Ohler: Schools must change

UAS technology professor writes new futuristic novel

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2001

In a world marked by anxiety about technology, teachers will be the heroes who help people use it wisely, says Professor Jason Ohler.

For years, Ohler, a professor of educational technology at the University of Alaska Southeast, has put forth his ideas in lectures and academic journals and books. Now Ohler has embodied them in the recently published novel, "Then What?"

"Then What?" is a novel of ideas. The main character, William Tell, operates the computer systems for a global company of investors when he runs into a mysterious old man named Credo who challenges his beliefs.

Credo, Mr. Big and other characters draw out what William thinks about technology and education.

"We're all two people," Mr. Big tells William. "The philosopher and the philosophee."

The philosopher sees technology in terms of the big picture and wonders whether genetic engineering is wrong. The philosophee wants his kid's life saved if knowledge gained from genetic engineering will do it.

"The novel is admittedly a vehicle to carry a number of ideas that I don't think people would understand or enjoy reading about if I were to write a tome," Ohler said.

"I think the average person really wants to come to grips with the new age they're living, but most people talking about the technological issues that cause them anxiety are preaching at them," Ohler said.

Ohler and his wife, Christine Moleski, published the novel themselves after a New York literary agent said it would be hard to market because it doesn't fit neatly into a category. It has elements of fantasy and humor. It's a quest novel in which the characters have the sort of names you'd find in allegories, such as Edwina Tech. It's a seminar.

Part of people's anxiety about technology comes from feeling out of control and from the conflicting information from the media, Ohler said.

"I tell my kid that this is what's important in life, but along comes a (computer) chat room or an MTV video that contradicts. And here you are, a 15-year-old trying to figure that out," he said.

The characters in the novel urge William Tell to develop a personal vision of what's important.

Ohler, who studied under the famous media philosopher Marshall McLuhan at the University of Toronto, said the medium is indeed the message, although it's also true that the content of a work is part of the message, too.

Technology is ideas with clothes on, he said. It's a mirror that shows us what we value. It makes some connections and causes other disconnections, Ohler said.

"To the person with a hammer, the world looks like a nail. That's a lot like saying the medium is the message," Ohler said.

"Once we have our tools, we can't help but think what we can become with them. It takes every ounce of power and reflective ability we have to pull off to the side ... and ask what could modify the behavior it predisposes you to," he said.

For the character William Tell, the answer is to become a teacher in a high school project called re-education aligned for life. The project promotes communication, creative thinking, community involvement, applied academics and a discussion of the great ideas.

"His quest in the book is to be a teacher," Ohler said. "That to me is the new cultural hero. It's not Rambo. It's the teacher who is going to help kids and adults, particularly kids, understand what's really important and navigate the glitz to get to what's really important."

Ohler will sign copies of "Then What?" from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Hearthside Books in the Nugget Mall. The book also is available online from XC Publishing at www.xcpublishing.com.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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