I remember a story by Isaac Asimov called “The Fun They Had“, about a future where education was the responsibility of computers in students’ homes. In his story, first published in 1951, Asimov described how a young lady, Margie Jones, would go to her robotic tutor in a room in her house, and do her schooling. In the story her brother finds a book that describes the 20th century and what school was like for students at that time. The final comment in the story is Margie’s, about how much fun it looked to be learning together with other students.
As we look to our present and future of education, many have observed the significant ways that 20th century education must be upgraded to meet the demands of the 21st century. One thing that Asimov recognized, and that we must recognize, is the central importance of learning together with others. Asimov’s story was intended to critique science fiction ideas of education being developed by his contemporaries, that we would all learn through technology, and technology alone. Like many science fiction ideas, this one has become possible through technological development, and Asimov’s observations are still relevant.
A few years ago, it seemed that online learning would eclipse “bricks and mortar” schools. Now online learning has taken its place as an opportunity for students to customize their learning, but for the majority, as a addition or within the context of the physical school community.
That community, which is much more than simply the “fun” place that Asimov envisaged, reflects the core of being human. We need community with others. We need to be in the presence of that inspiring teacher who reaches out and makes that individual connection that changes our direction for the good. We need to be with peers who become our best friends, the ones who make things good when times are tough, and make things great when times are good. We need to be with colleagues who stand with us through frustration and challenge us to reach higher. As teachers and school leaders, we support and nurture our community not just so that student learning and well being is best developed. We nurture it because that is how we are all real human beings.
Our students need all the opportunities afforded by our digital age – sharing learning on platforms that reach an authentic audience, connecting with peers across cultures and across the world, solving real world challenges in their own community. The foundation for those achievements though, is still found in community, and well designed schools as physical communities of students, teachers and parents matter as much as the learning.