Repurposing Teachers

The idea that technology = progress continues to catch hold. Another recent example comes from Tyler Cowen, who suggests that the time is right to replace teachers with robots.

Why robots and not an Echo or an app, he doesn’t say. He has a few flimsy reasons why we owe ourselves and our children such an effort (robots never get sick, and they’re certainly not threatening) but fails to mention the minefield robots present.

Not a word, for instance, about bugs (those never happen in software, right?). Or hacks. Or who controls what the robots are programmed to teach.

Interestingly, he also says nothing about what happens to teachers. Their future, though unstated, seems clear.

School boards can repurpose them to de-bug the robots. To install software updates and reboot them. Most importantly, teachers can sit in the corner and provide a smile and a hug when needed. For if the likes of Paul Bloom have their way, the robot teachers Cowen wants to put to work surely won’t be programmed to display a shred of empathy.

It’s an interesting possible future for the classroom. But the question it inevitably raises, unwritten and perhaps unrecognized by Cowen, is if we have to bother replacing teachers with robots, why teach children at all?