A little over a week ago I wrote this, ‘The Last Piece of Ed Tech You’ll Ever Need, Again’. I’d just finished re-reading a certain history of ed reform and was finding myself struck by how, in decade after decade, ed-tech providers have manipulated education’s decision-makers into fruitless choice after fruitless choice. Also: considering the similar trajectory of each ed-innovation arc (usually ending in heaps of unfulfilled promises, frustrated teachers, and drained ledgers), I was finding myself fairly frustrated by our enterprise’s gullibility. For really: with a track record that so clearly shows we don’t learn well from our past or properly check out what we pay for before we sign contracts, why would opportunistic vendors ever stop slinking around us, much less consider adjusting how they do business with us? Simply: We’re an easy mark, and we’ve been one for decades.
To avoid a straight bashing of education’s decision-makers or futurists or ed-tech opportunists or whoever else (I’ve gone down that road before, after all, and I’m aware it can get tiring), I decided on something a little lighter, namely an audience-participatory game.
Here was the idea: Read a few excerpted paragraphs from the history and, with certain vital information left blank, see if you can name the innovation being described. Leave answers in the comment section, and I’ll think of a little prize in the meantime. I’ll get my points across and, you know, we’ll all just have a larf. Aren’t we just so stupid? Ha ha ha, and Happy New Year!
Then, no takers. So much for that. 🙂
So though this may be on the anticlimactic side, I must finish what I started. Here are the answers and a few summary thoughts:
- The book quoted was David Tyack and Larry Cuban’s Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform, from 1998. I highly recommend it, by the way. With no space dedicated to the debates that have consumed the most recent couple decades — this is pre-NCLB, pre-charter explosion, pre-teacher evaluation mandates, etc., etc., remember — lots more airtime can be given to how the US has dealt with more foundational concerns. Valuable, in other words, from the wider ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it’ angle, if not from staying up on current policy spats.
- Innovation #1 was film/projectors.
- …and Innovation #2, the one that ‘was going to be different, said reformers’, was television.
If you read the paragraphs, I hope you could see the parallels. Indeed, pretty well all the blanks could be filled with analogous examples: interactive whiteboards, laptops, iPads, computer-delivered learning interventions, and on and on could all work. Even the pieces about supporting organizations (the Ford Foundation championed television in the 1950s, for example, just as Gates might push innovative technologies today), limiting factors (rural areas once lacked electricity to power projectors/TVs, just as they more recently may have lacked broadband capabilities to enable computer-aided learning), and teachers’ reactions/receptions/implementations can read as downright eerie.
People: we’ve done all this before, and, well, we’re pretty much still right where we are. Here’s to hoping we can learn the right lessons from histories like Tyack’s and Cuban’s — perhaps aided by sound ed-consumer advice like Dan Willingham’s — and end our reputation as easy, buy-anything prey. And thanks for playing!