In a recent post entitled “The Battle is (or Will be) Lost”, Will Richardson relates a story that Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, told at the Personal Democracy Forum. Disappointed that in weekly meetings his staff had their faces in their computers, he banned computers. The following week, thinking that his staff were all leaning forward in deep engagement, he came to find that they were all using their blackberries under the table. Richardson quoted Schmidt: “This is a battle that we have lost, and I think it’s fine” because it shows just how important these technologies are.

I found this story very interesting for a number of reasons. First, the CEO of Google, a company that has made all kinds of web-based interconnectedness and sharing of information possible, banned computers from meetings, rather than harnessing and capitalizing on the “back-channel” potential.

 

Second, his use of militarized language expresses more than just an experience of generational gap; he acknowledges that we are standing in the midst of a cultural and technological revolution that has happened, is happening, and will continue to change and shape the ways in which we communicate, explore ideas, and share information.

In this brave new world, what are our expectations for behavior? Should I assume, for example, that a student is not “paying attention” when his face is focused on his laptop? What if he is actually looking up the the floorplan of the Boule in the Athenian agora and instant messaging that link to another student who just made a very interesting comment on the relationship between civic space and citizen participation in the world’s first democracy?

Moreover, what if teachers and leaders were to encourage the using of these tools to foster interaction, independence, initiative, and collaboration within a learning community?

In his post, Will Richardson draws the proverbial line in the sand:

 

And so there it is. There is really the crux of this. We. Cannot. Win. This battle has been lost, the problem is most parents, and most educators just don’t get it yet. All this banning of cell phones and taking down wikis and filtering out blogs…all of it is our own little Iraq. It’s not working. It’s not going to work…More restrictions, more blocking, more battening down the information hatches is only going to drive it all underground and make the world of our kids less safe. And, it will deny us a chance to help our kids develop and employ the literacies they are going to need to succeed in their future.

 

I would only add that when we restrict, block, and batten down, we serve only to isolate ourselves. Rather, what we can do is embrace the possibilities by forging a new code of behavioral expectations that supports each contributing member of a community (a staff-meeting; a classroom) bringing her network and all the information and approaches to problem-solving that are expressed within it to the table.

 

 

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