I’m Shocked I Tell You! That Famous Toffler Quote Isn’t!

Last week on Twitter I saw a string of Tweets of the (probably) most famous quote from Alvin Toffler‘s 1970 book: Future Shock.

You’ve read it many times, I’m sure:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

But then I also saw a different but similar quote on Twitter.

So rather than head immediately to my office from the living room couch to find my copy (a paperback, 1971, 4th printing) I went online and did a quick search. And made a discovery – here.

My discovery is … that that is not the quote in the book, AND, Toffler was quoting Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy of the Human Resources Research Organization.

So … wrong quote and wrong attribution. It was Gerjuoy who said:

“The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction—how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.“

From FLEXNIB

Alvin Toffler himself did not make that statement – it was made by a Herbert Gerjuoy. (The book’s notes state that “Gerjuoy’s comments are from an interview with the author”.)

(Who rewrote the more quotable version that we see everywhere around the web, I wonder?)

That paragraph was in a section entitled “Learning” which was in Chapter 18, “Education in the Future Tense”.

Learning. Given further acceleration, we can conclude that knowledge will grow increasingly perishable. Today’s “fact” becomes tomorrow’s “misinformation.” This is no argument against learning facts or data—far from it. But a society in which the individual constantly changes his job, his place of residence, his social ties and so forth, places an  enormous premium on learning efficiency. Tomorrow’s schools must therefore teach not merely data, but ways to manipulate it. Students must learn how to discard old ideas, how and when to replace them. They must, in short, learn how to learn.

Early computers consisted of a “memory” or bank of data plus a “program” or set of instructions that told the machine how to manipulate the data. Large late-generation computer systems not only store greater masses of data, but multiple programs, so that the operator can apply a variety of programs to the same data base. Such systems also require a “master program” that, in effect, tells the machine which program to apply and when. The multiplication of programs and addition of a master program vastly increased the power of the computer.

A similar strategy can be used to enhance human adaptability. By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education.

Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy of the Human Resources Research Organization phrases it simply: “The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction—how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.”

50 years ago. Wow.

The “New Education” has some catching up to do IMO. We’ve fallen quite far behind what is necessary.

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