Avoiding the Revolution?

When did the stone age flintknappers actually realize that their skills had become obsolete?  Do you think they looked around at the folks who were working on making a hotter fire, shake their heads and say, “We have to emphasize stone flaking and drawing pictures of our hunts on the walls of caves. This playing with fire will only get us burnt–glowing coals, UGH!”?  And did they think: “All of our young men and women must show proficiency in the ways of following the paths of the animals and the seasons of the good plants!”  “If we don’t manage to teach our youth how to better do these things, we will continue to see a decline in the herds!”? “Everyone must join us in this race to the edge of the cliff!”  How long did these people fool themselves until somebody realized that using tools that broke easily and took days to make did not make sense any more?  That controlling the animals and helping the plants grow in the same place each year made things easier? Obviously the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age happened, but somewhere in the interim there were groups of people that did not make the transition and suffered in the competition with their neighbors.  I think we are at that point now.  So much of what we have our students do in school is obsolete.  Why do we continue to insist our students spend hours learning and practicing skills that new technologies have made obsolete?  School is not about just learning information any more.  It is about using information, collaborating to solve problems, and experimenting to create new understanding.  The tools we have today in our pockets make much of what we have done in the past century, well, things of the past.  If our students can do our assignments and pass our tests with out so much as doing any more than  “Googling” the answers, we are not preparing them for the world in which they live.  We need to embrace the social tools of today, give up the stage, and embrace the new role that teachers must fill today.  Every revolution in history eventually favored those who embraced change.  It is time to move on, throw away our need to hold on to what we know, and work toward creating the next generation of education.

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Photo courtesy of the Hull City Council’s photostream on Flickr

9 comments for “Avoiding the Revolution?

  1. Ross Mannell
    October 16, 2011 at 12:25 am

    Well said!

    Change comes whether we want it or not. Schools need to embrace change or lose relevance. Such change doesn’t necessarily mean throwing out everything from the past but it does mean being open to new ways. Embrace the bronze. :)

  2. Ross Mannell
    October 16, 2011 at 12:28 am

    A relevant post on the quest to change


    The one year old easily flips a page in the iPad but finds a magazine doesn’t work when she taps a page.

  3. October 16, 2011 at 1:03 am


    Thanks for the comment. You are right change will happen, but the late adopters will be at a distinct disadvantage. Change in established institutions, like public schools, happens at such a slow rate that I fear they will become irrelevant before they realize change has to happen. Like your example illustrates, today’s students have already adopted new tools and have an insatiable desire to connect. Public education needs to wake up before it is too late.

  4. Jess
    October 16, 2011 at 2:54 am

    What you are comparing here is actually untrue. Those who were hunter gatherers only spent about 20 hours a week doing those things and farming takes up considerably more time in plowing fields, ammending soil, planting seeds, weeding, harvesting, etc. The way of iron tools may have been a technological advance, but it wasn’t all rainbows and flowers. It put strains on individuals in other ways and meant that people were more at the mercy of drought and the prices set for food by others instead of able to forrage and hunt on their own. Technology is great but large natural disasters and other world changing events mean that those who only know a more modern way will be disadvantaged.

    • October 16, 2011 at 3:06 am


      Natural disasters and “other events” did not affect the hunter/gatherer culture as well? Where in the pre-historical record did you find “hunter gatherers only spent about 20 hours a week..” doing their thing? So, not knowing the modern ways is an advantage when encountering natural disasters and other world changing events? I love the the push back, really I do, but I am not following your argument. If technological advancement is not advantageous, why did (do) cultures change when new tools fundamentally change work and information acquisition? This should be interesting…..

  5. Jess
    October 17, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Natural disasters and “other events” did not affect the hunter/gatherer culture as well?
    -Natural disasters of course affected hunter/gatherers, but they were also more mobile and able to relocate and find food in a new place, they weren’t dependant on the same kind of harvest cycle or the crops they planted. My point is that, when technology fails what are people who find the majority of their information and are highly dependant on this way of doing things going to do? After the hurricanes in the north east this year, the internet was down for a week in areas. If you lived in that area you were without access to many things you have become dependant on. Previous storms have wiped out roads and meant that it took a long time for electricity, the internet, phones, etc. to function again.

    Where in the pre-historical record did you find “hunter gatherers only spent about 20 hours a week..” doing their thing?
    - I read the information about them “doing their thing” in Why the West Rules—for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future, by Ian Morris. This isn’t all prehistory, hunter/gatherer societies, of course, continue to this day.

    So, not knowing the modern ways is an advantage when encountering natural disasters and other world changing events?
    My point wasn’t that “not knowing the modern ways is an advantage when encountering natural disasters and other world changing events” I didn’t say that. I love technology; I use it almost constantly everyday. I also didn’t say that we shouldn’t embrace changes, but was that when many people embrace change, they also leave older skills behind. When we leave older skills behind, it often means that those who came after the change only know the new way and thus valuable skills are lost. We can become informed about how to deal with these disasters and events via technology, but if one is happening there is a chance that the technology won’t be available at the time. We’ve seen how the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia caused the internet to be shut down.

    My point is that, when technology fails can people who have grown up during this era where it is so prevalent cope? Are we giving them all the skills necessary or only considering what is new to us? Is it better to know facts and be able to complete tasks or to need to look them up? A recent study highlighted by the New York Times showed that people who knew they could look the information up later were less likely to remember it.

    If technological advancement is not advantageous, why did (do) cultures change when new tools fundamentally change work and information acquisition?
    -Once again, I didn’t say that technological advancement was not advantageous, I was pointing out that the premise of your comparison didn’t create a full extended metaphor that encompassed both situations. I would also argue that cultures don’t change, the way the cultures do work and share information has changed and that changes aren’t always as beneficial as people would believe. (Thus the illustration that spoke of the “work week” of a hunter/gatherer vs. the time and effort of farmers and laborers that came after them).

    In general my point was to examine carefully the changes we are making and be sure that what we are doing won’t mean that later we’ve put individuals at a disadvantage, that they have well rounded skills and the ability to do things in a variety of ways, not just the latest way.

    I’m also curious as to why you felt the need to say “This should be interesting …..” because to me it implied that you thought the exact opposite and that you felt my contribution was not very interesting at all.

    • October 17, 2011 at 9:20 pm


      I did not mean to devalue your contribution. When I don’t understand things, I ask questions. I am really looking forward to an interesting discussion. Sometimes the tone of an Internet discussion can take on a life of its own because the non verbal gestures are not part of the dialogue. I apologize for the tone of my reply if it did not seem respectful. I want to learn from my participation in these virtual spaces and the fact that you have called to question my argument will force me to defend it, change it , or abandon it. To be continued….. I have more questions.

  6. October 20, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I stumbled across this blog while prepping for my junior high / high school anthropology class, looking for examples of cultures that don’t embrace change While I have no problem with what you are saying about education, I think the metaphor you picked can be challenged on a variety of grounds.
    One, The idea that humans “progressed” from hunter-gathering to agriculture, ergo agriculturalists are ahead of or superior to them, is pretty 19th century. Two, we are surrounded by examples of technological advances whose value is very dubious (toxic landfills? dirty bombs?). Third, Jared Diamond has persuasively supported the theory that hunter gatherers worked less hard than farmers with evidence of more disease, poorer nutrition, and more back breaking work.
    Day before yesterday I had my students role play being a band on the cusp of the neolithic revolution debating the exact question you describe: should we give up hunting gathering and start farming? They decided No – let’s try to use what we are learning about growing plants while not giving up hunting and gathering. (And none of them, while pretending to be prehistoric, said UGH.)

    • October 21, 2011 at 12:39 am


      Thanks for the reply! I guess that the fact that change (historically) was inevitable does not make all change positive. I suppose some of our ancestors found more satisfaction in being a part of the production of food as opposed to simply harvesting what naturally occurred as food sources for prehistoric man? I think the evidence is pretty irrefutable that agriculture lead to better nutrition and longer lives. The practices adopted in those times certainly allowed for population growth and the eventual economic specialization that followed. It is certainly debatable as to whether life improved or not, but one way of living certainly became dominant, for better or worse. I still think my analogy works. Even if the Internet and social media have not made things simpler they are becoming dominant ways of communication and sharing work. Even though many long for a simpler times and argue that “new” tools do nothing to add to the quality of life, I believe we need to be able to adapt to the use of these to stay relevant in the fast changing world in which we live.

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