Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wikileaks and Education

                If the St. John’s website is shut down for a while, blame me. I’ll apologize in advance for any inconvenience. I hope it doesn’t happen, but the hacktivists may come after me. Yes, I’m going to share some thoughts on the current Wikileaks firestorm.
                Maybe they will leave us alone. I don’t plan to comment much on Julian Assange or his disciples. You can form your own opinions on that. Instead, I want to share how all this has reconfirmed some of my thoughts about students and digital technology.
                Clearly, computers are now part of just about everything. You can read an interesting recount of an interview with Steve Wozniak, one of Apple’s founders. He states, “All of a sudden, we’ve lost a lot of control.” He’s referring to how dependent on these machines we have become. For our children, computers are essential tools—in many ways, their paper and pencil.
                Wozniak could just as easily be suggesting the massive questions raised by the Wikileaks issue. To play off the old advertising pitch: Does information really want to be free? Or is it that we think we want it to be free? And all information? Really? No matter what?
                Most of the education surrounding computers in many ways amounts to vocational training, albeit with an academic slant. There is a place for that approach; students have to learn how to use certain tools as powerful levers to produce quality work. But if we emphasize tools as just new ways of doing what we’ve always done, we miss the real transformative potential for education. We also would not be teaching some of the more important lessons.
                Similarly, many parents quite understandably install monitoring software or other safeguards on home computers. I get that. Children can very easily stumble across things you don’t want them to, and there are sick people who use tricks to make that even more likely. But we can’t let the illusion of software solutions keep us from fulfilling our responsibility as adults and teaching the more important lessons.
                So what are those more important lessons?
                We have to help our children learn to be ultra-responsible citizens in this new world. At different ages, this will mean different things explored in appropriate fashion. As you discuss current events with your children, this should lead to some powerful discussions about privacy and access; about how things live on-line; about whether the ability to do something means you should. The list could be much longer.
                Of course, some of these are eternal lessons, ones applicable throughout our lives. Wikileaks drives that message home as well. After all, we never know what information might get out.


Donna said...

A friend's Mother used to tell her not to do anything that she would not want to see on the front of the next day's news. We now need to teach our children not to "post" anything that they do not want to be there forever. Explaining this in a way that our children can receive it is most important. Having these conversations throughout their development, from many different respected sources, is vital. Teaching our children, and modeling this with our children, is essential as they live in this new digital world.

Lynn said...

In the time of almost infinite information, I believe that a major focus of our educational institutions, particularly those institutions that are faith-based, must be the teaching of the process of discernment. Accessing information is a skill that all can master, manipulation of information is a skill that most can master. Discernment, the process of evaluating, syntheisizing and appropriately using information is a process that few master. Those that are able to become truly discerning adults are those who shape the future of our nation and our world. Unfortunately, the process of teaching discernment is hard. It takes time, energy, long conversations and individual thought. It is a noble effort that I feel our community and those like ours are called to provide for our children. It requires human mastery over technology - not of technology.

Mark Crotty said...

Lynn, what a great point! As humans we tend to put incredible faith in information, as in thinking that having more is always the answer. We seem to forget that ultimately what matters is how we use that information.

Mark Crotty said...

Donna, thanks for the comment. I'll take your notion and add something to it. I read yesterday on that most young people are becoming savvier about what they reveal on-line as they understand the point you make. Unfortunately, they are not as thoughtful about what they post about others--which also stays out there for a long time. Certainly appealing to their self-preservation may hit more young people. But we also may have a chance to foster some empathy.