We don’t understand all the fuss about distance learning during the pandemic where almost all the schools are forced to remain closed. We should be taking advantage of this unfortunate viral invasion and start making all these school closings permanent. We don’t need schools any more.

Once upon a time, we needed to sit our young students in rows of desks in classrooms and have them memorize the multiplication tables, recite the alphabet and show all their work on math problems. The teacher at the front of the class always knew best what the daily lesson plan had to be. Not anymore.

Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

Now all we have to do is give each young person a smart phone or personal computer and introduce them to Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. Voila, now they have all the answers to all their questions for the rest of their lives as long as their Wi-Fi works and their batteries stay charged.

Siri, “How deep is the Pacific Ocean?” “36,161 feet and the Atlantic Ocean is 27,841 feet deep at their deepest points.” See? Alexa, “Why do people count sheep to fall asleep? “Because simple, rhythmic and repetitive visualization of an image helps people sleep,” Alexa replies. OK. Google, “Who won the 2020 presidential election?” “The Associated Press has called the election for Joe Biden,” Google flashes on the screen. (Someone go tell Donald Trump to check his Google search results more closely.)

If a student needs more information, she can use Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia has 6,199,897 different articles in English and 55 million articles in 309 languages now used by 1.7 billion unique visitors each month. How do we know this? Wikipedia told us, that’s how.

Just to remind everyone, babies always have taught themselves how to walk and talk. Adult encouragement helps, but it’s not necessary. What about learning to read? You don’t need to read to ask your smart phone a question. Anyway, most young learners are now getting most of their reading lessons on a computer. The biggest problem here is, what are we going to do with all those unemployed teachers? Not all of them can work for Amazon. But they have college degrees, so they will figure something out.

And speaking of college degrees, why are they so expensive when all the world’s information and answers is now free? (Google said it’s a complicated question with lots of factors.) We can only think of one unsolved problem here about the future of schooling and education. Maybe all this ‘know how’ is free and instantly at our fingertips, but isn’t it still important to ‘know why?’

Why do we need to know how deep the ocean is or if Wikipedia is maybe sometimes wrong or gives incomplete answers? We can get all the facts we want from these cyber assistants but what are we supposed to do with them? Well, somebody has to solve problems and get work done. We can look up the definition to the scientific method, but that doesn’t help us use it very much.

What about art and culture? Where do creative thinking skills come from these days? Is that something we still need teachers for? And there is also something called ‘emotional learning,’ where we figure out why we might be sad or feeling gratified. Don’t we still need to collaborate? And, sometimes, isn’t there more than one right or wrong answer or set of facts? How do we learn to be fact-checkers and crap detectors?

Maybe we should keep our teachers employed and save enough classrooms just in case Siri and Alexa turn out to be the voices of sinister scientists where all of us humans turn out to be the lab rats. Is there still any merit for thinking for ourselves? What do you say, Siri?

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