Advancing a Free Society

Digital Peril

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gone are the days when the virtue expected of students was discipline or attention. Now we demand something more—it goes by the name “engagement.” We don’t want pupils to be obediently receptive; we want them actively and imaginatively involved. The aspiration, of course, is admirable. In his wonderful 1945 book, Teacher in America, Jacques Barzun stated that “the whole aim of good teaching is to turn the young learner, by nature a little copycat, into an independent, self-propelling creature, who cannot merely learn but study—that is, work as his own boss to the limit of his powers.”

The latest means to this noble end is the computer-centric classroom, where students will be motivated to embrace self-directed learning through technological devices equipped with educational software. In other words, the gizmos and games to which young people are already addicted are expected to become humanizing and civilizing instruments. The students’ digitized learning will be helped along by a teacher who has migrated from being “a sage on the stage to a guide on the side” (as the mantra of the new movement puts it).

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