10 Points on Pencils

Dear Superintendent:

I want to address a few of your concerns that you had about my classroom and a list seems like an organized way of doing it:

  1. No, we don't have an Acceptable Use policy for pencils. I refuse to do this, because I don't have a policy for slates, for compasses (for more dangerous, in my opinion) or for chalk. If you want it to be an issue of compliance, I'll comply - but only through paperwork. I don't believe in it.
  2. Pencil predators are real, but most abuse happens in-person via close social relationships. I suggest an open dialogue with parents about monitoring pen pal letters. 
  3. Pencils aren't making kids narcissistic. They're in junior high which means they are naturally self-centered. The good news is that pencils provide a platform for self-awareness.
  4. I see your concern about Pencil Citizenship and it's being addressed, but I'd like to push back a little and suggest that ethics and social justice might be a better approach. And not just with pencils, but with life. 
  5. Banning pocket paper devices (i.e. tablets) is a really bad idea. Yes, they pass notes, but they're also learning to use these tools well. Let's allow students to learn how to use these tools for learning.
  6. Please quit banning Bullying is a real issue, but the most common method is still verbal and the most common site is still the cafeteria. Are we going to ban food next?
  7. Students aren't addicted to paper. Really, they're not. They're addicted to social interaction in the same way they are addicted to water and to oxygen. 
  8. I see your concern with violent games, but I played Hang Man and I'm not violent. It's really not as big a deal as you think.
  9. Teachers are motivated to use pencils. The real issue is self-efficacy. Many of them want to use the tools, but they're scared. Slate-based testing is a major component to this. There is a fear that learning can't transfer from one medium to the next. 
  10. The real issue is pedagogy. The power in the pencil is the nuance, the paradox, the gray area. It's in the idea of portability and permanence. It's about empowering each student to learn in a personalized way. It's a chance to erase and thereby move away from summative and toward formative assessment. 
Tom Johnson


  1. I really like this blog post. It grasps the view of how authoritative figure students and the students potential with the use of a pencil. I also like and agree with how you explained that most of the problems that people see are caused by things much greater than the pencil itself.

  2. Once again great post and your choice of words was just amazing.Your right why ban cell phones laptops and any other form of technology from the schools, let just teach students how to use these devices correctly. Once again I am a student in edm310 at the University of South Alabama. Please feel free to visit my blog and leave comments if you like.

    Thanks Cedric Lett


  3. Hello Mr. Johnson,

    My name is Jason Lynch and I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I wanted to say I really enjoy reading your post. It is impressive how you use allegoric material to get your points across. It makes reading much more interesting. I really enjoyed how you were able to take the opportunity of showing the value of "pencils" for the student even though they may fall to, what people may think as, inappropriate uses. We as a culture are social animals no matter what the age. We will always try to socialize in every situation, whether it is through pen pals or web social medias. If we could guide our students on how to use the media to develop their intellect and assist education we would probably be the top rated country for education in K-12.


    Jason Lynch
    EDM310 University of South Alabama

  4. I really like you post,Thanks for your sharing.