Education Isn’t Science Fiction
By the time I read the New York Times article “Did a Fourth Grader Write This? Or the New ChatBot?” I had already played with ChatGPT. I asked it to write me essays about the symbolism of cars and colors in The Great Gatsby. (Both were serviceable. Neither included direct quotes from Fitzgerald’s text. I didn’t bother to ask ChatBot to fix its work.) Taking the New York Times Quiz, I was pleased that I scored above the average in distinguishing between real 4th and 8th grade human writing and ChatGPT’s.
Recently I’ve had many students taking classes on sci-fi literature, so I decided that my next experiment was to see what ChatGPT would say about itself:
Tell me a science fiction story about a person asking a chatbot if ChatGPT will be able to teach human children to read, write, & think critically in the future.
It was the year 2040, and a young mother named Sarah sat at her computer, scrolling through educational websites and forums in search of the perfect learning program for her son. As she browsed, she came across an advertisement for ChatGPT, a revolutionary new artificial intelligence program that claimed to be able to teach children to read, write, and think critically.
Sarah was skeptical at first, but she was also desperate for a solution to her son's struggles with traditional learning methods. She decided to give ChatGPT a try and purchased a subscription for her son.
To her surprise, ChatGPT proved to be an excellent teacher. It was patient, encouraging, and able to adapt to her son's learning style and pace. Within just a few months, her son's reading and writing skills had improved significantly, and he was able to think critically and analyze complex texts in a way that he had never been able to before.
As Sarah watched her son thrive under the guidance of ChatGPT, she couldn't help but wonder about the future of education. Would more and more children be taught by artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT? And if so, what would this mean for the role of human teachers?
Sarah wasn't sure, but she knew one thing for certain: ChatGPT had changed her son's life for the better, and she was grateful for the opportunity it had given him to learn and grow.
ChatGPT has taken the Medical Licensing exam, the Multi-State Bar exam and Wharton MBA Operations exams, but it is not passing them with high marks yet. So, in terms of this sci-fi story, I think ChatGPT is very overconfident.
Specifically, I am curious about the sentences, “To her surprise, ChatGPT proved to be an excellent teacher. It was patient, encouraging, and able to adapt to her son's learning style and pace.” While I have heard stories that some young people are using ChatGPT in place of therapy, I am skeptical about how Artifical Intelligence will be “patient” and “encouraging” with children. Part of the magic of children, and really all of humanity, is our unpredictability. When we are at our best, our ability for empathy makes us uniquely able to interact with each other in powerful ways. This is particularly true of children, who need to build strong attachments with other people to thrive.
There are lots of things that ChatGPT may be good at. I am sure it will improve in others, like taking qualifying and licensing exams. Frankly, I’m totally cool if ChatGPT learns to ace an MBA Operations exam. When I was studying for my MBA, I had an operations business case study figuring out how to maximize profit for the restaurant chain Benihana. I’m comfortable with letting Artificial Intelligence figure out how many tables need to turn or widgets need to be made. I think it is well suited to such tasks.
Still, at the heart of the matter, when it comes to curiosity and creativity, love of learning and appreciation of beauty and nature, Artificial Intelligence may offer an adequate but uninspired answer to an English essay, but I don’t think it has the ability to foster those strengths we want to see in our children. For now, at least, I believe teachers remain irreplaceable.
References & Other Perspectives:
“Did a Fourth Grader Write This? Or the New ChatBot?” (NYTimes)
"ChatGPT Is Passing the Tests Required for Medical Licenses and Business Degrees"(Vice)
Harvard Graduate School of Education interview with Sal Khan of Khan Academy, including a discussion of ChatGPT (YouTube)
National Test Prep Association Interview on Varsity Blues, ChatGPT, and more in College Admissions (YouTube)
Photos by Markus Spiske, Rod Long and Jerry Wang on Unsplash