I’ve been working with some folks to write about the centennial of English Journal, which is this year. One hundred years of writing about teaching and learning language arts. We’ve been focusing on the way that technology has been addressed in past issues of EJ, looking back at articles from the last one hundred years and exploring past brushes of technology and pedagogy. It’s been a fascinating trip back in time.
My hunch going into this work is that we would find many, many similarities between the issues of yesterday and today. I expected that we would always see that the transformational technology was right around the corner, and that things would be better if only we would adopt it.
What I also expected, but have been both inspired and disappointed by, is that so many wise teachers from our past saw what we really needed to focus on. They saw that it wasn’t the technology, but the purposes that we put it to, that were what count and what matters in teaching and learning. And their words were praised.
And then forgotten.
And now many of my contemporaries make the same great arguments. Arguments that have been made before. Here’s one:
The tragic lack, as I see the present social order, is that of understanding and intelligent sympathy. Our ignorance makes us indifferent and cruel. We are preoccupied with ourselves.
Sounds like a critique of today, doesn’t it? But it’s not. These words are 78 years old.
Further on in the same piece:
If English instruction can help in the substitution of creative effort for scheming greed, if it can substitute social co-operation for selfish individualism, if it can help in the development of men and women sensitive to human suffering and bent on furthering human happiness – in a word, if it can make beauty a dominant factor in contemporary life – the aim not only of English instruction but of all education will have been accomplished.
Right then, and right now.
As I think about the challenges of today, and the arguments that are and aren’t occurring in schools and about schooling in these United States, I wonder why we forget these voices that have come before. I worry that they may have figured out much of what we needed to know then and need to do now. But we moved on without them.
So why aren’t we doing it? What’s holding us back? Will we do things differently, or will someone stumble across our words a hundred years down the road and wonder similar things?
It’s enough to make me mad.