Start with good grapes, don’t mess them up.Posted: February 2, 2014
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realised.” Daniel Burnham
I was watching a film today called “Antiviral”, directed by Brandon Cronenburg, and one of the themes addressed was what we choose to do with technology. Celebrity cell reproduction is the theme of the movie and it is quite bizarre to see a technology that could be so useful (in building new organs and prolonging life) being used to allow people to have the same colds that their idols do. (Because of the rating of this blog, I must state that Antiviral is an adult film and there are themes that I will not discuss here.)
We have many technologies that are powerful and we are developing more of them, daily. We have developed the ability to print human organs (to a limited fashion, although 40 days for a liver is another month of life for someone) and we in the foothills of printing food. Our automated and autonomous systems become more capable and more effective on a daily basis, although Amazon’s drone network won’t be buzzing your house tomorrow.
One of the most profound reasons for education is the requirement to ensure that the operators of powerful things are reasoning, thinking, informed human beings. As humans, we tend to build amplification engines, it’s just what we do, but in so many cases, a good intention is then amplified to a great one, and a malign intention can be amplified to massive and evil result.
Our production processes for food and drink often take a similar form. To make good bread, you grow good wheat in good soil and then you use good yeast, clean conditions and control the oven. You start with good ingredients and you use technology and knowledge to make it better – or to transform it without damage. The same is true of wine. I can make good wine from just about anything but if you want me to make great wine? I have to start with good grapes and then not mess them up!
Our technologies are, however, able to go either way. I could burn the bread, cook the yeast, freeze the wine, just as easily if I was poorly trained or if I had malicious intent. Education is not just about training, it’s about preparation for the world in which our students will live. This world is always changing but we have to move beyond thinking about “Driver’s Ed” as a social duty and think about “Resource Ed”, “The Ethics of Cloning” (for example) and all sorts of difficult and challenging issues when we try and teach. We don’t have to present a given viewpoint, by any means, but to ignore the debate and the atmosphere in which we (and I in particular) are training young tertiary students would be to do them a disservice.
This starts young. The sooner we can start trying to grow good students and the sooner that we make our educational systems transform these into wonderful people, the better off we’ll be. The least I would hope for, for any of my students, is that they will always at least think briefly of some of the issues before they do something. They may still choose to be malign, for whatever reason, but let it be then a choice and not from ignorance – but also, let the malign be few and far between and a dying breed!