My recent column about William & Mary’s new $48 million School of Education edifice, which is equipped with the latest technological innovations, caught the eye of William Van Wishard, the head of WorldTrend Research, a Washington-based consultancy that specializes in analysis and synthesis of worldwide trends.
Wishard’s children graduated from William & Mary, and he gave a lecture at the College several years ago. Most recently, his scholarly paper, “Education and the Shifting Global Context,” was the lead article in the prestigious International Schools Journal, published in Europe.
“The elemental effects of technology on cognition and the future of our species, force us to consider the value of quasi-mandatory academic courses in the relationship between technology and humans,” he writes.
He posits that at a time when globalization is erasing all the old boundaries that provided identity, when young people get more information from watching TV than they do from all their classroom instruction, when all knowledge is available by the press of a computer button and commercial advertising has become the primary source of value formation, the basic question becomes, “What is education? What is the product education seeks to produce?”
Wishard believes that today’s education needs to enable young people to go far beyond the conventional concerns of traditional education. It has to concern itself, he said, with such issues as how education can foster a sense of rootedness in time and place, in an age of global impressions and easy mobility.
He poses the question: how in a technology-driven age could education strengthen the enduring human values that give meaning and fulfillment to the individual? In an age where everything is in flux, how can education help the individual to find stability and anchorage?
He quotes the writer Kevin Kelly, who wrote in the Wired magazine: “When truth is something you assemble yourself on your own screen as you jump from link to link, how is a young person to find those deeper human truths that have been transmitted over centuries through culture, and are valid for all time?”
Wishard’s research revealed that all the traditional sources of identity are in upheaval, such as family, ethnic group, nation, culture and religion. “Thus we see students increasingly turning to technology to seek some source of identity,” he writes. “Young children once found early identity in relationship to animals, the family dog or a pet gerbil. Now they turn to computerized toys or computer games, in essence, a shift from living animals to dead matter.”
Adolescents, on the other hand, seek identity through various websites on the Internet. “As they jump from Facebook to other websites, they sometime display differing aspects of their personalities, depending on with whom they are talking and how they want to appear. The result is that many young people are not remaining true to their deepest inner selves, and they are developing what psychologists call, multiple personalities.”
Research indicates that many young people find it easier to cope with the “pseudo-reality” on the Internet than with life’s authentic reality.
“This is the antithesis of the purpose of human growth and maturation, indeed education, which in all cultures and ages has been to develop a whole and unified personality in young people. Helping students understand and come to terms with such issues is one of education’s greatest challenges,” Wishard writes.
This is something that Virginia McLaughlin, dean of William & Mary’s School of Education, is very much aware off. In an interview with the Lake Placid News and The Virginia Gazette she noted that notwithstanding all the technological enhancements, “Our graduates are expected to demonstrate content expertise, meaning knowledge of their subject matter, and the ability to teach effectively to diverse learners, as well as reflective practice, consideration of evidence for continuous professional growth.”
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was
reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.