Virtual Heart of Writing
Many of us have concerns about the impact of technology upon human beings, and upon our children especially, and one of the greatest of these concerns is that technology will dehumanize us and make us less caring about each other. This is certainly a valid concern, and no amount of virtual socializing will take the place of the social sophistication that comes from face-to-face interactions. But I believe that the most profound and meaningful use of technology is as an aid to communication. At its virtual heart, technology uses writing as a powerful means of bringing parents, teachers, and children closer together.
With the proliferation of the internet, many online schools (“virtual schools”) began to appear but writing and communicating didn’t seem to be an integral part of the curriculum. Many of these schools emphasize programs that enable students to complete their work online or to interact with a “learning program” that combines information with multiple-choice tests and automatic grading by the computer. In our view, this is the kind of dehumanizing application that has negative effect upon children, for it takes them away from the heart-to-heart interaction with other human beings that is a critical part of our growth and development as learners and as persons of integrity. At Oak Meadow, instead of developing programs that take the place of parents or teachers, we’ve chosen to focus upon technological tools that make it possible for parents, teachers, and students to interact with each other more effectively, wherever they may live. One of the most difficult aspects of homeschooling for many children (especially those of high school age) is the lack of peer interaction. We have designed and implemented a new pilot program using Google Apps that is aimed at bridging this gap through the use of online collaboration and class discussions.
Since virtual schools are relatively new, there are very few guidelines for the best way to create effective online learning communities. We are all too aware of the many pitfalls to avoid—such as discussions deteriorating into the literary equivalent of text and Facebook chats—but the potential benefits for supportive and effective communication drive us forward with enthusiasm.
Although technology is opening more opportunities for communicating, writing is an art form that will never be replaced by technology. Writing lets us communicate our individuality and reach out into the world. Writing is a path to self-knowledge and creative expression. Taking the time to write, whether by pen scritch-scratching across paper or fingers clicking across a keyboard, is never a waste of time, in my opinion. I am often amazed at what appears on the page when I let myself write freely. Encouraging our children and students to write freely is a gift we can give them, one generation to the next. Journal writing, letter writing, notes jotted on a pad of paper by the phone, or scribbled in the margins of a book— all these represent a human being making a mark on the world. Ideas, goals and dreams all take one step closer to reality when written down. Feelings and ideas gain substance and validation when shared through words.
Notes of all types—including the electronic kind— are a connection between two individuals, and making human connections is what enhances and brings purpose to our lives. We’ll continue to move forward into the brave new world of technology, finding its virtual heart, and embracing the new opportunities it brings, while never forgetting the simple joy of the written word. Write well, write often, and make your mark on the world.
Lawrence Williams is Oak Meadow’s Co-founder and President.