A non-Luddite, Tao Approach to Technology Integration

Doug Belshaw, in his post A non-Luddite rebuttal of technology integration?,  used a quote of Chuang Tzu as a way of approaching the question of technology integration. It is an argument that I have been playing with for several days now, and have come to some conclusions about it for myself.

Technology is a tool or a collection of tools. I would no more dismiss the use of technology any more than I would the use of a hammer. Both are of equal value, but I think some teachers give technology greater value simply because it is new and appeals to them in some way.

First, here is a version of the story, slightly different from the one that Doug used.

Purity of Heart

 When Tzu Kung went south to the Ch'u State on his way back to the Chin State, he passed through Han-yin. There he saw an old man engaged in making a ditch to connect his vegetable garden with a well. He had a pitcher in his hand, with which he was bringing up water and pouring it into the ditch, great labour with very little result. "If you had a machine here," cried Tzu Kung, "in a day you could irrigate a hundred times your present area. The labour required is trifling as compared with the work done. Would you like to have one?" "What is it?" asked the gardener. "It is a contrivance made of wood," replied Tzu Kung, "Heavy behind and light in front. It draws up water as you do with your hands but in a constantly flowing stream. It is called a well sweep." Thereupon the gardener flushed up and said, " I have heard from my teacher that those who have cunning implements are cunning in their dealings and that those who are cunning in their dealings have cunning in their hearts, and that those who have cunning in their hearts cannot be pure and incorrupt, and that those who are not pure and incorrupt are restless in spirit and not fit vehicles for TAO. It is not that I do not know of these things. I should be ashamed to use them."

Chuang Tzu
Chap 12

I would argue that the old man was using a "cunning implement" himself to move the water into the ditch, a pitcher. It is a tool, and the leap from the vessel he held in his had to the well sweep isn't that great. There will be some differences. He may not have to stand in the water. He may not get his hands wet. He may not have to use as many calories in moving the water with the well sweep. It isn't nearly as huge a leap from the pitcher to the sweep as it would be from the well sweep to center-pivot irrigation.

It also isn't that I don't understand what the old man is saying. By using technology, we make a trade off. We sell something to get something. The further the old man gets from standing in the water, irrigating with a pitcher, and the closer he gets to center-pivot irrigation, the further he gets from his land as a living, interdependent whole. The closer he gets to the huge disconnect we have now between the food that we eat and the environment that provides it. Not much Tao in that.

I use Twitter. I have a blog. I have email. And as much as that brings me into contact with people that I would have otherwise never have met because we are continents away or because our paths simply would not have crossed, my life is enriched. It's difficult to express how fulfilling it is to make contact with people like that. But I do not use this same technology with the students that I meet every week, because we can have a different kind of interaction.

My class and I use English Log 2.0 to communicate and express ourselves with each other, and it is a tool that no computer can match now. We write about what is happening in our lives. We draw pictures of things that inspire us. We keep lists of stuff we are learning. We send each other candies or origami taped in the pages of our notebooks. We tape pretty leaves and flowers that we find on our way to school.

If another teacher were to pass through our class and suggest, "Hey, you know, you could do that on the Internet," I would reply, "It is not that I do not know of these things, but I would be foolish to use them."

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