I was walking through a little thrift store today and noticed something…and it struck me. A pencil sharpener…remember those days? I remember when I was a kid and it was this time of the year. Mom would load us up in the car and take us to the store for school supplies. We had a list of items from our school sent home informing the parents what supplies we will need for the coming year. Notebooks, paper, pencils, crayons, etc. created havoc in the local store where moms and dads were loading up children’s school bags.
I remember getting those brand new pencils. They were freshly packed and un-sharpened. They came in all different types of colors; red, blue, yellow, and green. Sometimes you could buy them with your name on them, especially if you had a common name like Bobby. Remember the first pencil you pulled out of the pack and you could go sharpen the pencil for the first time. It was more fun to sharpen the pencil than actually take part in the classroom exercise. I even remember some of my teachers started the day with the whole class in line, sharpening our pencils before starting the lesson.
Do they still have pencil sharpeners in classrooms? Some schools, maybe…if the buildings have housed generations of students. They are still probably on the walls or bookshelves, well because they have become nostalgic reminders of our yester-years. Public education is changing faster than the technology that is leading the way. Dollars are decreasing, teachers are being laid off, classrooms getting crowded, and some of the best and the brightest are loosing site of the age ole testament…education shapes our future.
Just a few months ago, I bought an iPad from Apple. The new wave of the future when it comes to personal and business computing. It is not only a computing tool but a business class communication tool. As a college instructor at Clemson, we are being challenged to find innovative ways to engage our students and still conserve if not cut costs. I have made a vow to try to teach the whole class this coming semester using just the iPad. I am not sure if I can execute this plan, but I am going to try.
Today’s teaching tools are technologies that are shaping the way we teach and the educational process of our future. At the end of last semester’s class, I asked each student to write a thank you note to one person that has shaped their future. I asked them to hand write the note, with their signature, and hand write the envelope. Some students were perplexed with the assignment, either not understanding the purpose or the means to execute the assignment. The hand written note is so much more powerful that an email. Think about those hand written notes you receive in the mail. I am hate throwing them away, so I have a place for each one that I receive.
Writing a hand written note takes time, effort, dedication, and thought. If you are writing a two page letter and it is pen…you better chose your words carefully. It is hard to go back and fix something. We now are surrounded by spell check and other grammatical word fixing mechanisms…you know the red and green lines under a word or sentence. They use those colors so we feel annoyed until we fix the error. But they become our crutch. I am a poor speller; by the mere fact that I am not only an educated individual, but one that depends on technology.
So what is the balance? How do we still teach our next wave of leaders, our new knowledge economy how to think like practitioners and not as technicians. How do we teach them to evolve with the technologies and not be so dependent upon a tool. How do we teach to creatively write and allow the tools to facilitate the process instead if dictating the process.
If we are going to have a bigger and brighter knowledge economy, we have to compete on a fundamental level…in our education system. Yes…it takes dollars, but it also takes a commitment to tomorrow and knowing our past. There are days where I wish I could have a pencil sharpener again, bringing the fun back into the creative process. But I sure do like the iPad as well. But, we have to find the middle ground between age old technology and new innovation to set the stage for tomorrow. We can’t just go lay-off old teachers just because they are going to retire eventually, but we can’t just lay-off the new teachers because of seniority. We need to be selective in who is teaching in our public schools, ones that are going to inspire the next creative class of human capital.
I will leave you with this…have you ever heard of the Call Me Mister Program, housed at Clemson University? The sole purpose of this program is to empower and educate young African-American males to be elementary school teachers here in South Carolina. To put more African-American males in leadership roles to become role models for our young students. Imagine the opportunity to change the face of South Carolina by changing the image of African-American males from the years of oppression this state has witnessed. Now that is innovation. It did not take technology…it took vision.