A Fantasy For Our Times
by Jack Turner, Eugene (OR) School District 4J
After learning of a classroom in India that has only one pencil for 30 students, I considered the parallels implied for microcomputers in American schools. To provide a new perspective on the problems in accommodating computers in education, I have invented a fantasy. Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1827), a forward-looking Swiss educator has just received a response from the School Committee regarding his request for classroom sets of pencils. Although pencils as we know them had been developed by 1565, these tools did not become commonly available until about 1800: technological advances rapidly lowered the price per unit.
TO: Johann Pestalozzi, Headmaster
FROM: School Finance Committee
RE: Your Request for Student Pencils
We must regretfully respond that your request is denied. After careful consideration of your unprecedented proposal to provide each student with a pencil, the Committee has elected to purchase only one such unit for use in your classroom. The rationale for the Committee's decision is enumerated below, followed by queries to which you must respond (triplicate) after field-testing the pencil.
A. Pencils are fragile and break down easily owing to primitive technology.
B. Acquisition of pencils in quantity leads inevitably to requests for other expensive peripherals such as sharpeners, erasers, tablets, etc.
C. We cannot justify the expenditures for these systems to patrons whose education was perceived as adequate without any such paraphernalia.
D. The Committee expressed doubt that students would use the requested pencils for activities more substantial than doodling or tic-tac-toe.
E. We strongly suggest you reconsider your proposal to allow students to use pencils to work ciphers and related mathematics. Apart from the loss of requisite mental rigor implied by your position, what will happen if students become dependent on pencils to solve problems but cannot locate such in time of need?
F. Appropriate usage of pencils presumes teachers who know how to incorporate them into classroom activities. Yet very few teachers have such skills; thus pencils would probably be misused or relegated to storerooms.
Within two weeks of the close of the annual school session the Committee would like to receive your answers to the following questions:
A. Does the requested apparatus have applications in schooling beyond the working of ciphers?
B. Do you recommend the creation of a new discipline of pencil literacy? If so, which of the present legitimate disciplines should be dropped in order to accommodate the new course?
C. Is this "new tool" (as described by you) especially useful for specific sub-groups of students, e.g. the particularly dull or perhaps the brightest?
D. Do students from rich families having pencils in the home distance themselves in achievement from those who do not?
In closing, sir, the Committee feels compelled to remind you that Aristotle managed to become educated -- quite satisfactorily , actually -- without benefit of pencil.