When the new version of a student-accessible handheld calculator was introduced, it sparked an intense public debate about whether or not it should be banned in schools. Many suggested that it will result in students using it to cheat on exams or get away with not learning key mathematical skills. Only in 1975 did the National Advisory Committee on Mathematical Education (NACOME) issue a report that suggested that students in 8th grade and above should have access to them for all class work and exams. It took five more years for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) to recommend calculators for all grade levels. Eventually, they became a vital part of school supply lists and it forced an important shift in mathematical education to focus on application versus rote memorization.
There is an inevitable period of time after the launch of a disruptive technology where many argue for and against the value it has on society.
The launch of ChatGPT, an advanced language model developed by OpenAI, has generated a wide range of reactions from educators and school leaders. While some have embraced the technology as a powerful tool for enhancing student learning and engagement, others have expressed concern that it could lead to cheating and academic dishonesty.
I don’t typically write enough. To be candid, I find it hard to create space and time to join the national conversation while managing the craziness that is being a Head of School. But I decided to enter into this conversation because I am concerned about the impact that our language will have on our students. And I feel I owe it to them to share a new perspective that I hope can inspire us to think differently about addressing disruptive innovation in general, and ChatGPT in specific.
As educators, we have a profound responsibility to shape the way our students see themselves and the world around them.
The Talmud (Kiddushin 29a) states:
רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר כֹּל שֶׁאֵינוֹ מְלַמֵּד אֶת בְּנוֹ אוּמָּנוּת מְלַמְּדוֹ לִיסְטוּת לִיסְטוּת סָלְקָא דַּעְתָּךְ אֶלָּא כְּאִילּוּ מְלַמְּדוֹ לִיסְטוּת
Rabbi Yehuda says: Any parent who does not teach their child a trade teaches them banditry [listut]. The Gemara expresses surprise at this statement: Can it enter your mind that he actually teaches him banditry? Rather, the baraita means that it is as though he teaches him banditry. Since the son has no profession with which to support himself, he is likely to turn to theft for a livelihood
Our responsibility as parents and educators is not just to impart knowledge and protect our children. We also have an obligation to be life-long learners, to gain insight into the world they are navigating, and even more importantly the world that they will have to compete in the future. We must instill in our children the Torah values we espouse and to empower them to make good choices and to learn from mistakes. After all, through every generation mentioned in Tanakh, Hashem gave us the power of choice and with trust to make mistakes and grow stronger from them.
In fact, multiple studies conducted over the last several decades have confirmed the impact that a teacher’s expectations has on their students’ performance. In 1968, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson conducted a study in which they discovered what they coined the Pygmalion effect. Simply put, the Pygmalion effect suggests that higher expectations lead to higher performance.
This means that not only are we responsible for educating our children beyond the rigidity of covering a curriculum, we also must believe in our students that they are capable of achieving high degrees of success in order for them to unlock their potential. Similarly, the way we view our students and speak about them will impact their own self-worth and identity.
In light of this, I am concerned about the national conversation taking place about the role of ChatGPT in our schools.
Here are some real examples of headlines of articles published just in the last week:
Schools Ban ChatGPT Amid Fears of Artificial Intelligence-Assisted Cheating (voanews)
New York City Schools Ban ChatGPT to Head Off a Cheating Epidemic (Gizmodo)
ChatGPT Banned in New York City Public Schools Over Concerns About Cheating (Wall Street Journal)
Here are the schools and colleges that have banned the use of ChatGPT over plagiarism and misinformation fears (Business Insider)
While I certainly understand the practical dangers and risks of the misuse of this powerful technology, I am more worried about the impact of students reading that our initial reaction is to suspect that they will cheat.
If we view our students primarily as potential cheaters and academic dishonesty as an inevitable outcome of new technologies like ChatGPT, we are sending a message to our students that we don’t trust them to make responsible and ethical decisions. This undermines their confidence and agency as learners and perpetuates a culture of fear and suspicion.
Instead, we should view our students as learners who are capable of making responsible and ethical decisions when given the right guidance and support. Schools have a responsibility to provide meaningful and substantive professional development to our teachers to help students learn how to use new technologies like ChatGPT in responsible and ethical ways.
I also believe this is an opportunity to engage our students in this important debate. By bringing them into the conversation, we are showing them respect and trust – making them feel a sense of responsibility for how they use the technology. This not only helps students develop their digital literacy skills, but it also fosters a culture of responsible digital citizenship.
I think we must exercise restraint from jumping to conclusions that our students will make bad choices. Instead, we must believe in our students and their ability to learn, grow, and meet the standards we have for them. And, it is now time for all educators to take the time to understand this transformative technology. Because like the calculator, it is not only here to stay, but it will continue to evolve and become more complex and capable than even these impressive early versions of AI.
I am proud of our school, Brauser Maimonides Academy, for investing time in staff professional development to explore and learn how to use these tools. But I am even prouder of the many school leaders and educators who believe in their students and show them that in our policies and reaction to the changing landscape of education technology.
(ChatGPT was not used in the making of this article….or was it?)