This talk was transcribed digitally and will be edited as soon as possible.
It’s Wednesday, July 7, and tonight as I take a walk, I’d like to meditate on a question related to education technology.
The question that I have is whether it’s necessary given modern communication technology, whether it’s necessary for school and education to be writing based, even even more than that, whether it’s not just necessary to be writing based, but whether it’s even profitable for education to be writing based, when the opportunity for so much audio visual communication is available to us. So much of the, the the difficulty of education is in the sedentary nature of it. We associate education with desks, with pens, and pencils, and books. And all of these things are earthly, they’re heavy, they’re slow and burdensome. The sedentary nature of academic work is unhealthy. And it seems that the sedentary nature of academic work has, in most places been a geographical necessity for a couple of different reasons. First of all, because wise men are rare. And because they’re rare, not only geographically rare, but historically rare. We have most of their teaching passed from one generation to the next through books, large, heavy volumes of printed text. Why do we do this? We do this because that’s the way it’s always been done. But why do we do this? For example, we will republish an ancient work and will republish it in the same medium in which it was originally published when so many more options are available to us. For example, why is it better to republish a copy of Cicero’s works in print, rather than to convert them into an audio book or audio files that can be listened to. The audio files can exist in an mp3 file format, require absolutely no physical presence. A man can listen to them while he walks while he works. And this image of the sedentary scholar is eliminated. What should we do? What should we do with education? Why do we have children still carrying books around, still sitting all day long at desks, quiet. spending so much time trying to learn to physically read and write and having their education hindered, hindered by what we call education, their minds are free. Their minds are capable of so much. But the medium through which we deliver the learning is so slow and burdensome, so expensive. Even as I said before unhealthy because it requires this commitment to years and years of sedentary living. Why are we doing this in 2021? Why are we continuing to have our children sit and read and write and type in 2021 where are we doing this? It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t have the answers.
At this time, this is a new. This is a new question for me. Something that I’m just beginning to think about and talk out loud about. What I want to understand is, is it possible that classical Christian education could be transformed from this slow, heavy and unhealthy, printed, medium, and environment, this environment of this sedentary classroom, sedentary study and office into a living, active, healthy, lightweight, agile, modern environment. If we think about Socrates, while Plato wrote down content either of his actual dialogues or simply produced dialogues in a form that might have been found in Socrates, discussions. Nevertheless, Socrates wrote nothing. Our Lord Jesus Christ, similarly wrote nothing. Two of history’s wisest men, obviously didn’t think that writing in print was a big deal. And preferred to teach on their feet, speaking, doing, moving.
How can we use this education technology to improve education? What should education be? with the technology available to us? What would a school or what would learning I shouldn’t say a school because the school itself is obsolete. The reason why a school was necessary was because books were necessary. The books needed to be kept in a certain place. The school can basically be identified with its library. To this day universities boast of the size of their libraries, even though again, that’s it’s an obsolete idea. The library was where the learning took place, because that’s where the books were. And the school was also a geographical place where and the teacher was because we would have one or a few adults with experience in education, who could share that education with the children and help them prepare for whatever opportunities were available to them. And so we needed a building where the children could gather where the teacher would be, where the books would be, and so on. And that’s been the model of school for much of history, but I don’t I don’t know.
I don’t know if that’s been the model of school. Let’s say before the printing press. Did the printing press really create for us? The book carrying student I think it did. I think the book based model of education was actually created by the printing press. Before that children never would have had any study materials or books. The education would have been oral. They may have learned well, they certainly did learn to read and write for the sake of keeping records and writing down important words that needed to be stored away. But the education would not have been book bound or I would not have been booked bound obviously, books didn’t exist. Even after books began being printed cost of books made them unaffordable to most students anyway. teachers often dictated lessons to students and students learn by memorization. memorization was how much of the learning was passed on. The students didn’t read the Catechism questions in books or carry them around. They were taught them and recited them and memorize them. And that’s how they carried them around.
Socrates warned of the danger of books. Because he said people who possess books will think that they know things that they do, that they don’t actually know. And surely, that’s the situation today. So, what what should what should education look like? What could classical Christian education look like? with the technology that we have available? First of all, as I said, main medium for the delivery of instruction, can be transferred from, from printed matter to spoken word. The reason why printed matter was necessary was because spoken word. There was no capacity for recording and transmitting the teaching of wise men. In past times, there was no means of conveniently making spoken word. Communication available, telephones were often one to one conversations or a conference calls would allow a group to talk together. But even these were bound by time. So the calls were placed at times the differed in different time zones and that limited, who could be available, both in terms of the students and the teachers. But the resources we have now, for example, the opportunity we have to have the teacher, speak, even if that simply means reading the works of the masters, and commenting on them. The teacher can speak his message can be recorded, and then shared with students all over the world. Who can access it at their own convenience. They can listen to it while they walk while they work. While they sit on the beach. While they walk through the park while they ride a bike while they travel with their family and a car. The teaching can be available anywhere, whenever convenient, and one of the greatest benefits, I think, is the ability for students to play a recorded in a recorded lesson. Stop it, rewind it, replay it, play it again. Listen to the entire lesson as many times as they like, go back and listen to an old lesson again, whenever they’d like. And this ability to to be able to learn with so much convenience is a very great benefit. I don’t believe there’s any better way to deliver instruction than by this recorded spoken word. Which I use myself every day for this reason. I don’t believe video is necessary, unless there’s something that the teacher needs to show or do. That must be visual. If we’re simply teaching the lesson that consists of ideas, there’s no need for any visual. There’s no need for any video, I should say. And it’s very rare that any video should ever be needed for instruction. think many people use video just because they like seeing themselves on camera. Not because it’s actually beneficial for the students. The teacher can deliver the instruction verbally, through recorded audio medium. Students can access that recording at their own convenience. They can play it as they wish, as I said, backing up stopping, replaying on and on. It eliminates all need for note taking, as in, as in old schools where a teacher would give a lecture and students were required to take notes. And if they didn’t take notes, they would be in trouble when the time came to study. The audio recording allows us to record the speech and listen to it as many times as we want. So it eliminates the need for audio eliminates the need for note taking. And changes the whole nature of lecturing.
So how does this affect the student? How does this affect the student? First of all, it’s well known. It’s taught for example, in our English Composition course it’s known that speaking is much more pleasurable than writing. And if we could make education a matter of speaking, rather than writing, it should be much more pleasurable. And so the question then becomes, well, it’s understandable for how the teacher can talk to the students. How does the student talk to the teacher or to the other students? That’s the question. Everyone is rushing into these zoom video meetings. But I don’t believe that that’s the answer. Because the the use of video is unnecessary, as I said before, to have 12 children call pumping video. Data is just an unnecessary use of bandwidth that ultimately will limit what can be done and really, there is no benefit in it. It’d be one thing if a teacher was showing students how to perform a dance move in ballet. Or if a sports coach was trying to teach a technique in some sport, but in academics, I don’t think the need for video exists. I think what’s needed is audio. And with video editing software, all that’s needed as an audio file and images can be displayed simply. So images with sound can be shared. But I don’t believe the need for a teacher to sit in front of a camera and show his face and be a be a TV star is beneficial or necessary. In fact, I think it’s a distraction. The question is, how do the students are How can the students make use of this technology That’s the question.
Many parents complain about the technology because they see it as an as an opportunity for children to get into mischief. But I believe that there’s a reason for this. And I think this is this really the reason why the technology is often so frustrating to parents is actually is actually the answer. The reason why the technology is so often a source of trouble is because other other sources on the internet are using the technology in attractive ways. They’re publishing videos, they’re publishing music, they’re publishing, all kinds of multimedia. And these things are attractive to our children. And then we’re asking our children to basically use the technology to, to access books. And this is boring. Maybe it’s not the content that attracts the children as much as the format of that content. What if we can turn the instruction into a more pleasurable format? What if assignments were changed from written comprehension questions to spoken responses to comprehension questions? What if students could simply speak and record their answers to their questions? What if instead of what if instead of essays our students learned to prepare speeches?
I really believe that there is a solution to be found here. And I believe that when it’s found, it’s going to transform education. And I pray to God that it’s figured out by a Christian so that Christians can enjoy this advantage. This is the thought that haunts me all day long every day. Because I just know that there’s something to be done here. I don’t know what it is. I can I can just give a personal testimony to how audio changes things so much. But there’s so much to say about that i this talk would run forever if I even got into it. We think that text is effective, but it’s it’s highly ineffective. The question? Well, let me give you an example.
We go on the internet. And the internet is powered by the Google search engine. There are other search engines, but 90 plus percent of all searches are conducted through Google’s search engine and Google controls access to information by their search engine algorithms. Google looks for a specific kind of content, it looks for qualities in that content. I’m not going to get into all of this stuff. If you want to learn more about it, it’s called search engine optimization or SEO. But there are certain qualities that Google actually looks for when it when it crawls, web pages, and indexes web pages. When someone searches for a question or a keyword search, Google has to figure out how to show the searcher the most relevant information possible So that the search is considered successful because if the search is not successful people will look beyond Google to other options for their internet searching. And so Google takes this work of providing people with the results they’re actually looking for. very seriously. If I give a talk for an hour in 30 minutes, I can have a transcription service, transcribe that entire talk for me for a few pennies. The transcription will end up with an article for the website that’s close to 10,000 words, in length. The length of that article is one of the qualities that Google looks for it looks for significant content, not short, little posts, but it looks for weighty content. It’s much easier to produce that content through speaking and transcription than the other way around, through writing. Transcription simply needs to be edited. And it’s much easier to edit a 10,000 word transcription. And it would ever be to sit and compose a 10,000 word, article. And so producing content by speaking, is better for the internet, than by writing. And yet, we’re all writing as laborious and inefficient as it is, we’re still all writing.
I mentioned to my wife the other day that the difference between our children and us. Our children have grown up with this technology, and they think of it and they use it in ways that we don’t. For us, we were in college, as the internet was just rolling out. During my second year of college, I’d say we started to use the internet. And computer labs really started to develop at the colleges. As the internet became available and resources started to be accessible through the internet. What we use the internet for what we use computers for our generation is to do old fashioned things. With a computer, we use a computer to type a paper and print a paper, we use a computer to write a book and publish a book. We use the computer to write a letter and send a typed letter. We learned to use the computer to simply do old things in new ways. But we’re still doing old things. Things that really don’t make sense with the new technology. Meanwhile, our children have never written on lined paper. They’ve never had to prepare a cursive final essay. They don’t see computers as ways to do things that we did when we were 12 years old. They see computers for what they are and they use them differently.
For example, I was helping my son with some college paperwork. And his account information was displayed on the screen and there were instructions on the screen to write down the information or print this page. And my son just grabbed his phone out of his pocket and snapped a picture of the screen and stuck his phone back in his pocket. He didn’t write it down. He didn’t print the page. He just took a picture of the screen and when he did that, I thought to myself, I would never think to do that. And it’s so obviously better a method than what I would have done. But our kids look at the technology and they just use it to do stuff. Whereas we think of the old way of doing things, and use the technology to do that. I could print out that page with my account information, or I could email myself a copy of that page. But why? Why would we do that when we could just pull out our phones, snap a picture of the screen, and have all the information anytime we needed right in our pocket. The kids use the technology differently than the adults and the kids are the ones who are right. They get it. The adults don’t. The kids get it.
And so what happens is, the kids use the technology shrewdly. In their own culture, their culture of disobedience, their culture of sneaky entertainment, and so on. And so we associate the bad stuff with the technology, rather than realizing that there’s a very important lesson right in front of our faces that we’re missing. We’re not using technology, shrewdly. Children, our Christianity is not being well represented with the technology, whereas the culture of our children’s peers is using that technology.
Well, for example, look at look at social media, look at the fact that young people are millionaires. Because of social media, young people, people in their 20s, or younger in their teens have amassed millions of followers on social media. And we laugh about this stuff, we joke about it. We joke about the youtubers, we joke about the tick tock, and Instagram influencers, as they’re called, we joke about them, and mock them as if what they’re doing is stupid. And yet these people have access to 10s of millions of followers globally. Every time one of these influencers, tweets, a picture, or a course or a statement, or a video of any kind. It can be seen by 10s of millions of people. That’s incredible. That’s historically unprecedented. And it’s being taken advantage of by kids, teenagers, young adults.
If we’re going to talk about rhetoric, that talk has to begin with technology in our generation. I’m trying as hard as I can to learn all that I can. But even the people who attempt to teach themselves are older and outside of the loop. I believe the answer lies with the kids, the kids who have daily use of this technology and just use it. So I think what I’m going to do is take some time to talk with my children to sit down with my children and ask them how we might use this technology that they use every day to chat with their friends.
For example, my daughter right now. My daughter Elizabeth finished her studies this semester and took a trip with some friends out to Colorado just to enjoy the mountains, and this girl is sending me pictures and videos from her phone, on the airplane, on the car ride. As she goes through the mountains, shooting the text messages every once in a while, let me know she’s okay, let me know everything’s all right, asks me questions, shares an article she’s reading with me. While she’s traveling across the country, our communication is almost uninterrupted. My son is up in Wisconsin, serving his reserve duty drill. He’s in Wisconsin, and same thing, I’m getting pictures sent to me from his drill activities in Wisconsin. He had to be maced as part of the military police training, I got a video of that. I got a snapshot of his lunch tray, as he was complaining about his view in a cinder block cafeteria while his sister is in the mountains in Colorado. Another son, David, is in basic training, and he’s on WhatsApp, video chatting us from Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. All of us, my wife myself, and and these three kids who are away from home are all engaged in the group chat that goes on day by day. We’re in touch constantly, all throughout the day, anytime anything happens in any of our lives, it’s quickly shot over to the chat. And that’s how we live. The opportunities that it creates for us are incredible. The freedom it gives us is incredible. I can be anywhere. And my children have immediate access to me wherever I’m at. And the same thing is true of them. Today, I got an unknown call from Colorado. I missed the call and texted my daughter to ask if she was trying to get in touch with me. Because she’s there as I said, and she said, Oh yeah, her phone service was was down up in the mountains. And she found a phone and tried to call just to let me know everything was okay because because our communication was temporarily interrupted, she sought out another way to check in just to let me know everything’s okay. We’re in constant contact on opposite sides of the country.
We’re in four different places across America, and continuing the conversations that we had last week in the house before everyone split up. It’s just incredible. And it has to affect education, it has to this has to move into education. It can’t just be for entertainment. It can’t just be for sports and comedy and music. This technology has to be brought into the service of the gospel of classical Catholic education of philosophy of true wisdom. And I’m going to figure out how to do it.
I believe that the wisdom that the classical liberal arts offer me in this work is what’s going to enable me to find a solution to this and take advantage of this new age in communication. Because I think that a new edge, a new age and education has dawned. And I believe that the classical liberal arts classical philosophy and Catholic theology can seize this moment and make the best use of this available technology because modern math and science are bound in things of the earth based on sensible observations. Modern mathematics is based on complex calculations and operations that need to be demonstrated very slow, very heavy. Modern science can hardly be taught truly, by means of the modern technology. And yet the liberal arts being focused on ideas can fly can race through these media.
I believe that we’re on the edge of a rebirth of classical Catholic learning. If we can figure out how to leverage this technology, and bring it into the service of classical Catholic education, parents have to be willing to help with the solution. Parents have to be willing to think outside the box parents have to be willing to not turn homeschooling into some kind of nostalgic pursuit of old fashioned ways of doing things, trying to recreate the school of their childhood. The parents have to think how can the mobile phone in their hand, the tablet on the counter, the Chromebook on the table, the wireless router in the house be used to help these children have access to teachers and gain a classical Catholic education. Parents have to be willing to be flexible, not think that by protesting technology is some kind of wisdom or virtue. It’s actually self-spiting just kicking yourself in the teeth for no reason. When we instead of just surrendering this technology and leaving it for the ungodly to take control of, we can be the ones that take control of it and make good use of it. The Internet could be saturated with wisdom, with Catholic doctrine, with virtuous instruction with honorable meditations and teachings with beautiful music with poetry and philosophy with Sacred Scripture with the writings of saints and doctors, Proverbs and fables and songs. We’re going to miss this opportunity. And in a few years, our opponents are going to be the ones who figure it out. And we’re going to fulfill our own fear that these things become means of great temptation and scandal for our children not because they actually worse so intrinsically or necessarily but because we buy our foolishness and laziness allowed them to be made. So we’re going to figure this out. In the classical Liberal Arts Academy, I’m going to figure this out how to make prudent use of this technology for the restoration of classical Catholic education in the 21st century. We’re going to figure this out.