Nostalgia or Progress?

by Jean Tower


Nostalgia is the enemy of progress is a powerful statement. Note: I have heard the quote attributed to Steve Jobs, but I can’t find a reference online – can anyone confirm the source? Nostalgia is a sentimental longing for the past – often, a past that never existed, since memory tends to blur the less desirable aspects and bring into sharper focus only the fonder memories.

As a school technology leader, one of the important roles that I assume is that of change agent. The nostalgia argument is a perennial “go to” for some educators, and it really isn’t useful for me to say “get over it.” I listen sympathetically and nudge people along to the present.

I remember a conversation (in 1992) with a first-grade teacher – she was upset that students were learning to “compose at the keyboard” (what we called it then) and she worried about teaching handwriting. Then she unloaded a 5 minute rant about the fact that district had switched from one handwriting method to another. Later that day, when I recounted this to the Assistant Superintendent in charge of curriculum and instruction, he was open-mouthed. The change had happened in 1980, 12 years before! Talk about hanging on.

I have listened to teachers pine for the days of pen and paper, bemoan ebooks, and try to wish away social media. I have worked with a librarian who was very upset when we first bought Follett because “kids need to learn the card catalog” (you know – the old wooden drawers with cards). Change is more painful for some than others and adopting something new means feeling the loss of the old. I get that. I try to honor the loss, but at some point, don’t we all owe our students a modern education that uses the technology of today?


related: The Change Process, Leadership Series: John Kotter

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