The Gilded Age of the Classroom

“In United States history, the Gilded Age was an era that occurred during the late 19th century, from the 1870s to about 1900. The term for this period came into use in the 1920s and 1930s and was derived from writers Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s 1873 novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, which satirized an era of serious social problems masked by a thin gold gilding.” (1)

Gilding is any decorative technique for applying a very thin coating of gold to solid surfaces such as metal…gilding gives an object a gold appearance at a fraction of the cost of creating a solid gold object.” (2)

Walk into many of today’s classrooms and you will see some or all of the following: LCD projector, large television, smartboard, class set of ipads/laptops, and much more. I have to admit, on the surface, it looks really cool…really forward thinking. These technologies check a lot of boxes, really impress the school board members, and look great on display during an open house and parent-teacher conferences. 

I wonder if a lot of these technologies plus the money we spend on different software are but gilding our classrooms…making them appear great on the outside, but a look underneath the surface exposes a much cheaper version of the real thing. Many times teachers are given new edtech to use, with very little or no training and I’ve never been provided a new gadget/tool with accompanying evidence of its effectiveness. Ever. 

This gilding of the classroom can cheapen instruction while costing the students, teachers, and schools mightily (just a bit ironic, right?). What if, instead of gilding our classrooms with more technology, we invested that money/effort in programs that work or substantial professional development for our teachers? What if we focused much more on learning and applying information in the classroom and less on preparing students for the future of work

I know I wouldn’t want to pay top dollar for what I thought was a solid gold picture frame only to find out it was gilded. I don’t think you would either. But I believe that’s what we’re doing with our classrooms; paying an exorbitant amount for a cheap imitation.*** 

Let’s stop cheapening the learning experience with expensive gilding. Let’s get back to learning. 

  1. Wikipedia “The Gilded Age” 
  2. Wikipedia “Gilding” 
  3. Feature image –

***Audrey Watters does a much better job than me writing on this topic. Here’s a link to her blog and one of her latest articles.

2 thoughts on “The Gilded Age of the Classroom

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  1. Modern compulsory schooling, by coincidence, started as a coup pulled off by Gilded Age robber barons Carnegie & friends.
    Technology is the latest distraction, but our schools were never meant to truly educate. Their essential function was, and is, to perpetuate the divide between the Thinks and Think-Nots. We should be humble when assessing which we each have turned out to be.

  2. What is interesting is the college my daughter will be attending the Fall of 2020, most of the classrooms only have a projector and white board…..not any other tech. I am sure teachers have their own laptops that hook up to the whiteboard but I was pleased to see rooms not full of all the stuff you mentioned. The high school she attends is also not filled with all of the “stuff” and she is getting a stellar education.

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