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Beyond Pawns: Agency in a World of AI

Scott Allenby

Over the past week, I have taken a deep dive into Proctor’s history as a part of a project for the upcoming edition of the Proctor Magazine. Searching through Proctor’s extensive digital archives (check them out here), old yearbooks (check out digital versions here), hardcopies of century-old documents, and local histories of the Town of Andover and Proctor, it is remarkable how resilient this school and this community are in times of challenge. 

Proctor Block Andover 1900

While there are ample crises present in our world (much of Vermont and New Hampshire is experiencing catastrophic flooding from a relentless rain and tropical weather pattern over the past month as I write this post), our minds remain occupied by the very real disruption that artificial intelligence is playing in the world of education. With the rapid evolution of AI like ChaptGPT, teachers around the globe are having to rethink not only their practices in the classroom, but the purpose of education as a whole. 

Proctor Block New

As AI has infiltrated classrooms, our conversation at Proctor has evolved from a desire to “catch” students using AI inappropriately on their assignments to better understanding how we can harness the power of technology to augment the educational experiences of our students. The year ahead will likely be filled with conversations, differing opinions, and plenty of challenging conversations within the Proctor community as we wrestle with how to best adapt to shifts in technology. As with any disruptive technology, there will be a spectrum of adoption among teachers (and students), with parents providing yet another perspective on how we should be integrating AI into our curriculum. There are no “easy” answers, and perhaps no “right” answers either. There are, however, productive frameworks for moving into a time of disruption. 

Proctor Academy Academic Model Teacher Student

This is where the archival work of the past few weeks has been so reassuring. Reading through accounts of Proctor’s history, the school’s faculty and staff have embraced one technological, economic, or social disruption after another: the advent of the railroad, the women’s suffrage movement, the introduction of electricity to campus, installation of indoor plumbing, automobiles, the Great Depression, a global war, phones in dormitories, a de-evolution of dress code, domestic unrest, a reintroduction of coeducation, calculators, computers, internet, spell-check, cell phones, a pandemic, and the list goes on and on. Each time a disruption presented itself, the school chose to embrace a lens of change rather than a lens of stasis. 

Proctor Academy Boat Building

Proctor’s educational model is rooted in human connection, learning to live in relationship with one another, while teaching young people how to use the tools at their disposal for intellectual pursuits. This connection happens through shared, untethered experiences. It happens in small advisory groups. It happens in dorms during late night conversations between roommates. It happens on teams pursuing shared goals. It happens in classrooms where teachers are focused far more on doing to learn than learning to do. We must remind ourselves of this core commitment to human connection when we read about how AI will change our world as teachers. 

We must also remind ourselves that the human condition is one of resilience and adaptability. Disruption will occur regardless of our readiness or willingness to adopt it. When we educate ourselves on the opportunities and threats of a disruption, we position ourselves to model for our students the behaviors we hope they exhibit in their lives at Proctor and beyond. 

Proctor Academy Orientation

Rosie and Faris Yakob write about their work helping the marketing industry adapt to a world in which AI is front and center. In a recent Gaping Void piece they share, “No one knows exactly what the future holds, but one thing that is certain is that anything that can be automated will eventually be automated. As AI becomes an increasingly hot topic in the industry and beyond, we believe that the best way to future-proof agencies and careers is to focus on uniquely human attributes, namely creativity and collaboration.” 

Proctor Academy Orientation

AI will change the economy, it will change education, it will force us to evolve, but it will not change our adaptability or resilience as a school. If we can continue to teach young people to understand themselves and their abilities, to appreciate the power of human connection, expose them to future passions, and provide them the foundation to go out and adapt to a changing world, we, and they, will be well situated to embrace all that AI has in store for the world of education. 

For an excellent take on AI in education, check out THIS ARTICLE

  • Academics
  • Community and Relationships
  • Technology