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Nearly Now

Space is a fascinating concept.  I don't pretend to understand the full conceptualization of "space."  What I do understand is that it is being redefined.  Space for our children includes physical space, which we grew up with and are comfortable with, and a new virtual space, which for many of us is much less comfortable.  This virtual dimension is as much a part of our childrens' worlds as the physical dimension is ours.

This virtual space may bring with it many exciting possibilities.  It also brings with it many daunting challenges.  Our children are living now in this new space, a space that exists right before the present, just before "now."  This is the space where they text, twitter, and update their Facebook pages; it's a space that is not quite synchronous to now -- it's "nearly now."  This space is a difficult space to occupy.  Children can be easily led to believe, or feel, they are safe, protected in this space.   In Learning to Change, Changing to Learn, the Consortium for School Networking, refers to this "nearly now" space as an interesting space, a gentle space, one that can allow research, reflection, repetition, one that's not so pressured.  Maybe this is so; however, I tend to think, especially because it is not defined, controlled, or protected, that this space has the potential to do great harm.  It can even be dangerous.  Learning to Change ...  ends with a statement that we are seeing the death of education and the birth of learning.  I'm not so sure about this either.  There is no doubt that our culture is in the midst of revolution, similar, I believe, to the last great seismic shift (see Empires of the Mind: A Virtual Revolution), but as with the last revolution we will begin to organize and effectively control these "new tools" of the revolution, just as we did the new tools of the Industrial Revolution.  It will take time though.  Until we have effectively managed these new tools, we have to protect and safeguard our children.

Schools have a responsibility to be counter-cultural institutions at times like this.  The culture may be quickly moving in one direction, but is it the right direction?  What are the true forces at play, driving all the different levels of change?  We must critically evaluate what is happening, ask ourselves why and determine the importance.  While we can't ignore progress and change, we can't afford to allow it to go unchecked either.  There are now countless examples, Choate being one of the most recent, where children are being harmed or harming. (Choate, by the way, handled the situation responsibly and directly).  It is essential to critique and monitor, to be agents that effect positive change.  Watch what your children are doing online, monitor their "virtual" social interactions as carefully as you do their physical ones.  Educate your children about this "nearly now" and just how quickly, suddenly it can become the "now."  They will not make that connection themselves.  To them, it's private, protected; but we know it really isn't.


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