When Silicon Valley comes to Kansas

There was an interesting article in the Times yesterday: evidently parents and kids in Kansas are in open rebellion against a Mark Zuckerberg-backed education software called Summit which has been rolled out across their schools.

Initially heralded as a way to support “personalized” education in school districts hurting for resources, the software is now being criticized for turning students into drones. The social aspects of the classroom have evidently been replaced by students sitting behind laptops, completing lesson plans at their own pace, for hours on end.

Having been researching and writing about the effects of technology on society and politics for the past year, the story hit a chord. While no doubt technology can be a boon for education – giving students access to a world of resources and information with a few taps of the keys – Summit’s approach seems to be missing the mark. As technological automation continues to progress, social skills and creativity will matter more than ever. But it’s hard to see how Summit’s software, which forces students to largely work on their own, their teacher no longer teaching but providing “mentorship,” promotes either.

A better approach, I think, would be a software platform designed to support the student-teacher and peer relationships in a classroom, instead of replacing them entirely. What if students were given technology and taught how to use it to answer interesting questions about history or science by forming original arguments and reasoning critically? What if they had to work in groups, and were taught about team-working skills, leadership and followership? What if they were then taught the technical or creative skills to communicate their points of view in novel and individualized ways? And what if all of this was designed with active input from parents and the community, instead of engineers half a continent away?

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