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The Problem With Capacity



"And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus…They were so frightened."

In my last CrossCurrents post, I attempted to address some of the complexities of adapting to a world with evermore sophisticated and public forms of artificial intelligence. Little did I know at the time that that post would be the first of a series, yet here I am, revisiting the topic.


Like many of you, I have been following with a degree of unease the media coverage surrounding ChatGPT. We get the sense that the applecart is being upset though we aren’t certain as to why or how. Many questions naturally follow. Who is tending the “AI farm”? Has technology reached a tipping point where we’re no longer in control? Are ethical considerations being trampled in the name of progress? Who is watching out for the most vulnerable? How will this affect my job - or will I ultimately have one? Still, it wasn’t until listening to the Gospel passage on the Transfiguration a few weeks ago that I figured out what I believe to be at the root of my discomfort. Capacity scares us, most often rightly so.


When faced with something that is beyond our initial comprehension, our response tends to be to want to control it. (Heck, Peter literally wanted to put a lid on the Transfiguration by constructing tents!) Our instinct is to diminish capacity by treating barriers as limitations - as things to be accepted rather than addressed. This provides us some sense of security though it never fully allays our apprehensions since we never fully confront the thing lording over us.


For all of the talk of “disruption” within the education sector over the years, much has remained constant. I don’t mean this in a negative way; it’s simply the truth. Most of the time in education the latest craze is around finding new ways of teaching students the same things. Like the waxing and waning of the moon, momentum illuminates the potential of a new initiative. Eventually, momentum fades though, only to pick up again with the introduction of the next best practice. Progress tends to be made with each passing cycle, but at the end of the day, Math is still Math, English is still English, and History remains History. These are the limits we currently place on student learning.


This time, things feel a bit different. For me, the conversations around AI will need to focus on the ways in which we adapt current practices to teach new things. For many years, certain brave teachers within our schools have explored cross-curricular units or courses, combining certain principles of Math with Science, or History with English Literature. Simply because of the ways in which AI collects and arranges disparate data and ideas, I wonder if the cross-curricular approach should - at least in part - be the norm rather than the exception? We still need the content expertise and classroom savvy that teachers provide, but the approach to learning is less linear, combining elements of English, History, and Math, or Science, Art, and World Languages. There would also be opportunities to weave in a faith narrative, connecting religion directly to the lived experience. Many - though definitely not all - of the desired outcomes would be the same, though the pathway would be different. This would certainly be a paradigm shift, and it’s truly frightening to think about.


How would one begin to consider something so audacious? By stripping everything away and having a discussion about what truly matters - what our greatest desires are for the young people we serve. What we in Catholic education may not realize is that we are eminently prepared to have these conversations! Whether we’re delicately balancing secular movements with Gospel teaching or addressing budgetary concerns, we’ve always had to make hard choices. Most often, we do this by returning to our mission and proceeding from there.


An initial objection that will most certainly arise is the perceived risk to our college-preparedness: that the university system, NCAA, and others aren’t prepared to entertain student acceptance from students with non-traditional transcripts. This is a barrier not a full-stop limitation. An argument could be made that a cross-curricular approach would make students more college ready, particularly in light of mission-focused documents like Loyola of Chicago’s Transformative Education which lists five “hungers” the University attempt to feed - integrated knowledge, a moral compass, community, a global paradigm, and an adult spirituality. If the cross-curricular concept is worthy of our consideration, we must work beyond this obstacle. The key is being open to the uncertainty and willing to make the long play, knowing that where we land may not be where we initially intended.


A Different Look at Capacity

Sometimes it’s helpful to think of capacity in terms of abundance. The moment I first experienced unbridled abundance was the birth of my second child. My wife Cathy and I just had our first child fifteen months earlier, and the closer we got to the second birth, the more I felt sorry for our first. I loved him so completely. How could I split that love in half? The instant I held our second child in my arms, however, I understood capacity. There was no splitting, only doubling. Cathy and I were blessed to have that experience two more times, and should any of our four choose to have children, I’m sure it will happen again.


We frequently talk about the power of love, but we don’t often reflect on its capacity. Many of us can identify someone in our lives who seem to possess boundless amounts of love and joy. Like a flame, we are very much attracted to them, but there’s a point at which we don’t want to get any closer. What keeps us from surrendering to such a life? Fear of love’s capacity which inevitably includes moments of heartbreak, disappointment, and tears shed. (You might also recognize these as the occupational hazards of parenthood.)


The undeniable truth is that when we give into capacity, failure is inevitable. Things will go wrong, occasionally horribly. This, however, is the magis - knowing that there’s more left inside to give, and waking up the next day to give it another go. So long as our intentions are well ordered and we endure, we often find ourselves in surprising places showered by graces we couldn’t have previously imagined.


I leave you with the following by Matt Weber as he reflects on another great capacity moment…


“God's care for us extends beyond the farthest reaches of our imagination. Who but God could imagine feeding thousands of people with five loaves and a few fish?…It would have been easier if Jesus had listened to the disciples and sent the people off. Instead he calls the disciples to step out of their comfort zone and do something that must have felt futile in the face of so many hungry people.”




 

CONTRIBUTOR: Jeff Hausman, AVLI President

vol 5 issue 8

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