Here, buried in my sixth paragraph, is the most important nugget: we’ve reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools.
I came to this conclusion recently while attending Brainstorm 2008, a delightful conference for computer people in K-12 schools throughout Wisconsin. They didn’t hold breakout sessions on technology battles or tactics, but the idea was in the air. These people were under siege.
I started writing educational software in 1978. The role of instructional technology has changed since then from a gimmick to a novelty to an effort to an essential component of any curriculum. Kids can’t go to school today without working on computers. But having said that, in the last five years more and more technical resources have been turned to how to keep technology OUT of our schools. Keeping kids from instant messaging, then text messaging or using their phones in class is a big issue as is how to minimize plagiarism from the Internet. These defensive measures are based on the idea that unbound use of these communication and information technologies is bad, that it keeps students from learning what they must, and hurts their ability to later succeed as adults.
But does it?
These are kids who have never known life without personal computers and cell phones. But far more important, there is emerging a class of students whose PARENTS have never known life without personal computers and cell phones. The Big Kahuna in educational discipline isn’t the school, it is the parent. Ward Cleaver rules. But what if Ward puts down his pipe and starts texting? Well he has.
Andy Hertzfeld said Google is the best tool for an aging programmer because it remembers when we cannot. Dave Winer, back in 1996, came to the conclusion that it was better to bookmark information than to cut and paste it. I’m sure today Dave wouldn’t bother with the bookmark and would simply search from scratch to get the most relevant result. Both men point to the idea that we’re moving from a knowledge economy to a search economy, from a kingdom of static values to those that are dynamic. Education still seems to define knowing as more important than being able to find, yet which do you do more of in your work? And what’s wrong with crimping a paragraph here or there from Cringely if it shows you understand the topic?
This is, of course, a huge threat to the education establishment, which tends to have a very deterministic view of how knowledge and accomplishment are obtained – a view that doesn’t work well in the search economy. At the same time K-12 educators are being pulled back by No Child Left Behind, they are being pulled forward (they probably see it as pulled askew) by kids abetted by their high-tech Generation Y (yes, we’re getting well into Y) parents who are using their Ward Cleaver power not to maintain the status quo but to challenge it.
There’s no question that revolution is in the air. The education process is ripe for change for a number of reasons, including those mentioned by Cringely. We’ve seen substantial education spending increases over the past decade, which are unlikely to continue growing at the same pace, given other spending priorities such as health care and infrastructure. The ongoing flap over the proposed Madison report card changes is another example of change in the air. Links:
Cringely has posted a followup article here.