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'Technology in the school curriculum: the
moral dimension of making things', John Olson
Olson tells us that 'making' (as a kind of synonym for technology)
is 'a socially embedded way of life'. I agree wholeheartedly with
this Wittgensteinian sentiment. But such forms of life are equally at
the heart of the practice of science (and I include here that arcane
form of scientific practice known as school science teaching). To the
extent that Olson's argument for the 'moral basis of technology'
derives from this point, it must be equally directed at science, and
indeed all human practices. They are grounded in our concerned coping
in a landscape of human signification, which must inevitably have its
moral horizon. This horizon may be prominent in a technological
context. But the complexity and intimacy of the science-technology
relationship serves to reinforce further its relevance to the science
The second dimension to Olson's remarks points towards the moral reference of the technology curriculum in teachers' existing practice. He buttresses this with the arguments of the philosopher Charles Taylor. But it is not enough, or at least not distinctive enough, to suggest that 'technology teachers intend to do more than teach problem-solving capabilities' or that 'they were concerned that their students become good people.' Both of these points could be made of most teachers. Indeed the latter is true of most responsible people in their dealings with the young. This kind of responsibility constitutes the moral background against which all teachers work. The specifically educational (what I might venture to call 'technical') responsibilities which are placed on teachers cannot be reduced to it. Olson's final remarks come close to acknowledging the need for a more focused perspective. He connects his argument with what might have been called in the past 'ecological awareness'. But can this helpfully be construed as a fundamentally moral issue? Even if it can, what about its technical pedagogic dimension?
Parents and politicians do not employ teachers primarily to expose the young to the moral problematics of human practice. (At least, I don't think that that is mainly why I send my daughter to school.) What they do employ teachers for, in those areas of the curriculum where moral and technical questions are most demonstrably and chronically linked, is perhaps the fundamental question to which Olson's timely piece directs our attention.
The question is perhaps at its sharpest in the case of technology. One answer might be that teachers have a responsibility to speak and teach the truth. Now there IS a moral concept. As to whether it is also and perhaps equally a technical one I wish to reserve judgement at this time.