Humans Need not Apply…to Teach?!

Brian K. Sohn, Ph.D., Knoxville, TN.

In “Humans Need not Apply,” a narrative of the future is presented in which robots will replace at least 25% of existing jobs. Teachers are among them.

The attempts to replace teachers with robots began with computer based instruction (CBI) and scripted curriculum and continues in the guise of “self-organized learning environments” (SOLE). While SOLE offers great potential for people investigating their own places and problems, those formerly enamored with Sugata Mitra and his research (myself included) should know that the “hole in the wall” computers became dominated by adolescent boys playing video games.

If a teacher’s only job was to deliver content, robots may suffice. But content delivery, at every level of education, is given meaning by the relationship between the teacher and the learner. As Nel Noddings says, “subject matter cannot carry itself. Relation…precedes any engagement with subject matter” (p. 36).

Even though people love their smart phones, relationships with devices preclude a place-contextualized series of emotional connections that, for example, a field trip may evoke. As the screen draws the eye, the background upon which the screen appears becomes peripheral. The location of contact, with a mobile device particularly, does not matter.

As we see the failures of virtual academies in Tennessee and elsewhere, let us hope that a trend towards robot “teachers” gains no steam.


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