I hear it all the time; there's an app (application software) for that. People want that nearly impossible to find parking space in New York City: there's an app for that. There is an app to know what kind of neighborhood you live in, where to get the best Mexican food, and the hottest cup of joe. There is seemingly an app for everything. I know kids and some adults think this to be the case but, while apps have their undeniable place in popular culture, they are no panacea, especially for accomplishing things that matter most.
There is no app for love, for happiness, for contentment, or for world peace, and there is most definitely no app for success in school. Yes, there are apps you can use in school, and even those that may enhance your understanding of the world, but nothing can be used to make you decipher the complexities of the causes of the Civil War like reading about it, seeing old documents, and learning about it in a classroom.
Let's think about math. Fractions, mixed numbers, and decimals have tortured many students over the years. How about long division? Algebra? Trigonometry? Those words can make your skin crawl long after your high school years are over. There are so-called math apps out there, things that you can put on your phone that will take you part of the way there, but when it comes to sitting down and taking the test, there is no app for that, at least not yet.
Can you imagine having Socrates as a teacher? Many times in my life I have wondered what it would have been like. We educators talk about the Socratic method or Socratic questioning as if it is an ideal world; and in our times with the reality of state assessments, teacher evaluations linked to them, and the pressure to increase test scores, the laissez faire atmosphere of a Socratic classroom seems almost an impossibility.
What should concern all of us now is the app mentality that is so pervasive that it is subsuming the traditional path to acquiring knowledge. Kids do not feel that they need to do research anymore, let alone ever crack open an encyclopedia, dictionary, or thesaurus. They are more concerned with the ready availability of sources than caring about their reliability. This problem is found across the board from elementary school to college. The lure of the cut and paste answer is so powerful that plagiarism plagues all educators because the kids (and many times their parents) think there is nothing wrong with it.
I understand the powerful ways technology can enhance instruction, and I am not saying that we should go back to the dark ages of pigtails dipped in the ink well, but there should be a way to make clear to students that even though there seems to be an app for everything, there is no substitute for learning something on your own. Sure calculators make long division much easier, but if you cannot divide without electronic help then you don't really know how to do it, even if your answers are always right.