A Note Ahead of Time:
I almost didn't post this, because I was afraid it would seem like an attack on Teach Paperless. It's not. I think Shelly Blake-Plock is someone who really gets it. He understands that going paperless is more than simply using less paper. It's about a different paradigm of education.
I'm sitting with Mr. Brown and mention, "I hate this march toward industry. For all my pencil advocacy, I want to conserve paper. I want a more sustainable way of life. I wonder if the answer is found in the telegraph. Perhaps information can go paperless."
"We have that already. It's called vocal chords."
"Seriously Brown, I'd like to believe that in a paper-free world, where all things are electrical, we would reach the point of technological progress that we can evade ecological disaster. I'd like to think that the pencil is just a step toward something better."
"I'd like to believe in leprechauns, but I'm skeptical of them as well," he responds.
"What do you mean?"
"Leprechauns. Green-clad vertically challenged folk who chase rainbows in Ireland and hoard the world's gold reserves in an a plot to manipulate the currency markets."
"I know about leprechauns. I'm not seeing your skepticism."
"It's the myth of efficiency. Factories are more efficient and farms are more effecient and so we would think that this would lead to conservation. But it doesn't. We're at the dawn of an environmental disaster. Replace the methane pollution of horses with horseless carriages. But we've just created a new problem. Yes, the automobile will be more efficient if we keep our same short-distance habits. But we won't. So, we go paper-free, right. Sounds good. But then we switch from a renewable source of trees to coal and oil, which is essentially what's running our city. People die each year so that you can brew your coffee electronically."
"So, what does that mean for students?"
"It means that we can't propel a myth that the medium we choose is a free one. There's always a cost. A cost on our ecology and a cost on our relationships. It's never neutral. So, we traded in slates for paper. Someday we'll trade it in for an electric alternative. The cost isn't always measured in dollars. It's often measured in lives."
"That's pretty fatalistic."
"I know it sounds that way. But what if we encourage students toward a paradigm of sustainability? So, you use paper in your class, right? Figure out a way to teach them the connection between that sheet of paper and the oxygen they breath. Make them think about how they use resources. So, you get a telegraph. Remind them that wireless doesn't equal free, either."
"So, how do we do it?"
"For starters, we could try teaching science. Real science. Teach them the art of observation. And we could quit confusing science with engineering and technology."