From the Principal's Office: Going 1:1? How Would You Respond To Comments Like This?

From the Principal's Office: Going 1:1? How Would You Respond To Comments Like This?

Also posted on the Connected Principals Blog

I had the opportunity to appear on National Public Radio’s Here and Now Program last week along with one of our students to talk about our 1:1 iPad program here in Burlington at our high school. The segment was titled "Educator Answers Your Questions On iPads In The Classroom." While the interview went well, I really enjoyed reading the comments from listeners who choose to enter their feedback. Our first appearance last March resulted in 122 comments and while this year’s appearance prompted a bit less feedback, I think it is important for people who pursue these types of initiatives to be ready to respond to comments like the one below.

For about three thousand years or more all that was needed for learning and writing was some sort of pencil. Plato never wrote his master piece The Republic on an iPAD. Leonardo Di Vinci never used and iPAD. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa did not use an iPAD to write his Sicilian masterpiece The Leopard and Hemingway never wrote A Farewell To Arms with on a iPAD. Pencil and paper are a thousand times cheaper, yet we continue to spend my tax money on iPADs which don’t seem to improve learning, or on car race tracks as part of the Fiscal Mythical Myth phony deal which produced a modicum for revenue to pay down deficits. Apparently if a young person at school does not have access to an iPAD he or she can’t learn! The simple process of using pencil and paper is good for students. This simple process exercises and induces the brain growth plus coordination of other areas of a young persons developing body including learning how to write. So what does a young person really for a quality foundation to learn? He or she needs a grownup at home to help them with their after school home work. To many households in America have two people working and are to tired to help their children with their homework. Really, this is just a slick promotion for selling Apple products (which are quit good) which in turn make money for investors and does not guarantee success in the class room.

While there are a number of predictable questions that you will need to answer in regards to WHY you support such a financially significant initiative, the one above is one that is common from taxpayers who don’t want to spend the money necessary to put modern resources in the hands of teachers and students. I know I did not respond to all of the arguments that were made and I am not even saying that my comments were “the right answer.” The point is that schools and/or individuals entering into this type of an endeavor need to be prepared to provide a response that they are comfortable with. Of course, the best part is that we have a growing number of schools creating concrete evidence of what can happen when these initiatives are implemented thoughtfully.

As I conclude with my response below, I am wondering how others would respond to this type of comment?

I agree with some of what you say, but the point is that none of the creators of classic work that you mentioned had the opportunity to use technology like an iPad. While I have no problem with pencil and paper or someone who prefers to get a task done with those tools, I think we have to face the fact that the world has changed and that the jobs that our students will be working in will probably not be employing paper and pencils. Learning happens and it happens in many more ways than what you and I were programmed to think in our traditional experiences.

Having said this, I think that the role of public education is to prepare students for the real world. The fact of the matter is that the people outside of our schools, in the real world, are using these tools more and more. My doctor walks into the exam room with an iPad in his hand and the pilot who flew the last plane I traveled on also utilized an iPad in lieu of his old flight manual.

Whether we like it or not, I think that the our students need experiences utilizing modern resources like tablets or whatever comes next. While I do not think technology can be used to do everything (i.e. DaVinci’s masterpieces), I am pretty sure these great minds woud have taken advantage of modern technology. In fact, I am thinking that Plato would have been much happier with a pencil that had an eraser instead of something along the lines of a metal stylus that was probably in his hands at the time.

In regards to the change that has occurred with families in our world today, I do not think we can blame technology for that. My belief is that we can utilize some of the technologies we have available to keep families connected in a time when so many more factors keep them apart. While nothing can replace the physical presence of a family member or loved one, we need to be thankful that we have ways to stay connected when we can’t all be together in the same place.

That reminds me, I need to facetime my son to see how his day went at school today. It’s so much better than a text or phone call. I am thinking Alexander Graham Bell would approve?!

cross-posted at

Patrick Larkin is the Assistant Superintendent for Learning of Burlington Public Schools in Burlington, MA and the former principal of Burlington High. He blogs about education at