On a Sunday morning news program, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger made an interesting remark when he was asked what was the most important concern for the airline industry to address. Sullenberger answered that although planes are much more technologically advanced today than ever before, there must be a greater emphasis on the fundamentals of what makes planes fly and what the instruments are supposed to do so if, as was the case with him, something happens to prevent those instruments from working or doing what they are supposed to do, the pilot can do the job of the instruments. He or she may not be able to crunch the data at the same rate as the computerized instruments, but the problem will still be resolved.
Sullenberger’s statement is both powerful and true. As I look around, everywhere there is a determined, purposed plan to eliminate the human factor. From schools, to banks, to token booths, people are being replaced. Think about this for a minute. If Sullenberger had only been able to use his instruments that failed that day he landed on the Hudson, what is the likelihood things would have turned out as well as they did?
It amazes me that so much trust and faith is put into technology. After all, what technology did Bill Gates have before he created Microsoft? What about Steve Jobs? What about George Washington Carver or Lewis Latimer? I have nothing against technology, but the idea that its existence precludes the purpose or the use of the human mind is a big problem for me. In my travel as an ATR, I heard all the talk about the importance of critical thinking, but I see little or no evidence of it. Students use computer programs that do not allow them to “work out” their answers, to cross out and start over. Many programs do not allow students to go back if they figure out later they have made a mistake.
In my classes, I gave short answer (not multiple choice) tests so students had to be able to explain their answers to prove to me they understood, that they had thought their answers out, in order to get credit. Computers can’t do short answers, they can’t read and evaluate answers, they can‘t ask the student, “How did you arrive at this answer?” or “Why do you say this?” The movement toward A.I. revolves around one algorithm to determine that. How is technology encouraging thinking as reformers claim?
Sullenberger’s statement was powerful not just for the airlines, but for society as a whole, and especially education. Technology may calculate faster, and find the answers more quickly, but it cannot think and it cannot last forever. Given these facts, it just might be a good idea to know and to understand how and why things work without technology, so that if the day ever comes when the technology fails, we will all be able to “get our planes down safely”, too.
And now driverless cars? Teacherless classrooms?