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Remote Control


Long ago the British Prime Minister Disraeli said, “with words we govern.” And words, as of late, have really let us down. Worse, our words mislead, hurt and impede real progress.

It is time to get our words right. For example, I really dislike the expression “social distancing.” Six feet of separation is physical distancing. In times like these we need collective fusion, innovative encounters and new and creative ways to be social. To be socially distant makes life untenable. Together we are strong. Physical distance, for the time being, but please do not social distance.

Now something more personal. Remote learning has burst open a national debate. The Hatfields and the McCoys have been awaken to this political spat. But the problem may be in the words we have chosen to frame the debate. Remote learning?

First, let me digress for a minute. Eugene J. Polley, a Chicago native, worked his way up from the stock room to be an award-winning electrical engineer for Zenith Electronics. You may have never heard of him, but you certainly know how his invention has changed the quality of your life. Eugene J. Polley, in 1955, patented his Flash-Matic. The Flash-Matic was the first wireless TV remote control. Controlling your television remotely was a not just a channel changer, it was a game changer. Can you imagine life before a remote control? But remote learning is bad for us?

What are common synonyms for the word “remote”? A simple Google search would tell you such words as far-flung, inaccessible, private, out-of-the-way, and in the distance. Not exactly words that fit well with learning. No wonder then, when we hear the two words put together – remote learning – the connotation sounds negative.

That is why I prefer twenty-first century learning. Digital platforms are not a passing fad. Socrates, remember, argued over two thousand years ago that books would destroy learning. Vast University libraries would seem to prove him wrong. Likewise, digital learning or remote learning is not a short-term fix, but a reality for twenty-first century education.

I have been lucky to work for a school district that empowered me over a decade ago to launch an online course. Remote learning for me was not an emergency plan during a pandemic. Remote learning was the new normal. And in many ways, it was better. Twenty-first century learning should not look like Fifteenth century learning. And what do bricks and mortar schools in your neighborhood look more like?

In my twenty-first century classroom students were encouraged to work collaboratively; use technology appropriately; and to innovate any time, any place and at any pace. Students felt empowered to control their own learning. Learning no longer needed to be associated with acts of conformity; staying in line; and wasting time during inefficient school periods. Do you remember geometry class, or do you remember the stories told by your geometry teacher? Twenty-first century schools emphasize learning, not teaching.

My online students, my twenty-first century laboratory, appreciated the trust, the autonomy and the chance to control their learning…remotely.

“With words we govern.” Many of our contemporary debates are less about substance, and more about terminology. Maybe twenty-first century learning isn’t the best word. I know I don’t like remote learning, but how about remote control? That sounds like a channel change we can all get excited about.


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"Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool under all circumstances." T. Jefferson

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