Which Should We Do: Help Families in Poverty or Push Emerging Technologies?
I was talking with a group of preservice teachers recently about emerging technology and deep learning to prepare kids for their future. We were looking at emerging technology, industry automation, coming jobs availability via the Bureau of Labor Management, and more. It’s one of my favorite topics to share with people and wrestle with the implications for our current students, K-12.
And mid-stride I was interrupted by a very smart student who asked an even smarter question:
First, I’m really glad that this question — that was burning in the heart of this young woman — was asked out loud. If she hadn’t have asked it, her ears may have been stopped for the entire bigger message. And super, super kudos for the courage to speak out. I know many veteran teachers who wouldn’t have spoken up to stand up for kids she cares so deeply about. Secondly, I’m so very grateful that this young teacher is keeping these kids in her mind (and heart).
In a nano-second, my mind switched back to an 8th grade IEP meeting I was hosting. The boy, identified as gifted and by all means absolutely brilliant, was failing most his classes and was defiant with his regular classroom teachers as he refused to participate in their daily realities. What they were asking him to do was pretty much meaningless to him. I knew it. He knew it. So did the teachers and they resented it. He and I, however, got along famously. Because I knew who he was. I understood, while maybe not the full picture, a partial picture of his life. His mom was working super-hard keeping food on the table for him and his siblings. His dad was in prison and had been there a while, as I understood. In fact, this boy was named after his father, about whom he’d talk to me regularly. And while he knew his dad’s path wasn’t exactly what he wanted, he still so very much loved his dad. I knew it. I knew he struggled with some of his peers. I also knew how brilliant he was and that, for the most part, his teachers were still talking to him like he was just a loser. A failure. And they were still making him fill out their thousands of worksheets that year. And he was — quite politely if you ask me — refusing. And in this IEP meeting, I was leading a discussion about his future. Looking at careers. His interests. His abilities. I was interrupted by one of his regular classroom teachers who said, “I don’t even know why we’re talking about all this career stuff when he can’t even pass 8th grade social studies.” I felt my face catch immediate fire. Instant anger. The boy was right there. So was his mother. And the principal. I breathed deeply and said, “Sometimes when we’re drowning in quicksand, we need to look beyond the sand toward the horizon to find a branch to help us out. If we only look at the sand, we’ll drown.” And then kept on with the meeting. I still keep in touch with this young man, who is now in his early 30’s. I’m not sure I helped him then as well as I would now, having had the chance to develop more tools, but I was, quite doggedly, determined to love him through the struggles of home life, the struggles of social realities of middle school, and the struggles of the tornado of mundane daily worksheet assignments.
That boy and his entire story flashed through my mind when I was asked today’s question.
With gratitude for the question and questioner, I answered this way:
Truthfully, we do not live in a binary world. The first part of my response is that I was hired to talk about this emerging technologies work. BUT more importantly, we must do both. It’s not an if / or situation. It’s a both / and when we’re fully doing our jobs. We must bandage and support our kids and families … while still looking to the future.
In education, we will always serve today while we aim for tomorrow.
After we were finished, I reflected on the question, my response, and how often I hear these types of questions posed not only in education, but across the entire spectrum of culture. How many times do we approach a situation from that binary viewpoint? “If I do this than I must not be doing that?”
Zero-sum outcomes are a falsity and disservice to humanity and most certainly to our profession.
Y’all. This world is full of the shadows of grey complexities, no matter how our bumper sticker culture might have us thinking. It’s time to look, think, and be deeper.
Pause. Breathe. And find the win for all.
It’s not easy, but we didn’t choose education for easy, did we?