Last week I stated flatly that technology is the cornerstone of a meaningful education. And then, having dropped the grenade, I moved on to other things. If I'm serious, that's a pretty contentious statement. Part of a meaningful education, fine, but the cornerstone? Come on. Less hyperbole, right?
Except I mean it. So let's back up to around the steam engine. The killer app, the big thing in information dispersal, is the printed book. Suddenly we can produce unlimited quantities of identical books and give them to anyone who wants them. Suddenly we can create a link, at one remove, between a modern child and a thinker who's been dead for two thousand years. Suddenly, for the first time ever, an obscure person on some corner of the map can write a phrase that becomes part of the cultural zeitgeist, not in ten generations, but within his or her lifetime. All that's needed to achieve this dream is some existing hardware - brains and eyes - and some simple software - literacy.
There's one problem, though - not everyone can read. It varies by place and culture, but in most parts of the world literacy is a luxury. It's something you do if your parents are rich, or you have a career that requires it. Most people are still farmers - do we really want to spend tons of time and government money teaching farmers to read? Why not spend public money where it's needed? Better yet, why spend it at all? Cut taxes. If individual families value literacy, they can pay the expense and give it to their children.
Take a minute and realize how few words I need to substitute in the above paragraph to make it describe the present day.
Why do I think technology is the cornerstone of a meaningful education? Because it already is. It always has been. The only thing that changes is the specific technology we're talking about. And since the book, we haven't had much of a discussion about new technologies being integral to the teaching process. Computer labs are optional, limited, and generally not irreplaceable in the curriculum.
The difference between technology literacy today and print literacy 200 years ago is, essentially, nothing. In both cases we're talking about the new de facto medium of exchange, and whether we want our children to be part of the future or not. Scratch that - we're talking about whether we want them to have any say in how the present works or not.
Socrates was deliberately illiterate. He said that if we knew how to read, we could just look up what others had written and would lose the ability to think for ourselves. He thought that literacy was a terrible technology that would lead to moral and intellectual decay. A brilliant, respected man, saying maybe the most incorrect thing ever said. I think we should all reflect on that.