“Shopping” with Hawkgirl

My son has a collection of Hawkman comic books from the early 1960s. They’re goofy and grand, filled with morality and primary colors and a Kennedy era feel that DC Comics thought was appropriate for younger readers.

Hawkman smokes a pipe, for example, villains ply their trade “for the thrill of stealing,” and our heroes travel through space to foil evil doers from Earth to Thangar …while wearing giant feathered wings.

Paging through the comics, I was struck by what the writers and illustrators in the early 1960s imagined as futuristic technology. Visiting their technologically advanced planet of Thangar, Hawkman and Hawkgirl (Hawkwoman would have been just too much for those swinging ‘60s comic book creators) have to readjust to a world far more wondrous than the third planet from the sun. The proof of this technological superiority: debit cards, recorded news on a big screen TV, and online “shopping,” so imaginary in 1962 that the word was put in quotation marks.

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Half a century ago these must have felt like big dreams, but today even the images seem quaint. Whither then our 21st century ideas of what the future will bring?

In education, as much as in comic books, comes the question: “What next?”

Just last night my wife and I were talking about our own experiences in school, complete with the clicking whir of film projectors and the tape recorded beeeep that prompted the AV Monitor to turn the knob on the filmstrip projector. (For my younger readers, those were days closer to 1962 than to 2017, in a time when the notion that every student could pull up their own video, educational or not, on a personal device would seem as strange as a half naked man with green pants and enormous wings. Strike that; YouTube would have seemed farther out than Hawkman.)

Today in schools we talk about cell phones and tablets and Chromebooks. We agonize over students being off task, nearly forgetting the days when we tucked comic books in our Trapper Keepers to read during class.

We talk a lot about paradigm shifts and technology changing everything, and I suppose that’s right, though when I walk into a classroom and see a great teacher connecting with students the common denominator is humanity, not technology.

Rather than frame the discussion in terms of “should we block Facebook?” I’d like to take a couple of paragraphs to wonder how we’ll look back on our behavior around technology in another fifty years.

Maybe fifty is too grand; I’ll be in my early 100s then and probably out of the education game. So… in ten years, what will our technology discussion look like in schools? I hope to still be a principal then, and I wonder what I’ll be talking with my students, parents, and staff about.

For perspective, ten years ago the hot topic of the day was this new portable device from Apple.

Ah, the iPhone.

It seems like this changed things a bit. To imagine what technology will look like in another ten years, both the technology we sanction in schools and the technology our students sneak in like comic books in a 1980s junior high, would be a fool’s errand.

To imagine why the students will use the technology, so magical and strange to our contemporary sensibilities, feels, well, possible. They will use the technology to learn.

…and play.

…and distract themselves from school when they get bored.

…and get in trouble.

…and communicate.

…and transport themselves from the classroom to the world beyond.

Just like we do.

I don’t know exactly what conversations I’ll be having with my staff in 2027, or how many on that staff will be cyborgs. Just kidding. I’ll guess that we’ll be talking about how we engage students, how we support them, and what we can do to spark curiosity.

Some will worry aloud about “kids today” and their fascination with the latest technological toy; others will ask themselves how they can harness those same devices to propel learning forward.

Socrates worried about writing, but seemed okay once he got the lads talking about big ideas. John Dewey was skeptical of direct instruction, but dug it when the kids started asking questions. Calculators, clickers, and Franklin Spellers all had their champions and detractors, and education has survived them all somehow, thank you very much. Some might even argue that students today have even greater opportunities to engage with school than they did when Hawkgirl was sitting on a Thangarian divan “shopping” on a TV screen.

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It’s our willingness to take the quotations off the unfamiliar that will allow us to think broadly enough to see that we learn as humans have always learned, in the context of our environment. That the environment changes is neither threatening nor sinister; it is a reality that we do well to accept. Doing so can do more than lower our anxiety about whatever technology will stream into our classrooms. It can help learning soar …like a hawk, of course.

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