by Sean Clapp
As generations replace each other, our culture changes. Today, with the technology of the twenty-first century, aspects of our culture, such as parenting standards, and the expectations of an individual’s capabilities, are subject to a change we as humans have never seen before. With this new development, it has become much more critical for parents and our schools to teach future generations how to understand and appreciate life without modern benefits, and even learn to function in a world without these benefits, should they need to. If today’s children do not become proficient in the natural, physical, and mental aspects of creativity and survival, we as humans will become dependent on someone or something else always doing the work for us, almost becoming, in an extreme sense, incompetent. As is, our successors, who supposedly make up the smartest generation, are being sent into adulthood with a virtual handicap. The only difference is we are sending them with a wheelchair. With this “handicap,” we should expect to see human advancement reach a plateau sooner rather than later. Schools and parents should combat this problem by teaching children to produce from one’s mind, and use their deep-rooted critical thinking skills to learn in more meaningful ways.
Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, is famous for having become the internet’s “world-brain,” compiling as much of human knowledge and innovation as possible. Upon its creation in 2001, the world-brain was said to grow rapidly, and even bring about innovation, but the trend the inventor of Wikipedia has no doubt discovered is that the more people consume, the less they produce, which brought about the slow decline of its advancement (Lih, 2015) Therefore, we’ve reached a drop in improvement of world knowledge. If this trend has appeared for an online encyclopedia, could it appear in our internal encyclopedia as we become predominantly consumers of knowledge and innovation and cease to innovate or create and share knowledge?
H.G. Wells was an English novelist and sociologist, most famous for his book The Time Machine, which he wrote in 1865. Among other things, his book predicts the world of the distant future, after he travels in his time machine to the year 802,701. The world in this time is not as advanced as he expects, in fact, society has more or less crumbled. He describes the ordinary people of year 802,701 to be, in his words “like babies.”
The “Eloi,” as they are called, though very kind, are non-intelligent, weak, and extremely vulnerable versions of today’s human. He explains that there are other creatures, called “Morlocks” that exist in the future, that have also descended from humans. This division of the human race came from a chance split decision as some people decided to brave the above-ground habitat while the rest decided to find refuge underground. Living a much more demanding life underground, the Morlocks are described as having maintained a technological advancement over the Eloi as they kept the knowledge of how to operate and repair their machines. The Eloi completely lost this ability because they lived a comfortable life with plenty of sustenance which did not require machines or other technology. The Morlocks use their advantage to torment the Eloi, providing them with sufficient means to survive, only to collect and eat them at night. The Eloi begin to expect to be taken care of and become ignorant of the fact that they are the fattened calf to a much more twisted and futuristic wolf. Though presented as science-fiction, and in many aspects far-fetched and perhaps over pessimistic, including descriptions of mass-cannibalism, Wells more or less makes a valid argument pointing out the dangers of an over-dependence on technology.
I have broken down what might go so far as to cause our own incompetence into one aspect of our modern culture – the dependence on the technology we create. The advancement in the popular “safety-net” technology prone to overuse is a slippery slope that could bring all human improvement to a halt, and lead to the human race becoming real-life Eloi.
Children are now growing up with technology at their fingertips, learning to use computers as early as three years old. While some may see this as a great thing for our advancement in the human race, studies have shown that computers and other tech-assisted learning systems have not shown improved learning at all, and in some cases might even hinder an individual’s creativity. This correlation was found in students participating in international learning assessments in reading, science, and mathematics conducted by the O.E.C.D. (Jenkins, 2015). Some parents go as far as eliminating all technology from their households, even Steve Jobs was known for preventing his children from accessing the technology he was so instrumental in producing. Other parents might even send their children to private schools, such as the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in California, that equally ban tech in teaching (Weller, 2018). I do not believe either of these measures to be necessary; instead, children should be taught to balance their use of technology and what is naturally given to them to entertain themselves and solve problems, allowing for maximum use of the individual’s creativity to be applied with the right amount of technology. Without this balance, children might become what I call “tech-abundant”, where children would experience daily life differently, or render themselves incapable of solving problems due to an excessive or abundant use of technology, typically causing a lack of capacity to think critically without technology or to enjoy a “techless’ interaction with the world. Examples of tech-abundance can be found in most young children who have their face “glued” to their smartphone, or even simply in a high school student who might forget that five times five is twenty-five, due to excessive use of their calculator. When an individual exposed to tech-abundance is stripped of said tech and its benefits, they might become like an Eloi from Wells’ story.
Schools in East Asia have foreseen the issue of tech-abundance, discovering that students might become dependent, and have been hesitant to implement technology into their classrooms. Studies by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D.) have found these schools to be some of the most successful on the planet. Obviously, in a region very familiar with technological advancement, the results of a student’s learning in these schools are enough to keep them from filling with computer screens and tech-aid. O.E.C.D.’s education director, Andreas Schleicher, even found enough information using baseline math and sprint-reading tests to conclude: “Those students who used computers and tablets very often tend to do worse than those who use them moderately.” The Washington Post also reported that even though young pre-kindergarten students might be able to learn vocabulary and math using computer games quickly and so forth, the student’s attention span and long term learning capability is permanently affected by this style of learning. Students over time become impatient and less likely to retain what is learned throughout this learning method (Kang, 2012). In an article published by The Guardian, Matthew Jenkin refers to a successful teaching association’s system for keeping learning a creative process among young students:
Beverly Amico, leader of outreach and development at the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, explains that their approach uses “time-tested truths about how children learn best.” Teachers encourage students to learn curriculum subjects by expressing themselves through artistic activities, such as painting and drawing rather than consuming information downloaded onto a tablet (Jenkin, 2015).
Students in Waldorf Schools learn by expressing themselves, and participating in group problem solving and interactions, which are very hard to replace with a computer screen at a desk. Not only would the proposed change in teaching methods in schools be beneficial in the long-run for simply the learning, creativity, and efficiency of the students, but less computer integration in public schools would save those schools and governments money, allowing for investments in resources better proven to increase creativity, such as better teachers, curriculums, and labs, depending on the subject. Now, some people might say that I am just holding on to a belief against technological progress and that I am merely afraid of the concept of trusting a third party to be so beneficial to society, but the correlation between technology and an individual’s role in society shifting to become more consumer than producer, and the evidence of technology causing learning handicaps in our children, make this issue undeniable.
In conclusion, I propose a change in the application of technology in our schools and homes to lead to more effective and meaningful learning; specifically, children should be taught to rely on one’s natural abilities in everyday tasks and problems, like in the schools referenced in East Asia, and use technology as only a tool to expand upon the individual’s creativity, not the other way around.
Frishammar, J., Lichtenthaler U., & Rundquist, J. (2012). The importance of integrating product development knowledge. [Abstract] Wiley Online Library. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1540-5885.2012.00926.x
Jenkin, M. (2015, Dec 6). Tablets out, imagination in: the schools that shun technology. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/dec/02/schools-that-ban-tablets-traditional-education-silicon-valley-london
Kang, C. (2012, May 12). High-tech vs. no-tech: DC area schools take opposite approaches to education. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/high-tech-vs-no-tech-dc-area-schools-take-opposite-approaches-to-education/2012/05/12/gIQAv6YFLU_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d8471b6e4f77
Lih, A. (2015, June 20). Can Wikipedia survive? The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/opinion/can-wikipedia-survive.html
Organization for Economic Growth and Development. (2015). New approach needed to deliver on technology’s potential in schools. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/education/new-approach-needed-to-deliver-on-technologys-potential-in-schools.htm
Wells, H.G. (1865). The Time Machine. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishing.
Weller, C. (2018, Feb 18). Silicon valley parents are raising their kids tech-free, and it should be a red flag. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/silicon-valley-parents-raising-their-kids-tech-free-red-flag-2018-2