Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Barriers/Obsolescence

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How is obsolescence a barrier to effective education?
It may seem unfair that just when you reach the zenith of your profession, the world changes and make many of your skills obsolete. Your expertise becomes a hurdle to overcome as you struggle to see the brave new world.

—Allen and Cosby

Obsolescence is the state of being which occurs when a person, object, or service is no longer wanted even though it may still be in good working order (Wikipedia definition). Obsolescence can be applied directly to Education in many instances. A barrier is something that poses as an obstacle that must be overcome. Education like many other fields is constantly changing. “Change” being the key word for this article. As the world evolves and changes, certain objects or techniques become outdated or obsolete. This is only one barrier that prevents effective education.

Past, Present, Future[edit]

As potential educators we must focus on the past, present, and future. We can only anticipate new change by being knowledgeable about the past as well as what the future has in store. In education there are many areas that experience obsolescence. For example, the technology, textbooks and materials, as well as the teaching methods, even the teachers all run the risk of at some point becoming outdated. Technology is changing everyday, it is our responsibility to learn new systems and apply them to our classrooms. As new technology such as computers and calculators become more apparent in the classroom, we must not let them completely replace our traditional methods of learning.

Changing Technology[edit]

Computers are a great resource for students to use; however, they shouldn’t completely replace former methods of learning. New technology is improved every day. The CD-Rom has already replaced the Floppy Disc, as well as CDs replacing tapes. There is always a faster computer that produces information at a quicker rate. “Anyone who has ever tried to get rid of an old PC can appreciate the problems colleges and universities have in getting rid of used mainframes and supercomputers. By the time colleges stop using them, there is almost no resale market for most old mainframes, so colleges find new uses for them--as database servers, for example.” (Olsen). This demonstrates how quickly technology is evolving, making it even more difficult to keep up.

Educational board games vs. computer games – Some games can lose the aesthetic feel when you are using the computer. Computers also limit student participation whereas; more traditional games can include an entire class. vs. library – As a student, part of learning should be to understand the importance of books and other resources that will aid in their development. Internet is a great resource, however, not always credible. Libraries offer great physical resources that can be used.

Handwriting vs. typing – Typing is an important skill to acquire for the professional world that awaits all students, however, it should not replace the old standby of handwriting. Focus should not be directed away from teaching handwriting because obviously it is a basic of education growth.

One way to overcome this barrier of changing technology is to incorporate the traditional methods of teaching with the new. This will allow the teacher to use the computer as well as traditional resources to conduct research and overall learning in the classroom.

Calculators are a part of technology that is updated frequently. Calculators are very important but not essential in many early childhood classrooms. Too often students rely on calculators to “do the math” for them instead of taking the time to learn the science themselves. The basics of mathematics need to be taught and never overlooked. These basics are the foundation for educational expansion of the mind for the future. Educators can overcome this barrier by ensuring the fundamentals of math are still taught as thoroughly as they were ages ago.

Changing Resources[edit]

As we all know the world is constantly changing. This makes one thing evident, what was new today will be “old news” tomorrow. In an effort to keep up with the changing times, there are many researchers that study new developments everyday. Their jobs are to discover what is unknown and to prove what we believe as being factual.

With all of these new discoveries and developments in our world, our reliable resources become inaccurate information. This includes textbooks, maps, and many other teaching materials. Unfortunately, as we embark on new information, our resources become outdated fast. At times the text can become outdated before it is even printed. When I was in school, we would be assigned a new textbook every year. Inside the front cover would be a list of names (at least 3-5) of students that had used the book in past years. Today, students are given disposable workbooks as their textbooks. This allows the most updated information to be used.

Take for example traditional chalkboards. Classrooms are now being fitted with dry-erase boards because they are easier to use and make less of a mess. There are many ways that the classroom has to try to keep up with the changing resources. One potential issue with all of the examples given is annual budget. We must make an effort to overcome this barrier by reserving adequate funding for updated materials. All an educator can do is put forth the effort to make the material they are teaching accurate not obsolete.

Changing Teachers[edit]

This may sound weird but is it possible for teachers to become obsolete? Unfortunately, I think this is possible without the effort of change. Teachers can become outdated much like technology and other resources. They will always know the foundations of education. However, they must be willing to evolve with the changing world. Some styles of teaching may become outdated and stale. Teachers may also fall into the trap of teaching what they know and not what they potentially should know. Teachers never stop learning. They must always keep an open mind to all angles of education.

One way to approach this barrier is to keep teachers informed about anything that is changing. This would include new technology, resources, methods of teaching, the list goes on. Teachers are the forefront of education. Therefore, they must set the example. They should attend meetings or seminars on how to promote new learning methods and apply them in their classrooms and to their peers.

Obsolescence in a “Faster World”[edit]

As we have talked about change and how it affects the classroom, we must also understand why. There are obvious reasons why obsolescence exists, however, there is one reason that has become a staple in today’s society. Convenience!! Where have we heard this word before? It can be applied to almost every aspect of our society today. We have reached a point where obsolescence exists because it is easier, faster, and more convenient.

“The word processor facilitated the ‘hurry up’ mentality.” ( Bateman ) This explains how if there is a way to speed up the process, we will find it. People have become impatient and want to use new technology, new techniques to facilitate teaching in a quicker mode. However, we must remember that students are not robots and they mustn’t be taught in a way that would imply that. “The Industrial Revolution proved that machines do very capably, take the place of people. The tutor will be replaced.” Isn’t it ironic that many online classes create the perfect example? A traditional classroom with a physical educator can be replaced with a computer, TV screen, or even telecast class. Please don’t get me wrong, this is a form of obsolescence that I feel is effective.


As educators we must evaluate the new technologies and methods, because with much of the “newness” come a monetary cost. We must remember that the state of obsolescence does not mean that the teaching method, person, or tangible item is not in working, just that the want for it has depreciated because of a new replacement option. The example used in the Wikipedia article “Obsolescence” is a good visual because it refers to Apple’s Ipod. If someone buys an Ipod with a certain hard drive size and screen size and a week later Apple begins selling a new version of the Ipod but with a larger hard drive capacity and a larger screen size, the Ipod that was purchased the week before loses desirability. This does not mean that it does not work any longer, but people would now rather purchase the new model. In a world than changes hour to hour, educators must evaluate desirability and what works. Some technologies may still work and accomplish what needs to be presented and not need replacement because when evaluated the fiscal cost do not outweigh the effectiveness. Then, one may evaluate the content in new history textbook from what they are using in the classrooms at the present time and the fiscal cost may be worth the change because the content is no longer valid. So, as educators we must evaluate the obsolescence of something in regards to if it works (is it still effective) and the fiscal cost of it’s replacement.


Obsolescence is inevitable in any aspect of the world. We, as educators, must be prepared to minimize the obstacles that this creates. As we live in an ever-changing environment, we must be able to recognize the importance of obsolescence within reason. Education needs to grow and be updated. But this can be achieved without neglecting to teach the basic fundamentals of education that can sometimes be taken for granted. “Lack of training focusing on integrating technology in the classroom rather than simply teaching basic skills” can cause major problems (Van Fossen). The main point is teachers must never stop learning and be able to “integrate” these new changes into their classrooms with minimal difficulty.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Which of the following has (at times) replaced or aided traditional mathematics?
A. iPod
B. Calculator
C. MP3 player
D. Cell phone

B. Calculator

What is the state of something being replaced with something better?
A. Observance
B. Opportunity
C. Obsolescence
D. Oxymoron

C. Obsolescence

What is a reason that obsolescence occurs?
A. To promote a new trend
B. To create memories
C. Quick, easy, and convenient
D. To help someone in trouble

C. Quick, easy, and convenient

What are the three major factors of education at risk of becoming obsolete?
A. Technology, resources, and teachers
B. Football, baseball, and gymnastics
C. Library, gymnasium, and lunchroom
D. Administrators, coaches, and janitors

A. Technology, resources, and teachers

Which choice would demonstrate Mrs. Showalter using obsolescence?
A. She decides to write on the wall instead of using the overhead projector.
B. She writes math fractions on the dry erase board, instead of using the chalkboard.
C. She has everyone write their English assignment by using a pencil instead of a pen.
D. She allows the children to play on the swings instead of the slide on the playground.

B. She writes math fractions on the dry erase board, instead of using the chalkboard.

Each time a new computer comes out of production it:
A. Makes the school's current computer look even better.
B. Makes the computers that the school has not work.
C. Costs a million dollars to purchase.
D. Puts the school's current computers into a state of obsolescence.

D. Puts the school's current computers into a state of obsolescence.

In an ever-changing world, educators must evaluate:
A. The moral standards of their pupils.
B. Whether kids still watch Sesame Street.
C. The fiscal cost compared to the effectiveness of what they have.
D. Whether or not to buy an iPod.

C. The fiscal cost compared to the effectiveness of what they have.

Obsolescence means that:
A. When new things or ideas come out, the old ones no longer work.
B. It puts the older models into a state where they are no longer wanted even though they are still in working order.
C. Technology rocks.
D. Thomas Edison knew nothing about light bulbs.

B. It puts the older models into a state where they are no longer wanted even though they are still in working order.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal a sample response.

What are the pros and cons of obsolescence?

Obsolescence holds its own space in a changing world. As things change, practices and objects become outdated. It is a fact that resources and technology becomes old and needs to be updated, however, there are some practices that need to remain. There are ways that obsolescence can help make the classroom more effective, such as new textbooks and computers. Obsolescence helps to keep the students informed of the latest developments. Students are able to be knowledgeable in areas that their parents may not be. The definite pro is that we are producing better informed and educated students. You may ask then why would we ask for anything else? How is obsolescence a negative? The answer is quite simple. Obsolescence only becomes a barrier and a problem, when it is not paired with traditional styles and information that is worthy of keeping around. This is all about managing when to incorporate new technologies and resources. The new information is obviously vital; however, we as educators must not forget the basics. Our society leans towards a lifestyle of convenience and whatever is quickest and easiest. Therefore, we must not overlook the skills that we may take for granted and forget to teach those to our students.


  • Allen, Dwight, Ed.D. and Cosby, Jr. William H. Ed.D. (October 2000). pg. 15-16. “American Schools: The 100 Billion Dollar Challenge”.
  • Bateman, Thomas. L. (2001), pg.5-6. “Writing Centers in 2020- Gone!” (ED451511)
  • Dodson, Dan W. (Oct. 1956). Pp. 41-43. “Adolescence and Educational Obsolescence, A Preface” Journal of Educational Sociology, Vol. 30, No.2, Youth as Citizens: A Study of Adolescent Self-Direction and Social Responsibility.
  • "Obsolescence." Wikipedia, July, 2007.
  • Too Slow To Use, Too Old To Sell, Too Big To Keep. . By: Olsen, Florence.. Chronicle of Higher Education, v50 n4 pA30-A31 Sep 2003. (EJ677251)
  • Vanfossen, P. (1999), “Teachers would have to be crazy not to use the Internet!” paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Council for the Social Studies, Orlando, FL. November 19-21.