As part of an update to the Board of Trustees of Asheville School, I included this statement in 2006:
“In the Academic Office we have been thinking about a number of challenging questions. For example, as a faculty we have noticed that students are struggling, more than in the past perhaps, with the vast number of distractions available to them. … The truth is that the omnipresence of information flowing onto campus and into our students’ lives via various technological routes is a new and unique challenge to an environment such as ours. How we address this issue will, I believe, be the defining conversation of our school curriculum for years to come. I expect we will have to be flexible in ways we cannot yet foresee; we will have to be unpopular in order to preserve what is most valuable in our program; and we will have to visionary in our approach.”
It is strange revisiting my own voice from the past, and stranger still is the recognition that I might have written the sentence above last weekend rather than six years ago. That said, the volume of information flowing into our students’ lives has expanded so dramatically since that time that the distraction produced by those “various technological routes” would already seem quaint by today’s measure.
Interestingly there is at least one aspect of what I wrote that is quite dated. While I might write the same sentence today, the meaning that underpins my thinking has changed. Most notably, when I wrote that the flow of information presented, “a new and unique challenge to an environment such as ours,” my thinking was confined essentially to the threat that this new world presented to the learning equilibrium of a small boarding school in North Carolina. “Challenge” is an interestingly neutral term—it can mean threat or opportunity. Today I am thinking more about the challenge being an opportunity to extend and deepen the experiences our students have in school. Of course, challenges are in the end both threat and opportunity, but whether we choose to operate more out of the fear that threat sparks than we do the excitement that opportunity involves is significant in determining our approach and, I believe, our success in creating a school equipped to meet the needs of its students.
When I was a child I loved the ocean and whenever we were at the beach, I was in the water. I remember the feeling of undertow, and the sense that if it was just a bit more powerful it might drag me out to sea. In a world that changes, and apparently will continue to change, quickly, it is all too easy to behave as if change is a powerful and somewhat nefarious undertow gaining power until it will inevitably pulls us to sea. When I wrote the sentence in 2006, I was afraid of a technological undertow pulling the school off its feet and out to sea. For me, the last several years have broken the power of that potentially debilitating metaphor.
[I wrote about swimming in the ocean once before in a post entitled: “With and Against the Waves”]