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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Thought Experiment

I was speaking with my friend and co-book-maker John Glenn about my last post, and it suggested an idea. I am seeing huge sums being spent by schools on technology — ereaders, iPads, ELMO projectors, not to mention smart boards, laptops, netbooks, etc. What if someone were to create an experimental charter school in which students were given only pencils and paper, the classrooms had blackboards with chalk, and the libraries had books. I would love to see how that school’s students would fare as compared with a school with a similar population of students and teachers, outfitted in the usual haphazard fashion with the usual mix of devices, support, and training. And then after seeing what difference in outcomes there is — if any, and accounting for the fact that the community of the pencil school might have an initial esprit that skews that stats, we would need to compare costs. What has our retro school saved, what has our typical school spent, and what benefits have accrued.

Isn’t this the thought experiment every school and district must conduct before spending money? And yet, has a single school or district conducted that thought experiment?


  1. It’s nearly impossible to find a quiet spot to read in major airports. TV screens, tuned to cable news-entertainment, dominate all seating areas. The assumption behind this ubiquity is that, given the chance, everyone prefers to watch TV. Similar reasoning seems to govern technology use in general and tech in the classroom in particular. We all know everything’s better on a screen, no doubt about it. I’d love to see your thought experiment put to the test, but you might have better luck trying to get people drinking tap water again.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    while I prefer selzer, I am quite happy with tap.

  3. Myra Zarnowski says:

    I think we should all pause and discuss the April 15 article in the New York Times Magazine about Robert Caro. It’s entitled “Robert Caro Is a Dinosaur…And Thank God for That,” and it describes how Caro has spent 36 years and 3,388 pages telling the story of Lyndon Johnson. Technology? He uses a legal page, a manual typewriter, file cabinets, and a bulletin board. His enormous contribution is the result his deep thinking.

  4. Philip says:

    Marc: “Tap-happy”–I like that.

  5. Myra–
    And who should be profiled in today’s New York Times “Sunday Routine” feature? An impressive work schedule for a 76-year-old.

  6. Marc Aronson says:


    No I hand’t, thanks for the link.