Still Nothing New Under the Sun. We Pretend Otherwise.

It’s funny. ((Or kind of sad.))

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.  ((Be it microfiche, radio, television, word processors, computers, or even typewriters.  All are represented as the next great thing in the articles I’ve read.))

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. ((Stella S. Center, Past-President, National Council of Teachers of English, from her Presidential Address, “The Responsibility of Teachers of English in Contemporary American Life.” November 24th, 1932.  Published in The English Journal, Volume 22, Number 2, February, 1933. (pp.97-108) ))

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 ((Perhaps not forward, but 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. ((But we know what to do with the mad that we feel, don’t we?))


2 thoughts on “Still Nothing New Under the Sun. We Pretend Otherwise.

  1. As a former social studies teacher and observer of the human condition I can safely state that we make the same mistakes and rarely learn from the past because we have turned history into a multiple choice test that focuses on names and dates. Rather than observing the economics, psychology and sociology of the time we tend to focus on myopia, greed and the next shining object.

    Thanks for bringing this to life Bud! Excellent post.

  2. Hi Bud,
    I agree with you. It is tragic the amount of valuable knowledge that we, the human race, collectively have lost. At this point there is just so much information being shared and produced, but not enough curating and organizing of the information. My hope is that the next big transformation in this age of hyper information exchange will be a system for truly aggregating, organizing, and analyzing all of this information – including looking backward at what has already been shared. I don’t think crowd-sourcing is enough.

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