Technology and the ‘Three Rs’: Preserving the basics

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Commentary by Arthur Ogden

Like most in my pre-baby boom generation, my early schooling focused on basic fundamentals in the quest to become a functioning, informed citizen in the greatest democracy in the history of the human condition.

Rudimentary mathematics, comprehensive reading capabilities, and clear writing were all elemental pillars of every class I took.

In short, “the three R’s” ruled and our knowledge of them was never taken for granted.

As our country moved from the moral dilemma of the Vietnam Era, which candidate Kerry first thought necessary to revisit with his dubious record there, and has vigorously sought since to minimize, a number of corollary societal institutions became the focus of a new genre of liberalism.

Our education establishment was one of the main targets in this onslaught of “free thinking” rebellion. The result has been intellectual anarchy and the abandonment of responsible educational theory.

Those in control of educational curricula all through the 1970’s were more concerned with the feelings of students, while basic education in fundamentals was taken for granted.

It was more important that the child “feel” good about herself or himself than it was to develop skills for the propagation of a productive society.

One teacher I know in Houston, Texas, commented that, “These kids have been made to feel so good about themselves that they are arrogant, apathetic, and totally self-absorbed.”

The consequence was that America fell far behind in basic skills when compared to other industrialized nations.

An ironic twist of fate occurred, however, in the 1980’s, when Ronald Reagan was elected to two terms, and the children of the liberal thinkers began tinkering with electronic devices.

An explosion of new technology surfaced during that time and boomed us into the 1990’s with a vengeance.

With it, new systems of education delivery emerged.

The old chalkboard and lecture with homework was replaced by computer generated presentations, and today teachers commonly use “power points” to teach their students.

My daughter at U.S. Jones Elementary School is in the fifth grade and her teacher, Mrs. Fran Cox, one of the best I have ever seen, is proud of the fact that her students are excited by her power point presentations.

The irony is that while the liberal thinkers were focusing on feeling-centered education approaches, they forgot that real learning is an internal process.

That is to say, those who “teach” often work under the misconception that learning necessarily and absolutely follows from those activities an antics performed by people in front of the students with the intention that something is being “learned”.

Teaching is a cognitive external activity, while learning is, again, an internal cognitive activity.

In reality, all we as teachers, pedagogists if we’re good, can hope to be is what Socrates called us – “midwives to ideas” or guides, if you will, in guided discovery.

Our technological advancements inadvertently, yet inexorably, focus on individual learning experiences.

That is why so many of our youngsters are more proficient at navigating through an electronic game than they are at group activities in a classroom setting.

It forces them to perform the immediate task of achieving the goal of the game.

The net result is that they have “learned” something which is of value to them in their still-developing value system.

And this is where much of our education establishment has been left in the wake of technological discovery, still clinging to the outmoded notion that youngsters need to be assuaged and massaged into “learning” when the progenitors of this approach really mean to say, “But I am TEACHING them and they’re just not getting it!”

The not so recent news is that they are not being inspired to learn!

This is where technology has come through the back door, so to say, and has reached the students on a wave length familiar to them.

And they LEARN!

For the most part, forward thinking education theorists have finally acknowledged the efficacy of technological vehicles.

Focused learning activities in CD Rom or floppy disc have produced significant results.

Our military, always in the forefront of new learning techniques, has saved billions of dollars using simulated scenarios in training for everything from flight to battle plans, and this has been going on for the past three decades or more.

With this type approach to education, true individualized learning can take place more effectively and more efficiently.

Thinking responsibly is one of the pleasant by-products of advanced technological developments in learning applications.

Focusing on fundamental principles of basic education, all students can be reached through new electronic delivery systems and vehicles, because they are being touched individually in their guided discovery.

And just as Gutenberg revolutionized learning approaches with his printing press in the 1450’s, so technological advancements have revolutionized learning approaches today, and fortunately these approaches will preserve the Three R’s.

Dr. Arthur Ogden is Demopolis campus director of Alabama Southern College.