Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hackles Up!

This got my hackles up!
In his article The Human Touch, Monke (2004) led me down the garden path of agreement only to leave me feeling nearly angry at his conclusions and advice.  To begin with he denounces an “uncritical faith in technology itself”.  I’m right with you Monke.  The uncritical use of technology is terrible and dangerous.  He goes on to speak of the uneven allocation of funding in schools to computer technology at the expense of what he calls ‘firsthand experience’ -  non-virtual interactions and learning such as music, sports, etc.  Right!  People need to be holistically educated, they need art and music. I’m right there with you Monke.
Next he speaks of McLuhan’s ideas of technology causing a process of amplification and amputation. The example is something like, if a man were to use a microphone he may lose his ability to develop a robust voice. Uhhh…
Then comes a bombshell statement: He asserts “The general computer skills a youth needs to enter the workplace or college can easily be learned in one year of instruction during high school”.  Wait, did I just hear that right?  As a person who has devoted the last 20 or so years of helping empower people to participate in the modern world through teaching computer and software use, I’m far from objective. I feel amazed that he thinks teaching IT skills such a simple and speedy process!  Not that it is rocket science, but I’m beginning to wonder how few skills he himself may possess if they could all be gained in year.  Yup I'm biased because I love my job and I love technology.  I keep reading. 
Next Monke outright attributes the decline of modern societies’ ethics to computer use:
“In reconstituting learning as the acquisition of information, the computer also shifts our values. The computer embodies a particular value system, a technological thought world first articulated by Francis Bacon and RenĂ© Descartes four hundred years ago, that turns our attention outward toward asserting control over our environment (that is essentially what technologies do–extend our power to control from a distance). As it has gradually come to dominate Western thinking, this ideology has entered our educational institutions. Its growing dominance is witnessed in the language that abounds in education: talk of empowerment, student control of learning, standards, assessment tools, and productivity. Almost gone from the conversation are those inner concerns–wisdom, truth, character, imagination, creativity, and meaning–that once formed the core values of education. Outcomes have replaced insights as the yardstick of learning, while standardized tests are replacing human judgment as the means of assessment. No tool supports this technological shift more than computers”
But don’t get him wrong, he goes on to say:
“None of this is to say that we should banish computers from all levels of K-12 education. As young people move into subject areas like advanced mathematics and chemistry that rely on highly abstract concepts, computers have much to offer.”
Now I’m almost relieved.  He’s made himself out to be a bit of an extremist and I am able to discount his ideas as such.  I suspect he is a man who has enormous and paranoid fears around technology.  A re-read has me certain of this as I read again about his realization that his students ‘suddenly had more power to do damage to more people than any teenagers in history’.
I don’t want to think of the worst pictures of teen violence and crime, but I’m thinking it didn’t happen because a high-schooler had ahold of an iMac.

What angers me is that he is taking for granted (and asking us to) that technology is the cause of our daunting societal problems.  I don’t think it is a major cause, and I know it is not the only solution.  Human nature itself is the cause of societal ills.  Our use or misuse of technology is just a symptom and reflection of our nature. 
Monke, L (2004) The Human Touch, EducationNext


  1. I think this is a really inciteful post letty. I went and read his article and he says much that i agree with (we should give our children rich vibrant real experences) but the switch to blaming computers for not providing these is a bit of a jump. (there are less school trips etc now not because of technology but because its more expensive to get the insurance). I feel that he sets up a straw man here by comparing technology to the perfect childhood real experiences (im guessing in a class size of 6) and then blaming tech for children not having the perfect exp. I love my kids but the reason i dont take them down the park every day is because I work not because of evil tech. And yes sometimes they use the pc while I do tea or tidy up - they then show me what they have created (my son is going to "help" me with my digital artifac next week)

    1. Yup, you put it better than I. I love the picture you're evoking of your son helping with this project. 'do tea or tidy up' such cute Britspeak!

  2. Great insights and evaluation of the article. Like you I found myself agreeing and then going, "WHAT!!!" did he just make that leap of logic? I'm all for outdoors and playing, but kids need to learn computer skills in order to survive in the job market of the future. Did you see this video from Edutopia? It's all about a digital literacy in Chicago. It shows clearly that on some points, Monke is off his rocker.

    1. Thanks Rick. Always glad to have someone affirm my take on things in this course. I appreciate the link will watch today. I find myself filling in every minute of free time with this MOOC -