The following speech was delivered to the entire school body on Monday, August 22, at Convocation 2011.
Some say, “Change is the only constant,” and we certainly see that on a regular basis.
This past spring, I acquired a “smart phone.” I am amazed at what it can do. I suspect that an overwhelming number of you have one as well and are even better acquainted than I am with its capabilities. I can phone, text, email, manage my appointments, access the internet, read books, get news updates and weather forecasts, get directions, listen to music, and watch videos. As you know, the list of applications is extensive. Many are free and some of them even have educational potential.
Both the range of information that is available to me and the ease with which it can be accessed are truly impressive. An example: when I was studying astronomy, I had to review star charts in detail, to memorize hundreds of names, and then to position those charts in just the correct way against just the right night sky.
With my phone I can achieve the same result simply by pointing it toward the sky, even at noon. It does the rest. I don’t need to spend hours reading, researching, and memorizing. I can retrieve the same information at the speed of an app. Does my smart phone make me smarter?
Interesting question. It appears to, but if all of us have the same app, then how has the playing field changed? In a world where every individual may have the equivalent of a research library in his pocket and can find answers with virtually no effort, what does it mean to be an educated person? In the face of this phenomenal trajectory of technological change, what skills are required? What attitudes? What behaviors? More significantly, what should your focus be today and in the days ahead? To attempt an answer to these questions, I’ll ask another one: what can a “smart” phone really do and not do?
- It can answer a million questions, but it cannot tell you which ones are worth asking,
- It can connect you with a social network, but it cannot show you how to build relationships or inspire you to reach out to those in need,
- It can help with spelling and grammar, but it cannot decide what important things you need to say,
- It can help you design a graphic or notate a song, but it cannot provide you with the vision,
- It can provide terabytes of information, but it cannot tell you which information is valid or particularly useful in solving a problem,
- It can run countless scenarios, but it cannot make moral decisions.
In a world where every individual may have the equivalent of a research library in his pocket and can find answers with virtually no effort, what does it mean to be an educated person?
Becoming an educated person is and always has been more than acquiring and retrieving information. In any journey, the direction and the destination are more important than the vehicle. Information helps us get there, and valid information can be a critical safeguard against a false step but, by itself, it does not determine where those steps will lead. An educated person knows how to set a course. An educated person thinks critically and creatively. An educated person analyzes problems and crafts solutions. An educated person learns to ask relevant questions. An educated person learns to set goals and develops the persistence required to reach them. An educated person understands the importance of others in achieving success. And an educated person has a sense of the larger picture and how the pieces fit together.
Technology can serve you well on this journey. It can help you achieve goals but it cannot decide which goals are worth pursuing. You must choose those.
At this time of year, it is always important to be clear about your direction and your goals. I am sure that you have personal ones, but I hope that you also share many of the goals that McCallie has for you.
We, of course, want you to be educated, but honestly we want more than that. We want you to be capable, committed, and morally courageous, to become men who make a positive difference in your world. We want you to strive for excellence, to live honorably, to act responsibly, to seek intellectual and spiritual truth, and to help others. Since 1905, the changes in technology have been dramatic…from cars and planes to microchips and modems to the internet and cellular phones to 4g and tablets.
Technology has changed but our educational goals for you have not. Then as now, achieving those goals will take time, effort, persistence, and the support of classmates and teachers. I am confident that there are no easy apps for these.
But I am also confident that we will achieve them together… by discussion and debate, by challenging each other to be our best, by offering encouragement or a hand when someone stumbles.
Our phones may be smart; we will need to be smarter… and in the end, with God’s help, we may even become wise.
Have a great day… and a great year.