Blog Post

An insane practice

Pre-school children are on iPhones and iPads and probably would figure texting on their own.

So they come to school and put a pencil in their hands.  ?

That IS insane.


Think about the way we learned to speak and listen.  Word by word and we spoke because we wanted to and join others.  If you take away the pencil, children can learn to read and write the way they learned to speak and listen.  Teach them the keyboard and then words.  Let them send email to a child in Nepal.  They will learn to read and write while you are teaching them about Nepal.  And for homework they have to find Nepal on Google earth and the countries near it.


In the 19th Century arithmetic was the doorway to higher math.  Now we do not need this antique lower math.

We teach mathematics on a spreadsheet and calculation separately with an emphasis on estimation.

Students are evaluated on what they have accomplished, not some score on a test.


That is my model for the 21st Century and I expect to start shortly in Africa and Asia

You could even have a program called Handwriting Arts.





All of the things you suggest seem great and would work well in a system that wasn't completely mired in number crunching, assessment and the bottom line. We recently escaped No Child Left Behind here in NY, so maybe there is a glimmer of hope that this type of creative and progressive pedagogy will find room in the curricula.


The system cannot just be changed, it must be replaced.  We have to stop teaching the "readin, writin, and rithmetic of the 19th Century and move to the word processor, spreadsheet, and web search of the 21st.  There is too much dedication and money devoted to the status quo in the US.  Emerging countries are ready to start anew.


There is no doubt we are seeing a change in the learning tools available to education. We are also seeing a change in access to learning and who holds the keys to knowledge. Understanding is another matter. I can find a great deal of "information" these days but what about accuracy, validity, relevance and balance?

We need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water (not literally you understand - there is that accuracy issue!). We also need to be careful not to start finding justification for what we have in order to sustain and maintain it. For example, learning to use a pencil to write with is more than just learning to write it is hand eye co-ordination, muscle training, developing an aesthetic understanding and much much more.. 

I am reminded of the Sabre Tooth Tiger curriculum (perhaps a little earlier than the 1st century!)  If you are not familier with this little tale which explains in a rather humerous way why the curriculum should not and can not change. Start your research now. I am not going to provide you with a link for that would not assist in developing the new skills we need for the 21stC would it! I will give you a tittle and name and you can find it for yourself. Beware though there are a number of versions, some more accurate and better told than others. The value of what you discover may be influenced by how long and how wide you search and the ability you have to draw comparisons and balance your findings! Welcome to the 21stC.

Sabre Tooth Curriculum

J Abner Peddiwell  (AKA Harold H Benjamin)


Director at Advocating Creativity in Education (







Kevin made some interesting points. 

Electronic information is available in ever increasing amounts and how do we know what is accurate?

Paper and pencil information is available in ever decreasing amounts and how do we know what is accurate?

Just because it is written does not make it accurate.  Back in the 20th Century we had a saying, "Do not believe everything you read"  As an academician and researcher it was common knowledge that you do not submit articles supporting a particular position to certain journals.  These were respected peer reviewed journals, but they had a bias.  What is truth?

We may stop teaching how to use fire to scare sabre tooth tigers, but we so not stop teaching about fire.  So let it be with a pencil.  It is a good tool for graphic arts and the soon to be established handwriting arts.  As far as eye-hand coordination and muscle training, a video game and the gym are more effective and enjoyable than using a pencil.



I have to speak for the pencil lovers. I learned things from and with pencils that made me who I am today. I watch young children learn to manipulate pencils (and crayons and chalk and markers, etc.) as they find forms of expression that are intensely personal. I argue learning to create with pencils builds a sense of personal identity. This sense of personhood is directly connected to the body; pencils are messy; pencils leave traces on the body in discrete and private ways. I recall that bump on my third finger and wondering how it got there. . . I have pen marks on my hand at the end of the day and reflect at the end of the day, in wonder, how it got there. . . 

I do believe in the handwriting arts. There is something in the learning of writing print and script that helps the brain comprehend letters as visible technologies so that these can then evolve into invisible technologies. 

& finally, I cannot agree video games and sports are more enjoyable over pencils or more effective for learning eye-hand coordination and building muscles. It depends on the individual.



A written note indicates a caring person who does not simply send an ecard.  Caligraphy and illuminated script are works of art.  Graphic art can be done by hand in a way that is more unique than Photoshop.  I do not want to eliminate pencils, but I want to put them in their place.  And their place is not as the tool to teach writing.  The keyboard is far superor.


From where I sit, the keyboard is only superior if people know how to use it well  for specific tasks in some languages. The more amazing disconnect to me is this - many of the kids you refer to will be using touch-based iPods, DSs, tablets and so on at home, and yet we put them infront of a keyboard in class. The keyboards my kids use are still in the same layout that was developed contemporaneously with the 'readin, ritin' ' type of currciulum. It's for industrial use with an analogue machine that had metal arms that crashed into each other. And many 8 year olds are typing with two fingers, they are not learning how to actually use a keyboard properly. To my mind, that is not superior to a pencil - it's slower, more ponderous and more prone to making mistakes. For some, it actually adds a barrier to learning. 

So, my question is - why are we still using keyboards at all in school? Is it because they are cheap and that's what the adults teaching the kids know how to use? That's not good pedadgogy.

It's time we had a good, cheap and widespread technology to translate what is a very efficient and - for the majority of kids in the world - natural process of hand writing and drawing directly into device-understandable code.  My dream is to not have to use the horrible QWERTY + mouse to control my machine, ever. I want to use the same ways I communicate with people to communicate with my machine - voice and hand-held object (at least until I can do it with my mind alone).  


I agree, keyboards are only as good as the person using it.  So from pre-k on we should make sure students know how to use a keyboard effectivelly.  At the same time teach a child to use a pencil and let the child pick the one that works best.

I am not ruling out touch screen.  But it serves a different purpose.  I prefer a keypad responses to a mouse and maybe 100 years from now I would be called learning disabled.  But if a student is fine with touch keypad, great!  But do not forget the keyboard child.

And yes, we should teach the Dvorek keyboard and have small utility programs that can remap the keyboard.

Voice input is a great time saver and I think it is a tool for the right person.  Unfortunately that is not me.  I prefer to compose on a keyboard.  Voice input is good for a first draft, but it seems awkward to edit and revise.