At 7 o’clock in the morning, the sky is still fairly dark as I amble into my classroom. I start the coffee machine in the English breakroom and sign on to my computer while I wait for that lovely black syrup to brew.
That first sip wakes me up, and I walk around my room going from desk to desk, dutifully spraying a disinfectant on each surface. In my lighthearted spritzing, I come across a desk with a yellow pencil resting in the pencil holder. I smile and think, “I remember when we used pencils.” I pick it up (after spraying it) and marvel at the slender intention of this buttery artifact, this forgotten tool of 12 months ago. I do believe it is about to go the way of the cassette tape, VHS tapes, and floppy disks (excuse my language).
The pencil: just one more thing Covid 19 has taken away or perhaps forced us to evolve away from. In that context, I think this pandemic has forced our hand in becoming a more digital culture. Contemplatively, students in class today can think back and remember what education used to involve: pencils and pens, the smell of ink from the copy machine or even the perfume from dusty old books passed down for decades. However, a few years from now, students will possibly be born into a classroom without these things, and this lack of texture is interesting to ponder.
I am always leery of anything that is forced. And while our circumstance as a society called for adaptive change, it still makes me watchful and sometimes concerned about what is actually being let go or eternally disrupted. Should we just go along, believe this is the correct path? Aldous Huxley once said, “One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.” My robot brain doesn’t believe that.
I have that pencil on my desk, glistening in the fresh scent of the sanitizing spray. While the loss of the pencil may not seem too extreme, I wonder how long it will be before we stop needing to actually write. How long before transcribing letters on a white sheet of lined paper will not be taught. Instead, in those younger years, will we teach those malleable minds the location of letters on the keyboard, or the learned patterns for fingers so they can better race across that plastic surface of a console? Are we already there? Goodbye poor pencil, you served us well.
What else is lost? Well, I bought a packet of paper last year. I keep it in a drawer in the front of the class for students to use if they should not have any. It is still there. The paper is upturned on its sides, wilting from lack of purpose. My students and I have truly had no need for it. I bet the trees are singing our praises.
As well, I have two boxes of folders for students to put their work in. The boxes are unopened. I have a wall of books, and I am the only one who has pilfered through them. I have poster board in a cabinet resting over a box of dried up markers and glue sticks. My room is a graveyard of teacher resources fading under halogen lights.
Remember when video killed the radio star? “In my mind…we’ve gone too far.” Well, each of our students has a Chromebook laptop. They have access to an entity that thinks for them, remembers for them, and even writes for them. I remember when having access to the answers to everything while in class was a form of cheating. Now it is at their fingertips. Interesting isn’t it?
While I know there is a current need for virtual teaching in high school, I think we should be careful where it takes us. Let there be avenues for those situations that should need such a resource, (and there is), but eventually I hope classroom teaching is simply in the classroom.
I am in no way against technology. Just like the pencil, it is a wonderful tool. However, I am skeptical of the mitigating power that circumstance has given it, and often wonder at the eventual intention and culmination of its effects.
Brian Theodore is a language arts teacher at Corbin High School and lives in Corbin with his wife, who is also a teacher at CHS. He can be contacted at Theteachersdesk.email@example.com.