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In early January of 2023, the New York Public School system announced that it was banning ChatGPT from all of its school devices.
ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot, which is a computer program designed to simulate human (or as human-like as possible) interaction over the Internet. ChatGPT was created by OpenAI, an AI research foundation founded in 2015. The free, open-source program was released to the public in November of 2022.
The program function is simple: a user just types in a question or command, and ChatGPT offers up a response.
Requests can be as basic as When was the French Revolution? — so using it much like a search engine — to a command as complex as Write a 2,000-word essay on the impact of the French Revolution on the European economy, in the writing style of Stephen King.
You can also refine an initial request to get different or more in-depth results. Write the same essay but in the writing style of Shakespeare.
As you can imagine, this is an incredibly powerful tool. And it’s not difficult to identify dozens of ways that this technology could change how we do things.
At the moment, the software generates copy that is often somewhat stilted — emphasis on “human-like” interactions. But it is absolutely passable and is often quite good, and as the technology improves, there’s no reason to believe that, eventually, it will be almost indistinguishable.
According to the Guardian and other articles, the New York education department said that the ban arose out of “concerns about negative impacts on student learning, and concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of content.”
Initially, there was concern about data security — that is, that students’ private data could be collected and possibly shared or compromised while using the software. But this is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how ChatGPT works. While it is true that the language model needs access to large amounts of data in order to function properly, it does not store or transmit any personally identifiable information about users. In fact, OpenAI has taken numerous steps to protect users’ privacy, including limiting the data that ChatGPT has access to and using encryption to protect all communication with the model.
The “negative impacts on student learning” referenced mainly include worries about cheating and plagiarism, as ChatGPT can generate thousands of words per minute. But other factors cited included concerns over the fact that software like this could stunt critical thinking skills in students because ChatGPT currently just pulls and compiles content that already exists on the Internet without vetting sources, and that content can include inaccurate research, bias, misinformation, and disinformation.
On the surface, it might seem logical to ban an AI tool like ChatGPT.
So why is banning ChatGPT in schools the exact wrong response?
First, we have to acknowledge the obvious: AI is here, it’s everywhere, and it is very easily accessible. It’s not going anywhere, and it’s only going to get more powerful. What we’re experiencing right now is the 1.0 version of AI.
If you’ve got an Internet connection, you’ve got access to ChatGPT. So, yeah, kids in NYPS might not be able to use the software in the hours they’re in school… but they can easily just go to a library or home and use it there on their personal network.
As we know from repeated examples in our own history, banning things does not make them disappear. And it does not address any of the underlying issues.
For example, there’s a concern that kids will use ChatGPT to write fake book reports. So the question they’re trying to answer is, How do we keep kids from plagiarizing content for book reports?
But… it’s 2023. Here’s a better question: Why are kids still writing book reports?
Does current educational research demonstrate that this is the most effective way for kids to learn reading comprehension, critical thinking, or creative writing? Other than “proving” that they’ve read a certain assigned book, does writing a standard book report meaningfully increase the depth with which they are engaging with the material?
When we’re still running classrooms like they were run 120 years ago — when the main purpose of school was to train kids to memorize facts and figures, work on assembly lines in factories, stand in line quietly, and be deferential to authority — it’s safe to say we’re moving in the wrong direction.
In the real world, kids need to be trained on how to communicate effectively and how to creatively address massive problems that are morphing every day. They need skills to be in healthy relationships with themselves, one another, and the natural world.
They don’t need to be taught how to sit quietly, move silently through hallways, and never question authority. Frankly, the only thing that’s really preparation for is prison (which is a whole other post entirely!); it’s not what kids need to live a full, vibrant, contributing life.
This is making our kids less equipped to understand and discern the role of tech in their lives, even as the place that technology holds in our culture continues to grow exponentially with each passing year.
It’s like trying to prevent teen pregnancy by refusing to teach science-based sex ed or trying to completely deny college students access to alcohol as the solution to substance abuse or binge drinking among young adults.
Not only does that not solve the existing problem; it actually contributes to making all the underlying issues worse over time.
I get that there are millions of amazing teachers out there who are working hard to educate our kids, and I know that their jobs are not easy. Part of why we’re in this educational crisis is because we have so badly diminished and dismissed the gifts of wonderful teachers and have, in many cases, reduced them to glorified babysitters.
I also get that cheating is a big problem. In terms of short-term practical “fixes,” there’s already a ton of plagiarized-content-detecting tech out there right now (speaking of AI), and OpenAI is already at work to create software that can detect if content is, in fact, human-generated or not.
But again, I ask: What’s the larger question we need to be asking here? Because there is a root issue that isn’t really about tech itself but rather about kids being disconnected from meaning purpose, and real community in their schools and in life in general.
This is how you train people to live in and navigate the world well: you interact with them as whole people who aren’t just robotically taking in facts but who need to have the skills to work with massive amounts of information as complex physical, emotional, and spiritual beings.
In other words: If we give kids a reason to be fully invested in their own education, challenge them in ways that call out their passion and natural genius, and give them a set of critical tools to help them be their absolute best selves…
…we might discover that these serious issues (truancy, violence, cheating, lack of life skills, lack of college or work preparedness, bullying, achievement gaps) are actually downstream effects of doing education the wrong way.
At Illuminated Life School, we’re taking an entirely different approach.
We’re looking at the research: what works to actually help kids learn, retain good information, and — most importantly — be able to apply and use that good information in their real lives, in their real communities, and in today’s world (not 100 years ago).
See, we don’t see students as empty vessels we have to control and mold. Rather, we see them as infinitely capable humans, each with their own genius and unique contribution to make, and our teachers and staff are here to guide them in discovering, nurturing, growing, and sharing their gifts so they can leave the world better than they found it.
Over the next few months we’ll be sharing the vision and details around our unique approach to education.
We’re rolling out two after-school programs to test and refine our curriculum and approach before we open our first pod school.
#1 – Physical, Mental & Emotional Health and Well-Being Program
#2 – Financial Literacy Program
If you live in the San Juan, Puerto Rico, area and want to get involved as a volunteer for these programs, hit reply and let us know!
If you want to donate to these two programs, go here.
We’ll share more details about these programs soon.
Thank you for your support,
President of the Board