Thursday, June 18, 2015

"Life is a succession of lessons, which must be lived to be understood." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Inherent in Emerson's quote is a sense of time. Life takes time. Lessons are lived over time and our understandings evolve with time, measured sometimes in years or even in decades.

Immediacy is the enemy of time. Not just the desire for instant gratification, but the temptation to believe that everything can be understood or solved right away. Immediacy, or the inability to see the past and to plan for the long-term, has an evil twin: the celebration of not-knowing. When we desire to solve right now, we can't afford to recognize that others have gone before us and struggled with many or most of the same issues we face, have thought deeply about them, and have left us a legacy of understanding if we're willing to read or learn about them.

Immediacy cultures are narcissistic, shallow, and without root. Go to any of the social events in the ed tech world and talk to those seeking to "solve" education and you'll find that their strategies are not the result of years of reading and thinking through Emerson's life lessons, but based on a belief that not knowing the subject more deeply is actually somehow an advantage.

And perhaps it is, if measured in the attention and money provided in the bubble of Silicon Valley. But not when measured against the lives of our youth, and the strength of our cultures.

There is a belief that not knowing frees us from the burdens of doing things the way they have been done before. It's a smoke-screen, a way to avoid responsibility for acting with the responsibility that come from life lessons lived and understood over time. A way to avoid actually learning deeply ourselves.

I'm listening to the audiobook version of Dave Egger's The Circle, a semi-fictional book about a social media company that swallows up Google and Facebook, and where the technology increasingly makes everything everywhere public. It's a world so consumed with the immediate moments that real life is pushed out of the way for the thrill of being noticed by others in the moment. Everything is vivid and real-time, and yet nothing is authentic or real. It's such a jarringly-close portrait of where we are--an exaggeration that is all-to-easy to imagine being real--that I've had to stop listening a couple of times because it's been so uncomfortable. The energy of the immediate overrides sense and logic, careening toward disaster.

In the world of education, immediacy "solvers" project their own inability to be in the depth of time to schools, teachers, and students. Test results should be immediate. Problems should be immediately apparent, consequences immediately meted out, and behaviors immediately changed (think medication). Determinations of attention, intelligence, and skills should have immediate implications.

This is not just silly, it's downright scary. It's dehumanizing to children, disrespectful and demoralizing to adults, and dangerous to everyone.

An inability to think in terms of and over time leaves us just with constant agitation, but not with real solutions. It's information without wisdom. It's an hypnotic spell which must be broken.

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