Site icon ELA Brave and True by Marilyn Yung

ChatGPT and the Numbing of a Student’s Mind

No, I won’t be embracing ChatGPT

I’ve held off on writing about OpenAI’s ChatGPT because… well, it exasperates me. Frustrates me. Angers me. It makes me angry that software developers with little experience or interest in the provision of education have created a “tool” that replaces the very human activities of thinking and writing.

In the names of productivity, efficiency, and the bettering of humanity, software developers have relinquished an individual’s unique and nuanced thinking process to a program that mines the Internet’s storehouse of others’ ideas and then regurgitates those ideas as new content.

In short, we don’t have to think anymore.

Now, we can just ask ChatGPT to do it for us and, in turn, quicken the numbing of our minds. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, writes, “The tools of the mind (a chatbot would qualify as one) amplify and in turn numb the most intimate, the most human, of our natural capacities — those for reason, perception, memory, emotion.” Based on Carr’s ideas and the wealth of research cited in The Shallows, I would venture to say that over time, if one even occasionally uses a chatbot or relies on one to perform various tasks, one’s ability to think deeply and wield words will decrease.

And that occasional use will likely become more frequent. We’re only human after all. Carr continues, “…as we grow more accustomed to and dependent on our computers we will be tempted to entrust to them ‘tasks that demand wisdom.’ And once we do that, there will be no turning back. The software will become indispensable to those tasks.”

Carr adds, “How sad it would be, particularly when it comes to the nurturing of our children’s minds, if we were to accept without question the idea that ‘human elements’ are outmoded and indispensable.” Carr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, written in 2010 no less, validates my skepticism of ChatGPT.

Use ChatGPT for essay outlines?

Still, while many teachers are skeptical of ChatGPT, others are embracing its potential with students. In one Facebook teaching group, one member posted she’ll encourage students to use ChatGPT to write outlines so they can “just get started” with the writing.

However, I would argue that the thinking involved in outlining is paramount to the entire writing process. We must encourage the student to do the hard work of prioritizing topics, subtopics, supporting details, evidence, counter-arguments, and rebuttals. Yes, it’s difficult, especially in our age of distraction and inattention. Yes, it’s time-consuming.

As educator-author Kelly Gallagher says, he doesn’t necessarily enjoy writing, but he enjoys having written. I agree. After all, part of a teacher’s job is to show students they can accomplish difficult tasks and, for sure, writing is a difficult task.

No skin in the game

Hard work, humanity, and wisdom notwithstanding, there’s still more to consider. When a student’s argumentative framework or outline has been generated by a chatbot, the student loses the personal connection and intrinsic motivation to develop the argument.

In short, ChatGPT steals the student’s stakeholder status. The student has no skin in the game. The student has nothing to lose, and therefore, no desire to write to prove his or her point. Not doing the difficult work of thinking and writing destroys the student’s purpose for learning.

No, I will not be embracing ChatGPT. I’ll be embracing human wisdom, individual thinking, and original writing instead.

Just when I’m starting to get the hang of teaching, along comes ChatGPT. I’ll be writing more on this — especially as I continue reading and learning about student disengagement — as the controversy over AI and ChatGPT continues to simmer.

Let me know your thoughts on ChatGPT. Encountered it yet in your teaching? Leave me a note on my Contact page.

Marilyn Yung

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