Sunday, June 15, 2008

This week I’ve been getting very excited about the numerous “Web 2.0” tools I hope to use in my teaching next year, but at the same time, I’ve been trying to keep things in perspective. After all, these new internet applications that are so enticing to teachers are simply another set of tools, another bundle of devices (some might say gimmicks) that might – or might not – be helpful in the teaching-learning process. In that sense, they fall into the same category as the overhead projector when it was first introduced, or the old mimeograph machine, which suddenly made it possible for teachers to give up using carbon paper. (Can’t you imagine teachers in the early part of the 20th century shouting for joy when they realized they could mass-produce their own lessons and worksheets?) Yes, it’s true that blogs and wikis and podcasts will be extremely beneficial to teachers in the future, but they are only tools to help the engine of education run a little more smoothly and quickly. They would be of no use whatsoever if there was no engine to do the actual work, and, to me, the engine that drives all good teaching and learning is old-fashioned face-to-face kindness and respect. A teacher and student sitting at a table and talking and listening to each other with attentiveness and shared admiration will never be replaced as the center-piece of the learning process. Face to face giving and taking, heart to heart speaking and listening, is what education is ultimately all about, and no breathtaking technological inventions will change that. Podcasts and wikis will surely alter the way I teach and the way my students learn, but it won’t, I believe, necessarily improve it. My classroom teaching will be different next year, but not automatically better. The students and I can wiki, blog, and podcast all day long, but it won’t inevitably make us more considerate or selfless in our relations with each other, more able to help each other grow wiser and more compassionate, which is the only thing that teaching and learning should be about.


This morning I did my usual hill-walking down in our lovely Wilcox Park, just one block from my apartment, and it was an utterly serene way to start the day. As is usually the case, I was almost entirely alone as I trudged up and down a hillside path, which added to the peaceful ambiance of the morning. I worked hard as I walked, but I also felt laid-back and easy-going, swinging my walking stick in a comfortable way. The park itself seemed especially tranquil. No breeze stirred the branches of the impressive old trees, and the few birds I saw seemed to be going about their morning business with a restful and unperturbed comportment. No doubt they were happy, as I was, to start their day in such an unruffled manner.

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