A few years ago, when Gary Lawrence and I wrote Rotten to the (Common) Core, two of our chief concerns about the whole program were (1) the possibility that the ultimate goal was to replace human teachers in the classroom with robots (a goal not, of course, ever stated explicitly), and (2) that the "individually-adapted computerized standardized tests" being touted for the program were not only building on the faulty foundations of the standardized test to begin with, but that the ultimate goal was to expand the surveillance state thereby, and possibly, to use technology for further mind manipulation and social engineering. To this we added a third concern, namely, that teachers would end up being nothing but classroom "proctors" and "robot maintenance" technicians.
Well, this article shared by Ms. M.W. seems to indicate that these fears might have been justified:
Consider just the opening paragraphs of this prediction:
Robots will begin replacing teachers in the classroom within the next ten years as part of a revolution in one-to-one learning, a leading educationalist has predicted.
Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, said intelligent machines that adapt to suit the learning styles of individual children will soon render traditional academic teaching all but redundant.
The former Master of Wellington College said programmes currently being developed in Silicon Valley will learn to read the brains and facial expressions of pupils, adapting the method of communication to what works best for them.
And then there's this, a little further on in the article:
As part of robot-led learning, teachers would adopt the role of “overseers”, monitoring the progress of individual pupils, leading non-academic activities and providing pastoral support, Sir Anthony said. (Emphases added)
Sadly, Mr. Seldon appears to have corroborated our first two fears, as well as the third.
But it's the manner in which he corroborated Mr. Lawrence's and my third fear that really caught my eye, for note that the role of the "teacher", in his "vision", is to be a coordinator of "non-academic activities", whatever those are. We get a hint, perhaps, of what he means by this when he uses the phrase "providing pastoral support." It's the religious imagery and allusion here that, frankly, disturbs me deeply. In fact, the religious allusion here has a distinctly Christian reference, since "pastoral" is a word that stems from that religio-cultural matrix. To his credit, Mr. Seldon also issues this caution:
"The great danger is that it takes jobs away, and for humans beings much of our fulfilment in life comes from the satisfaction of work.
"If we get the technology wrong it will end up doing everything for us in the same way that satnavs mean we no longer know how to read maps."
Experts predict that automated teaching of maths and science will form the vanguard of machine-led learning, but that sophisticated algorithms would soon be devised to teach the humanities.
But in spite of this caution, one wonders exactly what "religion" Mr. Seldon has in mind that might be promoted by the reduction of the teacher to "providing pastoral support." I have no doubt that what he probably meant was simply that the teacher will be there to provide that all-important human-support-and-encouragement component of education. But I also have no doubt that his words also conjure a danger that "education" will become, courtesy of the "inspirational robot", a new kind of (probably secularized) religion, promoting faith in Almighty Technology and "values." And the chief value that will be promoted is isolation, and the increasing inability of students in such a system to carry on intelligent conversation and discussion with other humans about philosophy, science, history, and so on. Already we see the denigration of culture by these technologies, with "conversation" taking place with clicks on an ipad, with shortening attention spans, inability to conduct long arguments and analysis, and to carry on conversations of more than five minutes' duration (and that's already stretching it).
The other profoundly disturbing thing that emerges from this is the implication that the technology will be "interactive." This is a short way from, and in my opinion, euphemistic way of indicating what the real goal of such technologies in the classroom really is: surveillance of the individual from childhood through adulthood, violation of the individual's privacy, and ultimately, the active manipulation of the individual's thoughts and emotional processes, in short, social engineering on a massive scale.
The education revolution is, indeed, a revolution, but it is an increasingly dehumanizing one. What I suspect will happen is that the "elites" will continue to seek out traditional educational venues for their children, with real teachers teaching real subjects and demanding real human interaction, while they push "technology" and political correctness on everyone else, and call it an "improvement."
The bottom line is: the choice between real human education, or its ersatz technological substitute, is upon us now, and the choice cannot be delayed any longer.
See you on the flip side...