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Do you remember "Sneakernet"?

Posted Tuesday, October 25, 2011, at 12:05 PM

These 5 1/2 inch floppy disks were the standard back in the early 80's, when I was trying to teach students to write their English compositions on the computer. Only two of my students out of about eighty had computers, so I trotted my classes down to the "resource room" several days a week. I can't believe my friend J.D. still had these dinosaurs in his basement!
The Importance of running shoes to education

As our lives change, it's funny how we forget things we took for granted a few years ago. I was talking with my 29-year-old daughter recently, and I showed her the new bracelet I got at the Gallery (see ad on front page of Statesman website).

"Isn't this neat?" I said. "It's made out of typewriter keys!"

"What?" said my daughter.

Maybe she didn't hear me. I know she's old enough to remember typewriters. Or is she? She was born in 1982. Back then, we were just beginning to switch over to computers at Oran High School in Scott County, where I was teaching. I wonder if she ever had to use a typewriter??

I mentioned this issue on Facebook, and my favorite blogger buddy, Ken Steinhoff (www.capecentralhigh.com) added his usual unique perspective. Here's his definition of a typewriter:

"It's a wireless input/output machine that is portable and operates without external power. Its messages are communicated by sneakernet."

When I asked him what "sneakernet" was, he said, "You put on your sneakers and carry your communication over to the person next to you!"

Yep, that's how it was, even with the first computers we had in the "resource room" at Oran. You won't believe how HARD it was! Here's how it went on a typical day of "typing":

My English room was on the top floor of the old school (which was built in 1925), so my students and I had to hot-foot it down the concrete stairs, out the door, through the cafeteria, out the other door, down the covered sidewalk to the elementary school room, where the computers were. (I lost a lot of weight during this process.)

The computers were Apple PC's, circa 1985 or so, with DOS operating systems. The word processing program was called Bank Street Writer, and each unit had to be booted up with a special 5 1/2 floppy disk.

Students could then key in their compositions for about 15 minutes, before it was time to save their work. This process involved my running around from one computer to the other, inserting yet another 5 1/2 inch floppy disk, making sure that the student's name was recorded somehow, so we would know which disk had his composition on it.

Then we would charge back to the high school to be on time for our next class. I once again had to run back up the stairs. If that group was scheduled for the computer lab, I could just tell them to meet me at the grade school (leaving a note on the door for those who forgot).

However, since there was only one lab and 10-12 computers for the entire school (both elementary and high school), it was impossible to get all my classes scheduled for the same day. The footrace was unavoidable.

Bank Street Writer had its own flaws, too: The line of copy wrapped around, so that we couldn't see what the page would look like. And, of course, we had dot matrix printers that were incredibly SLOW, so it took forever to run off each student's paper.

These days I am amazed when I visit the schools and see students using the portable laptops in the individual rooms. The flat screen monitors amaze me, as well.

And the future is???

Heaven only knows where we're headed with our technology. As much as I rant and rave against change, I have to admire how our teachers get to use "smart boards," instead of the old chalk boards. Power Point never fails to leave me awe-stricken; I was in the process of leaving the classroom when that particular technology was just becoming popular.

Though I am amazed with technology and am jealous that I didn't have it when I was teaching, there are some fields that can never be replaced with high-powered machines. Spell Check is a wonderful tool, but - mark my words - it is NOT the be all and end all! Not by a long shot! And, as for a grammar check--Sorry, folks! That ain't gonna happen!!! The English language is just too complicated for a machine to decipher all the nuances and shades of meaning!

There are still a few things left that students are just going to have to LEARN. Experts may never find a shortcut for teaching spelling, grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary.

Ah, yes--I hear your objection: "Well, let's just do away with them, then!"

I think this is the next step in the decline of the English language. Since we can't master the 4 necessary "evils," let's just render them OBSOLETE!

I can see the future--mankind will have mastered technology beautifully--but his language will indistinguishable from that of the apes!!!

Showing comments in chronological order
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To complicate matters in the computer lab, there were the students who hadn't been wise enough to take typing class their freshman year in high school! Nowadays, I think children are BORN knowing how to type! (or "key," as they call it now!)

-- Posted by goat lady on Tue, Oct 25, 2011, at 12:31 PM

Thankfully, my earlier schooling brought with it many hours of attention to the details and intricacies of our Mother Tongue, as well as instruction in the fine art of typing(Thank you, Mrs. Toner). The state of literacy, usage, excellence in language, and the abilities of the next generations are in a woeful state as we speak. I have no further to observe than my own grandchildren and their peers.(SHUDDER) It may be well that our predecessors are not present to hear the condition of modern discourse, else civil unrest should ensue within every school board meeting room in this nation. Further deponent saith not, Regards to the Bootheel, kkr

-- Posted by kkcaver47 on Tue, Oct 25, 2011, at 1:36 PM

I was shopping today and a middle aged lady (best as I could tell) nearly knocked me down texting while walking. She will probably be eating the phone next time if this occurs again. Todays technology,, you can have it.

-- Posted by Dexterite1 on Tue, Oct 25, 2011, at 3:20 PM

Hahaha! Kkcaver,you have definitely mastered the English language! A more erudite emissary of American English I have never seen!

I feel certain that our ancestors are doing the proverbial hoochy-koochy in their graves!!!

I think the practice of texting is having a devastating effect on the language. If I see "lol" one more time, I'm going postal!

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Oct 26, 2011, at 5:06 PM

Working with my dad as a young kid repairing many types of engines. Technology was changing how engines preformed and looked. Thinking my dad didn't understand the new technology, I remember him telling me, No matter how much technology was incorperated on any engine the basics had to remain for any engine to work. I think the same applies to education.

-- Posted by gdh1958 on Wed, Oct 26, 2011, at 11:28 PM

I was one of the lucky ones who used a Smartboard in my classroom and I loved every minute of it. It was so sad to leave it there when I retired! I remember, in Mrs. Parmenter's English class, learning all about topic sentences and proper paragraphs with a new-fangled overhead projector. As you added a supportive sentence to the paragraph on top of the contraption, the next layer of the "book" added color...well, you had to be there...but I remember thinking it was the neatest thing in the world! And topic sentences stuck with me because of it! And now? A student can ask, "Ms. Lovebooks? In this book I just read, the girl and her mother were quilting a log cabin quilt. What's that?" Okey dokey! Off to the Smartboard, Google, Quilts, Log Cabin, and voila! Along with its history. Amazing.

-- Posted by lovebooks on Sun, Oct 30, 2011, at 7:59 AM

Smartboards make me want to go back into the classroom--almost!

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Nov 2, 2011, at 7:05 AM

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Madeline DeJournett
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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