This 1960s Computerized Desk Was Supposed to Make Classrooms Extinct

The technology of the future was going to provide all kinds of new possibilities for the classroom of tomorrow — including eliminating the classroom entirely. Interestingly enough, it would seem we're still chasing that dream.

The December 18, 1960 edition of Arthur Radebaugh's comic strip "Closer Than We Think" featured this home-schooling console of the future. The console looks somewhat similar to another in-school computerized desk that Radebaugh imagined two years earlier.

The biggest difference? This new console was expressly intended to be used in the home and had new features like a small embedded videophone monitor as well as an "electronic notebook."

From "Closer Than We Think":

Classroom automation may foreshadow an end to schoolhouses. Lessons would be televised to students "going to school" at home, where their work would be done and transmitted to a control center for correction and grading.

Dr. Donald E. P. Smith of the University of Michigan believes teaching machines will appear in all classrooms before long. A typical one projects questions in one panel, then, after an answer is written in a second panel, the right solution appears in still a third. Such machines are now intended for classrooms, but application of similar principles to educational TV would make schoolhouses a thing of the past.

What purpose does the classroom ultimately serve? Is it simply an efficient place to herd a bunch of kids together so that they can listen to teachers and then get a response in person? I'll leave the pedagogical questions to you folks who can hash it out in Kinja.

But it's important to recognize that while this kind of techno-utopian solution to education was pushed hard in the 1950s and 60s, the ideas surrounding ubiquitous distance learning are nothing new.

First, radio was going to let every Tom, Dick and Jane learn from the comfort of their own home. Then, television was supposed to radically alter the way that university classes were taught. Now, the Massive Online Open Course movement (MOOCs) is the distance learning technology of the decade.

Will MOOCs radically alter the way that education is provided to students? Not with current drop-out rates, which are reportedly higher than 90 percent.


Image: Scanned from the December 18, 1960 Chicago Tribune