Tag Archives: technology

Thursday Afternoon Ramblings – 2/9/17


Someone asked me recently what’s the one historical event I would like to witness. For me, the moment I would most like to experience is the birth of the printing press. In my mind, this is the most significant event in human history. Prior to this point, information was centralized in the hands of an elite minority, and populations were controlled through this lack of access to knowledge. The printing press, however, changed the balance. Suddenly, as the mode of production for written works became more efficient and less expensive, a broader spectrum of people were able to participate in the exchange of ideas. This phenomenon gave birth to the Reformation and Renaissance, which in turn gave birth to the democratic revolutions of the 18th century.

The control and dissemination of information are the most powerful forces in the world. Opinions are shaped, trends are controlled, and markets are manipulated through the flow of information. With enough propaganda and misinformation, millions of people can be convinced of any number of falsehoods. Political careers rise and fall in this manner, and with the internet, the spread of false information can take on staggering proportions. Today, we see once again the centralization of information in the hands of an elite minority (just look at how few corporations control every media outlet in the world). However, much like before in human history, diversity of voices can be the panacea for tyranny.

As a side note, there are actually two moments I would like to witness in terms of the birth of the printing press. One, of course, is the Guggenheim Press in 1439, one of the most widely known and celebrated inventions in mankind’s history. However, two hundred years before that, faced with invasion by the Mongols, Korean religious scholars invented their own printing press in order to preserve sacred texts that the Mongols had been destroying. I would love to witness both events and have an opportunity to observe the similarities and differences between the processes of each invention.

Monday Afternoon Ramblings

Here’s another illustration of what’s wrong with education today.  For several years now, the trend has been towards more and more reliance upon technology for virtually every aspect of instruction, from attendance recording to delivery to assessment to grade calculation.  The most current buzz-trend is “Mobilization,” which the best I can figure is allowing kids to watch YouTube videos and play games while they are supposed to be learning.  The powers that be tout the importance of connecting with “digital learners” on their level, which to me sounds like “dumb it down and let the machines do all the work for them.”  Then again, I’m a tad cynical.  Anyway, from these trends to digitize the classroom, now, nearly every aspect of our classes is online to some degree.

This morning, on the first day of classes, the first opportunity to make an impression on many incoming freshmen who have been coddled their entire academic careers by All Children Left  Behind and The Race to a Stop, our internet system was down.  Statewide.  As in ALL Tennessee Board of Regents schools had no internet access.

We couldn’t check email, access course content (including syllabi), administer pre-tests, and in some cases, even check attendance.  Fortunately, since I refuse to swallow my dose of Kool-Aid, I was able to collect my first day writing samples by relying on the outdated analog system.  You know, pen and paper.  I go back to a point I make again and again.  We can put all the bells and whistles and flashing lights in front of the kids we want, but at some point they have to learn how to think.  By forcing us to move so much of our materials online, the powers that be have in effect made us dependent upon those systems to function.  I’m certain that many younger teachers, those who only know the “Mobilization” methodology, were paralyzed this morning.  I’m certain the chaos of that paralysis gave the students a terrible first impression, and those children, raised on an endless diet of entertainment and instant gratification, probably now believe college will be more of the same dysfunction they endured in high school.

As for me, since I still lecture and write on the board (I could point to the body of evidence that proves when students write things down in their own handwriting they are more likely to remember it, but why bother?  The powers that be will keep pouring the digital Kool-Aid because there’s more money to be made from grants and such), I was barely bothered by the outage.  My morning class ran pretty smoothly because I don’t need bells and whistles and flashing lights to teach.  All I need is a board to write on and an instrument to write with.  Teachers, you see, old-fashioned, student-centered, professional, dedicated educators, teach from a deeply-rooted love of and passion for their subject.  Unfortunately, however, we seem to be a dying a breed.