There is a profound difference between learning from the world and learning about it. Any young reader can find a surfeit of information about worms on the Internet. But the computer can only teach the student about worms, and only through abstract symbols—images and text cast on a two-dimensional screen. Contrast that with the way children come to know worms by hands-on experience—by digging in the soil, watching the worm retreat into its hole, and of course feeling it wiggle in the hand. There is the delight of discovery, the dirt under the fingernails, an initial squeamishness followed by a sense of pride at overcoming it. This is what can infuse knowledge with reverence, taking it beyond simple ingestion and manipulation of symbols.
At the heart of a child’s relationship with technology is a paradox—that the more external power children have at their disposal, the more difficult it will be for them to develop the inner capacities to use that power wisely. Once educators, parents, and policymakers understand this phenomenon, perhaps education will begin to emphasize the development of human beings living in community, and not just technical virtuosity. I am convinced that this will necessarily involve unplugging the learning environment long enough to encourage children to discover who they are and what kind of world they must live in. That, in turn, will allow them to participate more wisely in using external tools to shape, and at times leave unshaped, the world in which we all must live.