Living by the touch of our Thumbs

All pedagogies require us to know our students. While we may say that we know our students fully well, it may be that we are far from the truth. Something about our world has changed. We are indeed passing through a revolution. Our experience of time has changed. Our changed condition has brought about the death of literacy. We are living in a post-literate world. Gregory Ulmer says that literacy has given way to electracy. This is why perhaps it is true that we do not know our students fully well. They do not inhabit the same world that we do. They do not experience time in the same way. I was totally astonished by the bold statement by Michel Serres who declares that these students do have the same body. Several of them live a life cut off from pastoral practices. They may have not seen hens, cocks and their chicks or the pigs and their piglets and farmlands with their produce. They may be lucky not to know anything about the domestic animals and harvests but they have seen the terrible pandemic. Maybe that experience has made them what Serres like to call name them as Thumbelina and Tom Thumb. He christened them so because he finds that their thumbs are more active. They are always with their smartphones, i-pads and computers. This is why Serres is certainly right. The students in our classrooms are not inhabiting at the same time. They live on a different horizon of time.

The attention span of Thumbelina (petite poucette) and Tom Thumb (petit poucet) is mere seven seconds. This is because the duration of the images that they experience on the platforms on the web is reduced to seven seconds and the response time that they are given on those platforms to register their feedback is less than fifteen seconds. They belong to a generation that is riding the rolling coaster of acceleration. It has taken away their spellings. They have a shorthand for everything. Even our emotions are best expressed by emojis. While we were busy with our life, media has taken on the function of teaching. The school and the university are fast wanings away. The internet has inaugurated this revolution. The students that we are concerned about here are living by their thumbs. The use of the thumb does not stimulate the same neurons and the cortical zones of our brain as does the use of the book, chalkboard and notebook. They may be accessing several forms of information at one time but they cannot synthesize it like us. This is why Serres says that they do not have the same head.

Our experience of space has changed. We needed a local address to access each other. We may still need it but with the arrival of the mobile phone and the GPS, we have to access all people and all places. This is why we have to agree that our students are inhabiting the virtual space. We are still terrestrial. They have moved to the virtual and are happily belonging to the virtual communities. Therefore, Serres says that they do not live in the same space. They do not have the same body and the same life expectancy. They do not communicate in the same way. They do not perceive the world in the same way. Their way of being in the world is radically different from ours. Hence, our teaching-learning practices have become obsolete and do not produce the desired effects. Our students have mutated and we as educators have the challenge to bridge the gap fast. Perhaps, we are yet to come to terms with the rupture that this new generation has inflicted. If we do not act proactively, we will destroy them as well as our educational enterprise. As we belong to the other side of the fault line, we may be still teaching them in our institutions with methods that they no longer seem to recognize.

The pandemic changed our classroom. Until then the body of the teacher was a living library. But today we are used to de-corporealized bodies in the virtual space. This downfall of the body is not so recent. It had come when orality gave way to literacy. We can discern that body that was a support for knowledge in orality gave way to the parchment and writing of the literacy stage. This gradually evolved into the books and the printing press which has been displaced by the internet and the e-mail today. Hence, the book has exhibited its own death and we have a generation who has access to knowledge on their thumbs living by the touch of flirting information. We cannot say that the school, the university and the library are spaces of concentrated access to knowledge. The concentration of access to them is diluted as well as expanded on the web. All these mutations have led to the mutations of our students. Hence, it is clear that we need new pedagogies to address this new condition that is addressing each of us.

Pedagogy was invented by the Greeks with the coming of writing. It transformed and expanded during the renaissance with the invention of the printing press. Today we certainly need new pedagogies to address our changed condition. While designing these pedagogies, we have to keep in mind that our bodies are metamorphosing, changing our experiences of birth and death, suffering and healing, space, habitats and being in the world. Faced with this changed and changing condition, we have to quickly find a novel response. We may ask: Why have we not yet found a way to address our precarious condition? Are we to lay the blame at the door of philosophers? There are more philosophers to come. We can be optimistic. Can you be that Philosopher? We may need the proverbial madman of Nietzsche to proclaim the death of our classroom to awaken us. The task of the madman is to proclaim the arrival of the contemporary. The contemporary in our context is the dying classroom. The physical classroom is fast dying and we have to come to terms with this fact. We are dealing with Thumbelinas and Tom Thumbs in our classrooms. Serres says our students are decapitated and are walking with heads (computers and smartphones) in their hands just like the decapitated first Bishop of Paris, St. Denis who suffered persecution by emperor Decius. We have a great challenge to come to terms with the way the touch of the thumb rocks a generation and rules their world

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao