Town Crier August 2002
Town Crier Newspaper
The Binary Bind: Much Ado About Nothing and One
Parents, educators, and students often find themselves in deep and choppy water when attempting to navigate through the shoals of computer technology. Parents and teachers, especially, spend an inordinate amount of energy, time and money striving to create an environment for children that is technologically current and relevant, and by doing so, risk complete emotional and financial meltdown. We adults can spend painful hours searching for state-of-the-art, and inevitably come to a crushing conclusion: ongoing progress in technology will make today’s whiz-bang, giga-something, RAM-enhanced box a decorative doorstop before you can say, “Microsoft must be making a bundle.” We post 30-somethings risk becoming resigned to a Sisyphean state, damned never to complete our quest for leading-edge technology.
Computer technology is ephemeral, and has the momentary uniqueness and staying power of a snowflake on a warm day.
Before I paint this picture with too dark tones, it’s important to recognize that there’s a group of people who aren’t truly anxious about this crushing progress: the kids. In all my time as an educator, only one student has ever walked into my office to say, “We’re falling behind in computing. We need better machines. We need current curriculum,” and that was twenty years ago when the school didn’t even have one computer. (We promptly went out and bought a shiny, new, Commodore PET, and crowded around breathlessly as the boys played two-paddle Ping Pong on the black and white screen.) It appears that, as a group, students are so confident in their abilities to understand – in general – that they are assured that nothing in the computing world can or will confound them. In fact, they realize that it’s probably not in the techno-generators’ best interests to alienate a generation of current and future computer users.
It’s truly ironic that the group that will be most affected, the students, are more trusting of the computer world and their place in it than their parents, who lose sleep, hair and their hard-earned money trying to ensure that their sons and daughters are well-placed in the cyber-spectrum.
The students, in their hearts, understand that what they are learning at most good schools – and most homes – has very little to do with new hardware, but everything to do with coping with everything that’s bound to be new. Good schools produce students who are flexible and adaptable and inquisitive, students who will be able to thrive on the 2003 desktop model as well as the 2033 iteration, whatever that might look like. The challenges and the skills necessary for success – real or virtual, no matter the year – will be largely the same. Good schools create students who will excel and thrive in tomorrow’s world, and take a longer view of it than most computer and software manufacturers. Some things are timeless and remain current, Mr. Gates: creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness, to name just three. Good schools, in short, build students who are intellectually supple and nimble, and who have quick-adjustable straps on their mind sets. The feed and caring of humanware trumps soft and hardware everytime.
By the way, parents’ anxiety is quite real. The computer world is jargon-jazzed and confounds even the techno-aficionados, at times. (In a twist on the luxury car adage, “If you have to ask the price, you probably can’t afford it,” the computer gurus would assert, “If you have to ask what it is, you probably won’t understand it.) We all want the best for our children, and if computing, in some form or another, appears to be a necessary skill in the 21st century, then we want our progeny to be, at the very least, au courant.
However, my numerous conversations with worried parents generally end when I gently assert that our deeply held apprehensions as shadow and real Boomers are not those necessarily shared by the younger folk. We hand-wringing old-timers need to realize that the technology we fear or have difficulty grasping today will most certainly change in some substantive way within three years. The chase of The Current is dizzying, and as fruitless as a dog chasing its tail. I usually close with, “Trust the students.” While my advice might appear to be a little simplistic, more often than not, the students prove me right. They have grown up in a connected, ICQ, internet-authority world, and because of that, they know the relative importance (and quintessential marginality) of computers in their world. If anything, their generation’s familiarity with computers has removed computing’s mystique. They know that a computer is merely a pretty neat tool for thought and expression, and not a rarified, desk-top sanctum sanctorum for the enlightened elect.
The advent and explosion of the internet has brought democratization, accessibility and increased homogeneity to our students’ technological world. Trust the students – it is their real and virtual world, and they are very comfortable with it, thank you very much. Parents and educators can go back to worrying about the many other things they worry about daily (and nightly), happy in the knowledge that their sons and daughters in the classroom and in the home are receiving the intellectual gear necessary to succeed in our connected, on-line world – and in the real one as well. When we all come to that conclusion, and take the time, as parents and teachers, to catch our breath and look out towards the bright horizon, we might just realize that there’s one less rock to push up the hill.
Now what time did Johnny come in last night?