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How ChatGPT and AI are dumbing down our children

By Douglas Marolla

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

Many children learn about the dodo bird in elementary school. The dodo bird was a flightless bird living on the isolated island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar. Other than land crabs, which it could handle, the dodo had no predators to speak of.

Once predators were introduced, the dodo was finished. The influx of dogs, pigs, and cats in 1598 caused the dodo to become extinct in under 70 years. By the mid-1660’s, they were all gone. The dodo bird never had to learn how to deal with anything like a feral cat. It never had to go up against anything so violent as a wild pig. The dodo was soft. Even the few recorded interactions with humans show that the bird just stood there, staring at the person. It was easily caught. Because it had never dealt with the rougher world of intense predation, the dodo could not handle a new, more dangerous environment.

This is a metaphor for the new intellectual environment our teens find themselves in. 

One thing I have noticed over the years is that our young people don’t know things that used to be automatic. 95% of the high schoolers in my classroom don’t know at what temperature water freezes. They don’t know who wrote “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” or “Tom Sawyer.” They don’t know these things because they don’t have to. As many of my peers used to know phone numbers because we had to, we no longer know the phone number for people because it’s not necessary. This trend is speeding up, too. Some people are celebrating it. I’m not.

I remember when Google emerged and people were excited because you “don’t have to know anything anymore, you can just Google it!” That was 20 years ago. The result is that we have swaths of young people who realize that they don’t have to learn for the sake of learning, they can simply look it up and the answer is there.

My direct supervisor shared a great article from The Atlantic on ChatGPT. ChatGPT is an accelerant that will not only continue, but speed up the dodo-ification of the teenage mind. 

Chat GPT is an AI program that will cogently, thoughtfully, and, with original wording, answer practically any question you have. The classical English questions put to it are answered exceedingly well. They are also original, so they’ll get through programs like Turnitin. If you google the answer, it won’t come up, because it isn’t stolen from someone else’s work. There are some amazing examples of what ChatGPT can do in the linked article.

The author of the article is sufficiently upset about ChatGPT but shows the same attitude about ChatGPT that people showed about Google back in 2002. The author, a 12-year veteran English teacher, thinks that it may not be necessary to learn how to write well:

“I’ve also long held, for those who are interested in writing, that you need to learn the basic rules of good writing before you can start breaking them—that, like Picasso, you have to learn how to reliably fulfill an audience’s expectations before you get to start putting eyeballs in people’s ears and things.

I don’t know if either of those things is true anymore. It’s no longer obvious to me that my teenagers actually will need to develop this basic skill, or if the logic still holds that the fundamentals are necessary for experimentation.”

To a degree, the author is correct. Students won’t need to learn how to answer questions, think about things, and write about them. ChatGPT does a frighteningly good job. However, to take that attitude to another level, no one needs to learn how to play guitar or piano anymore, nor do we need to go watch people who have learned to play in a symphony anymore: we can just put on YouTube and get what we need there. No one needs to make their children go to piano lessons anymore because keyboards can now be programmed to play amazing music.

The coming intellectual and economic divide will be between those people, families, and cultures who want to learn for the sake of learning, realize the value of it, and those who don’t. The wealth gap will only continue to grow. The tiger moms realize this. They force their children to play piano and violin, send their children to math camp (no using PhotoMath there), and demand that they write their own college essay before 11th grade is over. Their children are more successful and earn more money.

When it comes time to create, the people who use the ChatGPT AI program will not only not know what to do, they will be unable to compete. The intellectual exercise you get from writing will be missing. In the black neighborhood where I work, cheating is a big problem. Additionally, as I’ve mentioned in prior articles, the wherewithal to put in work and do what you don’t want to do has vanished. ChatGPT will seem like a godsend to the disaffected and lazy teenager, and it will be – for a while.

Like many of my students, when it comes time to put up or shut up, they’ll be unable to deal with adversity, as they’ve faced no headwinds. They’ll have faced no intellectual predators, and like the dodo, will vanish without a trace. There is a saying – “Iron sharpens iron.” My students will go up against someone in the intellectual octagon and have to battle someone armed with iron. They’ll have a broken plastic knife. It won’t be pretty. Then the blame game will begin again, and the answer is in front of us right now.

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Douglas Marolla

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