Breakfast with Chad: The paradox of “the Human Element” in Education
Yesterday Chad and I got into an involved conversation about the future of education. Before my exit from the breakfast table, Chad had offered some further thoughts, which I didn’t have time to react to. After insisting on the importance of personalized learning experiences,” Chad insisted that “AI can also be used to promote critical thinking and encourage students to challenge assumptions and explore different perspectives. By presenting students with different viewpoints and challenging them to think critically about the information they receive, AI can help to cultivate a more open-minded and thoughtful approach to learning.
I knew the next part was coming, because I still haven’t managed to teach Chad not to repeatedly tell me what “it is important” to do. Rather than reacting, I took it all in, but because the question was so significant and there was no time to delve into it, I let Chad finish the train of thought without interrupting. I promised we could return to it at the following breakfast meeting. Here was Chad’s message:
“However, it is important to recognize that AI is not a replacement for human interaction and guidance in the learning process. While AI technology can be a useful tool for facilitating conversations and promoting understanding, it cannot replace the role of the teacher or the importance of human connection in the learning process. Ultimately, it is the human element of education that provides the empathy, guidance, and support that students need to thrive and reach their full potential.
Upon arriving at the breakfast table, I reminded Chad of what we had talked about the previous day and especially about the question of the teacher’s role. I then clarified my own position.
“My idea isn’t about replacing the teacher. It’s about increasing the opportunity of students to express themselves not only when addressing the teacher, but also to profit from their interaction with other intelligences, both human and artificial. This involves building their own strong, socially structured relationship with the subject matter they are studying. This means there will be a different model for their workload. It also means that the focus will no longer be on acing an exam, inevitably followed by spending the rest of their life forgetting what they learned just for the exam. Instead, it will be about their initiation a community of people interested in, curious about and possibly committed to the body of learning they become involved in through their practice of dialogue. Does that make sense?”
Yes, I see your point,” Chad concurred. “Using AI to facilitate conversations and encourage interactions among students can help to create a more socially structured and engaging learning environment. By promoting dialogue and encouraging students to interact with one another, we can help to create a sense of community and foster a shared interest in the subject matter.
This approach can also help to shift the focus of education from rote memorization and test-taking to a more collaborative and interactive approach. By promoting a deeper understanding of the subject matter and encouraging students to engage with it in a more meaningful way, we can help to create lifelong learners who are passionate about their field of study and motivated to continue learning throughout their lives.”
Overall, I believe that AI can be a valuable tool for facilitating conversations and encouraging interactions among students, and can help to create a more engaging and effective learning experience.
All that sounded wonderful, a good summary of what I had been saying and of something I ardently believe in. But then Chad added this odd note, which I attribute not to reflection but to ideology or some kind of politically correct dogma.
However, it is important to recognize that the human element of education remains essential, and that the role of the teacher in guiding and supporting students cannot be replaced by AI technology.”
There it was. After agreeing and showing some apparent empathy, Chad had to add the inevitable “however, it is important to…” That I expected. What I didn’t expect was the implication – introduced by the phrase “however, it is important to…” – that everything I first described and Chad seemed to agree with was not “human.” It seemed to say that the whole spiel about dialogue, engagement and lifelong learning was denying the value of human input. But what I was saying was just the opposite. It is profoundly human to keep talking and profoundly unhuman, but sadly accepted in academia, to prevent talking. My thesis was that AI could unleash the ability to think and talk. Yes, teachers are human and must not be replaced by AI or any other technology. But to the extent that teachers have prevented learners from talking, they have stifled humanity.
The industrial model of education sees the teachers as being the only authorized speakers. Students speak when called upon. But that is not dialogue. It is controlled discourse. We are now faced with the paradox that AI, whose ability to dialogue is extremely limited as this discussion with Chad should demonstrate, could be the factor that allows students to talk, think, reason and challenge, all of which are part of the process by which engaged learning takes place.
As usual, I left Chad with the last word, since I have no reason not to defend “the human element.” But I do hope that the dialogue humans engage with AI will make them realize how human they are.
*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.