BRAKING UPHILL IS NOT SENSICAL

Kevin O’Leary of the hit TV show Shark Tank purports how compliance is the fastest-growing cost in American business. A close friend of mine recently was blindsided when his small business was threatened with a lawsuit. His website was not accessible to the blind. When he first told me this, I honestly wondered if I missed the punchline. It however was not a joke and according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, commercial websites must conform to specific web content accessibility guidelines. Brooks Johnson of Star Tribune reported, “An annual survey of the million most-visited websites found 96.3% do not meet accessibility requirements as of February, according to WebAIM, part of the Institute for Disability Research, Policy, and Practice at Utah State University.” However, ADA compliance lawsuits are on the rise, quadrupling since 2018, according to accessibility firm AccessiBe.

In no way, is this meant to discredit the importance of providing accessibility to the more than 285 million people who the World Health Organization reports as suffering from visual impairments. Yet, it seems like a very different approach could be taken to improve accessibility, instead of lawyers preying on struggling small business owners.

I cannot help but think back to when I read Gulliver’s Travels in high school. One memorable theme is how humans cannot possibly know everything. Further, all understanding has a natural limit, and a world bound by litigation makes our existence even more shrunken. Instead of a non-compliant website, we see the protagonist Gulliver himself, putting out a fire. Only to do so, he does it with his urine and is charged with treason. Convicted, he ironically is sentenced to be blinded. 

Again, this litigation approach is likely not going to contribute to the world we or our children wish to live in. 

So, what connections can be made within the field of education? For starters, we might consider whether we are more focused on compliance or its antipode, defiance. Whatever the response, the movement must be away from extreme devotion to tedium. In layman’s terms, are we still having our students memorize each other’s phone numbers?

Not Making Ourselves Redundant

It is highly likely many students have not even memorized their phone number. Ask them. And this is perfectly okay because memorizing phone numbers is a bogus task. Arguably, not very different from cramming for a history or biology exam. 

Over the past two-plus decades we have repeatedly heard and maybe even said,” Twenty-first-century skills… twenty-first-century learning, twenty-first blah blah blah.” As if the more we say it, the more it becomes a reality, and yet I would argue the opposite. We approach the end of the first of four laps around the twenty-first-century track and yet there is a dogged determination to hold on to the functionless forms of the last century. As if to throw some plaster and puddy on the caving walls of the knowledge economy. Whether we can face reality or not, the teens of today will be living in the 22nd century! As digital natives, they without even efforting, moved beyond a fixation on knowing the day they were born. Life today is all about skill development and transfer. 

Twenty-six years ago, May 11 to be exact, remains an infamous date. Commentators remarked how Garry Kasparov, a world chess champion, “can’t believe it,” as he remained speechless after having lost in a six-game match against IBM’s computer Deep Blue. This was not to say that computers became smarter than humans. Rather, it was a signpost or flashing yellow warning light to the fact that memorization no longer is sufficient. Since the late 1990s, machine learning has quickened the pace leaving many of us unable to grasp what computers, algorithms, and artificial intelligence are now capable of “knowing.” Yet, this hopefully inspires more than it causes one to tremble. For the mundane can now be programmed. Leaving more time for the humane. Such skills as collaboration, attentive listening, critical thinking, and problem-solving, but also creativity, adaptability, and even initiative. 

Something Less Lilliputian

When I think of school as a “system,” the first faculty to kick in, is my sense of hearing. Though not a Star Wars fan, I hear the low, raspy breath of Darth Vader. As if a last gasping breath is slowly being exhaled. It is the exhale of schools ensnared in the crusty ways of bygone knowledge-based days. For secondary teachers, it is entirely likely that May and June reflected uncreative traditions. On default mode, “We just always do this.” Final exams, memorization, and regurgitation. Even in the face of the ChatGPT rage and the automated intelligence craze, students are asked to simply be information processors. Where this happened, an opportunity was missed. 

Yet, there is always next year! The climb may feel uphill, so squeezing the brakes even a bit, is not sensical. As we reflect over the summer, now is the perfect time to plan for something different. Something less Lilliputian. Might we possibly prioritize defiance over compliance, as we intentionally create opportunities to ready learners for the 22nd century!

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