“We didn’t have [x] when I was a kid and I turned out okay”


Here’s a statement that I’m getting really tired of hearing:

“We didn’t have computers when I was in school and I turned out okay. There’s no reason why kids today need ’em.”

I’m sure that this argument was offered in the past as well:

“Buses? We walked to school barefoot, in the snow, uphill both ways!”

“I don’t want to pay for indoor plumbing for the school. We didn’t have it when I was a student and I turned out alright.”

“Electricity? Pshaw! Do you know how dangerous those wires are? When we were kids we had oil lamps and candles and everything was fine.”

“Back in our day we didn’t need that newfangled writing and alphabet stuff. We actually used our brains and memorized things.”

“Agriculture? Hah! It’s the ruin of society! Kids are just sitting around getting soft while they watch the crops grow. When I was a child we actually had to run after our food. We were tough, not like these kids today.”

And so on…

At some point we have to label this what it is: ridiculous. When we actually acknowledge and support this misbegotten, history-blind nostalgia, all it does is delay our much-needed recognition that the world is constantly changing and that we need to adapt in thoughtful but necessary ways. Change be can scary, but there’s a huge difference between intelligent, reflective criticism and mindless, reactionary dismissal.

Remember all of the hubbub a few years back when everyone above the age of 30 was absolutely convinced that Facebook was PURE EVIL? Then they started using it themselves and realized that it was just another (albeit different) way to communicate. The furor died down and we started having interesting conversations about when and how Facebook might be a useful learning tool. How many of those Facebook-is-pure-evil folks reflected on that process and resolved to think about the next new technology differently? How many of them apologized to the young people in their lives for their knee-jerk comments a few years back? Very few, if any.

Is it wrong of me to wish that people who espouse this view be prohibited from holding political office or serving on school boards?

[cross-posted at Education Recoded]

27 Responses to ““We didn’t have [x] when I was a kid and I turned out okay””

  1. My response is always along these lines:

    “You turned out OK? Wait a second…

    “The world is badly overpopulated. Poverty and slums are rampant. People are dying in the streets. Wars rage around the planet. Natural resources have been depleted, there are few fish in the ocean, the forests are being destroyed. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. OK…?

    “Don’t you think that maybe things could be better? That people could have the means to make for themselves a safe and sustainable world where people don’t starve and wars don’t rage? Don’t you think that maybe what you are calling ‘good enough’ simply doesn’t work for the 21st century?

    “The fact is, we need to do so much better. Our students today need to know a lot more than just the basics. They need to be literate, they need mathematical and financial acumen, they need to understand logic and computation, they need to comprehend science and engineering. They need these things, not just to do their jobs, but to be responsible citizens, to vote responsibility, to participate in their communities.

    “You didn’t have computers in schools when you were a kid and look how the world turned out. We don’t get to make those mistakes a second time. We need to get it right, now. That’s why we need computers in schools.”

  2. Awesome. This happens with every generational gap! Gotta keep up with the times, eh?


  3. “Is it wrong of me to wish that people who espouse this view be prohibited from holding political office or serving on school boards?”

    Can I get a link to statements from elected office-holders or candidates for elected office espousing this view?

  4. It works in the opposite way unfortunately.

    Well I had meaningless homework when I was a kid so you should too.

    My fellow students and I competed for grades and so should you.

    Why should you have a choice in what you learn?

    This is the inertia we fight against as we want to change things, it’s so bad, it’s not even justified by logic just tradition.

  5. So true. Reminds me of something I read on a birthday card once. “You kids and your fancy ‘fire.’ We ate our mastodon raw and LIKED it!”

  6. I very much agree that this can be a weight that drags down progress, and the thoughts you have stirred, Scott, should help us understand our direction as educators. The one thing on which I may have a different perspective is the last item. I do NOT believe it would be effective to prevent those that believe this way from serving on the school board. I think it is essential that they do. Like all conversations, those that have varied opinions create the purpose for the thought. If we all agreed, then “OK” would be all we would need to say. Instead, we need those people at the table expressing their hesitations – because those hesitations are in your community whether openly communicated or not. Also, those are the people that talk with those with like beliefs. Helping the board member to understand the direction and the worth and addressing the concerns he/she may have is actually educating a good deal of the population on why this is a changing landscape that needs changing approaches to maneuver through it. Now, 100% of a board with this perspecive will clearly be a different hill to climb.

  7. Ok, I no more than pressed enter when I read another article from my google reader. Using my typical “gotta do this” mentality, here’s an idea that parallels this discussion. Parents concerned with vaccinations for chicken pox are wanting to expose their children to the disease in order to build up the immune system to it. Since this is a much more difficult disease later in life, that makes sense – as a matter of fact, I have done it before the vaccines were available. Going the distance of “that’s what we did and turned out fine” in this case actually involves technology, however. Parents are being warned that purchasing infected items for their children via Facebook in order to create this exposure is not a legal activity. Evidently suckers, spit, and Q-tips are being distributed to help spread the chicken pox virus to the willing. Now that is going old school (and it ain’t always pretty). You may be interested in reading the whole thing at:

  8. I’ve been hearing this for the past 15-20 years. What’s interesting is that it changes shape every few years to reflect whatever newest technology is being introduced:

    *1990 – We don’t need computers in school, books work just fine
    *1995 – We don’t need the internet in school, the computers work just fine
    *2000 – We don’t need high speed in school, internet over the phone line works just fine
    2005 – We don’t need laptops, we have a computer lab
    2009 – We don’t need wireless, the high speed cable works just fine
    2011 – We don’t need tablets, the laptops work just fine

  9. I think you have gone a bit too far with your generalities – “Remember all of the hubbub a few years back when everyone above the age of 30 was absolutely convinced that Facebook was PURE EVIL?” A good percentage of people over 30, 40, 50, 60, etc. have been embracing technological advances for many years, both at work and at home. I don’t believe even a majority of people over 30 believed that Facebook was pure evil. Do you have any research to back up your claim?

    • Sorry. I meant ‘everyone’ in the rhetorical sense, not the literal sense. My apologies if that wasn’t clear. Given all the sturm und drang, it sure seemed like it was almost everyone! 🙂

      • Thank you for your apology. I think some folks involved in the push for change in education do not spend enough time with people who have worked in the private sector for many years. In order to remain competitive, businesses have been implementing technology as quickly as it becomes available. A large percentage of workers are currently doing jobs that did not exist just a few years ago. Others doing jobs that have been around for a long time are using technology to increase productivity and reduce cost. Most of these people wonder why schools have not made similar transformations.

  10. Wonderful piece. I heartily agree, I once saw a great quote about somebody harummphing the introduction of books in school, after all a slate and piece of chalk would do just fine…
    On a more serious note I often get upset at people who complain about having to adapt teaching methods to try and keep students in school. They seem to have a nostalgic view of a time when students sat up straight and (fill in many blanks here). I get upset because I think of my father who dropped out of high school because I think no one made an effort to keep him in school. I think the attitude towards computers is the same attitude that helps perpetuate dropout rates as well. Maybe a simplistic view, but I often see the two as linked.

    • I think it stems from a fundamental lack of understanding of the difference between ‘entertainment’ and ‘engagement.’ I had a teacher say to me, “What do I have to do? Sing and dance?” She missed the point. Most students will work HARD if given a chance at meaningful, engaging work. Absent that, they’ll take entertainment over boring any day (me too!).

      • So true, been there, done that. Let me just say I struggle everyday to try and reach that ideal. I have failed more often than not, but I think I am starting to get it.
        I finally realized it had to do with the concept of ‘teaching the way I was taught.’ Just fyi your ideas (and those of others) have helped push me. Thanks.

  11. Here’s a little riff on this, Scott:


    Have a great week!


  12. I have this same conversation with my wife all the time, who turned out okay. Her argument is always that if good colleges are looking for good test scores, and if students need to get into a good college to be successful (of course there are exceptions), then they need to do what is required to get good test scores… just like she did and the many others who end up at good colleges… not to mention those who get into the top colleges. This translates to a desire for lots of homework, lots of studying and lots of recall-based tests, just like she had and just like her friends had and just like her parents had… who are all successful today.

    This mindset is hard to debate when the worldview is still stuck in the system of 10+ years ago…

  13. And yet many of those same college grads are finding that they’re increasingly noncompetitive in the hyperconnected global economy because they’re primarily fact regurgitators who don’t have the higher-order thinking skills and productive technology fluencies that would justify paying them a Western wage instead of a worker from overseas who has the same skills but works for a lot less…

  14. Perhaps it depends on the field that those grads go into? How much reliable data do we really have that supports a compelling argument that any negative impacts on employability in the US are directly related to computers in schools? Is non competitiveness and employability related more to our nation’s political/economic/educational/policy woes?

    Is it that non-Western grads actually have better skills, or that they can work for a lot less in other countries?

    • It’s not that they have better skills in other countries. They may have the same skills as us but that they’re cheaper. So we’re adding 2 billion new people to the global economy, many of whom can do what we do. So unless we’re lucky enough to be in a location-dependent job, we either skill up to something worth paying a Western wage for or we get used to working at other countries’ standard of living:


      • This not mostly about education — it’s about economics. We have a demand shortage (or a labor surplus, depending on your point of view) created in part BY technology. A couple of MIT profs have been getting press for an E-book they just put out on the subject, but the idea is hardly new.

  15. No argument there. But in some disciplines, it’s less about what we offer and more about the savings that can be found elsewhere. Take medicine for example. If one can travel abroad and get speedy, quality medical procedures done, often with lovely accommodations, and save literally thousands of dollars, how does Facebook or any other tool help with such scenarios?

    Don’t get me wrong – I do support your initial idea here in this post. I just struggle with the the theoretical nature of it that is yet to be realized. My wife and many others like her struggle that much more with it due to the success they have found while coming out of traditional school models. So I really do get your plea to have people in our decision-making bodies who understand the potential of TODAY to prepare students for tomorrow.

    That being said, institutions like our local Rochester Institute of Technology are living what you are talking about here. We indeed need more places of learning, even at the K-12 level, to realize that meaningful, powerful and relevant learning is possible even while learning “basic skills”.

    Our students shouldn’t have to wait to make their learning relevant in today’s digital and globally connected climate. Poets and authors can be published at any grade. Young designers have a host of new tools to apply their skills in meaningful ways. Students can create, share, connect, discuss, debate, explore, communicate,… like never before. So, they should. It isn’t the future… it’s the present. I know you and many have hit this notion over the proverbial head many times.

    And my question to my wife and others remains,… if these things are a common reality today, why force the type of learning that made you successful on children today? I think largely the answer is that they are unaware of what is possible today and of the challenges that face our students tomorrow. They are also inundated with negative media messages of technology’s impact on today’s youth.

    Perhaps it’s their nostalgic desire for simpler, better times… the good old days. (that weren’t so good for many)

  16. I came face to face with this attitude in my 5th grade classroom in the mid-1990’s from a parent at conference time. I was stunned to discover he was a surgeon, so I asked him how much technology he permitted in his OR suggesting his attitude suggested it couldn’t be anything more advanced than when he was in his residency. His face went pale and said they always use the latest gear because it’s better at saving lives. I told him to give me the same latitude when educating his child. He became an ed tech advocate after that.

  17. Hi! My name is Amelia Bumpers and I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I love this post! People may have been OK walking to school instead of riding the buses years ago, but think about how dangerous it would be for kids to walk to school now. Oil lamps and candles may have been fine, but now that these people actually got electricity, they don’t know what they would do without it. I think we all need to be more open-minded to change and try it out. It may or may not work, but it’s worth a shot, right?

  18. William (Davy Crocket) Douglas Reply July 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    This is the age of information we live in. It can be sad, but this is how we progress. It’s already been decided at some point that we’d move on with computers as our backbone in society. Relying on computers has made the later generations a little spoiled, but also progresses society much faster without them.

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