Ballpoint pens…the ruin of education in our country

After writ­ing my last post, I recalled an excerpt from a book that I had recently read.  I dug through the book today and located the sec­tion that I had pre­vi­ously found so humor­ous. (I need all the humor I can get this week since I’m not in beau­ti­ful San Diego attend­ing ISTE with friends and col­leagues!)  The fol­low­ing list can be found in Rethink­ing Edu­ca­tion in the Age of Tech­nol­ogy by Collins and Halver­son (pg. 30).  Their list high­lights the many exam­ples of how edu­ca­tion has been very resis­tant to change.

  • From a principal’s pub­li­ca­tion in 1815: “Stu­dents today depend on paper too much.  They don’t know how to write on a slate with­out get­ting chalk dust all over them­selves.  They can’t clean a slate prop­erly. What will they do when they run out of paper?”
  • From the jour­nal of the National Asso­ci­a­tion of Teach­ers, 1907: “Stu­dents today depend too much upon ink.  They don’t know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pen­cil.  Pen and ink will never replace the pencil.”
  • From Rural Amer­i­can Teacher, 1928: “Stu­dents today depend upon store bought ink.  They don’t know how to make their own.  When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words or ciphers until their next trip to the set­tle­ment.  This is a sad com­men­tary on mod­ern education.”
  • From Fed­eral Teach­ers, 1950: “Ball­point pens will be the ruin of edu­ca­tion in our coun­try.  Stu­dents use these devices and then throw them away.  The Amer­i­can val­ues of thrift and fru­gal­ity are being dis­carded.  Busi­nesses and banks will never allow such expen­sive luxuries.”
  • From a sci­ence fair judge in Apple Class­room of Tomor­row chron­i­cles, 1988: “Com­put­ers give stu­dents an unfair advan­tage.  There­fore, stu­dents who used com­put­ers to ana­lyze data or cre­ate dis­plays will be elim­i­nated from the sci­ence fair.”

Photo credit: San­dor on Flickr

I read this list and won­der how future edu­ca­tors will view our resis­tance to change.  How will they view our adher­ence to seat time rather than com­pe­tency based instruc­tion? How will they view our rigid school sched­ule?  How will they view our assess­ment sys­tem that uses let­ter grades?  This list could go on and on, but it becomes evi­dent quickly when reflect­ing on our sys­tem that we do many things that don’t make much sense other than to stay in line with the cur­rent system.



Nick Sauers


  1. Carl says:

    When in ele­men­tary, I remem­ber papers being torn up because they were writ­ten with a ball point pen.

    Change, even needed change hap­pens so slow in education.

  2. Nick Sauers says:

    I remem­ber being very excited when teach­ers “allowed” us to use a pen!

  3. Susan says:

    So true! I actu­ally have col­leagues who chas­tised me for adopt­ing an elec­tronic grade book with­out ade­quately protest­ing, through the union, this undue “change in work­ing con­di­tions”! My reply? Why would I com­plain about a change for the better?.

  4. Nick Sauers says:

    That story high­lights how dif­fi­cult it is for peo­ple and orga­ni­za­tions to change. It is no sur­prise it it truly dif­fi­cult to change the way that our schools function.

  5. Matthew Wells says:

    I was not allowed to use a car­tridge pen in Year 5. Our teacher insisted we use foun­tain pens as the fill­ing and main­te­nance of a foun­tain pen was a nec­es­sary life skill (which I have long since for­got­ten but guess could relearn pretty quickly should the need arise)

  6. […] writ­ing my last post, I recalled an excerpt from a book that I had recently read.See on Share this:ShareEmailPrintTwitterFacebookDiggLinkedInRedditStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to […]

  7. […] was amused by this blog post - Ball­point pens… the ruin of edu­ca­tion in our coun­try - that Jane Bozarth shared on Twit­ter. It points out some absur­di­ties from educational […]

  8. Dave Radcliffe says:

    Those quotes are amus­ing, but obvi­ously fake.

  9. Nick Sauers says:


    I cer­tainly haven’t went back to check the pri­mary sources of these quotes, but I do have a great deal of respect for the authors of the book. Dr. Halver­son and Dr. Collins are both EXTREMELY well respected fac­ulty mem­bers at top uni­ver­si­ties. These quotes are also to other sim­i­lar quotes about tech­nol­ogy that I have pre­vi­ously read. They seem silly to us when we look back on them, but they weren’t so strange at the time they were made. Any­thing in par­tic­u­lar that makes you think they are fake?


  10. […] but just take a look at some of the things our ances­tors said about change in their day , in Ball­point pens…the ruin of edu­ca­tion in our coun­try — from Nick […]

  11. […] recently came across this blog post high­light­ing an inter­est­ing list of quotes from Collins and Halverson’s (2009) ‘Rethinking […]

  12. Jerry M says:

    Just a com­ment in a slightly dif­fer­ent direc­tion. I do hate cheap ball point pens because they need a lot of pres­sure to write. As some­one with ter­ri­ble hand­writ­ing (thank you Catholic school) but who can let­ter quite well with a nib type pen, I do regard the cheap ball point pen as a hor­ri­ble inven­tion. At age 61 with a bit of arthri­tis, the cheap pen is the death of legibility.

  13. Aaron Henderson says:

    Now teach­ers post assign­ments via text mes­sage and work is to be turned in by email. us stu­dents use our phones and the inter­net through­out the day so why not?

  14. kyjnyakk says:


  15. Eric Fox says:

    Yeah, it appears the quotes were made up for an arti­cle pub­lished in 1978:

  16. domain says:

    Hi there, yes this arti­cle is actu­ally good and I have learned lot of things from it con­cern­ing blog­ging.

  17. m88 says:

    For most up-to-date infor­ma­tion you have to visit world wide web and on web I
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