Technology and (Mis)Education
By Fernando Murillo
PhD in Curriculum Studies Program
Faculty of Education
University of British Columbia
Technology and (Mis)Education
Posted May 2017
“Be yourself! All that you now do, think and desire is not really you.”
“Information is not knowledge . . . and without ethical and intellectual judgment – which cannot be programmed into a machine – the Age of Information is an Age of Ignorance”
William Pinar, 2004, p. xiii
During the last two decades we have witnessed an exacerbation of a technocratic and pragmatic attitude that is pervading most areas of our lives. In a trend pushed by a liaison of economic and political institutions, along with computer companies that promote technological “innovation”, education has been recast as a process focused on efficiency and oriented toward predefined outcomes. In prioritizing test scores, standardization of what is taught and learned, and forcing the pedagogical relation to be mediated by technologies, education ends up disavowing questions of an existential nature, thus risking the vocation of forming human beings attentive to the substance and movements of inner life.
For William Pinar, when education focuses mainly on issues of information-processing and socialization, it severs lived experience from the practice of schooling and so fails to hold significance for the person as a human being. Furthermore, neglecting the dimension of individuation, i.e. the process of becoming aware of oneself, and favouring reliance on technology can be not only educationally detrimental, but catastrophic.
Technological tools and thought obstruct the delicate relationship between individuals and their circumstances (as suggested by Ortega y Gasset), or the attentive experience of being present in the world. In the mesmerizing trance of screens, mindful thought and judgment are dissolved into a shallow, endless stream of fragmented “ideas” and calculations that demand rapid response and efficient action: the multiplication of “solutions” for ill-defined problems. The Holocaust, or the massacre of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – pinnacles of technological, instrumental logic – are examples of (in)human history that bear witness of where the path of such rationality leads.
In view of our present condition that some have described as dehumanizing, the possibilities to reconstruct ourselves and society do not depend on the development of faster computers or the coding of more and better apps, but on our ability to personally acknowledge and engage our human condition and work through it educationally. It involves being attuned to what makes the heart beat and break.
A protection against an education that focuses primarily on knowledge-transmission, and the distraction of over-connectedness promoted by the technological mindset is, for Dwayne Huebner, the practice of study. Study means engaging in a personal practice through which we transform ourselves. It involves working on a journey of our own, engaging with the spirit and otherness beyond ourselves, and finding our way to the full realization of who we are as individuals.
A similar sentiment is found in Nietzsche, in his call to awake from the illusory state of an inert life, and to account for our existence in its uniqueness, reconstructing our “true being.”
Far different from the task of “internalizing” contents and skills, or the tragic technological reduction of learning to a capacity of pattern recognition, study becomes a form of therapy work for the “loosening of old bonds and discovering the new self”, in Huebner´s words. In its attentiveness to inner life – with its fragility, sufferings, desires and hopes – study is a simultaneous engagement of academic knowledge and lived experience. As a personal and ethical practice, it cannot be replaced nor “enhanced” by technologies, which by definition are orthopedic, i.e. artificial and external to the human being.
Given our present conditions that divorce individuals from their context by favoring cognition and standardization, we find in study a practice with the potential for a much needed subjective and social reconstruction revitalized by questions of existential significance.
Huebner, D. E. (1999). The lure of the transcendent. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Nietzsche, F. (1965). Schopenhauer as Educator. USA: Regnery/Gateway.
Ortega y Gasset, J. (1963). Meditations on Quixote. W. W. Norton & Company.
Pinar, W. (2004). What is Curriculum Theory? Routledge.
Pinar, W. (2006). Literary study as educational research: “More than a pungent school story.” In K. Tobin & J. L. Kincheloe (Eds.), Doing Educational Research (347-377). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.