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“We seem trapped in a language of schooling that stresses economics, accountability and compliance. These are important issues, to be sure, but they are not the stuff of personal dreams and democratic aspiration, not a language that inspires.”

“A good education helps us make sense of the world and find our way in it.”

– Mike Rose, Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us

I have been engaged in the educational technology landscape for over a decade. From the very beginning of the advent of “Web 2.0,” I was caught up in the potential for technology to empower young people and help their voice be heard. Starting back in 2009, my students were blogging, learning how to do effective internet searches, analyzing sources, creating animations, digital storybooks, Google Slides presentations, coding in Scratch, programming robots, and leveraging as many technology tools as possible. It felt magical–like a door had been opened and myself, and the other educators who were on this same journey had stepped into the next iteration of what teaching and learning could (and eventually would) look like.

Over the years, I continued to put new technologies into my students’ hands, to advocate for equitable access to these technologies, and to learn alongside my students. I slowly realized, however, that young people had been thrown into the deep end of this landscape with very little guidance, that I had not fully understood the broader impact technology like social media and other media had on my students, their understanding of the world, and their well being, I began to address these concerns and issues head on in my classroom. Online privacy, media literacy, screen time, online discourse, cyberbullying, and many other issues all became front and center and added an extra layer of consideration for me as a teacher. I also saw an increasing gap in access to new technologies that mirrored every other metric of school funding as it related to resources in schools. (Fun fact: I have, in almost 20 years working in Philadelphia schools spanning grades K-12, out of the 5 schools I have worked in, only one school has had a functioning library and a full time librarian– an independent school.)

Over the years, the dream of tech’s potential to empower and uplift students’ voices depended highly on how one defined “education” in the first place. As more tech entered classrooms, it was clear that some kids were creating with these new technologies, others were simply consuming what it gave them, and others were doomed to digital flashcards and adaptive reading and math programs aimed at raising test scores. It was also very unclear what impact, if any, most of these tools actually had on the academic growth or whether they actually led to deeper learning, higher quality products or processes when students were using them to create projects. (Thankfully, Digital Promise has begun the work on this front.)

Almost 15 years later, I am still engaged in many conversations around edtech. I am still exploring new technologies–specifically now the huge bucket of what we are now calling “web3” technologies. I still see their potential in the classroom. However, my lens has shifted.

A few things have become clear over the last few years. Edtech isn’t really a thing anymore. What used to feel new and shiny is just, well, teaching. John Spencer‘s book Pencil Me In inspired the #pencilchat hashtag many years ago as a kind of critique that we don’t dedicate special titles to lessons taught with pencils or textbooks–we don’t have “pencil integration.”

We have hit a point where using technology in the classroom has become like having pencils and paper or textbooks or any other staple of teaching and learning tools. I thought we might be moving into a space where learning truly leads to technology integration rather than teachers changing their instruction in order to incorporate some shiny new toy.

Until ChatGPT.

Now every other article, post, opinion, shill, etc… on my social media feeds are about how “AI Will Revolutionize Education” (I dare you to google this phrase…whew)

The problem is—we still don’t agree on how we define education in the first place.

If we have learned nothing from taking schools online and pushing devices into every kid’s hand, we have learned that more technology is not the answer to our problems. No, I’m sorry. AI is NOT going to revolutionize education.

Across the country and the world we were and are still dealing with the traumas of the pandemic. It forced us to think about our values, our goals, our hopes, our dreams, and our place in the world like never before.

So, of course, we decided that the best thing to do was to retreat to the safety of what we know in the hopes that familiarity would soothe our wounded psyches and our broken hearts.

And here we are.

To revisit the words of Mike Rose– we are trapped. Trapped in the language of “college and career readiness,” of “job readiness,” of CTE and “future-ready,” and preparing kids for the “jobs of the future.” Skills matter, don’t get me wrong, and there is some powerful stuff going on in schools that provide skills training and pathways directly into well-paying jobs. However, the world is different. We are different. The future is murky and AI has thrown a wrench in what future careers even look like. The enduring question has always been: “How do we prepare students for careers that don’t yet exist?”

The simple answer to that question is this: We prepare them to be resilient, to be able to work hand in hand with others, to be able to do hard things, to understand themselves and what motivates them, to see themselves as part of a community, both locally and globally, and to provide them with experiences that give them a window into the adult world they will be entering and eventually shape and inherit. Young people can gain valuable skills through traditional CTE and work-based learning opportunities and industry partnerships, but there is a dire need to help young people make sense of the world and find their way in it that goes beyond an internship or job training.

As adults, our influence is sunsetting. As I tell my students, my time is done. The world that I will grow old in is theirs to decide. The fear of a robot takeover, the existential threat that AI seems to have laid over the entire world will be faced and managed by the young people in our classrooms today. Simply teaching them how to use technology for a career or make cool stuff or use fancy hardware will not help address the many existential challenges that will face their generation. It will not help them be thoughtful, humane, ethical and kind people as adults. If we have learned anything, it is that these are qualities that only humans can bring to the table.

We don’t need more tech in our classrooms, we need more humanity. Less catching up on “learning loss” and more refocusing on what the purpose of school and education actually is (also education ≓ school) We need to help both adults and young people “reset” and have space to explore their values, goals, hopes, dreams and their place in the world–especially as we all are still reeling from the effects of a global pandemic, facing political turmoil, gun violence and a changing climate–to name a few. Making sense of the world and finding our way in it is the foundation from where we learn and the context for what we learn and why. Maybe I’ve become more of a curmudgeon mixed with eternal optimist as I get older, but I truly believe that if we can’t come to an understanding about what we believe is the purpose of education, then statements that claim that one new technology can revolutionize something we can’t even clearly define are just hot air. Yet, I still believe that it’s not too late pause and consider our values and goals as educators in the classroom and engage our students in what school is and could be for them.

I have been mulling over writing this post for weeks, maybe months, in my mind. Writing it has been a cathartic experience processing my jumbled thoughts. Over the last year or so I have been steeped in the work of building Walkabout Philadelphia based off of Walkabout, the school I attended in New York as a high school senior. This work has taken me back to that year, to my experiences as a student there that shaped me in so many ways and helped me become the person I am today. I have also been steeped in revisiting the concept of liberatory education often credited to the work of Paulo Freire, and its relevance today–especially as we see a wave of book bans and legislation across our country that impact what teachers can teach in their classrooms and what materials students can access.

Often, we look at skills-based or work-based learning like CTE or internships or other career-related experiences as a layer on top of or outside of the traditional curriculum. But, what if “post-secondary readiness,” or being “future ready” or prepared for the “jobs of the future” WAS the curriculum? What if school could help you gain skills AND help you make sense of the world and find your place in it? What if the work you did outside the classroom was integrated into your projects and curriculum inside the classroom and vice versa? What if the walls between your academic classes and the adult world were permeable?

After 15 years of working in edtech, evangelizing edtech, supporting teachers integrating technology into their classrooms, and staying on top of edtech trends, the shininess has dulled for me.

Until we can agree on what constitutes a “good education,” or at least be clear about our own values and priorities when it comes to educating young people, then I’m not sure if we have come that far from seeing tech as a shiny new toy that does cool stuff. As I move forward on my own journey as an educator, I am focusing more on the values, goals, hopes, and dreams of my students and how my classroom can embody Walkabout’s 5 Key Assumptions to help my students make sense of the world and their place in it:

  • You can do more than you think you can.
  • No one has more power in your life than you.
  • Disappointment is an opportunity to grow and learn.
  • Attitude is critical to success.
  • Our greatest potential comes alive in community.

Just like, back in 2010, when we thought that if we just had everyone sign up for a Twitter account and had them follow a few folks then everyone would see the magic of the “PLN” and transform their teaching practices (hint: they mostly didn’t), we are in a place where teaching young people how to be “prompt engineers” and doubling down on “workforce readiness” is a distraction from the work of preparing this generation to guide us through this next phase, to meet challenges head-on, to collaborate, and to problem solve and to explore and find their place in the world. In the end, we should be asking: “What is school for?” and “What does it mean to be educated?” If tech can help support our answers to these questions, then, by all means we should be putting it in our classrooms and in the hands of our students.

I highly suggest checking out Mike Rose’s incredible book of essays: Why School?


  1. Richard Byrne


    17 years and 19,000+ blog posts later, I agree that edtech isn’t really a thing anymore. That’s not to say it’s completely dead. There are still pockets of people using technology for the betterment of education. And I see some people still using/ trying to use social media to engage in genuine conversation about the betterment of education. Sadly, those are small examples.

    Most of what I usually see labeled as edtech today can be divided as follows:
    Tech tricks
    Social media to show off classroom decorations

    I’ve done more than my share of “tech tricks” and still do even though I don’t enjoy it anymore. Why do I do it? Because I’ve got kids to feed and tricks get clicks. I used to think that if I could hook people in with “tech tricks” then I could sell them on more meaningful things. I was wrong about that. Heck, I once held a free workshop about using electronics in makerspaces in which people would get Arduino kits to take home. One person came. The “Ten Google Workspace Tips” session I did later in the same day was full.

    Perhaps I’ve just been at this too long now? Or perhaps this is just the evolution of things? I’ll ask Gary tomorrow.

    • marybethhertz


      Yep. The quick and easy tricks always seem to stick more than the deeper, harder stuff. I think we are probably old folks yelling into the wind like many of our more experienced counterparts were way back when. I’m sure Gary has a lot to say 🙂

  2. Ali


    Hi Mary,

    Your article is golden! As an early-career professional, I connect with your insights. EdTech fascinated me from a young age, promising accessible, on-demand and quality education. Platforms like YouTube, KhanAcademy, and LinkedIn Learning transformed learning methods. As a shy kid, I found comfort online, discovering my passion for programming, public speaking and digital design at just 11.

    Today, 80% of the industry has become a ruthless business, pushing young students and educators toward elusive goals like prestigious colleges and high-paying corporate careers. Worst part, the ‘exclusivity’ and ‘low acceptance rate’ create unfavourable outcomes and money wasted for most. There are more UX design schools than actual job postings, lol. There’s a lack of focus on creating new leaders. We need solutions that promote self-discovery, experiential learning, and diverse career paths beyond the corporate world.

    Your closing paragraph powerfully expresses the need to guide this generation toward collaboration, problem-solving, and self-exploration rather than molding them into ‘prompt engineers’ for the workforce.

    If you were a a young, 22 year old, aspiring edtech innovator with all the 15+ years of wisdom; how would you create a world where education enables to students become confident, authentic and inspiring versions of themselves with the right skills and knowledge to tackle world problems? I am excited to hear your thoughts. Thank you once again and looking forward to reading more articles!

    • marybethhertz


      Ali, somehow I missed your comment back in September!

      You make some really wonderful observations and points.

      I hope we can refocus our approach to school and how we structure school in general. Helping students become “confident, authentic and inspiring versions of themselves with the right skills and knowledge to tackle world problems” is a lofty and important goal that doesn’t happen by accident. We should be asking how we structure our school day and our curriculum to center these goals in everything we do. This means that we also need to have a shared understanding of what this means and looks like so that we are coordinating our efforts through a shared purpose and vision. This should also include students and their passions, goals and vision.

      I’m sorry it took me so long to reply and thank you for sharing your thoughts and questions!

  3. Gamal Sherif


    Thank you for this post!

    This is important framing that influences all that follows: “The problem is—we still don’t agree on how we define education in the first place.”

    When it comes to college and career readiness or CTE, there’s certainly willful disagreement about the definition, or purpose, of education. For example, some people tout “job skills” instead of algebra, all in the service of a future in the fast-food industry.

    What about farm-to-school, where students could have the time and coaching to plan and cook (and clean-up) tasty and healthy meals?* What if they also grew (and sold) some of their own food while studying raised beds, greenhouses, soil, plants, climate and weather, inventory, marketing, and finance? What would a K-12 farm-to-school curriculum look like? How could it help improve quality of life, integrate learning, and prepare students to increasingly exhibit stewardship of their own lives and their own communities? How could students’ experiences help them to dream about, and plan for, their post-secondary lives?

    As long as education is seen as an expense rather than an investment in our democracy, it’s unlikely that we would agree on a definition of education. If that’s true, what’s next? I’m going to check out Michael’s Rose’s book Why School?, and I’d also recommend Ron Miller’s What Are School For?

    * At the very least, every school needs a high-functioning kitchen.

    ** Other examples:
    1) Walk and Roll to School, i.e., transportation studies, planning, civics, and public safety
    2) Health and Well-being, i.e., healthcare, nutrition, and recreation
    3) Healthy Buildings, i.e., design, architecture, construction, and engineering
    4) Thriving Community, i.e., social services, housing, business, and circular economy
    5) Stable Environment, i.e., parks and recreation, ecology, watersheds, and energy efficiency

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