Progress and Innovation in Education

3 01 2007

I first came across these quotes last year, but lost the link until Ewan McIntosh posted them again on his Edublog.  Back in September, Karl Fisch cited David Thornburg’s book Edutrends 2010: Restructuring, Technology, and the Future of Education (1992) in a presentation, and it has since been circulating around the Blogosphere.  The quotes provided below show how there has always been resistance to change and progress in education; yet that progress has subsequently become fundamental in its own right, to the point that further innovations have been challenged.

“Students today can’t prepare bark to calculate their problems. They depend on their slates which are more expensive. What will they do when their slate is dropped and it breaks? They will be unable to write!”
Teachers Conference, 1703

“Students today depend upon paper too much. They don’t know how to write on slate without chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?”
Principal’s Association, 1815

“Students today depend too much upon ink. They don’t know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil.”
National Association of Teachers, 1907

“Students today depend upon store-bought ink. They don’t know how to make their own. When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words of ciphers until their next trip to the settlement. This is a sad commentary on modern education.”
The Rural American Teacher, 1929

“Students today depend upon these expensive fountain pens. They can no longer write with a straight pen and nib (not to mention sharpening their own quills). We parents must not allow them to wallow in such luxury to the detriment of learning how to cope in the real business world, which is not so extravagant.”
PTA Gazette, 1941

“Ball point pens will be the ruin of education in our country. Students use these devices and then throw them away. The American virtues of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Business and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.”
Federal Teacher, 1950

In my own experience over the last ten years as a student, developer, administrator, manager, and teacher with computer-based learning systems, I can recall many examples where the use of computers and the Internet have been challenged and resisted as teaching and learning tools; but that resistance has been gradually eroded over time, and uptake has increased.  Even so, there are now nay-sayers who doubt the use of Web 2.0 and social web tools such as blogs and wikis, or the use of mobile technologies as competent and useful aides in teaching and learning.

As history repeats itself, these quotes speak volumes about current innovation in education, and the resistance shown by some to the use of new technologies such as mobile phones, PDAs, and digital media players as tools for teaching and learning.  At each step, there will be resistance; if there’s one thing we can count on always being the same; it is that things will always change.

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