Friday, June 24, 2011

Consumption and Creation

Consumption of technology is easy. Creation is hard.

To consume, all you have to do is learn the interface, whatever it is. How difficult is the Facebook interface really? The interface to the iPhone? These and all the rest are simple. Give a reasonably intelligent person a few hours and they'll have the basics down.

The point? Our task is not to teach students to consume technology. That they will do on their own. Rather our task (at least in part) is to teach them to create those technologies, and that's hard.

We need scientists, we need programmers, we need engineers. These are the creators of our technologies, and they must have a deep grasp of the mathematical and scientific foundations of the technologies that they will create. This requires what it has always required - hard intellectual labor.

The mind must be be trained to carry through lengthy and intricate deductions. This is what it is to think. This is what it is to take a seed of any idea and bring it to fruition. You don't learn this on Facebook. You don't learn it on an iPhone. You learn this today as students always have, with a text, a teacher and time.

Students often have little idea of this distinction between consumption and creation. They think they know the technology, but all they really know is its surface, its interface; and that has been designed for simplicity of use. What lies below the surface is quite extraordinary complex. How will students come to understand that? How will they learn to make something of such complexity? They must know the theory behind it. They must know the science and the mathematics. The traditional course of study isn't made irrelevant by the new technologies. The traditional course of study is responsible for the creation of those technologies. So let us continue to require that students complete rigorous courses of study in science and mathematics. This is hard, I know. Students would much rather just sit back and consume. But they don't know what they need, and we teachers must not shrink from the task appointed to us.

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