Shouting in the wind

338781967_63d3e1e414flickrsidereal.jpg“Our speech can be powerful, or we can be shouting in the wind. Never in the history of humankind have we had so many means of communication–e-mail, cell phones, faxes, television, radio, newspapers–but we still remain distant islands. There is so little real communication between the members of one family, between the individuals in society, and between nations. This is because we don’t know how to listen to each other.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Art of Power

At recent workshops, I’ve heard a few teachers comment that face to face is still important, and that using technology somehow limits communication. These comments have troubled me for a couple of weeks.

Of course, face to face communication is still vitally important, but what is face to face about? It’s about communication. It’s about human compassion and support; it’s about caring and understanding.

But I don’t think communication is mutually exclusive. I’ve found that technology can be a great support to communication, when we think of expanding students’ encounters with others unlike themselves. It can allow students to reach outside the walls of their school and develop an understanding of another human being. My post yesterday about the fires in California is an illustration of that.

As Clarence Fisher said in this week’s WOW2 chat, “tools aren’t that important–it’s what you can do with them.” His vision of using technology with his elementary students is to build relationship and to promote the connection between students.

When a teacher or student is learning about a classroom in another country, checking time zones to set up a time to communicate via Skype, asking another student about what school is like in their country, finding out what season it is somewhere else–all these experiences improve the hope that we can communicate globally. These experiences which help our students have a more global understanding, can make them more compassionate and thoughtful people, the kind of students we want to send out into the world. Because when students are more connected to the world, they can speak more thoughtfully to others.

As Hanh also points out, what is central is listening to each other–listening to each other with compassion and not making pat judgments or spouting hasty stereotypes. Books have the same capacity to deepen students’ thinking and understanding. But it’s not just that we put our students in contact with books or with technology tools, it’s that we help them learn to listen deeply, to understand, and to respond thoughtfully.

The amount of information available to all of us is overwhelming and greater than ever before. It’s overwhelming yet invigorating and empowering at the same time. And it is a powerful way to build relationships across time and space.

But as a part of that we must help our students to learn when to slow down, to listen, to absorb, to take in (just as we have to learn that) to ponder, and to craft what they say, so that we are not all just shouting into the wind.

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One thought on “Shouting in the wind

  1. The kind of black and white thinking embodied in the attitude you describe drives me nuts – like somehow those who advocate using technology in the classroom want to eliminate face to face. I guess this stems in part from some of the marketing tech firms have done over the years and partly from insecurity in a world where information is flowing more freely due to information.

    One could just as easily make the same complaints about books – “they are socially isolating, rigidly linear, monochromatic, and destroy the ancient storytelling traditions of our tribe….”

    I heard last night about a Dr. who quit practicing because his patients were showing up with too much information!

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