From technologia to technism: A critique on technology‚??s place in education

  • Douglas McKnight University of Alabama
  • Cecil Robinson University of Alabama


The last decade has witnessed a growing discourse within educational research about the necessity of computer technology as the primary tool to educate for a democratic citizenry. Such claims incorporate assumptions about the meaning and function of "technology" unrecognized by researchers who advocate technology as an instructional tool to develop democratic "skills." A fundamental assumption is technological determinism, an uncritical posture toward computer technology?the Internet in particular?that signifies technology as the inevitable engine propelling America towards its moral imperative to be the dominant force in the world. According to principles of determinism, technology is a neutral tool for the manipulation and control of information, and as such exists outside of cultural, political or personal critique. Once control is established, a consensus of use and obeisance to its practices are assumed, making dissent or alternative viewpoints difficult and unlikely.
This deterministic impulse serves an old cultural metanarrative of American exceptionalism operating in both religious and secular language. We examine historical precedents for this emphasis and reliance on technology by tracing some of technological determinism's roots within the US educational system, beginning specifically with the New England Puritans first Harvard curriculum, called "technologia," analyze how these notions became embedded within current perceptions of technology, and discuss the implications for education and democracy?particularly how, by ignoring the historical precedent, researchers may actually be reproducing past structures and limiting democratic promise of technology.
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