Scythe vs Weed Whacker: Does Tech in the Classroom Help or Hinder?

Approximate Reading Time: 3 minutes

We are having a conversation on one of the lists I’m on about the use of technology in the classroom. A colleague of mine who is not really in favor of tech in schools said that tools do not make one competent, they allow one to compensate for a lack of competence. His position was that technology displaces other things because it is simpler, or cheaper.

One of the metaphor examples used was this terrific video that pitted a man with a weed whacker against one with a scythe.

This video made me go right out and sharpen my scythe….

Then I used it.

HOWEVER, being a big fan of appropriate technology, I would still use my weed whacker around the trees, and in rocky places, and places where the ground is uneven, and up against the steps,…..

I will grant that it can be true that tech can allow one to compensate for a lack of competence, especially if people are trying to avoid having to become competent at something. The scythe/weed whacker metaphor struck a chord with me.

I have BOTH a weed whacker and a scythe. (How many people can say that these days?)

2007-09-17_14-12-53_001_wmI have a farm. In order to make the most appropriate use of the tools available to me, I actually need additional competence. Knowing about the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of tools and knowing when to use which one requires considerably more competence than knowing how to use any single one of them – regardless of how ‘techy’ that tool is. New tools can add to our competence – they don’t need to displace it.

Contrary to popular opinion, rural life is far from simple, and it has taught me a great deal about the importance of competence in many things, as well as the importance of retaining competence with “old fashioned” techniques and technologies.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein

I am a big fan of appropriate technology.

Let’s stick with the scythe vs weed whacker metaphor for a bit longer and see what that might mean.

I have a small farm, so I don’t have large combines or hay-making equipment, but I *do* have several acres of “lawn” and several more of hay – all of which need cutting, and ALL of which can be used as feed for one or more of the farm animals we have here. Not wasting it is important to me.

Some years ago, we bought a riding lawn tractor. Did it allow us to compensate for some lack of competence in cutting the grass some other way?


In fact, it has added to my set of competencies for dealing with large amounts of grasses.
It DID allow us to cut a much larger portion of our 3-acre lawn in a much MUCH shorter time.
We STILL use a small gas-powered mower for some places (and now that we have more time, we have found several new uses for it).
We STILL use a non-electric push mower for some places.

We also use the following (ALL for cutting various kinds of grasses in various kinds of places):

  • grass clippers2012-08-17_10-43-11_wm
  • hedge clippers
  • weed whackers
  • scythe
  • my hands
  • horses

Did gaining more competence with a scythe teach me to use a mower, or vice versa?

You Bet.

Gaining more competence or expertise with a scythe teaches me more about its possibilities and limitations. If I pay attention to WHY I’m using it (rather than betting caught up in the wonderfulness that is the scythe), then I can also come to understand the task, which in turn can help me to be more competent with the mower. I understand what I am mowing – IOW

the task becomes the subject and the tool, merely an object.

That’s how it should be with technology too.

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