Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Will teachers be victims of technology?

In Idaho, it's not a foolish question to ask whether teachers will be the next group of professionals to be replaced by technology.

Clearly, Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna—whose title obscures his real calling as a slayer of jobs—hope so.

Luna and Otter's plan to replace teachers with technology got the Legislature's stamp of approval. After all, little plastic boxes full of silicon chips and microcircuits never complain about how much they're paid, don't need health insurance or time off, and don't form unions. They can work day and night.

Teachers are just the newest group to suffer blows inflicted by the belief that technology can replace them.

Headlines that will ask—ad nauseam—"Is teaching dead?" or simply declare "Teaching is dead" cannot be far away.

Why do we know this? Because the words used in place of "teaching" for the last decade have been "newspapers" and "journalism." Both were to have died at the hands of unpaid "citizen" journalists and the Internet.

But it turns out that people still like fact checking with their news to help them distinguish fact from rumor—or outright lies. It also turns out that journalists need paychecks for the time they spend on research, writing and talking to people who run government and corporations.

In other words, no journalists, no news—just lots of rumor, speculation and pomposity from talking heads.

We predict it will be the same with teachers. No teachers, no learning.

During a forum broadcast statewide, an Idaho student made a telling comment about his experience in taking an online class. He said the class taught him how to cheat. He found answers to test questions on the Internet, copied and pasted them.

Clearly, online classes have a long way to go if we are to count on them to provide a great education for students too young to understand that they cheat themselves and society when they don't do the work.

Luna said he wants Idaho graduation requirements to include a minimum of four online classes. Gov. Otter went further and predicted students would end up taking 12 or 15 classes online.

Clearly, Otter and Luna have the power to kill teaching in Idaho if they wish, but will the cost be a lost generation of students whose education was given up as a sacrifice on the altar of technology's true believers?

Technology is a tool, but it's only a tool. Only flesh-and-blood teachers can help students navigate a world awash in information—and misinformation.

Counting teachers out is a grievous miscalculation.

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