I love Christmas. I love Hanukah. I love giving gifts, the cookies, caroling and all the other festivities that go along with this December season. But…every time that Amazon ECHO commercial comes on television I turn into Scroogette incarnate. That’s right. The hairs on the back of my cybrarian neck just stand on end, and I begin to pontificate on how tomorrow’s leaders are going to be intellectually impaired. The same reaction ensues from the Google Home equivalent. Why in the world would we want to insert in our homes a thinking device, a data-miner, and a microphone that listens to every word we say…just awaiting her name to be called (i.e., the “wake up” word)?
Almost eighty years ago, Aldous Huxley wrote A Brave New World, in which he espoused that humans will come to love technologies that undo our capacity to think. Fast-forward 80 years and here we are embodying his theory. So here we are. We now have devices that can and do think for us. In the 1940s, what technologies did they have? The typewriter? Morse code?
Today, impoverished children have strikes against them. They are likely arriving into kindergarten having heard merely half the vocabulary as their peers entering school from an educated home, but dare we claim that in the future their brains might be a bit better off? Will they demonstrate resourcefulness? Will they have more experience problem solving? Once they catch up with language and other skills, will they exceed children from privileged homes where they don’t need to think and where the kids have spent the mornings on their iPad swiping away or asking Alexa how to spell or what the meaning of life is? Only time will tell.
This commercial is the Ghost of Education Past. It reflects the failure of our education system during the No Child Left Behind time. Brains were the only thing neglected—not the child. During the last twenty-eight years of testing to garner education funding, we have raised the educational bar for some states while turning education into a test preparation mode in others. The future is now. All these children educated during a period of Neolithic rote ‘n recall, now are building machines that provide rote answers—just like they were taught to do in school.
Well, be ye hereby warned: This generation will grow up and run the world. Heaven help us if they can’t think. As educators wanting to change just as old Ebenezer did, we need to start our reformation away from rote ‘n recall. That is the first step toward educational reform. We need to embrace the: Why, What if, so what, Does, How, What do you think…. and more. We need to teach our children to think, uncover and discover—not just how to find an answer.
The search for an answer should ultimately lead to more questions. If we do our job, a device like the Echo should repel our children. The Echo should be treated like an enemy of authentic learning. The “enemy of great, is good”—remember? I don’t need a “good tool” that can tell me whether my tattoo has been misspelled. I need students who are asking questions that lead to compelling, deep, meaningful discoveries. We need teachers who teach that way. We need Cybrarians who foster a learning space to operate from class and home without the Echo. We need information literate librarians who instill in our students a desire to know more, dig deeper, and climb higher. We need products that will encourage our students to read, uncover and discover—rather than spend money for a good spell check.
Well, this Scroogette has to go. Enough penned. Wishing you all the merriest of holidays filled with everything—except the Amazon Echo.
Paige Jaeger (Scroogette), MLIS, is a prolific author and prominent educational consultant, delivering professional development at the local, state, and national levels on inquiry-based learning, the CCSS, and the C3 framework. Previously, she was a library administrator serving 84 school libraries in New York.