A Forgotten Prophet

In 1967 Marshall McLuhan wrote this:

It is a matter of the greatest urgency that our educational institutions realize that we now have civil war among these environments created by media other than the printed word.The classroom is now in a vital struggle for survival with the immensely persuasive “outside” world created by new media. Education must shift from instruction, from imposing stencils, to discovery – to probing and exploration and to the recognition of the language of forms. The young today reject goals. They want roles. That is, total involvement. They do not want fragmented, specialized goals or jobs.

That’s 45 years ago.

It’s taking us a long time to understand the changes in the world and how they impact society and education.

It’s taking us a long time to appreciate the implications of a “clash of cataclysmic proportions between two great technologies” (McLuhan).

McLuhan said that we always approach new situations with the predilections and perceptions of the past, that we march into the future looking into the rear view mirror.

He argued that each new medium first has as its content the content of of its predecessor. The movies began as filmed stage plays. Television began as a way of showing movies. The news on TV began as a man in a smart suit reading the equivalent of the newspaper. Over time the medium gradually begins to take on its own identity. The news now takes us live to hot spots in the world and shows us the world as it is happening. Television is doing what it does best.

The same is true of the use of electronic media in schools.

How long will it be before we can see the Ipad as something more than a portable, efficient book? Many education systems are now turning to Ipads as an alternative to text books. Only a few are exploiting the unique qualities of the ipad to let students connect with the world and with one another.

The smart phone is not just a device for talking to people. It is a powerful means of discovering information, of participating with others, of exploration, and yet we make our kids turn them off as soon as they enter the school building.

McLuhan understood that we are made uncomfortable by the new, we often feel fearful. We make ourselves feel safer by getting the new media to do the familiar work of the old. But McLuhan was telling us 45 years ago that we need to wake up.

Why are we still using ipads as if they were books?

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Filed under Classroom practice, Thinking

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