I recently ran across Bill Gates’s blog. He was reviewing Yuval Noah Harari’s book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. The title of his post was, “The Purpose Problem: What if People Run Out of Things to Do?”
Gates ironically reflects on what it means to have purpose in one’s life.
I say ironically, because many blame Bill Gates for the current push to replace teachers in our public schools with technology—calling it personalized or competency-based learning.
Not only will teachers lose their profession and their purpose, a whole segment of society will be displaced—careers shattered.
This will drastically affect how and what students learn. Even our youngest children will obtain their knowledge on machines.
Brick and mortar schools will be a thing of the past. Children will learn on devices anyplace and anytime. Or they will attend online charter schools with baby-sitter-like facilitators instead of teachers. Connections to humans for learning will be distant.
Gates ruminates on Harari’s argument that progress towards “bliss, immortality, and divinity” will be unequal and some people will move forward and others will be left behind. He says,
I agree that, as innovation accelerates, it doesn’t automatically benefit everyone. The private market in particular serves the needs of people with money and, left to its own devices, often misses the needs of the poor. But we can work to close that gap and reduce the time it takes for innovation to spread.
He goes on to apply this thinking to closing the gaps when it comes to vaccinations of sick children.
He doesn’t ponder what troubling results can occur when “disruption” through technology happens in our public schools, or what it will mean when there is no more public school system in America.
Tech is a Tool, Not a Replacement
Bill Gates goes on in his blog book review,
It is true that as artificial intelligence gets more powerful, we need to ensure that it serves humanity and not the other way around. But this is an engineering problem—what you could call the control problem. And there is not a lot to say about it, since the technology in question doesn’t exist yet.
While schools aren’t turning to robots yet, thank goodness, the reliance on technology to teach students should also be questioned.
The threat of virtual schooling is very real. Betsy DeVos recently said virtual schools are what students need. Yet, there’s little evidence virtual learning is best. And there’s been little community debate.
What physical and mental repercussions will students display in the future due to an all-tech school setting? What purpose will students strive for in the land of machines?
Much harm could be caused by such transformation. The human connection is still and always will be critical.
The Gates Foundation’s Dislike of Teachers
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invest in too many pro-tech corporate school initiatives to mention, including charter schools like Summit which emphasize technology.
They have also invested in many anti-teacher nonprofits and experiments like their project Measures of Effective Teaching (MET). And they influenced the creation and adoption of Common Core State Standards.
Bill Gates has come out in the past against lowering class sizes and teachers getting master’s degrees. It really is no secret that Bill Gates is not a friend to qualified teachers. He supports Teach for America and the Relay Graduate School of Education.
Bill Gates ends his book review pondering how a wealth of information will not be enough for people who will always have social needs.
I think he outlines some serious threats and he succeeds at convincing me this would be an interesting book to read. But I don’t think he had schools in mind when he wrote this review.
Even in a world without war or hunger or disease, we would still value helping, interacting with, and caring for each other.
Aside from family, most people find purpose in their work. The lack of employment and the inability to find work and meaning, or purpose, creates hostility and chaos around the world. And revolutionizing schools by machine does not seem like it will lead to warm and fuzzy results.
Teaching is a social profession by its very nature. More than ever, compassionate teachers are needed in our world today. Real teachers with purpose interact with and teach children where and how they can find purpose.
This bond should not be broken. Tech can never replace this human connection.