Recently, someone presented a question in response to my blog, “Why Technology Will Never Replace the Teacher.” He asked, “What purpose do you see education serving in the knowledge/digital age?” As I started thinking of responses to this question, topics like individualization, crowd-sourcing, and reality-based learning came to mind, but did not seem to answer the question. Then, it hit me that I was looking at the term “education” too specifically, and I came back to the concept of shared understanding—the understanding of who we are and how we can use technology to learn about others.
A greater opportunity to promote understanding
Now, I’m not talking about understanding the periodic table or the French Revolution. I am referring to the understanding of us.
When I was a child, my world was my neighborhood. My news was provided once daily. While globalization has brought us closer together in some ways, it has also divided us in many others. In an age when the news cycle is every minute of every day and quotes from my blog can be taken as a primary source, we have more opportunities than ever to seek out those who share only our beliefs. Whole news networks are devoted to one’s political leanings. Meetups are easily established among like-minded zealots. Cyber-bullying is much more anonymous, geographically ambiguous, and severe. But as a society, where do we learn to understand and appreciate our differences?
I’m not naïve enough to suggest that we somehow put the genie back in the bottle or that we magically find a way to hold hands and sing songs of peace. Given the ability to reason, it is natural that we will disagree over many things. However, as I look at children preprogrammed to be awkward and different at some time during their development, I find myself asking why we don’t spend more time using technology to educate kids (and adults) that being unique is OK. We have a greater opportunity than ever before to individualize, crowd-source, and make real these differences and promote understanding as to the why’s. The digital age allows promotion of virtually any idea, yet polarizing, unidimensional sites and commentators command far more views than those that stand for values we all hold in common.
Reach beyond our unknown to understand the world
Children often inherit the prejudices of their parents. However, with almost unimpeded access to other points of view and data-driven abilities to know the student as an individual, why are we not focused more on emphasizing understanding through education? Certainly, formal learning will continue to improve as technology and knowledge access improves, but the digital age simply facilitates this evolution. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” If, as she felt, a critical life goal is to reach beyond our comfort zones and fears of the unknown to better grasp the rest of the world, why then shouldn’t education help fulfill that purpose?