Intellectual, Social, and Moral Development: Why Technology Cannot Replace Teachers

Article excerpt

Information technology is changing people's thinking as profoundly as the printing press changed the course of history more than five centuries ago. The advent of information technology, particularly the computer and the World Wide Web, was hailed as having "the potential to revolutionize education and improve learning" (Dede, 1998, p. v). Futurists quickly envisioned "virtual schools" where students spend a great deal of time learning from their computer-as-teacher.

This article argues that as student use of computers increases, teachers will be more indispensable than ever to guide the intellectual, social, and moral development of children. To illustrate this position, the article describes intellectual, social, and moral issues that one teacher has faced in a technology-rich, 21st Century School. Her experiences demonstrate why technology cannot replace teachers and exemplify how computers in schools anywhere can be both a blessing and a burden for teachers.

Educating for Intellectual, Social, and Moral Development

Goals of education in the United States have changed little over the last 300 years and generally fall into four categories: academic (intellectual), vocational (responsibility as a productive citizen), social and civic (socialization into a democratic society), and personal (self-development) (Goodlad, 1984). Goals for high schools are no exception. Wilson and Rossman (1993) noted that the usual mission of high schools is to "challenge and help students to grow intellectually, personally, and socially, [but that] ... the primary responsibility.., is to promote the intellectual growth of ... students" (p. 162). Intellectual growth was defined as "the ability to reason, to imagine, to value, to decide" (p. 162).

Goodlad (1984) also found that the "cultivation of cognitive abilities is paramount" in secondary schools (p. 47), but that for some students, academic work "intrudes into the personal and social" aspects of their lives (p. 78-79). The literature indicates that adolescence represents a strong growth period in intellectual and social development. As adolescents develop cognitive capacity to reason, think symbolically, make judgments, and engage in formal operations, they also become interested in social relationships and social issues (e.g., Chang, 1992; Oppenheimer, 1990) as well as values and moral issues (Bloom, 1956; Heath, 1994).

Recent constructivist theories of learning help explain the relationship between intellectual and social development of children; that is, social norms and social interactions play a powerful role in all learning, especially in learning to communicate and empathize with others and behave in culturally acceptable ways (Vygotsky, 1978; also see Dewey, 1938). Adolescents tend to learn social behaviors and values from role models and from experiences that personally involve them rather than from direct instruction (Dewey, 1909/1975; Gardner, 1963/1981; Hartshorne & May, 1928). Thus, in schools, teachers' actions speak louder than words.

The links between intellectual and moral development have been less explored than the intellectual/social connections. On the intellectual side, Dewey (1933/1960) argued forcefully for active and engaged learning that involves inquiry, insisting that "on the intellectual side we must have judgment" (Dewey, 1909/1975, p. 51). However, he also argued that "the development of character is the end of all school work" (p. 49). Inquiry, judgments, and character all involve values and therefore fall into the realm of moral education. Additionally, all represent a search for knowledge as well as careful thinking and reflection throughout the process. Thus, "teaching, if it is a reflective enterprise, is necessarily an ongoing effort at moral self-improvement. And moral self-improvement is impossible without the continued quest for self-knowledge and the knowledge of others" (Katz, 1999, p. …

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