Around here we keep wondering why it is taking so long for all the teachers out there to begin to utilize technology in their teaching repertoire. Why don't they take advantage of the great teaching and learning opportunities that cutting edge technology makes available to them? Why don't they make the effort to enter the 21st Century, learn what's available and use it to help bring about the revolution in education that is so needed?

This week I ran into an excerpt from a book by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks – Chief Rabbi of Great Britain - that paints a very vivid picture of our changing world and the difficulties we face trying to adapt to it.


Whatever our view of the nature and prehistory of mankind, we are not made for constant change at this ever accelerating pace…. What distinguishes homo sapiens from other species is the degree to which our behaviour is passed on across the generations not by genes but by culture, allowing for much more rapid and conscious adaptation to environmental and other kinds of change. We are, par excellence, the learning animal. Even so, the spiritual and moral history of mankind (the abolition of slavery, the recognition of human rights, the abandonment of prejudice) has been painfully slow. Adaptive we may be, but we are not made for constant, relentless alterations in our living conditions.

That is what we now face at ever-increasing speed. It took thirty-eight years for radio to reach fifty million users in the United States. In the case of computers it took sixteen years. The Internet reached fifty million users in four years. Computer power doubles every eighteen months and shows no sign of slackening. The Internet doubles every year. The number of DNA sequences we can analyze doubles every two years. A huge gap has opened up between the transformations happening around us and our ability to respond. Early in the twentieth century William Ogburn coined the concept of ‘cultural lag’ – a state, like now, in which material culture, such as technology, is being transformed faster than non-material culture such as modes of governance and social norms. When the world out there is changing faster than the world in here – in our mental and emotional responses – our environment becomes bewildering and threatening. Societies take time to change. So do people.

In 1994 I was making a television documentary about the family. During the course of my research I came across a woman who had developed a pioneering approach to the cure of stammering among young children. She was using the family as a therapeutic unit. Her view was that dysfunctional behaviour was often reinforced by family relationships, and that if she was to cure the children she had to work with the parents as well. As part of her programme she asked the parents to think of the most precious object they owned. For some it was a wedding ring, for others a family heirloom, but for all of them it was an item invested with deep emotional attachment. Then she told them to imagine losing it, and asked them to describe their responses. They varied from panic and shock to deep sadness and bereavement. Then she said: ‘Now you know what it will feel like for your child to lose its stammer.’

It was a moment of utter bewilderment. Until then the parents had all assumed that their child wanted to be able to speak normally. Their stammer impeded their social life. It made things difficult for them at school or among friends. It was, in short, a dysfunction. What the therapist wanted the parents to understand is that a dysfunction can sometimes be less fearful than change itself. We get used to our disabilities and build them into our relationships. They become familiar, part of our world, integral to our self-image, and the hardest thing can be to let go. Change, even change for the better, can be disorienting, threatening, traumatic. That is why the twenty-first century, with its non-stop transformations, will be deeply unsettling.

(From “The Dignity of Difference” - Published by Continuum 2003- Pages 69-70)

What do you think? How can we cope with the this fantastic change overtaking our world? Can we find a way to bring our colleagues to join us in this quest?

Views: 83

Comment by Steve Hargadon on May 12, 2007 at 4:31pm
Fascinating quote. Thanks so much for posting it. I think early adopters of technology have a really hard time recognizing the hurdles that the great majority of people will have in learning about them and then integrating them into practice. I've often wondered about how certain groups must swing toward certain personality types--in the case of early adopters of technology, do we end up in a bit of a reinforcing "personality bubble" as we talk to each other in forums like this that makes it hard for us to see why others don't just "do like we have done." In fact, just having a discussion about the ideas above probably self-selects to certain personality types! :)

Because of these thoughts, and because of my great belief that diversity of personality styles and approaches is ultimately really beneficial, I end up wanting to see the web 2.0 technologies in the classroom prove themselves in specific situations and then spread virally. I am wary of any attempt at this point, when it seems they are still so new--to consider creating and mandating formal structures for their use.
Comment by Reuven Werber on May 12, 2007 at 4:40pm
Sorry if I implied that non adopters are dysfunctional. The point I identified with is that any change is frightening and challenging even changes that may improve our situations.
I live on a kibbutz that is in the process of undergoing meaningful social-economic change. Many of the members are "petrified" of the thought of making changes even though some are unavoidable.
I also identify with Rabbi Sack's point that the tremendous rate of marked change in our lives disrupts our ability to navigate. So many changes raise very serious questions about our social, political and ethical frameworks and values and make it difficult for all of us to chart our courses on these stormy seas.

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