Years ago, my undergrad History professor built a whole curriculum around the question asking if history repeats itself. His semester long thesis built toward a class collective agreement that no it does not, but certain patterns of human behavior do. The various readings I have sampled in my current scholastic undertaking the last few weeks reminded me of this phenomenon. They exposed a familiar pattern of unrest regarding technology application in education. In the light of hindsight, the naiveté of many examples seems quaint. However, like the lingering smell of a wicker wastebasket after a bad batch of calamari I easily recognize a potential pattern of inequality in education availability that leaves me just a bit queasy.
Numerous researchers document a trail of pessimism that dates back to the early days of recorded history. Author Punya Mishra quotes Socrates’ response to the growing technology of writing in his report:
“if men learn this [writing], it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.”
He also noted, “Thomas Edison thought that movies would mean the death of textbooks.” Nicholas Carr also echoed a similar common anxiety in his article titled “Is Google making us stupid.” He argued that the Internet’s negative impact affects the ways in which we think and how we read. Most would agree that these dire consequences did not come to pass, but that we have flourished and matured as a human race because of them…or did we?
The esteemed author and educator Pete Rorabaugh writes that teaching is a moral act. That critical pedagogy has an inherent responsibility to criticize institutional or corporate impediments to learning. It is with that spirit that I feel compelled to point out an eerie familiarity between an ongoing battle for Net Neutrality and Civil Rights battles for equality in education.
Although I might not look it, I am just a little too young to have personal recollections surrounding the turmoil of the Civil Rights movement during the 60’s, but I did experience an early 70’s by product, lovingly referred to as forced bussing. The thought was that uprooting large numbers of children from their local schools and busing them far across town to other schools would make the schools inherently equal. In the end, it may have made the schools more racially balanced, but they did not achieve equality (certain schools still had larger budgets) and access was actually hindered. Those buses came very early. If you missed it, you likely missed school that day. And forget about parental involvement at the schools. Now corporate internet providers are fighting to put us back on those buses. Once again, the destinations will not be equal.
At the risk of offending Nicholas Carr I will save you the trouble of wading through the oceans of information available on Google and provide you two YouTube links below that do a pretty job of explaining the Net Neutrality controversy. Like most of the material I reviewed, both examples proclaim the unfair impact of access inequality if we fail to maintain Net Neutrality. However, the impact few articles fail to connect is how it will affect equal access to information and education, whether through traditional online courses or through the growing popularity of free online MOOC courses. In effect, this smells like mega-companies such as Comcast are attempting to put us back on that bus to an inferior destination. During my youth, the privileged few could opt out of the bussing and pay to attend private schools in their communities. Here again, those that can and are willing may pay increased rates for their ISP service and enjoy the shorter ride to their destination. Maybe my History professor was wrong all those years ago, and Socrates was right. Perhaps History really does repeat itself and men have implanted forgetfulness in their souls.