The Virtual Heart of Writing

by Lawrence Williams, Ed.D

“At its virtual heart, technology uses writing as a powerful means of bringing parents, teachers, and children closer together.” ~ Lawrence Williams, Ed.D
Many of us have concerns about the impact of technology upon human beings, and upon our children especially. One of the greatest of these concerns is that technology will dehumanize us and make us less caring about each other. This is certainly a valid concern, and no amount of virtual socializing will take the place of the social sophistication that comes from face-to-face interactions. But I believe that the most profound and meaningful use of technology is as an aid to communication. At its virtual heart, technology uses writing as a powerful means of bringing parents, teachers, and children closer together.
With the proliferation of the internet, many online schools (“virtual schools”) began to appear, but writing and communicating didn’t seem to be an integral part of the curriculum. Many of these schools emphasize programs that enable students to complete their work online or to interact with a “learning program” that combines information with multiple-choice tests and automatic grading by the computer. In our view, this is the kind of dehumanizing application that has negative effect upon children, for it takes them away from the heart-to-heart interaction with other human beings that is a critical part of our growth and development as learners and as persons of integrity.

Photo credit: Betsy Sproger (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Betsy Sproger
(Oak Meadow Archives)

At Oak Meadow, instead of developing programs that take the place of parents or teachers, we’ve chosen to focus on technological tools that make it possible for parents, teachers, and students to interact with each other more effectively, wherever they may live. One of the most difficult aspects of homeschooling for many children (especially those of high school age) is the lack of peer interaction. We have designed and implemented some courses that bridge this gap through the use of online collaboration and class discussions. Since virtual schools are relatively new, there are very few guidelines for the best way to create effective online learning communities. We are all too aware of the many pitfalls to avoid, but the potential benefits for supportive and effective communication drive us forward with enthusiasm.
I have had the privilege of witnessing very productive, compassionate, and enlightening online classroom discussions that confirmed my belief that students can use new technology to its best advantage. I have seen students from different backgrounds, cultures, and geographical areas overcome their conditioning and their separateness to reach out, cooperate, collaborate, and strengthen each other. Every minute of every day, this same thing is happening around the world with individuals of all nations, races, and cultures. One by one, we are discovering that beneath all the superficial differences, we are all simply human beings, trying to do our best, trying to realize our dreams.
Photo credit: Audrey Joyner (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Audrey Joyner
(Oak Meadow Archives)

This is all happening through our writing. Yes, technology provides the platform, but writing, one human being to another, is what connects us. Although technology is opening more opportunities for communicating, writing is an art form that will never be replaced by technology. Writing lets us communicate our individuality and reach out into the world. Writing is a path to self-knowledge and creative expression. Taking the time to write, whether by pen scritch-scratching across paper or fingers clicking across a keyboard, is never a waste of time, in my opinion.
I am often amazed at what appears on the page when I let myself write freely. Encouraging our children and students to write freely is a gift we can gift them, one generation to the next. Journal writing, letter writing, notes jotted on a pad of paper by the phone or scribbled in the margins of a book – all these represent a human being making a mark on the world, Ideas, goals, and dreams all take one step closer to reality when written down. Feelings and ideas gain substance and validation when shared through words.
Photo credit: The Marsella Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: The Marsella Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Taking the time to write well, especially writing something by hand, is akin to the “slow food” movement; it is the nutrient-dense version of texting, tweeting, and online social chats. There is a delicious richness to writing that we take our time with. It develops nuances and blossoms into not just mere information but true communication. I urge you to practice “slow” writing yourself, even if your children give the impression that you are being old fashioned or out of touch for eschewing electronic devices in favor of pen and paper.
Taking the time to write shows a desire to connect. Trust me, when someone sees a handwritten note tucked in a lunchbox or backpack, or finds a scribbled message among the luggage while traveling, the sense of connectedness will be recognized and savored. Notes of all types — including the electronic kind – — are a connection between two individuals, and making human connections is what enhances and brings purpose to our lives.
We’ll continue to move forward into the brave new world of technology, finding its virtual heart and embracing the new opportunities it brings, while never forgetting the simple joy of the written word. Write well, write often, and make your mark on the world.

Lawrence Williams, Ed.D is Oak Meadow’s Co-Founder and President.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Living Education, the educational journal of Oak Meadow.