I recently learned of a school that doesn’t allow any technology. No cell phones, no calculators, no computers—nothing.
Being from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, my first thought was that their approach sounded a bit like the Amish. As you know, the Amish resist adopting modern conveniences. Things like computers, cell phones, cars, flying, even having electricity, are all on the Do Not Use list. The answers as to why they do this vary. Most answers, however, center around the idea that it keeps them from getting caught up in worldly things.
While I understand the thinking behind a no-technology mentality in today’s education, I am convinced it’s wrong-headed. Frequently, I see educators trying to emulate the past to recover the good things from it. To be sure, there are many good things. If there were not, I’d not be recommending Latin, logic, rhetoric, and a healthy dose of the Great Books. Studying them is worth recovering.
But recovering a time without technology is not.
Technology is nothing more than a tool. Tools can be used for good and for bad. If I go to my garage, grab a hammer, and start pounding holes in the kitchen cabinets, that would be bad. But if I use the hammer to tap down a nail in the floorboard that keeps snagging my socks, that is good. Similarly, calculators, computers, and phones are just tools that can be used for tremendous good or bad.
Let’s say your child is studying Algebra II and learning about two-variable formulas. You may know that such a formula will have an infinite number of answers. One variable depends on the other. Here’s an example:
2x - y2 = 4
If x is 2, y must be 0.
If x is 10, y must be 4 or -4.
Running through the equation a handful of times should be enough for a student to understand the formula, but it’s not enough to produce the graph of the equation. This is where technology comes in—to save the student from wasting time building the line produced by the answers to the equation.
For our purposes here, using technology also includes accessing the internet. It is a wonderful tool for research. Where would you go to answer the question, “How many countries are there?” Even a book that’s just a few years old could be obsolete. The internet would be the tool I’d choose and the one I hope you’d pick for your students.
Technology in itself is neither good nor bad; it depends on how it’s used.
Another way technology is put to good use, as you know, is through online classes. At Veritas we provide both live and self-paced classes through cutting-edge technology tools. Those who think these tools are only good for students who don’t have access to a classical school in their area haven’t considered some very important elements. What is the most important aspect to a great education? It’s not the curriculum. It’s not the environment. It’s not even the method or pedagogy. It’s the teachers.
And the beauty of online education is that teachers can be hired from anywhere (provided they can get online—which means anywhere today). That’s why we are so thorough in the hiring process. There’s just no reason we shouldn’t have a world-class collection of teachers.
Some of us think that only times and ways of the past are what’s good, or if it’s too new, it’s bad. Do you honestly think Martin Luther would have avoided researching on the internet for a sermon? Would Herodotus have used Word to write his Histories? I really don’t think he’d resist that for a second.
You’ll be faced with many questions as you continue in your career as a teacher. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that one of them is, “Should we use technology in a classical education?” The right question is, “How do we use technology in education to further our educational goals?”
My bet is that even Plato would agree. But that doesn’t mean we don’t take the phones away when they’re nothing but a distraction.