Technology classes are becoming more of a standard in high, middle and even elementary school curricula. Many students at this point have experienced an out-of-touch teacher stumbling through a lesson on Microsoft Office or perhaps learning the very basics of programming using Scratch. While not on the same level of ubiquity as staples like math or English, tech classes are an important addition for students growing up surrounded by machines and computers.
One has to wonder how useful these classes can be, though. Of course, technology is everywhere. However, there is a history of fad courses coming in and out with new tech. Just as typewriting classes died with their namesake, just as computer typing classes died with the growth of smartphones, will technology classes become obsolete as well? After all, kids don’t need to learn a second language that they learn and experience at home, and computers are quickly becoming just as common. What can children realistically learn from their teachers that they won’t already know?
Well, there is a lot we don’t know about technology—at least, things we don’t consciously think about. However, these are not so much about technology, but about our relationship with it. As a society, we don’t know how to appropriately interact with our phones. We don’t know how to make programs work for us rather than the reverse. We don’t know how to think critically about all the time we spend online.
The problem is that technology classes still act as if society has just created these new machines, when in reality our culture has already long since adopted and grown accustomed to this technology. And this will be the hill that these types of classes will die on if they do not change. Children already know how to navigate a computer at a basic level. They do not know how to maintain a healthy relationship with their phones. How do I know this? Because those kids grow up into all of us, who also have an extremely toxic dependence on our smartphones!
I’m not trying to sound like an old fogey here. I know technology can be great for us and our understanding of the world. This benefit is not an innate skill we have, though. Our monkey brains have not evolved to have phone instincts. Some people develop a better sense of it over time, but we are all lacking. Look at the continued scandals around social media websites. Their algorithms are so good at manipulating us that bad actors can spread propaganda like forest fire.
Against this, I suggest a new paradigm for technology classes. Instead of focusing on base-level “what” and “how” skills, we should be focused on teaching children the “why.” We should be teaching how to evaluate websites and programs, how to develop a critical eye towards new technologies. And, most importantly, we should be teaching how to instead work with technology.
For example, instead of looking at programming as some scary monolith, something only trained technicians use to make our applications, we can remove that fog. We can show students that even simple programs can be used to answer questions for us efficiently. Or, we can have a discussion about fact-checking and source-citing in the digital age. We can develop critical thinking skills so that children don’t have to be told “Don’t cite Wikipedia” five times every year. We can even take time to talk about the history and purpose of the internet, transitioning into a teaching moment about how to appropriately and productively use it. We could teach children about technology from a more balanced sociological perspective.
Perhaps because of how fast technology develops, it is understandable that there is some lag in education. However, we are so deep into the digital era that it is getting hard to see a way out. I look around and see the struggles between our society and the machines meant to help us. I look in and see my own addiction to my electronics. I see in all of this a dangerous relationship, but not an altogether broken one. We can still forge a new path with technology, but it starts with how we teach and learn about it.
Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.