The push-button school of yesterday’s tomorrow

Paleofuture features The Push-Button School of Tomorrow from the May 5, 1958 edition of Arthur Radebaugh‘s Sunday comic, Closer Than We Think.

Baby boomers were crowding the schools. (I was in first grade.) Futurists thought technology would allow each teacher to educate more children.

The student desk of the future includes a small camera, presumably so that the teacher being projected on a large screen in the front of the class can keep tabs on the little rascals. One thing that fascinates me about computer consoles of the retrofuture is that the QWERTY keyboard is not yet an assumed input device. Each computing device seems tailored to meet the needs of the intended user, as with this learning machine of the futuristic year 1999 and this auto-tutor from the 1964 New York World’s Fair. That being said, the Google of 1964 was quaintly analog with its typewriter attachment.

A boy in a white shirt is waving to someone going by in a gyrocopter.

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  1. In at least one important respect that prediction was just barely the SCHOOL OF TOMORROW. The Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction (MPATI) was only two years in the future. Never went anywhere but circles of course.

    Even back then technology-based productivity improvements weren’t too interesting to the public education establishment.

    • J. D. Salinger says:

      I recall filmstrips being the biggest technological innovation of the 50’s and 60’s. And in the mid-60’s came the overhead projector with transparencies, along with the opaque projector.

      • Yup. And to that list you can add radio, movies and video cassettes. All gone. None making any impact.

        And all explainable by the fact that no employee or elective official in the public education system has their pay and tenure tied to educational attainment. Given that state of affairs success was, and is, measured by the size of the budget and the employee head count.

  2. Can you imagine if educational excellence had advanced at the same speed as, say, computer technology? We’ve been teaching kids for thousands of years and about the only real, solid advance during that time was the textbook.

    Why is innovation so difficult in education?

    • The alphabet was an enormous advance. So was mathematics. Cheap paper and pencils made things better. The concept of education for all throughout childhood and young adulthood was an innovation.

      Why is there an assumption in education that previous generations of teachers were unenlightened fools? Have young children changed in thousands of years?

    • The reason innovation’s so difficult in education is that the people interested in innovation are in no position to drive innovation and the people in a position to drive innovation have no interest in doing so.

      Parents have essentially no input to the system once they decide where to live hence no leverage to drive innovation.

      Teachers are at the bottom of the hierarchy so their opinions are only slightly more influential then those of parents and are averse to innovation since technological innovation typically means a reduction in labor, i.e. teachers.

      Administrators have no interest in innovation for roughly the same reason as teachers as there’s nothing in it for them to reduce head count. Quite the reverse actually.

      Who’s that leave? Oh yeah. The school board.

  3. “Innovation” does not always take the form of a new device. Toyota’s success in manufacturing was largely a matter of rethinking how work is done, and it proved to be considerably more successful that GM’s approach of focusing on robotics.

    Indeed, sometimes obsession with technology consumes mental effort that could be better applied to other aspects of the job.