Welcome to Edutopia

First things, first. Thanks for reading my initial contribution to my first blog. I welcome your reactions and, as noted in the “About Me” section, welcome serious and respectful criticisms–more, in fact, than idle praise.

Because of concerns over copyright, I have had to drop “Edutopia” as the title of my blog and replace it with “Education: Future Imperfect.” But this won’t change the focus of my blog. In 1994 I published a book entitled “Future Imperfect: The Mixed Blessings of American Technology” (U. Mass. Press). It is still in print. It covers lots of different topics, including education.

The term “Edutopia” comes from the name of the high-tech educational foundation established by “Star Wars” filmmaker George Lucas. Lucas has donated millions to support the use of high-tech hardware and software to improve education in the United States. As one might expect, he and his foundation are true believers in the ability of the appropriate hardware and software to transform education for nearly everyone. Every week, sometimes more often, I receive e-mail updates on the academic successes of Edutopia’s beneficiaries. I am impressed, but I am not completely convinced.

Lucas’ intentions are certainly good, as were those of our Senator-elect, Angus King, when King obtained laptop computers for all of Maine’s middle school students during his years as Governor. I can recall that then Governor King used the example of the Civil War, particularly the Battle of Gettysburg, as an example of how middle-school and other students could learn history to an allegedly unprecedented degree by the systematic use of laptops. It is not surprising that, after leaving office, King has appeared in at least one of the annual Camden Conferences on technology that attract big-name speakers who are usually cheerleaders for the unadulterated introduction and use of high-tech hardware and software. I have heard and read many of these Camden Conference presentations over the years, for I have been part of a UMaine online fall course called Pop Tech that integrates a full-semester-long course with the Camden Conference falling in the middle of the semster.

My reservations about the Edutopia Foundation, the Angus King laptop initiative, the Camden Conference visions, and other utopian educational endeavors that I will discuss in future blogs are the same ones that I have had since my graduate school days at Princeton while reading background material for an eventual doctoral dissertation on American visions of technological utopia. There is invariably a failure to appreciate the non-technological factors that invariably undermine these contemporary examples of so-called “technological determinism”: the simplistic and pseudo-historical notion rejected by all serious scholars of technology that technology shapes society and almost always had, but nowadays more than ever before–thanks to the wonders of our “high-tech” age.

In reality, pre-existing cultural values, traditional political institutions, and, not least, human nature itself usually play a role in educational reform that even the most powerful tools and machines cannot readily transcend.

Two names for my next blog that some might recall: George Connick of Maine and Nicholas Negroponte of MIT. Why bring them up? Thanks for checking in.