August’s Teacher’s Corner Column: Schools of the Future—Oh, My

Teacher’s Corner is a monthly newsletter from eNotes just for teachers. In it, experienced educator and eNotes contributor Susan Hurn shares her tips, tricks, and insight into the world of teaching. This month, she’s looking to the future of teaching with a skeptical eye. Check out this month’s Teacher’s Corner column below, or sign up to receive the complete newsletter in your inbox at eNotes.com.

Predictions about how students will be educated one day are intriguing, but a few of them are downright scary when you think of the implications. Some visions of education in the future seem really off-the-wall, but others are not hard to imagine, for better or worse, considering the continuing impact of technology in the classroom and how it has already changed instructional practices. Here are a few highlights from the prognosticators:

  • Schools will consist of interlocking modular pods that can be added to or removed from a basic structure to adjust for the increase or decrease in a school’s population.
  • Modular schools will be portable, easily moved from one location to another as the general population shifts geographically.
  • Students will be micro-chipped to facilitate supervision and safety.
  • Classes will be conducted with robots providing instruction.
  • Traditional schools will cease to exist. Students will complete individual studies on computers at community centers open 24/7, working when it’s most convenient for them and communicating with teachers by voice mail.
  • All field trips will be virtual, and students will attend virtual workshops conducted by recognized authorities in various fields.
  • Hands-on learning will be phased out; students will interact solely with 3-D models, touching only computer keys.
  • Computer keyboards will be phased out. Students will use hand and eye gestures, like playing games on a Wii, to control electronic tablets. Students will write with digi pens.
  • Large multi-national companies will have an increasing influence on curriculums and school resources.

Some of these predictions, tossed in there with the robots and microchips and portable pods, really aren’t that hard to imagine. The last one seems entirely likely, considering the current emphasis on preparing students for the workforce in a global economy, the primary intent of CCSS. You can read more predictions about schools of the future in this Australian news article and at educationworld.com. Also, check out “Five Future Technologies That Will Shape Our Classrooms” at edutopia.org. The technologies here and their applications may remind you of The Matrix. A couple of them are more reminiscent of Brave New World.

What then will be the teacher’s role in the future? Except for answering voice mail now and then, it’s projected to be of little importance, no more than writing study programs to be delivered via students’ computers, the kinds of instructional programs that computers could probably generate for other computers to run. The human factor seems to be missing altogether, and that’s more than scary. It would be a disaster of untold consequence if eliminating the teacher-student relationship should turn out to be something other than science fiction.

The fact is, however, that the expanded use of technology has already decreased the amount of time students spend interacting with their teachers and with one another. Many kids now earn high school diplomas without ever spending time with other human beings in a classroom; offering on line classes is an established practice at colleges and universities. Looking ahead from projected models of instruction and from current trends in how high school and college credits are being earned, it isn’t impossible to imagine teachers eventually being phased out of the process entirely, with lessons designed and delivered by curriculum centers. The personal interaction between teachers and their students could become as outmoded as kids writing on slates with chalk. What a tragic loss that would be, a deprivation that couldn’t be ameliorated through the most advanced uses of technology because it relates directly to the human spirit.

Eliminating classroom teachers in favor of computer instruction would surely save billions of dollars, but to believe that their absence would not impact students is to deny human nature. How do you program a computer to jump-start a kid’s curiosity or instill a love of learning or make students believe they can when they’re convinced they can’t? How do you write computer programs that show students every day that they are important? A computer never smiles or hands out Kleenex during flu season or lends lunch money or carries on a spontaneous discussion that starts nowhere and ends up in an unexpected, spectacular place, nor does a computer model how we should treat each other.

Computer programs can instruct, but they can’t teach. Carl Jung, who spent a lifetime studying the human psyche long before the advent of computers, knew the difference between instructing and teaching. “The curriculum is so much necessary raw material,” he said, “but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Read Jung’s entire quotation and other observations about the vital importance of the teacher-student relationship here.

Looking over the predictions about schools of the future, it occurs to me that the seers forgot to consider an important variable: parents. Parents might not embrace the idea that their children should report to community centers and be instructed by a computer that doesn’t know the color of their eyes or what they want to be when they grow up or that they are sad because their grandmother died. It’s hard to imagine that parents wouldn’t want their children to be valued and nurtured, as well as instructed. It’s also hard to imagine the stands filling up on Friday night so that parents can watch a virtual football game on their laptops. A silly notion, but I offer it to make the point that our schools are so thoroughly woven into the fabric of our communities that to eliminate them would destroy a big chunk of what holds us together.

Schools of the future won’t become a dystopian vision realized, so long as everyone understands and remembers some essential truths: A school is more than a building, education is more than instruction, and since kids are human beings, educating them requires a human touch.

Enjoy what’s left of the summer. The bell’s going to ring soon, and how great is that!

Susan


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