An abstract illustration centered around a vintage digital calculator, symbolizing the transformation in education from traditional methods to modern ones

Gen AI is a TI-30, and the Humanities are having their “slide rule moment.”

(I haven’t lost my mind. Allow me to explain.)

Math and math-adjacent fields faced a crisis in the 1970s when digital calculators arrived in students’ hands. These were just basic versions, nothing close to scientific or graphing calculators (just go look up the TI-30!), but they were a quantum leap ahead of the slide rule in efficiency.

Educational debate ensued. Was the numeracy required for the use of a slide rule outweighed by the increased efficiency afforded by a calculator? Some teachers thought it would be the end of thinking and memory in math.

The calculator quickly won. It enabled faster and more complex calculations, which in turn enabled students to move further and faster through their studies of math. And, thankfully, research showed that calculator use at higher levels of math actually improves math fluency.

So calculators allowed deeper math learning and enhanced educational objectives.


Fast forward to 2024. Gen AI is the Humanities’ equivalent of the calculator, and we’re in the same debate.

One perspective stands in the shadow of the slide rule: Gen AI is a thinking-killer. Students who use it won’t learn to write. They won’t learn to spell. They’ll become reliant on a digital crutch.

Alternately, there’s the calculator approach: Gen AI is learning-enhancer. Students can increase their efficiency in writing (e.g. with Gen AI as a proofreader or personalized tutor). They can reach higher educational objectives (e.g. through personalized assessment or immediate feedback). It can enhance their thinking (e.g. as a brainstorming partner or Socratic guide). It can even enhance their productivity (e.g. as a writing partner for long-form creation).

We must take a thoughtful approach to Gen AI in the classroom. We must help teachers manage its classroom use. And we must address its very real risks.

But as with the calculator, those risks are far outweighed by the rewards.


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