Enough With the Silly Pencil Argument!

pencil.jpgOkay, I understand the basic premise of the pencil argument (and here). But, come on now… this is far from an equal analogy! Here is what Doug Johnson had to say about the potential risks that pencils bring into the classroom in the February 2006 issue of Learning & Leading with Technology. It was referenced in Wesley Freyer’s latest post over on his Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog.:

1. A student might use a pencil to poke out the eye of another student.
2. A student might write a dirty word or, worse yet, a threatening note to another student, with a pencil.
3. One student might have a mechanical pencil, making those with wooden ones feel bad.
4. The pencil might get stolen.
5. Pencils break and need repairing all the time.
6. Kids who have pencils might doodle instead of working on their assignments or listening to the teacher.

Now, again, I understand the rationale behind this argument, but let’s compare:

1. Only psychopathic students would gouge out another’s eye… with anything. However, teachers have been known to be violent pencil wielders. Imagine what they could be capable of with an iPod in their hands!

2. A written insult or profanity is seen only by the one who holds the written note. We all fully understand the far-reaching implications of digital bullying!

3. One simply cannot compare pencil-envy with things of high value that create classes of students and do create envy (high-fashion clothing, shoes, and yes… electronics!)

4. In fact, pencils do get stolen all the time. I have rarely seen a student fall to pieces over it. However, if it were a $250 pencil, I could see why that could happen.

5. Pencils break. So you sharpen them again. The “repair” is done in seconds. Electronics break and are repaired with greater cost, time, and learning interruption/disruption.

6. I would much rather have a student doodle with his or her pencil than be consumed with the vast array of on-line distraction. And, most other classmates don’t usually get distracted by one student’s doodling. Not so with a laptop or other electronic device.

So, if we are to present a compelling rationale for issues surrounding freedom to learn and teaching/learning innovation, we at least need to bring valid and sound arguments to the table. To do otherwise only serves to make light of real and pressing concerns of many stakeholders. If a pencil is the equivalent of any other learning device, then I say, let’s stick with the pencils. They are cheaper, easily replaceable, quite reliable, disposable, efficient, highly portable, facilitate collaboration and sharing of information, they have excellent battery life – heck, they don’t even have lead in them anymore, making them environmentally friendly to boot!

But, if there is a significant difference here (and I would agree that there is), then we had better not be making such silly comparisons. Folks might just want to settle for the pencil, then.

Note:
Freyer’s blog post is otherwise right on the mark.

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4 Comments on “Enough With the Silly Pencil Argument!”


  1. What did the pencil replace? I remember reading as a kid that some famous figure of Colonial times made his own pencils for school. I believe there were “blab schools” before the pencil, in which memory and recitation were emphasized. Maybe there was also chalk and slate, but did all kids have them, or was it just the teacher. We don’t look at the pencil as a revolutionary innovation, but try making your own. Did the kind of uproar that greets computers in the classroom also greet pencils? Maybe it did. It would be interesting to know.

  2. Stephen Ransom Says:

    Here are some interesting resources:
    http://tinyurl.com/2wqvrl
    http://tinyurl.com/2l7xyc

  3. Jennifer Says:

    I actually used to work at L&L, and Doug’s column was meant to be poke fun at some of the silly arguments against the use of technology in education.

    I’m working on a compilation of the best L&L articles from the past 5 years, and I would love you and your readers to visit my blog and nominate your favorites. Doug’s column is one of my favorites because it generated a lot of reader feedback and blog posts–even two years later.

    http://bestofll.blogspot.com

  4. Stephen Ransom Says:

    @Jennifer, it sure does poke fun. All I am saying is that the comparisons between banning technological devices and banning pencils is not logical. It does appeal to one’s emotions on the issue, but I don’t think it does the issue justice due to the faulty logic.


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