The Fear of Throwing Things Away

Categories: Gadgetry
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Published on: June 5, 2014

I wandered past a stack of desks in the hallway and found two of these bad boys sitting on a small shelf unit with a pair of old, sun-faded computer speakers:

Spelling Ace... with Thesaurus! Oooh, aaahhh.
Spelling Ace… with Thesaurus! Oooh, aaahhh.

There’s a label on the back of each one bearing the name of a teacher who hasn’t been in this district for over ten years. One is missing a battery cover, and both have corrosion on the battery terminals.

I can imagine the conversation that surrounds these things. I’ve heard it many times over similar items:

Teacher 1: “Should we just throw these away?”

Teacher 2: “I don’t know. They’re probably still good.”

Teacher 1: “I’ve never used them, but they seem like they might be handy.”

Teacher 2: “Do you think they’re worth anything?”

Teacher 1: “I’m not sure. I’ll put them back in my desk drawer, just in case.”

Repeat every couple of years. Sound familiar?

I asked the current teacher in that classroom if these things had ever been used. Nope. I tossed them in the garbage.

Whether something is “still good” is not the question to ask. It’s too relative. Yes, the items may still work, but a better question is, “What have we replaced this with?” Or maybe, “Is this still an effective tool?”

Given today we have access to the Internet, most of our students carry Google in their pockets, and the teachers whose rooms these Spelling Aces were found in also have Chromebooks at their disposal, there’s no reason to keep these things around. I’d be willing to bet it would even take the teachers longer to figure out how to use these things than it would to open a browser window and hit Google or Reference.com.

What’s more, if a student is typing a paper on a Chromebook, is he going to pick up the Spelling Ace to look something up? Of course not.

We don’t need to be attached to such things. When I found some encyclopedia software dating back to 2003 in a lab cabinet the other day, I didn’t hesitate to throw it away. Same with the edutainment software from ’95 and the big stack of weather software CDs from ’99. Assuming they’d even work with our present systems (hint: nope), every one of those could be found more updated and with better presentation—for free—on the Internet.

Too much clinging to this old stuff creates clutter, and worse, it causes us to fail to grow.

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