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Redeeming Technology

I’ve come full circle in many ways throughout the redeeming and re-enchantment of my own education. I have swung left and right with the pendulum and now, as I enter mid-life, I want to walk the balanced road – not of compromise but of wisdom.

I’ve definitely arrived at the place in my life where I want to have learned and embraced the meaning of living in the world but not being of it – and none more than in the area of technology and its place in our lives, homes, and…schools.

A conservative, a traditionalist, an advocate of cursive writing, poetry memorization and pen and paper, I now find myself thinking the unthinkable and speaking out about it as well: We can no longer treat technology like the red headed stepchild thrust upon the classical and traditional home. No, we must learn to redeem technology in the classroom because we have gotten beyond the option of doing without it or isolating ourselves from it.

It feels like such an announcement should come under the headline of: Classical Teacher Renounces the Faith, or Another Traditionalist falls into the Modern Mire of Compromise. You can’t say anything worse than I’ve already thought to myself.

But I want to point out a few things in defense of this proclamation. When I taught for the past three years at a classical school, we had a no cell phone policy for students and only integrated the use of chrome books last year. I liked the anti-technology leanings. But the policy was for the students only. The teachers would come in and open up laptops first thing- we had to since our attendance reports and grade books were all online. Interesting, huh? I would play music for the kids during copy work time using my smartphone, download audio books we could use, show clips of famous speeches and even use my laptop for inter school collaboration and sharing documents with my colleagues. And the emails…oh, there were emails. There were many days when I looked into the face of my laptop more times during a school day than that of my own husband. At a Classical, Christian school. Yes and Amen. I needed it for my calendar, to know where the next staff meeting was or whether or not track practice had been cancelled.

Students saw all of us modeling this behavior. Technology was a tool for us teachers. If it is true for us, is it not also true for them? If we are training students to be fully human in today’s day and age, uniquely fit for life in this society, is it now time to acknowledge technology and welcome it into the fold?

This summer I, like many of us, find myself facing an upcoming school year with possible online learning, with technology as my number one medium. If we do meet in person, I’ll have a large Titanium smart screen at the front of my classroom. I’m going to have to become friends with this thing and if that is the case then I need to start appreciating some of its more untenable traits. I think we need to allow technology a “come just as you are” moment so that genuine conversion can take place. Technology is here to stay. It’s in the church, it’s in our homes and it’s time to see it redeemed and born again.

As both a modern parent and a classical educator, I have thought much and heard much, beginning with Postman and his prescient insight, of the woes of living in a world of imagery driven ideology. I’ve heard it and I’ve agreed with it with a yes and amen. I’ve clucked my tongue at preteens with smartphones and been that parent who places a basket by the front door when friends come over, making everyone turn in their device in the name of socialization and genuine conversation. I have been on the bandwagon with Postman and others who have lamented what seems to be humanity’s passing ability to esteem and wield the spoken and written word. I have felt that men are not only without chests but sadly lacking in proper grammar and vocabulary to boot.

I’ve sat on the beach during Summer vacation and talked about the great losses we are suffering in this post literate age. And I don’t want to be a compromiser…BUT…as it relates to technology, I am seriously mulling over the phrase, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. For, truth be told, I am already there. We have a Roku TV in the house. There, I said it. Upstairs and downstairs. Gasp. My husband and I both have laptops and when our kids turn fifteen and start learning how to drive, they get a phone. Shocking, I know. And I’m actually a conservative believe it or not.

But because “If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em “ smacks too much of surrender and growing weary in well doing I would like to propose another mantra we can get behind, and should. “If you can’t beat them, lead them.”

I listened to a Podcast recently where Karen Swallow Prior was speaking to the idea of esteeming words, books, and literature. She did a beautiful job. You can go and listen to it at the Gospel Coalition. In it she explored some interesting ideas, such as how reading is not as natural to the human brain as hearing. She even proposed that if it is not a natural ability, an affinity for reading must be something rather supernatural. Our application of the skill of reading is a nod to our ability to receive a God given gift. I hope I’m getting that right and summarizing her well.

As she spoke about living in a post literate world, I thought back to the ancient myth about the god Thoth who first brought the gift of writing to the Egyptian king thousands of years ago. The king rejected this gift due to a fear that written language would cause people to forget spoken words and affect their ability to remember. I think he had a valid argument, but somewhere he must have conceded and writing came on the scene in glyphs and then letters and then in Gutenberg’s mechanical print.

What a fickle people we are, once in fear of the technology of writing but now advocating for books and print, while spurning the possible gift of technological advancement. I find myself asking if we could at one time overcome our fear of new technologies such as writing and printed language, of radio and talking pictures, and allow God through the reformation and a genius like Gutenberg to redeem and even make great use of the the printed word, then can we not expect and pray for and do the same in this digital, GIF driven era of communication? Let’s pray for a redemption of the digital image. Let’s contend for it rather than lament its presence amongst us. Is that even possible? Is it Logos heresy?

Maybe it’s due to my exhaustion as a parent, maybe it’s a concession because I feel like I’m in a struggle I can’t win, or maybe it’s revelation and discernment that causes me to think and pray and hope that the digital world and the world of images can still be sanctified. Maybe what has seemed a curse could become a blessing in our classical lives. I’m not suggesting that it’s simply a matter of adjusting our perspectives. An intentional approach and application would certainly be involved as well. Something like stewardship and good practice. If I jump on the side of advocating for the redemption of digital forms and image driven media and screens, maybe I should define what that could look like and how we can be intentionally Christian in it so that actual redemption occurs.

For many years, my husband served as executive pastor over a church in Virginia. I remember a time when we began to include a place to write in a credit card number on the offering envelopes. For some, this felt like heresy, particularly since scripture speaks to “bringing the tithe into the storehouse”. For many of us, writing down a routing number on an envelope was not nearly symbolic or meaningful enough to be a true act of worship. I was sympathetic to the argument. I understand that it felt like one more erosive blow to the cornerstone of church tradition. Yet when we stop to consider and think, if we want to be true to the letter of that scripture, any form of check or cash placed in any paper envelope is heretical. We would each need to bring crops, lambs, and sheaves of wheat to wave before the Lord. Now, in an age of text to give, we have left the antiquated tithe and offering envelope far behind. What was once modern is now vintage. What remains is the essence of Truth and the motive of our hearts. We are back to Jesus’ story of the widow’s mite. It wasn’t about the form in which people were giving so much as an attitude of the heart. Can’t we look at teaching technology in the same light? Technology, like money, is neutral. Its merit is completely dependent upon the user and their motives.

Then there is the matter of appropriate stewardship. While I may decide that screens are now okay in classrooms, I don’t want them being used in place of live instruction or socratic dialogues. While I may think digital notebooks are an asset I don’t want us to forget how to put pen to paper or stylus to screen, as it were, and forget how to form symbols and letters with our very own hands. Is it changing the way our brains work? Of course it is! Just like the telegraph changed us and newspapers changed us and reading has changed us and TV has changed us and air conditioning has changed us and electricity has changed us. We have embraced all of those, in their turn, as normal. I think it’s now time that I accept that technology is a new norm.

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