The Roots of Education 21 -- 1990

Initial Paper on Education in 21st Century   1990

A major goal of the 20th century has been the automation and streamlining the 19th Century. The major goal of Education in the 20th Century seems to have been the preservation of 19th Century obsolescence. The traditional "3 R's" of Education need to be modified and a new set of Educational Basics developed if our children are to become effective workers in the 21st Century. A related theme of the paper is the growing need to take individual differences into consideration whether these be based on physical disabilities, learning disabilities, or learning styles.  Technology has made it possible to reach the goal of universal inclusion

The Growth of Technology

It could be argued that the overriding goal of Technology in the 20th Century was the perfection and automation of the 19th Century. During these past 100 years we have seen a growth from the quill pen to desk top publishing; from laborious hand calculations to calculators and spreadsheets; from hand drawing to CAD; from library card catalogs to World Wide Web. At the same time, the underlying philosophy of Education was the preservation of the 19th Century. Educators have stressed the importance of penmanship, arithmetic tables, rote memory, and grammar above discovery and communication. Children given closed book tests, with arbitrary time limits, where the test taker does not have access to calculators and spell checkers? The skills embodied in those may tests may have been appropriate for the 19th Century workplace, but do not reflect the skills and tools essential for the 21st Century. Children still need to learn the basics, but the basics have changed.


The complaint that students do not how to write is echoed from the Halls of the Third Grade and the Halls of Ivy. Pre School children want to "write letters", explain things, and tell stories.

And then we start to educate them. Consider First Grade child being taught to write. He or she must complete 2 or 3 pages of filled with the letter "A" and is criticized for sloppiness. As punishment children are forced to write repetitive statements. And then a teacher exclaims, "I do not understand why children do not like to write!" The value of penmanship started to decline with the advent of the typewriter and has dropped precipitously with the pervasive word processor. Spelling and grammar details can be automated and editing is simplified with a word processor so that the student can concentrate on communication. I am proposing that a child learn to write first on a computer and handwriting taught later when the child has better fine-motor control. From a practical perspective, keyboarding skills are much more important in the workplace than handwriting.


The poor performance in Science and Math has been a growing concern in Education along with a National fear that we will not be able to maintain our technological leadership and innovation. It may be a 19th Century educational philosophy that is at fault. I suggest that children are having more and more problems with science and math, because scientists and mathematicians are using tools that are denied the students. We expect students to understand concepts with paper and pencil that mathematicians and scientists used a computer to discover. An examination of what we call mathematics disability indicates it can be traced to an abiding problem in one branch of Mathematics -- Arithmetic. Children who cannot master their tables, multiplication, long division, etc. are held back from advanced mathematics. Given the widespread use of calculators in the workplace, an insistence on rote calculations is not a realistic preparation for the workplace. I would like to suggest a program based a three-pronged approach to the teaching of mathematics: Intensive experience with approximations, extensive use of electronic calculators and computers, and the availability of mathematical tables for those who wish to use them. In the case of uneven development in these three areas, the child will be allowed to progress differentially so that difficulty in one prong does not interfere with growth in the other prongs.

Retrieval of Information

Retrieval of Information is the new R in Education for those who must survive in the 21st Century. The ability to locate and retrieve information is an essential skill. In the 19th Century, the goal was to cram as much as possible into memory. In the 21st Century, one goal is to cram as much data as possible into computer memory and still be able to find it. Now, instead of memorizing trivia, a person has more time to convert the data to information and find creative uses for that information. The conclusion of this section is direct and to the point.

Students should be taught to use the tools they will need in the workplace. Students should not be tested! A test is a measure of what a student does not know. (Consider what would be said about a test where no one made an error.) Students should be given projects to complete and training on how to use those tools. Then evaluate the project and not how the student used the tools.

My conception of the basics: Children who have mastered Elementary Education (Fifth Grade) will be able to ftp weather satellite image files to incorporate into a desk top published report with statistical analysis on the World Wide Web comparing weather forecasts, actual weather, and satellite photos.