2015 - Issue Four

Education and Technology

Margaret Harper McCarthy Download Article

Dear Readers,

In this fourth issue on education we turn to the theme of technology once again. During the year we focused on the Home, we dedicated an entire issue to it. And since the home is the paradigmatic school, you will find in that same issue articles and reviews already pertinent to the theme of education. In this issue, then, we pick up where we left off, even while we face the question in a more direct way, as it relates to education, and in the face of all of the trends to put iPads on the desks of every High School student, and into the hands—even the bouncy seats—of the youngest of children . . . all in an effort to “edu-tain” them.

We do not wish to hyperventilate about technology. But neither do we wish to succumb to it uncritically as though it were simply inevitable (and surely this second temptation is the greater one). There are important questions which cannot simply be dismissed with that universal conversation stopper: “Luddite!” Therefore, just as we ask about our food: “is this good for me?”, or about our cars: “is driving this good for the environment?”, so too we ask about our educational devices: “Are these good for our children—or for us—in the pursuit of education?”

To answer this question we pose a series of other questions. We ask about the medium of educational devices (not just their content). We ask, then, about the students using them, keeping in mind, especially for the young: the role of physical activity, the physical environment, and real presence (of the teacher), as well as the need for habits of concentration and attentiveness and the capacity for wonder…. all for the sake of a robust engagement with and knowledge of things. Finally, we ask, as always, about education itself: what is it about, and what is it for? Is it an encounter with reality, for the sake of knowing and loving it? Or is it merely the acquisition of skills (clicking, swiping, downloading, etc.) so that that same reality can be re-programmed, re-purposed, re-assigned, in short, used for one’s own independent and sovereign ends. Simply by asking these questions we step out of the field of the inevitable—and its marketplace—and subordinate the technology in question to what is said to be its purpose: education. We become free to think. In this spirit, we invite you to think with us.

In this issue we have a host of feature articles. We look at the founding father of ‘Media Studies’: Marshall McLuhan, whose dictum “the medium is the message” is being confirmed in our day, in spite of all the talk about the neutrality of media and its responsible use (“digital citizenship”). We also cover the role of material (vs. virtual) mediation privileged in the pedagogy of Maria Montessori; the ‘online classroom’ used by homeschoolers hungry for the Socratic method; and the effect of the “Elephant” in the living room” (TV) on the attention, interests, and energy of the young. Finally we have an analysis of recent studies which evaluate how much the various edu-tech programs have measured up to the goals they set for themselves.

Among the authors we review here we have one of the first to write on the topic of virtual reality, Sr. Timothy Prokes, and one of the current leading experts on the effects of that same reality on our minds and relations: Sherry Turkle. The classical educator and social critic, Anthony Esolen who writes on the general tendency towards compulsion (and loss of thinking) is present here, as is the philosophy doctorate-turned-motorcycle mechanic, Matthew Crawford, who writes on the paradoxical loss of knowledge (not to mention freedom) in the ‘knowledge economy’ for which schools are preparing their graduates. Finally, joining this constellation of current thinkers is the late Jean Leclercq, a Benedictine monk, who shows how it is monastic education which pursues the broadest of worldly interests, precisely because of its depth, its dogged search for God (quaerere Deum), Creator of the world.

Our writers in this issue include the head of a High School, a software developer and former head of a university technology department, a Montessori teacher, home-schooling parents, IT technicians, professors of philosophy and theology, and finally author and playwright, the self-described “Jew with an Arab last name, belonging to the Catholic faith,” Fabrice Hadjadj.

Our articles and reviews look at the question of educational (and entertainment) technology from many angles. at the heart of each of these offerings, however, is the question posed by Peter Casrella: “whether and how deeply we need to encounter truth incarnately.” Answering in the affirmative assumes that the task of education remains as it ever was: to know and love the real, and cultivate and liberate the soul thereby. As for technology, educators with this goal in mind will examine each new product which comes on the market. Does it assist us in that task or not? Is it an adequate tool for the message we wish to convey? Or is it the kind of contraption that sends an entirely different message about one’s relations with the real…and its limits? (On that note, don’t miss Matthew B. Crawford’s thoughts on the “Mouskedoer” in newer Mickey Mouse club cartoons as related in Lisa Lickona’s review of The World Beyond Your Head.)

In any case, if the encounter with the real and the cultivation of the soul is what is in mind, educators will always privilege what can in principle bear fruit as our Re-Source author, Fabrice Hadjadj notes, beginning with that which exists in the living form-filled material world. Accordingly, they will subject each new invention to the crucial question: does it help us to encounter truth incarnately or not? In other words, does it educate?

No hyperventilating then…just a little thinking!

Margaret Harper McCarthy is an Assistant Professor of Theology at the John Paul II Institute and US editor of Humanum. She is married and the mother of three teenagers.