Of Note: Ashes and Unknowns
“The College Essay Is Dead” by Stephen Marche, "The End of High School English" by Daniel Herman, and "The Transcendent Brain" by Alan Lightman
The Atlantic, December 5, 2022 - December 9, 2022
What is learning, academic life, or academic discourse without the essay? Is the essay a thing of the past – and will the humanities (continue to) die a slow death? How will education evolve? Stephen Marche probes our new era of artificial intelligence (including the GPT-3 with the capacity to write poetry) and its total reshaping of academia. Students share their sense that using a machine to write an essay is not a violation of academic integrity because it is not another person. Professors discuss no longer being able to assign work outside of class. The big "and yet" moment of Marche's piece arrives with this declaration: "natural-language processing is going to force engineers and humanists together [...] The connection between humanism and technology will require people and institutions with a breadth of vision and a commitment to interests that transcend their field." How are faculty members in our schools talking across the aisle, so to speak, of humanists and technologists? How is your school anticipating a paradigmatic upheaval of traditional departmental silos? High school teacher and writer Daniel Herman outlines "The End of High School English": "the end of writing assignments altogether – and maybe even the end of writing as a gatekeeper, a metric for intelligence, a teachable skill." Herman says, "The question isn't 'How will we get around this?' but rather 'Is this still worth doing?'" What say you – and what say your schools? As we navigate a quickly-changing world, surely Alan Lightman's essay "The Transcendent Brain" (adapted in part from his forthcoming book by the same title) is an antidote to the notion that sciences have left humanities behind. Rarely if ever do we encounter a more synthetic, transdisciplinary, or poetic kind of writing — about science or anything. The end of eras in education is upon us. How will independent schools rise from their ashes and frontier into the new unknown?