The Self-Driving Car

Moral Dllemma

As a child, a road trip to visit a relative or meandering the dirt roads of Vermont instilled in me a great love of driving. I couldn’t wait to be the person behind the wheel. I still take great pleasure in a long drive through beautiful countryside, and handling a standard on city streets is probably the closest I’ll ever get to the Indy 500.

Which brings me to self-driving cars. I understand the technological challenge: “hmmm, could we really create a self-driving car that works?” And it has huge potential for people who, for whatever reason, cannot drive but want to be independent.

But I suspect that safety and convenience are really at the heart of the self-driving car. And that gives me pause.

There’s a fine line between advances that improve our lives and turning into the off-planet adults in Wall-E whose every physical need is met to the point that they no longer even walk (too much effort, you could get hurt!) and instead live their lives in floating chairs.

It’s not that I’m opposed to safer or more convenient ways to do any number of things. Cars cause lots of human pain, suffering, and death. But I do worry that the self-driving car is the latest symbol of the many ways we continue to distance ourselves from reality and eliminate struggle (What, parallel park?) or inconvenience (I spent twenty years of my life driving when I could have been…).

We face similar dilemmas each day in our schools. Where is the line between prudent safety and over-reaction to dis-ordered fear? When is struggle fundamental to new learning and when is an easier way the better way? What is the right balance between in-person, real-time, face-to-face interactions with the world around us (’reality-reality’) and experiences that take us to real or imaginary places that we cannot go physically (’virtual reality’)? What do we keep (or abandon) of the old and how do we innovate with the new?

These are all hard questions with no right answers. But they are important to ask and struggle with, together, especially as schools committed to cultivating the totality of what it means to be fully and truly human – connected to one another, to creation, and to the ineffable divine.