In Response to a Ted Talk

Every so often this guy named Ted likes to gather around the world's movers and shakers to offer short lectures on the future of the twentieth century.  I know it sounds a little cultish, but these aren't magical mind readers.  They don't sacrifice animals to the industrial gods or anything. Most of them are geeks like me, just smarter and with more money and influence and power.

Over this past weekend, they invited my class to visit the latest Ted Talk (I give him points for alliteration).  A student pointed out to me, "Isn't that Andrew Carnegie?"

"It looks like it is."

"I can't believe he is lecturing us on what it means to be a philanthropic citizen.  I enjoy our library, but I have an uncle who worked in one of his steel mills.  When the machine chopped off his arm the company did nothing."

I sat uncomfortably through the talk.  Apparently acquiring a massive amount of wealth through the use of monopolistic endeavors gives a man moral authority over others. I whisper to the boy, "Having free books isn't that great of a privilege when you have lost your eyesight in the steel mill."

Next was a man named Phil Bates.  He seemed like a nice guy, slightly fidgety and a little shaky, but the kind of man who I would probably enjoy having a pint with.  Bates first talked about the need to fix all of the poverty in Africa.  It had a slight tone of "white man's burden" to it, especially considering the fact that he failed to address the larger issues of poverty, such as colonialism and imperialism.  (Who knows, perhaps he was influenced by Kipling's poetry) Still, I respect a guy who will use wealth to help others. I can't picture Rockefeller or JP Morgan following his example.

However, I couldn't handle his next points.  He spoke eloquently about the need to create a new pencil-integrated curriculum prepared to meet the demands of a New Industrial Economy.  "Schools should move from one-room schoolhouses to factories producing workers that are knowledgable about our new global economy. Teachers need to be held accountable.  Raise their salaries based upon their performance.  We need better creative thinkers and our lack of creative teachers is a part of this creative crisis." he implored.

I took offense to his speech for the following reasons:
  1. Phil Bates never finished college.  He wasn't a great student, either.  The man has no formal knowledge about the educational system, no registered research to back up his claims and no peer-reviewed articles under his name.
  2. Phil Bates earned his income by stealing the intellectual property of another company, marketing it as his own and creating a monopoly in the paper and pencil industry. So it's a little hypocritical when he talks about the need to develop a "creative mind" for future entrepreneurs. Unless, of course, by creativity one means, "find a creative way to take somebody else's ideas."  
  3. It is not charity to offer your paper products at a discount.  It is product dumping.  Telling kids they "need it" because "that's what businesses use" only stifles future pencil innovations and ensures that your company has a greater market share in the future.  
  4. The assumption that schools only exist to serve private industry goes against the very notion of public education and the original intent of developing critical thinking citizens.  
  5. If you are really worried about training better factory workers for a "global economy," then you need to create vocational programs that do this very thing.  But don't tell me that my only goal in teaching sixth graders is to create compliant workers. 
  6. I'm a good teacher and I teach because I care.  I teach because I believe it is meaningful.  No gold star reward system will ever motivate me to improve.  
  7. Having money doesn't mean you should have a stronger voice in educational reform.  Even if this were true, Phil Bates has never once donated to my school.  It is funded locally by hardworking citizens.  It belongs to us, not him.


  1. I don't think children should be trusted with pencils. They might write man things about you and pass notes in class. Also- what if they used the pencil to poke each others eyes out? It's happened. I advise moving with caution. Do you have a district wide Acceptable Pencil Use Policy and have you made sure that all teachers understand the consequences should they fail to make sure it it is fully implemeneted?

  2. I love it! Can I use this idea in my next blog post? (I promise I'll give you credit for the idea)

  3. And another thing about pencils: Children are not developmentally ready to use a pencil. Their hands are not built for them. They don't have the fine motor skills for them. Making them use pencils disadvantages the child who is not pencil ready - which - in the normal human being is not until around age 14.

  4. Dear John:

    In terms of your question: I think I must point out to you that collaboration is not a good thing. And - if that is where your obsession with pencils is leading you, then - I again advise you to proceed with caution. You are already on record for promoting dangerous tools. Promoting dangerous ideas is even more reprehensible.

    Our children deserve better than that.

    Putting the weapons of communication into the hands of the untutored is irresponsible at best and potentially criminal. To then share the ideas of another pencilholic merely compounds the error.

    And think of the trees! As Wordswoth said lo these many years ago:"The world is too much with us." A more powerful argument against the permissive distribution of pencils I have yet to hear. I am sure you agree.

    Please respnd at your earliest convenience to reassure me that you do not mean what you say. Recant, reform, turn back while you still have the time. It may soon be too late.