whole child

In defense of humanity: what we value

Perhaps the most disheartening outcome of the systematization of education is the way that it dehumanizes classrooms. Emboldened by being ‘the best,’ our education system has become blinded to the individual. The student-with-a-name. We’ve exploited our students for bragging rights of having a top performing school. The best test scores. Better than the others. Sometimes we even manage to convince ourselves that aiming for high-test scores is a noble goal. That it will make our country strong.

That, as a result, our students will be relevant in a global economy.

We’ve justified our actions for so long and sold each other on the idea that higher standards, more accountability (read testing), more ‘rigor’ will bring success, make us happy.

All the while we lose.

Lose ourselves, our identity, our uniqueness, our voice.

May we, as educators, stand up and defend the humanity in our classrooms!

We need the audacity to step outside of a system that forgets the individual. The student-with-a-name. To leave the perceived comfort of false/forced/misguided data that convinces us on paper that we are doing it right.

What is it that we value?

Are we really willing to trade meaning for the perception of being collectively ‘the best’ because the test says so?

What if learning as a human endeavor is too big and beautiful to fit into the tiny, meaningless data battles we insist on?

Don’t get me wrong, I deeply believe that the initiatives that call for increased accountability, higher standards, and additional data collection come from the right place of doing right by kids. Of making education more equitable for all. But the goal is wrong. We can’t focus first on numbers and being competitive on global tests.

Ignoring who a child is misses the core of what education must be about.

These initiatives and education movements are culpable in forgetting and overlooking that we are actually teaching individuals who have names. We’ve lost the plot in education and made it about competition (whether we’ll own up to that, or not).

Who a child is, is the core of what education must be about. Recognizing that the population is made up of individuals, unique in the whole of history, who have something important to offer the world. By truly honoring that humanity of the individual, we can collaborate with the rest of the world in such a way that collectively we can solve the problems of today.

Shifting education so systemically can feel overwhelming, impossible even, but it is up to each of us to decide that it is going to be different. It is up to us to uphold humanity, to recognize the individual, the student-with-a-name.

The good news: you don’t need permission to do this. Honestly, you don’t! The first step to restoring humanity is to decide that you are going to value the individuals that make up your class, your school, above all else. Commit that they won’t become numbers, scores, or data points.

Decision made?

Good.

Where do you start? By getting to know your students-with-names.

At Anastasis Academy, we’ve decided that above all else, we will value the identity of all of our students. Because this is a core value, we’ve built it into our school year. Before our first day of school, we hold two days that we call “Learner Profile Days.” Parents sign their child up for a one hour, one-on-one conference between the student and teacher. During this hour, our teacher’s job is to get to know the student. We ask a host of questions that inevitably come with nuance and supporting stories. Then the kids interact with Learning Genome card sets to identify their learning style preferences, their multiple intelligence strengths, and their brain dominance. The result is a Learner Profile.

Learning Genome Card Set

This profile is our starting point for every decision we make. When you begin the year this way, it is impossible to think of students as data points. When you listen to their stories, you learn their feelings, and experiences, and values, and habits of mind, and gain a picture of who they are.

You can do this, you can make the decision to take time out of your first weeks of school and gain a picture of who your students are. What do you value?

The anatomy of a Learner Profile:

 

Anatomy of a Learner Profile

Student Name- In the whole of history, there has never been another one just like them. With this name comes unique gifts, passions, and a vantage point on the world. With this name comes unique genius all their own. The student name is a bold reminder of the identity.

Interests/Passions- This is where we begin to learn about student passions, their likes and dislikes, their hurts, and the things that make them feel alive. In this one-on-one interview, we hear stories, often these questions will lead students down a thought trail that gives us insight.

Learning Style Preference- Learning Style preferences do not indicate that this is the only modality that the student can learn with; however, when we know the preferences that a student has we can make better decisions about introducing new learning. We discover Learning Style Preferences through the Learning Genome Card Set.

Learning Genome Card Set: Learning Styles

Multiple Intelligence Strengths- Howard Garner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences details eight distinct intelligences. All learners have the capacity to learn and understand in a variety of ways, each learner differs in their strengths of these intelligences. Discovering a students unique mixture of strengths allows us to better direct students in learning and curiosity. We discover Multiple Intelligence Strengths through the Learning Genome Card Set.

Learning Genome Card Set: Multiple Intelligence Strengths

Brain Dominance- Learning about a student’s preference in brain dominance allows us to make better decisions about how we design our classroom, how we design learning experiences, and how students will approach learning and assessment. We discover Brain Dominance through the Learning Genome Card Set.

Learning Genome Card Set: Brain Dominance

 Strengths Finder- This is where we gain insight into our students strengths and the way passion can collide with learning experiences. We use Thrively.

Hanging a question mark on the things we take for granted

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and again to hang a question mark on the things you take for granted.”

-Bertrand Russell

This. This quote is one of my new very favorite quotes ever! This is where innovation lives. In the question marks.

Too often in education, we talk about innovation as if it is something that we’ve created and something that can be owned. We talk about innovation in steps and processes and we make it into something it isn’t. And so when we talk about education reform, the conversation gets centered on the wrong things: rigor, standards, tests, Race to the Top!, No Child Left Behind!, technology, better teachers, more tests. Things that end up actually adding layers between us and what we fight for: students. But educational innovation doesn’t live in any of these.

Innovation is a shift in mindset. It is hanging the question mark on things taken for granted.

5 years ago, I started a school fueled by questions. Surrounded by an incredible team, we search for the question marks on those things that we take for granted. In the process, we’ve found that questions are the catalyst of innovation. Questions have the unique ability to disrupt the status quo and force us to think differently. This is important for our students, we believe that this world needs citizens who are self-learners, who are creative and resourceful, and who can adapt and adjust to change. This is also important for us as educators. We need the questions. In a system that seems to value the answer above all, I’m proud to say that Anastasis teachers are those who value the questions. Innovation seems to thrive in this environment of “what if?”. Answers end the process of inquiry, yet this is what our schools have largely been built on.

At Anastasis we are constantly asking, now that we know-what is possible now? We live for those ‘what if?’ moments! These ‘what if?’ moments are our slow hunches that give rise to something bigger. We go through the process of asking: Why? (Why is this the way it it?), What if? (What if it were different?), How? (How could it be different?), what solutions might there be?.

Our assessment at Anastasis is testament to this process of questioning.

Why? Why does assessment look like it does? Why do we judge students on a moment of time? Why have we decided that these things that we assess are the MOST important things? Why are we okay with assessing students this way? Why do stakeholders accept this as a picture of a child?

What if? What if assessment wasn’t based on moments in time? What if we looked at the whole child? What if we changed the guidelines? What if assessment helped students grow? What if assessment could reveal to stakeholders where students are in their learning journey? What if report cards were more comprehensive? What if assessment wasn’t the end point?

How? How do we show stakeholders that a student is more than the few data points we collect? How do we use assessment for growth? How do we determine what should be assessed? How should a student who leaves our school look? How do we know if a student is ‘succeeding’? How will we share with other schools? How could we offer something meaningful?

What solutions can we come up with? What do we want students to leave us to look? What are the words we want to describe them? What can we do to reveal learning journey and forward progress? What do we do to help others understand the bigger picture? What do we do to help students understand the bigger picture?

When we went through this process as a staff at Anastasis, we began with the end in mind. What do we want students to look like on leaving our school? You know what never came up? Scores. Grades. Specific content knowledge that would deem a child ‘educated.’ Instead we came up with words like: inquirer, problem solver, risk-taker, communicator, compassionate, responsible, thinker, mathematician, scientist, self-aware, writer, reader, creator, connector, historian, geographer, respectful, open-minded, service-minded, healthy, reflective, resourceful, responsible, innovative, researcher, discerner, aware, logical.


These words are vastly different from what we generally see listed on a report card. Different from what we generally value (according to what we measure).

This was the launching point for our assessment system. The questions led to innovation.

Our report card looks like this:

UpGrade Anastasis Academy Report Card

We know it looks different, it should. It started with a question mark. It evolves every year.

Innovation doesn’t come as the result of declaring that innovation is needed and putting a plan in place to reach a predetermined outcome. Innovation comes in hanging a question mark on the things we take for granted.

Asking the right questions

Today’s #edchat topic for discussion on Twitter was: In a time of cut backs in education for the sake of the economy, should sports and extra curricular clubs take a back seat?

Those “extras” we are referring to: the arts and physical activities (sports).  For me, this #edchat topic succinctly summarizes what is wrong in education today.

There is something wrong with a system that considers the arts and physical activities as expendable.  Being “educated” has come to mean one thing: having a critical mass of a certain kind of knowledge so that one can perform well on a test.  What type of knowledge have we deemed important?  Literacy, math, science (and in some cases engineering and tech to round out the STEM initiatives).  Aren’t we more than this?  I like to think that I am more complex and “whole” than the sum of these few subjects.  Isn’t there more complexity to life than just literacy and STEM?

Who has determined that these tests accurately measure all there is to know about being successful, being human?  I would like to meet those who create these tests. If what shows up on the tests is reflective of who they are as “whole” people, I think that they must be very one-dimensional and dull.

Want to know a secret? I don’t think I want my students to be “successful” if a test is the only measure of success.  I want my students to be thinkers and problem solvers, to discover their gifts and talents and use those to shape a better world. I want my students to be creative and innovative. I want my students to be whole.  If we truly believe that students are more than just the sum of the subjects taught in school, how can we think of cutting out the programs that make them more whole?

The problem with the conversation is that it has become an either/or scenario.  Either we cut the “extras” or we have massive debt. Either we cut the “extras” or we have to cut one of the “more important” subjects. This isn’t an either/or conversation.  Those “extras” are part of learning.  The “extras” are part of what makes us uniquely human.  Those “extras” are not special and separate, they are a part of that wonderful tapestry that makes us human.  To cut them out and treat them as expendable is to treat students as a machine whose sole purpose is to have a single outcome: perform well on a test.

I think the problem goes even deeper.  When you ask students, parents, or most teachers why we want them to do well in school, the focus is usually on graduation.  We want them to graduate…with honors.  Why?  Because, then they can go into debt to pay for college (of course!).  Is anyone else looking at this problem with jaw on the floor?  What happens after college? We search for a job where we can follow directions and earn a paycheck that we can use to pay off our college debt.

College used to make sense.  In a world that wasn’t well-connected, where you couldn’t flip on your computer and be connected to an expert for free, we relied on college to be a place to go and learn to think from the best.  Learning isn’t reliant on institutions any more.  Learning happens in-spite of the institutions.  I seriously struggle with the why of a university experience in the year 2011 (I struggle with the why of schools the way they look right now too).  When I think back to my university experience, what I remember is those few (3) professors that I had that made a difference in my life. I still have all of my lecture notes and correspondences from those professors. They were exceptional for what I needed.  Outside of those 3 professors the biggest impact was my life outside of academics. The rest of the experience: worked through so I could have the piece of paper that said I did it.

Back to the #edchat topic: should we cut the extras in light of a struggling economy?  This is the wrong question to ask. The question should be: In light of a struggling economy, how can we adjust our budgets and priorities (priorities being those things we spend money on) to include the “extras” as part of an education that meets the needs of the whole child?

We try to keep answering these questions with the same unimaginative thinking that dug us into this hole.

Just for a moment let’s stop and think about the arts and physical activities.  How many math and physics problems in textbooks use sports as a story problem?

Can you see where I am going with this?  Why are we teaching math and physics through artificial story problems out of an antiquated textbook?  Why aren’t we saying, “let’s go test this out with a game of baseball”?

We aren’t thinking creatively enough about how to solve these problems. We try to segment, and rank importance, and test. Instead we should be looking at how to solve the problem in new ways.  Life is complex.  When you look at nature it doesn’t segment itself off into subjects that are done separately.  Nature is art, science, math, language, engineering, physical all in one. It happens together seamlessly.

Watch a baby, or any young animal, as they figure out life. So much is happening simultaneously that involves language, math, science, physical activity, engineering, and art.  This is how we learn to walk, talk, engage others, and keep ourselves safe. This is the way that life happens and it is the way we learn.  The real problem is, as soon as we enter school, we stop life from happening and try to erect artificial boundaries and understandings to get a single outcome.  We strip away “extras” that teach life skills like pride, respect, collaboration, teamwork, and citizenship. We reduce students to the sum of 5 subjects.  Is it any wonder that depression levels are at an all time high? Is it any wonder that we have a population that is obese?  Is it any wonder that every advertisement we see promises us a better life?

We need to be more creative, we need a paradigm shift in the way that education is done. Our thinking has to shift away from one where certain subjects are more important than others. We have to reconsider priorities and how money is spent.

Think about how dollars are spent in your school-most likely a large amount is spent on:

  • Boxed curriculum (heavy emphasis on those 5 subjects, heavy emphasis on one result, heavy emphasis on meeting one type of students needs.) The boxed curriculum is purchased and taught so that students will do well on the standardized tests.
  • Standardized (or other forms) of testing
  • Copy budgets (anyone know someone who prints off EVERY email that lands in their inbox?)
  • Textbooks (out of date as soon as they are published)

In my mind this isn’t rocket science.  Adjust your priorities and the money will be there.  The real problem is that right now our priorities are all out of whack.

I propose a new question:

In light of a struggling economy, how can we adjust our budgets and priorities (priorities being those things we spend money on) to include the “extras” as part of an education that meets the needs of the whole child?

If we can think of new ways to answer that question, the original question will be a non-issue.

Beyond Gutenberg

Earlier, I posted about a conversation I had with the head of a new school opening up in town.  Let me reiterate, I really enjoy these conversations, they cause me to think and confirm my convictions about the teaching/learning process.  This is the follow-up conversation that took place (in bits and pieces).  Everything in green is the response to my initial email.

I appreciate your example of the use of technology in learning.  What I love about your example is the technology served to get the students closer to the real, hands-on source.  The only way that the situation could be better is if the students could go and experience Antarctica for themselves. When technology is a tool used to put children in closer touch with the real thing, of the original source, that is wonderful.

On my way home I was thinking about technology, and thought of cell phones.  They are wonderful, essential, and central to our communication today.  But, for example, I’d suggest that for a 4 year old, communication that is face to face, with hugs and facial expressions, is much more important than having a cell phone (unless it is to talk to grandma far away, bringing the child in closer touch with the real thing.)

One caution I would have with bringing I-pads to a school like yours (and feel free to argue with me here) is that the students are so steeped in a culture of having and consuming and being entertained, that the technology that could be a tool to bring them into closer relationship to many real things could actually represent or embody for them the things (consumerism, materialism, “entertain-me”-ism)  that are their primary barriers to having deep relations with people, ideas or the world around them.  So, a student with the wrong mindset would pick up that I-pod and think “Aren’t we great and cool that we have this?”,  “What can it do for me?”,  “How can it entertain me?”,  “How can I find cooler stuff than other kids?”,  etc.  Their initial context could shape how they view the tool, and that could impact their use of it, and more importantly, reinforce that erroneous initial context.

As I have picked up the kids from school, I’ve had the student say “hi” without looking me in the eye, and then continuously text as we drive, not really be able to carry on a face-to-face conversation through the day, and then ask what video games we have.  They have little ability to enjoy the real world around them, other than through comparing what they have to what someone else has, or to compare their performance to the performance of someone else.  I think we have gone wrong somewhere.  These students have detached from real people, they do not notice real beauty in creation, they lack true joy, they are starved of nourishing ideas and nourishing relationships.  Yes, this is a broad brush generalization, but it is pretty pervasive.  I don’t think technology is the fix for this problem, and sometimes it makes it worse.  Once a child is connected in close terms, then I think technology is wonderful for bringing them into closer touch with real things far away.  But if we ignore the “close things”, and especially if we substitute technology for the hard work of really training them in habit (it is much easier to have a child interacting with thier own individual entertaining system than it is to do the messy work of really interrelating together, as we have witnessed on many car rides), I think we end up with a less nourished, less creative, less connected, more distracted child.

So, yes, I agree that technology is a useful tool, and amazing in its place.  I love that we can daily come up with questions and curiosities and find answers in seconds that bring us into closer touch with real things and diverse ideas.  And I love the variety of ways we have to communicate creatively.

I put a bit less faith in technology than you do, which may come from time I’ve had to see that, at its base, the human condition hasn’t changed much, and our needs as people aren’t vastly different than they have ever been.  So, if my 6 yr. old daughter can paint a flower with watercolors under a tree while a warm breeze blows, I will chose that over having her paint on the computer. (Though she does some of that too.)  Also, something spiritual takes place as we read a book together as a family — a bonding, a common understanding, a common vocabulary, that doesn’t seem to happen by watching a movie, a YouTube video or any other way (and perhaps it would have been even more rich before the introduction of books since we would need to make up stories, but I grew up without that level of creativity!).  And, while the friends I have through electronic media are stimulating and interesting, they are still not a substitute for the ones who bring a meal my way and hug me in my joys.   As I read Charlotte Mason’s material, I am amazed by what she came to, by the wisdom and depth and deep truths, many of which our culture has simply forgotten.  I don’t plan to forgo the newest technologies, and my freshman son is as much a “techy” as anyone (7 years of this schooling didn’t seem to hold him back at all that way), but I want to leave breathing room to not forget roots of wisdom that can nourish our lives.

Looking forward to talking more.

While I appreciate the ideas that are being expressed here, I have some major disagreements with these premises.  Now this may be one of those instances when we are looking at the same elephant but describing different attributes based on our respective vantage points, but none the less, here is my response:

A few years ago I was reading about Gutenberg’s Printing Press and was surprised to learn about the sheer panic that the new technology set off in society. There were real concerns that it would be the downfall of society and relationship.  The church was concerned that it would no longer have a place in society if everyone could read the Bible for themselves, there would be no need for the meetings with a relaying of the stories orally. Without a gathering, the relationships would break down.  There was also a concern that the very church building structure would change.  Stained glass windows had an important function in the pre-Gutenberg church, the glass was used to tell the stories of the Bible to an illiterate society.  They were put in place as a reminder of the truths being taught.  With the invention of the printing press, there was no longer a need for the building to tell the stories of scripture.  Did society lose something? Of course, but I would argue with the advent of the printing press and as a result a literate society, much more was gained.

A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner wrote a book where he described how the modern world overwhelmed people with too much information and that the overabundance was both “confusing and harmful” to the mind.  Gessner died in 1565. He warned about the flood of information unleashed by the printing press.  We hear similar concerns today about the flood of information that the Internet provides.  The concerns date back to the birth of literacy.  Socrates warned against writing because it would “create forgetfulness in the learn’s souls, because they will not use their memories.” (As recorded by Plato)  Others speculated that the written word would be the downfall of society and relationship because there would no longer be a need for oral tradition.  People wouldn’t have to communicate with language and carry on deep and meaningful relationships because they would forever have their noses buried in a book.

New technologies have always brought about speculation about the ways that it would change society.  The digital technology age is no different.  However, like the printing press, I believe that although digital technology is changing the ways we communicate, we have much to gain from this technology.

You allude to children naturally picking up technology regardless of its introduction in the classroom.  I would argue that technology plays an integral part in both school and learning because of its prevalence in our society, because of its ability to increase relationship and connect us, and its abilities to connect us to the world around us in new and important ways.

I am currently reading Sir Ken Robinson’s book The Element in it he reminds us that children starting school this year will retire roughly around the year 2071.  We have no idea what the world will look like in ten years let alone in 50. Technology is developing at breakneck speed.  It is contributing to a huge generational gap.  People over the age of 30 were born before the digital revolution really started.  Those over 30 have learned to use digital technology like laptops, cameras, cell phones, the Internet as adults.  Mark Prensky calls these people digital immigrants. Under the age of 20 you have a generation that was born after the digital revolution had already begun.  These kids have never known a world without digital technologies. Mark Prensky calls these digital natives.  Just because natives are born with digital technologies in their hands, doesn’t mean that they will naturally learn and understand how to use them appropriately.  The same way a child doesn’t automatically figure out how to interact with other children, or read, or write naturally. These things must be taught and nurtured.   The revolution  is just beginning.  We are in the equivalent of the time just after the invention of the printing press.  I don’t believe that Gutenberg himself would believe the ways that his printing press forever changed society, communication, and learning.
Now consider the impact of population growth.  The world population has doubled in the past 30 years! We have grown from 3 billion to 6.  Humanity will be using technologies that “have yet to be invented in ways we cannot imagine and in jobs that don’t yet exist” (Sir Ken Robinson).   These cultural and technological forces are creating a seismic shift in world economies and introducing new diversity and complexity into our lives.  We are in another pivotal point in history where major global changes will take place.  Commerce and economies are being globalized. People are communicating in dramatically different ways than ever before.  Technology is altering the way that we conduct our lives.  (As evidenced by the texting boy you mention in your email).  No one would have been able to predict the way that the Internet and mobile technologies would change the landscape of society.  We can’t predict what technologies the future will bring.  “The only way to prepare for the future is to make the most of ourselves on the assumption that doing so will make us as flexible and productive as possible.” (Sir Ken Robinson)  It is up to us to help shape students understanding and thinking about new digital technologies and their uses.

During every stage of history, from the printing press to the written word,  there has been a fear that technology breaks down relationships.  Technology doesn’t ruin relationships, but it does change them.  This is the reason that technology and communication with technology must be explored and educated.   When books were first introduced, there was a worry that people would stop interacting and engaging in deep meaningful conversations and relationships.  That they would be so busy reading that they would ignore their relationships.  We know now that this is an extreme view of literacy and that books don’t diminish relationship, but serve to connect society in new and meaningful ways.  Those kids who are glued to their mobile devices and constantly texting are communicating in ways that are meaningful to them.  What isn’t being properly taught and fostered, are how to manage those relationships with the real life relationships.  I don’t blame the technology for his lack of courtesy in making eye contact and engaging in conversation, I blame a lack of education in etiquette and responsible use of technology. These kids aren’t detached from real people, they are making new attachments to people in ways that are meaningful to them.
In some ways I think the age of Twitter, You Tube, instant messaging, blogs, texting, and Facebook are a throwback to earlier times.   Where printed text contained information and communication to the printed page, the Web 2.0 age frees that information and communication again.  There is a flow of information, a sharing of ideas.  It is constant, it is moving.

I think that the vision of technology as merely one of consumption and entertainment is a misunderstanding of technology.  I would argue that the written book fits that category more neatly than technology does.  In a book, all you can do is consume the information and be entertained (and yes informed).  But that is where the book ends.  There is no exchange of ideas, there is no communication or creativity.  To make a book a living breathing thing, one must DO something with it, create something new, discuss it with others.  Technology is no different.  With technology there is some consumption and entertainment, but there is so much more.  There is the ability to exchange ideas, collaborate on projects (with people from around the world), communicate, create something new.  Technology has become largely social, nothing about it is static. It is a dynamic, living entity where ideas are exchanged, challenged and made new.
If a student is using an iPod for the “what can it do for me?”, “how can it entertain me?”, and “how can I find cooler stuff than other kids?”, then its use is very shallow and underdeveloped.  Those attitudes tell me that the child has never been taught to use technology. That they are using it very primitively and not for its created purpose.  When technology use is properly fostered, it is used for so much more.  It is used to chart a unique learning journey, it is used to explore and discover, it is used to discuss, it is used to challenge, it is used to collaborate and communicate, it is used to connect them globally and give them a bigger understanding of the world they live in.

There doesn’t have to be a dichotomy between technology and literature, and art, and nature.  It isn’t an either or scenario.  It is an and both.  Each of those things is important to the development and growth of a child.  Leaving any one of those out doesn’t develop the whole child for the world they live in.  Using technology shouldn’t mean that the “close things” are ignored.  If anything, technology should provide a new way that those “close things” can be understood and appreciated.  For example, if I am in the middle of the forest on a hike with my husband, I bring along our digital camera.  It isn’t because I am so technology minded that I can’t imagine being without it, it is because I am surrounded by such beauty that I want to capture it and remember it.  Technology can be used to help us stay close and remember.  When I get home I am likely to do something with that photograph so that I stay connected to it, I may create something new whether that be a painting, a sketch, a scrapbook, sharing it with the world via Flickr or a digital slide show with music.  Technology can be used to help nourish relationship with both other people and creation. It can be used to increase creativity and increase connections with others.

My philosophy of education includes technologies of all kinds.  I believe that without technology in education, the whole child isn’t being educated.  Without technology kids aren’t adequately prepared for life beyond the walls of the classroom.  Of course children will be users of technology whether it is taught in school or not, of course they will.  Technology saturates our lives.  But without proper guidance and understanding of how to use technology, it will be misused.  If children only know how to use technology as entertainment and consumption devices, that is how they will be used.  Understand, the same is true of books. If kids are never taught to interact with what they read and encouraged to discuss it, they will likely grow up to be adults who read purely for entertainment and their own consumption.

You are right, the human condition hasn’t changed much, our needs haven’t changed.  At our core we are social, creative beings.  Technology is so wildly popular and quickly growing because it feeds those needs.  If technology didn’t answer the call of the human condition, then it wouldn’t be so popular.  You Tube isn’t popular because it is a form of entertainment, You Tube is popular because it provides a place for everyone to create and have a voice. It is popular because of the interaction that it makes available after the entertainment.  Without the social aspect of You Tube, it would fade into the background as a low-budget television channel.  The power is in knowing how to use that technology to make us better, to encourage creativity and social interaction.  The friends I have online are in no way a substitution for the rich real life relationships I have, they are an addition to them.  I now “know” people from every continent in the world.  I have an understanding of the world I live in that can’t come from the static pages of a book or the flatness of the evening news.  I have a very fulfilling relationship with my husband, family, coworkers, and friends. But they don’t all have the same interests and passions I have.  They may be willing to indulge my wanting to talk about technology and education but because they don’t share that passion, I can’t have the same deep conversations about it that I can have online with the teachers around the world who share that passion.

I’ll leave you with one last illustration of technology as a social tool.  Facebook has a video game built-in that has become the most widely played game in the world called Farmville.  In it, people grow and cultivate virtual farms.  There are literally millions of people who spend their days playing this game.  Why is it so popular?  Are people really that interested in farming and use this game as a way to get back to their cultivating roots?  No.  The reason the game is so popular is because there is a social aspect built into the game.  You don’t farm and harvest alone, the point of the game is to get all of your friends involved and helping you. The point is to work together toward a common purpose.  Now this may seem like a waste of time but there is something important happening here.  Farmville gives people a shared experience, something to connect over and work together on. It is a place to practice relationships, responsibility, and teamwork in a place that feels safe and fun.

Technology needs to be taught, proper use fostered.  Without guidance technology can be used inappropriately or used to an extreme.  Isn’t this true of every medium?  We would worry about someone who isolated themselves from everyone and spent their days reading, or someone who did nothing but sit in the middle of a field all the time. These are extremes.

Philosophies and ideas are in a constant state of flux. While believe in some of the basis of the Charlotte Mason philosophy, I believe taking it at its face value as it was written in the 1800’s without taking into consideration the changes that have happened over the centuries would be doing it a disservice.  Just like I wouldn’t want my doctors to treat me with strictly the philosophies held in the 1800’s, I don’t want current education to stay strictly to a philosophy from the 1800’s.  There are roots there that are beautiful and that have stood the test of time, those are what must remain in the school (and medical) system.  We need that grounding. There is wisdom in Charlotte Mason’s writings.  But I do wonder, if Charlotte Mason had lived into the 21st century, wouldn’t her philosophy have evolved with the changing world?  Wouldn’t she stay rooted in deep truths about education and learning while adapting those truths to prepare children for the current world?

Yes it was a long one! Hopefully my response provided a chance to think deeply about what it means to be a child in the 21st century and what it means to be prepared for this world.  What would you have added?