Saturday, January 1, 2011

For the times they are a-changin'

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

~ Bob Dylan, Times They Are A Changing


As I've stated in previous blog posting Riding into the Perfect Storm of Reform, we are at the convergence of a perfect storm when it comes to public education in the United States. The devastating effects of a depressed economy that shows no end in sight will link with expanding mobile, digital technologies and mounting political pressures to force disruptive changes in K-12 teaching and learning. Talk about technology integration in the classroom and 21st century learning has been going on for at least the past fifteen years (actually, much longer than that but I'll stick with the time period wrapped around public availability of the internet) but resistance to change has been relentless. The excuses run the gamut and typically center on fear of change and the unknown results it can bring. Nick Bilton (2010) describes this fear and provides a litany of examples taken from key moments in technological change:

Time and again, new technologies have been seen as frightening, intimidating, and a sure road to ruin ... When a development is new and just catching on, we rarely have a clear vision of the future, an understanding of the effects. We don't know how to integrate the innovation into our current habits and norms, and we also fear that adopting the new will affect our old ways of doing things. The tension, fear, and anxiety resolve only over long periods of time...”


...the telephone, by bringing music and ministers into every home, will empty the concert halls and the churches (1876).”


There is good reason to believe that if the phonograph proves to be what its inventor claims that it is, both book-making and reading will fall into disuse (1877).”

Even the arrival of train transportation (in the mid-1800's) came with a railcar full of fears that left some holding on tightly to their horses....Many saw the railway as a threat to the social order, allowing the lower classes to travel too freely, weakening moral standards and dissolving the traditional bonds of community.”

The printing press (in 1424) was subject to the same kind of narrow thinking....(It) allowed the spread of information that couldn't be controlled by the clergy, kings, politicians, or the religious elite.”


Publication of Reader's Digest convinced many in the 1920's that “Americans were losing their ability to swallow a long, thoughtful novel or even a detailed magazine piece.”

Television (in 1929) was expected to have devastating effects on the printed word and even the arts.”


Kenneth H. Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, “didn't really see a place for computers in the home (1976).”


The problem is that without the kinds of changes that a sour economy and new technology can offer public education, our students will continue to attend schools designed for a bygone era and lose out on new opportunities. Worse case, they may disengage completely and join the growing numbers of people who have become financial burdens on society. The new year – the first year in the second decade of the 21st century – will offer us one of the best opportunities we've had yet to grasp change and remake our classrooms and schools. But only if we accept it.

You can lament the changes that are happening today – tomorrow's history – convincing yourselves of the negatives and refusing to be a part of a constantly changing culture. Or you can shake off your technochondria and embrace and accept that the positive metamorphosis will continue to happen, as it has so many times before.”

The excerpts above are from Nick Bilton's book, I live in the future & here's how it works: why your world, work, and brains are being creatively disrupted. Crown Business, New York, 2010. Nick is lead writer and technology reporter for the New York Times Bits Blog. I highly recommend that all school leaders put it on your reading list to start out this new year and share it vociferously with your staffs and communities. For those of you with a new Kindle, it's available from

Happy new year, happy new decade!  The future has yet to be written.