January 25, 2012

“Imagine a society in which there were schools, but writing had not yet been invented, so there are no books and there are no pencils. People teach verbally and they learn by listening. It’s possible.

One day somebody invents writing, and they invent the pencil. Somebody says, “Wow, this would be great for education, it could revolutionize learning. So, let’s put a pencil in every classroom in the country and see what it does.” Well, it wouldn’t do anything, would it?

Because the essence of the pencil is not that–is not something that can be served by having access to it for a few hours a week or even a few hours a day. The essence of the pencil is that you’ve got it all the time. I can pull it out of my pocket in a moment’s notice; it’s not a big deal. I don’t have to go to a special place. If I’ve got to write something, if I’ve got to calculate something, if I’ve got to draw something to make a point, I’ve got it all the time. It’s a personal instrument, and this is what is going to happen with the digital technology. It’s going to be the pencil of the future. And I mean pencil in the sense that it’s got to be with us all the time to be used when we need it, when we want it, for a vast diversity of purposes. And when we do this, we will find that people will use them in very, very different ways–if we let them.

That’s to say if we don’t also say, “You have to compete with the people of Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia.” If we’ve got to program our kids to do well on the tests that those people are doing well on, we are saying they’re in the lead, we’re the followers. Wrong!

If we want to make use of this new technology to encourage diversity, we have to take the lead. Let us make the tests that they will try to catch up on. These won’t be tests where everybody’s got to give the right answer. They will be tests where people do things, where they get results. Where knowledge is not for giving the right answer. Knowledge is for mobilizing for a purpose, to make something happen, to achieve a goal. The goal might be making a machine, it might be creating a work of art, it might be making a theory, but it’s a personal goal that the individual believes in, and not something that’s written down in a curriculum.”

Papert, S. (1999) Diversity in Learning: A Vision for the New Millennium. Speech videotaped in 1999 for the Diversity Task Force convened by Vice President Al Gore. Accessed January 24, 2012 from http://papert.org/articles/diversity/DiversityinLearningPart1.html

1 thought on “January 25, 2012”

  1. In fact debates about the impact of the pencil on the quality of learning and education did take place when the pencil (as we know it) was developed by, among others, Thoreau (who was a pencil maker).

    See: Baron D. (2009). A Better Pencil. OUP.

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