Education Should be Like the Obama Campaign

There's a great article by Robert Draper in this week's New York Times Magazine, Can the Republicans Be Saved from Obsolesence?

The discrepancy between Narwhal and Orca, between the Obama and Romney campaigns' approach to technology and digital media, parallels my school district's wrestling with technology in the classroom.

We are in the middle of a shift to one-to-one technology, with each student having her own computer and all of our lessons, assignments and supporting materials available online. You can imagine the practical difficulties in such a transition - how do you upgrade all those devices, will the batteries let a kid use it all day, what happens when one is lost or left at home - but we have smart people in the district working through all that.

What worries me is the creeping suspicion that we're aiming at the wrong target. Wayne Gretzky always said that you should aim yourself at where the puck is going to be, not where it is now. People my age think of technology as a tool, as a better way to do what used to be a mechanical or analog task. So we get caught up in talking about limit and boundaries - how will we control what the kids do with the devices, what sort of web filters are best. We need these things, of course, because we can't have students watching porn in class or risking exposure to online predators, but it's not the core of why we should be shifting to a digital environment. And when we focus on those peripheral issues, we miss the real opportunity.

For many of our students (and for a very few educators) technology is akin to bodily function. They use technology and digital media like breathing or noticing when someone walks into the room - automatically, unthinkingly, naturally. Technology isn't a thing, it's a connection, unlimited by geography or status or identity. It's a mode of communication and expression unparalleled in history.

At my Title I school, properly implemented (and inculcated and nurtured and preached) it could be the way our students escape the socioeconomic limits they face in a geographically remote, economically disadvantaged, and culturally ravaged environment. Instead of trying to catch up to kids facing fewer challenges, this could be our students' chance to slingshot past the learning curve, to turn their socioeconomic lemons into something a good deal tastier.