Legend has it that within five days of the telegraph being invented the Pony Express was out of business. Now I don't know if it took five days or not, but there is no question this invention brought about the demise of the Express. I suppose it is a good thing that famous riders like William Cody (Buffalo Bill) didn't count on delivering mail messages via horseback as a career. Indeed, the telegraph too was quickly cast aside as even greater advances in communication technology made this obsolete. It would be pretty absurd to communicate using a telegraph today (let alone a rider on horseback) when you can fire of an email or text message to anyone around the world in seconds!
How about the electric light bulb? It may not have been so much about the light bulb as it was the infrastructure that ended up becoming the modern electrical grid. After all, thanks to oil tycoon John Rockefeller, it wasn't all that expensive to light a home using kerosene lanterns. As the light bulb became more and more popular, Rockefeller tried awful hard to squash the invention and maintain his dominance on home lighting. He thought that it would most certainly spell doom for a business that relied in large part on supplying kerosene for lamps [which of course it did]. Luckily he soon found a niche refining gasoline for Henry Ford's new invention. Had he not had the entrepreneurial spirit, who knows what may have happened. I wonder what would have happened to John Rockefeller had he not realized the world was changing around him and there was no need for kerosene lamps in homes. What if he lived his life in the past and refused to believe that electricity was going to be such a big deal?
The other day I saw a great tweet that encapsulates this idea and brings us to the point where we are in our school district. It goes like this: "Stop talking about how things USED to be and START talking about how things WILL be." We are just a couple of short weeks away from a major instructional transformation in our school district. When folks ask me about why we are going 1 to 1 my answer is simple. I hold a pencil in my hand and say something like, "Because this is obsolete". The telegraph is to the Pony Express as the pencil is to the computer. That is the simple answer, but of course it is much more than that! In my daily work life, I rely on the use of 21st Century tools to do my job. Rarely do I use something so antiquated as a pencil, a textbook, a dictionary--and I can not even think of the last time that I actually used an encyclopedia. I am convinced that sometime during my career we are going to see the demise of traditional print textbook companies. Why on earth would we ask our students to interface using learning modes that they will never use once they leave our institution?
On January 7th we are going to flip the classroom and make what I believe is the most significant instructional change for this generation of students. The reality is that I do believe we are on the precipice of the greatest transformation in the American education system since the one room school house was the preferred method of delivering 'schooling' out on the prairie. The facts are that there are many things that have changed since you and I attended public school. It just isn't the same as it was when we attended. We can say things like, "Well, when I was in school we did it this way." But if we choose to spend our time talking about how thing used to be, we may end up like the Pony Express.