Why a “digital Aristotle” is a terrible idea

Quick, unrelated update: I just sent a message to the eBay seller of the awesome tutu in my recent post, asking if they would consider making it in plus sizes.  If you want, send them a message as well! I don’t know whether anything will come of it, but it can’t hurt to try.

Also: the election’s over! Phew. And in addition to the candidates who won, I’m happy about a lot of the state initiatives that passed. Hells yeah gay marriage!

Now, onto the post.

While poking about on YouTube last night, I came across this video about a software that’s being developed with the intention of customizing educational experiences for each kid who uses it, and eventually replacing much of the need for human teachers:

And oy, did it cause me to have ALL THE THOUGHTS (and to be honest, more than a little bit of THE RAGE).

I think the Digital Aristotle software could be a useful idea as a supplement to classroom teaching, but using it as a replacement strikes me as a terrible idea, for many reasons:

1.) School isn’t just about kids interacting with teachers. It’s about kids interacting with other kids, learning how to be social beings, developing empathy. A kid sitting alone in front of a computer screen all day isn’t going to get that, no matter how brilliant the software is.

2.) Computers have a lot of amazing educational potential, but they also have downsides. A major, major one is that they make it easier to multitask, which has a demonstrated negative effect on pretty much any kind of performance.

I’ve seen it in my own life–I know I concentrated far better in high school, when I had only dial-up internet, than I have ever since.

Don’t just take it from me. Read Hamlet’s Blackberry, and The Winter of Our Disconnect. Maybe even The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. The internet has great power to connect people…when used in moderation, with limits and structure. When used in conjunction with face-time, and nature-time, and solitary-reflection-time.  It isn’t a replacement for any of those things.

3.) Relatedly, many educational videos (which seem to be a major component of the Digital Aristotle project) are 4 or 5 minutes long. They may be full of fascinating things, but don’t lend themselves to the kind of concentration that leads to deep understanding. I’ve watched plenty of interesting videos about physics and math, but if you asked me what I’ve learned, I wouldn’t remember most of it. It’s not the same as learning systematically from a real person.  Continue reading