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Pilot Post – Jan 6, 2023

Dear Families, 

Happy New Year!  I hope your winter breaks were filled with joyful moments of togetherness and plenty of rest and relaxation.  

In case you missed it, just before we headed out for the holidays, the education world erupted in debate over recent advances in artificial intelligence, specifically taking aim at the AI program ChatGPT.  The Atlantic published two sensational essays (one that I sent around to teachers here at Pilot): “The College Essay is Dead” and “The End of High School English.”  In my own household, much consternation ensued, and I had some great conversations with faculty members here about what this all actually meant for writing instruction, particularly for our younger students at Pilot.  Within weeks, the New York Times was running ChatGPT by Judy Blume and by the new year, NYC Public Schools had banned the program from student computers.  

I was delighted, then, to read Fordham Institute’s Robert Pondiscio’s response aptly named “Artificial intelligence is not the end of high-school English,” partially because it did a great job of generally calming nerves, but also because Pondiscio relies on fundamental truths about learning to make his case.  In short, we rush too quickly into assuming that technology will replace thinking and forget that thinking is a prerequisite for wielding that technology with any nuance or adeptness.  Here’s an excerpt:

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. nailed the answer twenty years ago. “The Internet has placed a wealth of information at our fingertips. But to be able to use that information—to absorb it, to add to our knowledge—we must already possess a storehouse of knowledge,” he wrote. “That is the paradox disclosed by cognitive research.” More recently, University of Virginia professor Dan Willingham wrote that research in cognitive science has shown that “the sorts of skills that teachers want for students—such as the ability to analyze and to think critically—require extensive factual knowledge.” 

In other words, it takes knowledge to communicate knowledge—or even to have the discernment to judge whether an AI-generated piece of text makes sense or sufficiently responds to a prompt.

So what does that mean for our students here at Pilot?  It means that teaching foundational writing skills, providing direct instruction in content material, and explicitly teaching fundamental skill sets is as vital as ever.  As our students’ innate writing abilities grow, so will their ability to gauge good writing from bad, or to assess whether or not an essay accurately and effectively answers a prompt.  And if they reach a point in their academic or professional careers when the use of AI for writing becomes less an unethical practice and more an assistive technology, they will have the knowledge it takes to judge whether the ‘bot got it right before pressing send on that email or submit on the essay.

Hopefully, I’ve given you some food for thought for your dinner tables this weekend.  

As for the team here at Pilot, we’ve loved having the students back in our hallways and are feeling joyful optimism as we set out for this new year!


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