and the economy itself. After all, replacing workers with machines results in a race for better, more efficient machines. It results in more production, but also more investment into fixed capital. In the end, this results in declining profits and a crisis of over production. It also means alienation from production and products. It also means that there is social inequality, and therefore inequality in technological access. There is a digital divide based upon an economic divide. At the same time, there is combined and uneven development, wherein people in Africa may have Smartphones but lack vaccines or clean water. The World Bank might frame this as progress. But, what is progress? Who benefits from this kind of progress?
In my program, we always discuss teaching higher order thinking and critical thinking. However, very little of our work seems to do this. We really don’t question such things as classroom management or the role of technology in the classroom. Granted, if we question too much we won’t get hired or parents won’t like us. Maybe we’ll be fired. We aren’t taught to be scholars and thinkers. Scholars and thinkers are left to universities, where they can serve those students who get to go to college….and exist in an academic bubble, disconnected from the world. No, that is an unfair generalization. The main point is that the technological ideologies taught in this teaching program, and I imagine, all teaching programs, add to a certain technological momentum. I just want to slow down the train! Where are we going? Why? Is that good? Is it bad? Who benefits? This doesn’t make me a Luddite. I’m just weary of “rah, rah, how can we implement more technology into the classroom?”