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Why We Need Literature To Teach Tech

This post was written by NCTE member Marissa E. King. 

 

To prepare students for the tech-heavy future, schools often turn to STEM with its promise of popular college majors and well-paying careers.

But when it comes to preparing students for thoughtful, responsible technology use, English teachers have an important role too.

Using English class to teach technology isn’t about adding coding skills to a Don Quixote unit or foregoing essays to focus on the hottest new social media app. To prepare for the future, students need to develop critical technology thinking alongside more traditional how-to skills.

After all, being a competent smartphone user doesn’t prepare students to consider the costs of too much time glued to the screen. The skills to program voice recognition software don’t help you assess the privacy risks or the legal implications.

Literature provides rich opportunities to teach critical technology thinking beyond the typical dystopian novels or Frankensteinian warnings of out-of-control creations.

A pre-internet text, for example, offers a perfect occasion to help students consider how technology has changed the human experience.

Here’s one example from my fifth-grade classroom: To foster critical technology thinking we study the young Sam Gribley, protagonist of Jean Craighead George’s 1959 novel My Side of the Mountain. In his pre-Internet life, Sam ekes out a life alone in the Catskill Mountains. He spies on animals for food source clues (instead of watching a Youtube tutorial on how to forage for food.) He befriends animals and observes the weather (instead of using social media.)

Sam’s coming-of-age story offers a reference point to examine how technology influences our lives. How would Sam’s life be different if he could find a website on building a fire instead of using trial and error? Would he be able to bask in the solitude of the woods if he had to find a way to charge his phone every day or so?

Choosing texts that help students become thoughtful digital consumers should start at your own bookshelves and curriculum units.

Are you teaching J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye?

Perhaps this year you can pause to discuss how social media or the ease of digital photography might have changed protagonist Holden Caulfield’s experimental adolescence. In the 1950’s setting, Holden’s missteps and curiosities weren’t forever documented on an Instagram comment or a screenshot of a text message exchange.

Whatever text you choose, expand student thinking beyond the how-to of technology. Instead, use literature to examine how technology shapes and changes the way we live.

 

 

Marissa King teaches 5th graders in Tulsa, Oklahoma,  and is a 2017 Yale National Fellow. Her favorite technology is the insulated coffee mug. Find her on Twitter: @KingMarissaE