I had a waking dream yesterday, and it was about how the role of “teacher” is gone within a generation. Or, at least the kind of teacher commissioned by societies to train and inform the young so their parents and grandparents and older brothers and sisters can go off and build the economy. The specialized instructor such as the athletic trainer, life coach, or the ones who show us how to create hypertufa planters, they’ll always be around in some form or another, but will we really need people like us, people with content knowledge and pedagogical skills, when we’ll have individually customized educational software, virtual reality and computer adaptive testing, all funded by taxes shunted away from the public school system? When society will have been finally convinced that all along the teaching profession was a money grab by backward, rudderless or second career can’t do’s who want summers and holidays off, with cushy benefits and unionized job security on top of that?
The dream came just after my twelve year old son asked for the umpteenth time whether he could have his computer turn yet. I had turned him away with some vague excuse about the beautiful weather and his need to find some creative things to do. Same as I told my other boy years ago when he wanted to watch a video on a sunny day at the age of twelve. Boredom therapy–a waiting that would always end up in discovery and independence. But this time my community has let me down. I changed communities from the independent-minded, culturally rooted, inter generational, simple-living homeschooling community, where a lesson/play date involved swinging, climbing, digging or building forts if the weather was dry, or arts and crafts, reading, board games, or a trip to the museum if it was cold and wet. No heading down to the rec room to check out YouTube videos or joining global game forums like my son’s current school friends have as default mechanisms. And their parents are okay with that. They have organized sports for other times, after all, and isn’t that enough? Who wants a kid dragging dead branches around and messing up the landscape?
In some of the classrooms where I sub the students do all their work on laptops, or type into their phone apps (with furtive forays into online videos and social media sites, expertly timed so mostly undetectable by the “teacher”). Math is a self-teaching series of screens with tiles to drag and drop, multiple choice, immediate gratification and mentally digestible bytes. Language arts is the reading, highlighting and cutting and pasting of textual evidence. Technology is how to use Microsoft software and write basic code. Will biology and chemistry soon be transformed also? Will there even be a vestige of the elements of natural history in all the data crunching, content-rich video lessons, and online research? How long until each school graduates the last child in the woods, the last young adult to have regularly had a moment alone with her own thoughts?
I have big plans this summer to drag out all the camping stuff we used at our woods property many years back, set up a big tent under a tarp, a place to invite family friends to just to mess around in the woods (with all the basic conveniences like a barbecue, fire pit,a plug in, rinse water, portable toilet and solar shower) try to entice some people away from their WiFi networks to enjoy the unrolling of the hours under the sky, overlooking the sea, alongside the shadows of ferns and animal homes under boulders and logs.