March 24, 2009

An Interview With The "Natives"

Every school year I am invited into our Sociology teacher's classroom for an interview with the students. The class fires questions at me asking what I think about adolescence - mine and theirs. The project is a simple one; students must try to first define the differences between generations' adolescence, then analyze the culture of adolescence. It's a pretty cool project and I really enjoy the interview. I think the kids get a kick out of hearing the teenage life of their principal, too.

This year's interview was quite interesting; aside from the questions about what I did as a teenager (no, I did not reveal all that hides behind the curtain), I was also faced with questions about technological advances between my teen years and now. We had a lively discussion about how technology has forced a change in education in the last 20 years, about how the world's entire wealth of information is now accessible to every person with the ability to connect, and about how our appetite for and excessive use of technology may be costing us our humanity. But that last point didn't come from the old fogey in the room - that one came from the so called "digital natives".

For all of the hype about how we (educators) must soak technology into classroom design, school design, and the craft of teaching, if only for the sake of engaging the digital natives, there is a kind of wanting in the natives:
  • While they adore and need their PCs, cell phones, and iPods, they also desire more intimacy with the world. Again, this is not speculation - this is what they said.
  • They also revealed that they believe the technology is actually a hindrance to them; information is so readily available in so many forms that the virtue of patience has faded from their view.
  • They expressed that there is a great amount of insincerity online. As one bright Senior said, "When I talk to people on AIM and then I meet them, I find out they are phony. It's hard to know who people are online." This comment was made after I said that the Internet offers all of us an opportunity to express our thoughts, beliefs, and opinions in a genuine manner - that current technology is making it easier for us to know each other.
  • The kicker... the students noted that all of the technologies available and designed to bring more freedom to their lives, actually leave them with less freedom. Their parents can track them via GPS, their cell phones are like appendages and they are never truly unavailable or disconnected, and their lives are so open online that they see virtually nowhere to have a private life. Unlike us 20 years ago.
I really enjoy technology. I get it. I know where it belongs in education. But I can't help but think that schools might actually somehow be offering students a calming respite from the immediacy of the web.

I would never advocate for the rejection web 2.0 in education... but I would also welcome an old fashioned English elective course (like "The Cool Tragedies of Shakespeare") where students read from plain old paper and discuss the weirdness of Titus Andronicus; students gathered in a circle - without laptops - without a wiki to post to - and fire into a really engaging discussion about why it was so cool when Titus cooked that chick's sons and made them into a pie. That would be another class worth blogging about.