Article Review: Neil Postman’s “Virtual Students, Digital Classroom”
Neil Postman begins his article by highlighting the “god” status that people have given new technology and in particular computers. The article shows how this new technology gives access to so much information. For this reason, some proponents of technology suggest that in a few decades, classrooms may be rendered redundant. A world where children are motivated to learn by virtue of technology making information accessible to them is envisioned.
Postman goes on to decry this vision as being overly confident and unrealistic since it envisions model students who are inherently motivated to learn at all times and just need new technology to enable them satisfy this quest. The article also addresses the role that new technology plays and the changes that it will bring about.
Postman notes that instead of focusing on how to use new technology, we should focus on how computers use us and the effects (adverse and positive) that it will bring to society. The question of technology being seen as the solution to every problem that exists in school is also addressed with Postman illustrating that problems that cannot be solved without computers can neither be solved with them.
The article shows that Problems such as inequality, poverty and alienation which some claim will be addressed through technology can only be responded to through traditional classrooms and not new technology which may in fact only lead to their prevalence.
The article concludes by stating that educational institutes will only be rendered irrelevant when technology that can make civilized people is come up with. Until then, the traditional classroom with all its shortcomings remains the best place to teach students how to be civilized individuals who will be integrated into the society.
Postman makes a strong case for the role of community-building and social reform that schools play in our community. According to him, this are attributes that computers which lay emphasis on the individuals role cannot fulfill since machines lead to the creation of people who lack a sense of civility or community since this two attributes can only be learnt in the traditional class setting.
Postman’s critique of technology is mainly directed at its implementation to younger children. According to him, these children attend school for more than just the information on algebra and science that schools provide.
Children get to learn how to function in harmony with the society through the education process. This is something that cannot be learnt through any technological implementation as enthusiasts of technology seem to suggest. An interesting proposition by Postman is that the role of schools is to “help students learn how to ignore and discard information”.
This is a concept that I find particularly contentious since schools are essentially institutes for “gaining knowledge and information”. Postman’s statement assumes that people go to school with an information overflow and the major role of the school is therefore to help them shape this information.
I find this proposition by Postman at best contentious since most people go to school with limited information and it is only through the education process that they gain immense information and knowledge. While Postman does not negate the important role that technology will play in our education systems, he emphasizes that technology will not solve problems such as boredom in students or even psychological issues as some proponents of technology suggest.