During a recent walk around campus, a colleague of mine mentioned a crisis in the classroom. “I’ve come to realize that our biggest problem with students isn’t that they don’t have an attention span,” the professor said. “It all has to do with content. They live in a world where they can have any question answered in a matter of seconds. So they see learning content as something of a waste of time, yet there’s no way for me to assess what they know until I can see that they’ve mastered the content. It’s a kid of impasse.”
Content in the humanities, of course, involves a different skill set than those required upstairs. Yet I admit I am vaguely horrified by the notion that students may believe that all they need to know about William Faulkner or Lorraine Hansberry can be learned from Sparknotes. If content is merely paraphrase, then we are all damned to a world without nuance.
My colleague has expressed a legitimate fear. If Google and Khan Academy can deliver content for free, why waste money on teachers? On brick-and-mortar schools? On going to Vanderbilt instead of East Armpit Tech?
However, it also seems to me that the breadth of content available makes the work we do as students and teachers even more important. Information without context cannot lead to wisdom–heck, it can’t even lead to productivity. I cannot promise what the classrooms of the future will look like, but I hope they look like the ones we have at MSMS.