A Smack of Reality (The Future Home)
(Originally published in the October, 2008 issue of Homeschool Horizons)
Journalist Robert X. Cringely (“The Pulpit”, on the PBS website; see http://www.pbs.org/cgi-registry/cringely/thisweek.pl?pulpit), who recently wrote a series of articles on education and technology, once told his mother that he would have made it through school with or without her. This is true of most children in western society, where the education system is ingrained in our culture. The same can be said by our children about all things electronic. Whether they are taught them or not, at home or at school, it seems as if they learn them simply by breathing our modern industrialized westernized air. Every society has learned to use and rely on its tools (something I frequently reflect on as I daily manoeuvre a large deadly device capable of seemingly impossible speeds) and our society and our kids are no exception.
Cringely theorizes that because of rapidly expanding technology a future education will look very different from the current model. It will possibly be based on digital games (which are now one of the biggest businesses in the entertainment world), and won’t rely on locations, or even on the calendar. This, he says, is a situation that is neither good nor bad, it just is. It will be interesting to see how this evolving educational paradigm affects homeschooling. Both home and school are capable of rising to the challenge of rapidly-changing educational tools; but the home offers value beyond any amount of high-tech equipment.
My 11-year-old son, who likes to dabble in chocolate-making, recently tried to add cinnamon to an experimental recipe. In a moment of distraction, he unscrewed the top of the container rather than flipping the lid to expose the shaker, and shook. As he contemplated the large pile of cinnamon in his bowl of melted chocolate, he cheerfully commented, “I needed a computer to say, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’”
Home is still the place where reality smacks us in the face, and where we learn to make mistakes, correct them, focus, and be careful. Perhaps, in the future, we really will have a “Star Trek” scenario in which we merely utter our wishes and the computer provides. However, if Jean-Luc Picard never scalded his hand boiling water to make Earl Grey tea, where did he learn the problem-solving skills necessary to think his way out of all those dangerous and complicated situations? Probably, at home.
My son has other problems besides low-tech cooking tools, and these once prompted him to wistfully declare that the video-game world is better than the real world. He will be among the happy ones if, as Cringely theorizes, educational tools begin to look more and more like digital games. He is indeed a boy with problems: no matter how often Megaman defeats the vengeful Lord of Chaos, my son is still made to finish his math, sit up straight, get his exercise, be nice to his sisters, tell the truth, and admit his mistakes. He has older sisters who tell him to dress better, be quiet, and grow up; so, it’s no wonder he would rather spend his time trying to race Mario’s kart. In his real world, there’s no closing the GameBoy lid and walking away.
On the other hand, if my son gets frustrated because he is unable to free Han Solo from his carbonite tomb, he can always play Monopoly with one sister, soccer in the backyard with another, or read a good book recommended by the third; all the while enjoying the good health that comes from good posture and exercise, and munching on chocolates that he has successfully prepared.
Our home-educated children feel like they have big problems, but their education is as much to do with character (provided at home) as to do with knowledge (increasingly provided by electronics). No matter how wired our homes become, we still have to solve the problems created when someone says, “Your GameBoy music is bothering me” (to which is replied, “Well your laptop-tapping is bothering me”). Whatever educational paradigms we’ve dealt with in the past, or will face in the future, home continues to be the place where reality hits us, and character is formed.