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Guest Thinkers

Technology as the Philosophical Core of the Education Curriculum

Two insightful articles in the New York Times this past week highlighted the very nascent trend of using technology as a philosophical concept to educate children.

Kevin Kelly wrote about his experience home-schooling his son in 8th grade. He designed the curriculum to include experiential learning like field trips to car factories, building chicken coops to learn about design, and constructing bows from branches to understand physics and the concept of tension. In many ways, this home-schooling exercise is not unique. However, it differed because Kelly also made technology literacy a core part of his son’s curriculum. “One of the chief habits a student needs to acquire is technological literacy,” he says, “… we need to be literate in the complexities of technology in general, as if it were a second nature.”

So how does one achieve technology literacy? Kelly gives a list of principles about how to approach technology, which are more abstract philosophical concepts underlying the nature of technology than prescriptions such as “Learn C++”. For instance, one principle is: “Every technology is biased by its embedded defaults: what does it assume?” And another we particularly like: “Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for. The crucial question is: what happens when everyone has one?

But while such principles are good to understand the ever-changing, ever-expanding web of technological interfaces that surround us, how can one practically grasp this world? One way is to understand how to build it, take it apart, and rewire it. Games are a great way of understanding a complex world where the line between real and virtual is becoming non-existent. The experimental school Quest to Learn in Manhattan provides children with the intellectual frame and tools to manage this world by using games as the medium of instruction (see Big Think interview with Executive Director of Design Katie Salen). Games are employed to teach children everything from mathematics and engineering to art and design. Most importantly, the children create their own games, and in doing so, begin to intuitively understand technology – how it has building blocks which can be combined in exponentially interesting and innovative ways; how it can create whole worlds which have rules that can constrain it, but also rules that can be bent and extended; how quickly it can scale and spread; and how one is always on a ‘quest’ to conquer it, an impossible challenge to completely master.

Without having technology as one of the philosophical approaches to life, we will never equip our children to live comfortably and thrive in our emerging techno-lives.

Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.


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