Journal of Technology Education


JTE Editor: Mark Sanders

Volume 1, Number 2
Spring 1990


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Tubal Cain and All That
 
                       Peter Wilkinson(1)
 
               A new journal arrives in the mail and,
          I'm sorry to say, gets the same treatment as
          most of the others.  That is to say, I
          quickly skim read for things which might be
          useful to me, and then finding nothing, file
          it with the others.  ("Useful" at 3:30 p.m.
          on a Tuesday means something I can incorpo-
          rate into my lesson tomorrow which will help
          a kid learn better).  On this occasion I find
          myself more disappointed and irritated with
          this state of affairs than usual.  Mainly
          this is because it reinforces an impression
          gathered when I attended my first ITEA Con-
          ference in Dallas.  At that time I circulated
          madly and spoke to everyone I could pin into
          a corner, searching for ideas to bring a new
          relevancy and value to my own program and
          philosophy.  Until the third day it was vir-
          tually impossible to find a teacher, a front-
          line-trenches genuine school teacher.  Almost
          everyone was a "Teacher Educator" and almost
          all of them were advocating a similar philos-
          ophy -- get out of "projects" and into "prob-
          lem solving" and "technology," as though both
          of these were new ideas and had not been
          taught before.  "High-tech" was the new wave,
          with advanced computer hardware and software,
          CAD systems and robotics, etc. -- things gen-
          erally far beyond the budget in my school.  I
          heard comments about "turning your paint room
          into a clean room" and other strange things.
          I found it altogether very disappointing and
          somewhat frustrating.  Where were the people
          like me at this ITEA conference?  The answer
          came a day later, when real-life teachers ar-
          rived (you could tell them by the lack of
          blue pinstriped suits and the generally dif-
          ferent air about them as they strolled
          through the foyer in groups supporting one
          another -- I knew the feeling well!).
               When I met and talked to these people I
          found a very different reality.  Many were
          still in the old "unit shops," had either an
          old Apple or no computers at all, and almost
          no budget.  In short they were either worse
          off or in the same state as me.  I asked
          about the "new" technology and they all
          laughed wryly, bitterly, and sometimes loud
          and long.  The situation in most areas seems
          to be that there are a few schools in major
          centers, generally close to universities,
          where funds for "high tech" have been made
          available.  But, they themselves were still
          managing with largely the same old equipment
          and the same minimal budgets as always, be-
          cause there had simply been no injection of
          new funds to make changes and purchase new
          equipment.  However I found that the failure
          to change to the newer ideas was invariably
          presumed to be the reluctance of teachers to
          "get out of the old comfortable rut."  Some-
          how we have a reality gap, and politicians
          are being given a perfect cop-out.
               It also seems to me that we have somehow
          lost the bridge between academic research,
          philosophical theorizing and the actual real-
          ities of the practice of teaching.  Faculties
          of education used to be that bridge.  They
          took the academic research and theory and
          operationalized it; they translated the the-
          ory into simple terms.  They made it under-
          standable and useable for the practitioner.
          Today I find the jargon almost unintelligible
          even with some 11 years of university educa-
          tion.  I have no quarrel with jargon and am
          fully aware of its value both for a de-
          scription and identification, but it seems
          that unless one is actively involved with a
          university, much of the research literature
          is almost totally incomprehensible.  For most
          teachers the task of keeping totally abreast
          of current writing and research is almost im-
          possible.  Distance and workloads are just
          two of the factors involved.  Am I right in
          thinking that "education" in universities has
          now truly become just one of the other "sci-
          ences" and so no longer needs a practical end
          goal -- research is done for the sake of pure
          research?  This is obviously a legitimate
          philosophy, but someone had better form a new
          university department to do what faculties of
          education used to do -- bridge that gap.
          Thankfully there were also a few speakers at
          Dallas, the quartz-halogen highlights of
          those few days, who renewed me in my own
          search for excellence and spurred me on.  I
          thank them with all my heart.  I wish we
          could clone them.
               This all came to my mind as I read your
          instructions for the submission of articles.
          To be frank I have no access to a system us-
          ing either IBM, Macintosh or WordPerfect, I
          also can't give you anything in ASCII format.
          I have an old Apple of 10 year vintage -- and
          consider myself fortunate in that respect.
          It is in use most of the hours the school is
          open.  Your writers, I'm afraid, will all
          have to be from universities or the richer
          (and urban?) school divisions - and what that
          will do to the whole cause of technology edu-
          cation in North America I leave to your imag-
          ination.  If change is indeed necessary, and
          I believe we really can do better, the change
          will come about by field teachers being chal-
          lenged and educated and inspired to do bet-
          ter.  "Teacher educators" will have to do
          much more than write obscure journal articles
          to produce that inspiration -- however bril-
          liant the research or quality of thought.
          They have to teach on the same planet as I --
          to 32 grade eight students at 9:00 a.m. Mon-
          day morning.
               I do know why I teach what I teach.  I
          am fortunate in that we have been in a total
          multiple activity environment in Alberta
          since the 1960's.  The curricular freedom
          built into that system has produced many in-
          novative programs in this province, each
          bearing the individual stamp of the multitude
          of personalities and experiences involved.  I
          have yet to see a better system for allowing
          teachers, professionals in their own right,
          to teach what they know and to inspire learn-
          ing in their students.
               In short, I teach children, taking indi-
          viduals from where they are into new discov-
          eries about themselves and the world.  I use
          simulations and projects (so often decried in
          "scholarly" writings) and I usually find they
          work for me if I put enough effort and plan-
          ning into them.  I do hope that someone
          understands this plea - like all rural teach-
          ers I spend most of my teaching year without
          others in my specialization to "rap" with.
          It can get lonely and frustrating and I won-
          der what will happen if/when my own store of
          innovation dries up.
               I am also very afraid that the profes-
          sion once again is being "set-up" by politi-
          cians.  It could be that I am growing too
          cynical but this is exactly what happened in
          the days of "Sputnik," remember?  The reason
          given for the west being behind the USSR was
          that educators weren't doing what they should
          have been and education had to be fixed.
          Well now North America is "behind" Japan and
          WE are again expected to correct that situ-
          ation by changing what WE do -- and without
          any extra funding this time you will notice.
          The task may well be forever outside of our
          control.  Beware the revenge if we accept
          this precept, climb high on the bandwagon of
          "high tech" and yet, in the end, fail to re-
          store the forever lost advantage.
               Please find room in your journal to
          highlight some of the innovative real pro-
          grams which are out there.  We all have ac-
          cess to scholarly papers, and they certainly
          do have their crucial part to play, but I
          have yet to find a source describing new
          practical ideas actually working and the phi-
          losophies and personalities behind them.  I
          want to be able to write and interact with
          those leaders in the classroom so that we can
          all build upon a shared experience and not
          continue to work alone, hunting and pecking
          in isolation.
 
 
          EDITOR'S NOTE:  THE JTE DOES IN FACT ACCEPT
          MANUSCRIPTS THAT ARE NOT ON FLOPPY DISK (AS
          WE DID THIS ONE).  SINCE MOST PEOPLE NOW USE
          WORD PROCESSORS FOR THEIR WORK, IT MAKES
          SENSE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE "ELECTRONIC"
          VERSION OF THE MANUSCRIPT, RATHER THAN REKEY-
          ING IT.  SO FAR, THIS APPROACH IS WORKING
          VERY WELL... AND EXCEPTIONS WILL BE MADE
          WHERE NECESSARY.
               A NUMBER OF EXCELLENT SOURCES FOR NEW
          IDEAS DIRECTED TOWARD SECONDARY LEVEL CLASS-
          ROOM TEACHERS ARE LISTED AND DESCRIBED IN
          LITOWITZ'S ARTICLE, "WRITING FOR TECHNOLOGY
          EDUCATION PUBLICATIONS," PUBLISHED ELSEWHERE
          IN THIS ISSUE.  THE JTE IS ADMITTEDLY (AND
          INTENTIONALLY) DIRECTED MORE TOWARD TECHNOL-
          OGY TEACHER EDUCATORS THAN TOWARD SECONDARY
          TECHNOLOGY EDUCATORS. 
 
 
 
          ----------------
          1   Peter Wilkinson is Instructor, Department of 
              Industrial Education, Olds Junior/Senior High 
              School, Alberta, Canada.
 
          Permission is given to copy any
          article or graphic provided credit is given and
          the copies are not intended for sale.
 
Journal of Technology Education   Volume 1, Number 2       Spring 1990

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