Statement on Technology- given to my students this 14th day of January, 2019.
Each semester, the social media accounts of your professors are abuzz with panic. “Technology is killing our students’ ability to think.” “Students who look at their cell phones are very rude.” These claims lead to a lot of blood-letting on Teacher Facebook. They are usually followed by choruses of “preach it!” from the Old School Choir followed by scoffing “Actually research shows…” retorts from the more techno-Utopian minded educators out there.
I myself am torn.
On one hand, technology like cellphones, and their instant connection to ideas, facts, and data, are a great gift to the curious person. I make great use of apps, blogs, and podcasts that are essential contributions to my ongoing education, and most of the smartest people I know do the same.
On the other hand, that window that offers us a view of “the best that’s been thought and said” is very easily transformed into an escape hatch we disappear into at the first twitch of boredom or frustration.
And let me tell you this: just about every intellectual insight begins with either boredom or frustration (likely both). It is when we dedicate ourselves to work past those initial reflexes that real education happens.
Furthermore, so much of our lives takes place in our devices already. Look around the room before class begins, or in the hallways between classes, or in the cafeteria, or at any sporting event, or while people are watching television together. This powerful, beautiful technology is always and ever pulling us into our own private experience in the world. The problem is that in always being alone, we can never really grow. To push the botanical metaphor, we need cross-pollination for the species to thrive. Huddling alone, we are small.
I want the classroom to be a place that liberates you from smallness of your digital life.
To that end, and in order to serve you better, I don’t want you to use laptops or cellphones in class. I want your imagination to be where your body is.
I envision our class being a place where you can be free from all the distractions of the world. Here you can just be. Be where you are, with the people you are with, helping one another learn. This is a place to think deeply and quietly, staring down Frustration and Boredom and proclaiming yourself master over them.
I do want you to use technology in a way that benefits your imagination, however. In class, I highly recommend (as does all the current research) that you utilize the classic (and still cutting edge) tech of pencil and paper to take notes during our discussion. Here is where you can jot down important theoretical terms, insights into the subject at hand, and questions you have. After class, open up your laptop and look more deeply into those things that still puzzle you. As you read more about the things you learn create an Instapaper account to save websites you want to go back to. Create a blog or a podcast. Whatever.
To conclude, the whole world is organized to keep you skipping across its surfaces. Think of this class as a sanctuary from that pressure. A fishing hole where you can spend an hour trying land the big one. Here you are free from the tyranny of distraction and are able to think deeply about one thing, with other people, giving yourself the chance to become a better version of you.
75 minutes of freedom.
The Sectarian Review Podcast is hosted by Danny Anderson, who is an Assistant Professor of English at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA.