We went to Disneyland this week and checked out the Inoventions exhibit “House of the Future.” I had to wonder what kind of a future is in store for us, when what it idealized was a hands-off, touch-free, flat-screen, taste-less world. The kitchen was the most disturbing thing of all, for in it we met Lillian, the non-human house-keeper.
“Say Hello, Lillian!” said a chirpy salesman.
“Hello,” said a high-pitched, feminine voice. “How can I help you?”
“Can you get us a recipe for a kid-friendly dessert?” he asked.
Suddenly the kitchen counter glowed, and a recipe appeared on a sort of computer screen under the counter.
“Lillian, do I have all the ingredients in the cupboard to make brownies?”
A list appeared on the counter, with some things checked off.
“Lillian is showing us we’re out of brownie mix,” said the salesman.
“Are you thirsty?” he asked my daughter. She nodded.
“Lillian, turn on the water,” he said.
The kitchen faucet began to flow. “Lillian, turn off the water,” he said. It stopped.
“Isn’t that cool?” he chirped. “Hands-free.”
For me, the real joy of doing something, and the way I learn best, is by physically interacting with it. With math, I learn best by using manipulatives — objects you can touch and move. The same is true for science. Many children learn best through hands-on experiences. We can’t understand that rain is wet unless we feel it. We can’t really know how gravity works unless we experiment by dropping things. There’s a reason our “feelings” have the world “feel” in them. Because even our emotions manifest at a physical level.
Our house of the future — just like our classroom of the future — should idealize learning about the world by experiencing it — the cool drip of water, gravity’s drastic pull, the softness of a rose petal. Our future aspirations should help us dig deeper roots, — not uproot us — by linking our learning with our very real, very grounded, bodies.