Bankrupt ideas: Polaroid, Blockbuster, Borders, Detroit, & Your Local School.

Technology is the advancement of thought and collaboration; sometimes it even comes with touch screens. 

The year is 1450. The greatest thing since cold, stale bread is about to happen: books. Some hipster genius named Johannes Gutenburg brews up the idea to make the written word available to everyone. Soon, we have books upsetting the applecart; this new invention now enabled almost anyone to become literate and learn from from one another. Books were the new technology of the day and the world was greatly improved. Fast forward half a millennium and this old technology is facing its demise.

Now, thou shalt not label me a book bigot. I am a fan of the printed text, but I use books to illustrate a point of discussion: technology changes things; because you want it to.

Economics and Education. How are the two related? In a free market, if a consumer demands a product, most often, a product is produced and sold for what would be considered a fair price according to its market value. If the markets shift, and a consumer no longer wanted the said product, then the producer has two options: 1) Change the product to suite the new demands or 2) No longer produce that product and face the economic consequences.

Let’s take Polaroid for an example. Chances are if someone isn’t old enough to drive a car, they will probably never know how mammoth this company used to be. Nevertheless, Polaroid did not stay relevant. They produced something that was no longer desired, and they did not adapt to the changing market. We could say the same about the music industry, Encarta, Blockbuster, Borders, Detroit, and even, perhaps, your local school.

So how does this apply to education? Many people see technology (think touch screens and all those internet gizmos) as a threat to education; it will change the way we do things, change the way kids learn, and change the way we go about instruction. Yes. Perfect. Exactly. Why are those a threat?

Actually, the biggest threat technology poses to school is the idea that it belongs somewhere other than schools. If schools operated in a free market of ideas, relevant technology would have been adopted years ago. We wouldn’t be having debates on “What technology should be in the classroom?” because any school that didn’t use the relevant advancements of the day would cease to have an enrollment.

But we know that our current approach doesn’t run that way. Nope. It’s normally one big top-down mess. One could argue there is no real competition of ideas between one school and the next. Most schools are generally run the same way, approach education the same way, and are not really competing with one another unless we count those God-Almighty, State-mandated, standardized test scores (which in effect, creates an impetus that actually drives schools to be more similar; negating a healthy competition of ideas that ultimately results in mediocrity).

What would it look like to educate kids in today’s world? Well, perhaps it would look a little more like the ever-changing world we have always lived in; when one idea gets old, a new idea replaces it. When that new idea needs improvement, then someone creates a way to take it one step further.

But unfortunately, it’s still commonplace to hear many within education dismiss this thing called technology. They’ll say it doesn’t belong in the classroom; that no real learning takes place. But when this happens, educators are putting severe handicaps on students if the educators are not using technology in their classrooms. Technology is readily required in almost every job outside of school. Students who aren’t receiving those technology skills now face a severe disadvantage when they graduate into the marketplace.

Now, with all that said, do I think technology is the answer to all questions? No, it’s a tool; it's a way to advance ourselves with collaboration. The purpose of infusing technology into schools is so that education stays relevant to the world around it. In the same way, is being literate the answer to all of life’s problems? Of course not; but it is a skill necessary to make an inkling nowadays.

So here is the crux: This can't just be about technology; this is about the way we view education as a whole. Are our schools willing to introduce new approaches? Are we educators allowing new practices in our classrooms? Are our communities encouraging our schools districts to stay relevant to the world outside of education? What and whose ideas are driving your local school?

Polaroid, Blockbuster, Borders, and Detroit: they are all bankrupt. They no longer produce desired goods. They went out of business because they lacked vision, clarity, and lost sight of what the public wanted. They failed to create what was desired.

When an organization or entity no longer gives us what we want, they end up going away. Our voices, our opinions, and our desires create this change. So when these organizations or entities are no longer wanted, we write off their ideas as antiquated or irrelevant. The future does not just happen; we create it.

Do schools need to go away? I would vote no. Nevertheless, perhaps the way we school needs to be a thing of the past.