by Sergio Yanes
There’s no doubt that technology has increased the pace of our world. With the automation of menial tasks --- such as remembering a phone number --- we find ourselves trying to accomplish more things, master more subjects, consume more information. Social media evolves daily to find more effective ways of communication, as if 160 characters is really all we need to say everything we have to say. Our to-do lists grow longer, and soon, our lives are reduced to a series of checkboxes we are desperately racing to finish. In this light-speed world, we often have to remind ourselves that there is a world to experience. That we need to slow down and see, instead of just look. We find ourselves in a world that is only an inch deep.
Our students find themselves in a more chaotic predicament: They are natives in a world that changes vastly every 5 minutes. From a teacher’s perspective, this can be a logistical nightmare! I’ve heard fellow teachers complaining about everything from students’ shortened attention spans to their lack of motivation in completing even the simplest of tasks (Perhaps that simplicity is the problem…). But, aren’t these all criticisms that have been flying out of teachers’ mouths since the dawn of public education? It’s about time we take a look at ourselves and our practices. We need to stop blaming our students for not living in the world we grew up in.
First, we need to come to terms with the fact that the world is changing. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, the US has been speeding towards some unknown goal. So, what can we do? Students process information; it’s an adaptation to a faster world. They need to understand themselves in order to understand the world. It’s up to us, the teachers, to slow them down and help them understand what they do. I’m not talking about procedural tasks or specific information they need to know. I’m talking about taking that information or skill and putting it to use. I’m talking about destroying their inner automatons and making act and live deliberately (Thank you, Thoreau). Slow down. Take a look around. Question why the world is the way it is.
Second, we need to forget everything we know about traditional teaching. Vygotsky wasn’t kidding when he said that learning is democratic. Dewey wasn’t lying when he wrote that students need to experience life from within the schoolhouse. The classroom isn’t a reservoir of information anymore. Then again, was it ever? In this world where every byte of information is available at the swipe of a thumb, we need to teach students to screen through information. Play with it. Shake it up. In other words, the classroom needs to be the sandbox of information. Students need to manipulate and reshape—sometimes, just to see what could happen, but often to be able to make sense of their reality.
We have learned to adapt, and so should our students. We do that by mirroring and replicating the tasks they will be asked to complete when they leave the sandbox. Instead of telling students that “this skill will help them out in the ‘real world,’” we need to accept that this already is the real world. So, instead of preparing students to live in the race toward some unknown future, we need to prepare them to live now.