The 1.5 solution

circuit board

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

“We cannot get to the future without making a break with the past” – Phil Shapiro

“The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” – William Gibson

It’s a bit of a dichotomy here. To get to the future we have to build upon the past, but the past can be very controlling.

Take a look at photo processing. Any good photo editing program will have tools labeled “burn” and “dodge.” Burn makes things darker while dodge makes things lighter. Why do they use these terms? It’s because when you’re developing photos in a darkroom “burning” is when you give an area on the photo paper extra light (which makes it darker) and “dodging” is where you use something – anything – to block the light from certain areas (thus keeping the area lighter). The processes done by the software have nothing in common with the darkroom techniques other than the results, but the names stuck.

When we teach students how to use “new” technology we often have two routes we can take.

  1. We can start with the old school stuff so they can appreciate how things used to be done, although they will often resent being taught old and outdated methods. (Trigonometry without a calculator, anyone?)
  2. We can immerse them immediately into the realm of the new way of doing things. This will have a better chance of grabbing their attention, but many things will be confusing because the students won’t know what came before.

As a floating Art teacher who walks into different classrooms everyday I’ve seen a lot of teachers pick #1 because it meant they had to spend less time with the new things they were unfamiliar with, while at the same time I’ve seen other teachers pick #2 because they themselves didn’t know much about that subject matter’s history.

This is where I offer some witty remark about how to fix this problem, but I can’t really think of one. I suppose the best way out would be 1.5 – halfway between 1 and 2, if you can forgive the math pun. Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula that can find that for you. You have to feel it out, I guess, just like any performer has to feel out their audience and know when to deliver the right punch-line.