When Reuben Loewy took up his first teaching gig in 2012, he had a major revelation: The digital revolution has dramatically transformed the way that kids perceive reality.
Perhaps that makes the 55-year-old teacher sound like a dinosaur. What he discovered is, after all, one of the most obvious realities shaping education policy and parenting guides today. But, as Loewy will clarify, his revelation wasn’t simply that technology is overhauling America’s classrooms and redefining childhood and adolescence. Rather, he was hit with the epiphany that efforts in schools to embrace these shifts are, by and large, focusing on the wrong objectives: equipping kids with fancy gadgets and then making sure the students use those gadgets appropriately and effectively. Loewy half-jokingly compares the state of digital learning in America’s schools to that of sex ed, which, as one NYU education professor describes it, entails "a smattering of information about their reproductive organs and a set of stern warnings about putting them to use."
Indeed, although many of today’s teens are immersed in social media, that doesn’t mean "that they inherently have the knowledge or skills to make the most of their online experiences," writes Danah Boyd in her 2014 book It’s Complicated: The Secret Lives of Networked Teens. Boyd, who works as a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, argues that "the rhetoric of 'digital natives'" is dangerous because it distorts the realities of kids' virtual lives, the result being that they don't learn what they need to know about online living. In other words, it falsely assumes that today’s students intrinsically understand the nuanced ways in which technologies shape the human experience—how they influence an individual’s identity, for example, or how they advance and stymie social progress—as well as the means by which information spreads thanks to phenomena such as algorithms and advertising. Loewy decided that this void could be eliminated with an honest, interdisciplinary high-school curriculum for the digital age—a program that would fundamentally shift how schools address kids’ virtual experiences.