Wednesday, September 27, 2017

I Will Not Permit Children, My Friends, To Be Turned Over To Machines


 

"Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came." ~Cheers Theme Song

I typically wait by the door or gate to greet the children as they arrive, "Hi Sarah! I'm happy to see you!" I say it because it's how I would like to be greeted. In a way, I guess, you could consider it my version of shouting, "Norm!" the way the Cheers regulars did each time their beloved friend walked through the door.

I also say it because it's true. I am happy to see each child walk through the door. I'm grateful they've come back. I'm grateful that their parents continue to trust me with their baby. I'm grateful that we are going to now spend hours together, just farting around, making stuff, imagining stuff, thinking about stuff and generally just goofing off. I'm even grateful for the times we get sad or angry, because those conflicts are a part of our friendship.

And that's the thing, that's the part that people who don't do this job will never understand: the friendship. These kids are my friends, especially those who are back for a second or third year with me. We're not even two weeks into the new school year and we're already finishing each other's sentences and cracking inside jokes. This is what I will remember from the too short time we spend together. It is also what they will remember. And we've got nine months of that ahead of us. Norm!

There's an article making the internet rounds these days about a British academic who is predicting that "extraordinarily inspirational" robots will be replacing teachers within the next decade. Not only do I hope he's wrong, I expect that reality will prove the whole idea a disaster, but we won't know until real damage has been done to real children who will be guinea pigs in an experiment where they won't have a friend like me at school, but rather a machine that pretends. For instance:

This fall, parents in a California school district discovered at a sixth grade open house that their child would no longer have a teacher . . . Instead, the district had invested in an "exciting new way of learning" -- a "personalized learning program" called Summit, designed by Facebook.

That's a lot like having a robot for a teacher. If I were one of those parents I'd be running like the wind. Inspiration no matter how extraordinary, is a poor substitute for love and friendship.

Come on, really? Are we that stupid. People need other people, not just for procreation or telling stories or being happy or forming a team, but also for learning anything worth learning. We will figure out how to read and write and cipher as we always have: virally, by hanging out with other people, which is a system that has worked for most people throughout history. It's been a largely successful system so why the hell would we mess with it? And that's also, not incidentally, how we learn everything else: virally, by hanging out with other people. And that requires friendship, deep down real friendship. That, ultimately, is the source of extraordinary motivation.

Read their own documents, and you'll see that they are planning to turn live, face-to-face teaching into a "premium service." . . .  Meaning that they know face-to-face instruction is a better way to learn, and they have no intention of having their own children learn from machines.

I am not laughing about this academic's predictions. I'm girding myself because billionaires are behind this and they, despite their philanthropic BS, care primarily about making a killing at the expense of our kids. I will not permit children, my friends, to be turned over to machines. I want them to come to a place where everybody knows their name and where they're always glad they came.


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1 comment:

Mary Ann Allin said...

Q&A
University students fooled by robot TA
Artificial intelligence behind supercomputer Watson used to create TA for online AI course
By Dan Misener, for CBC News Posted: May 17, 2016 1:25 PM ET Last Updated: May 21, 2016 11:46 A

So appropriate that your article should appear today, as I caught the above Doc Project CBC Radio program yesterday. All through the show I kept thinking, "Is this for real?" Do some people fear human contact that much that a robot would be preferable? In the name science, we need to keep up with human interactions, that are real, emotive, allow for touch and face-to-face questions and debate, and adventure of the body, mind and soul. Touche Tom! Happy to see you today!!

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