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New Year’s resolution: Use technology like the Amish

Not far from my office is an area settled about a century ago by a large group of Amish families. So when I stop by the local market I occasionally see the typical horse and buggy parked out front. It’s always an interesting juxtaposition – 19th century transportation technology and modern SUVs.

We often see this same sort of contrast in schools – old technology along side the new . . . with a constant push to replace the old. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I think sometimes we can get a bit out of balance. Sometimes we like our shiny gadgets, the new web 2.0 tools, our BYOD programs, the iPad just a little too much. We sometimes get in too big of a rush for the latest toys.

I’m reminded of an earlier post by Doug Belshaw that talks about how the technology focus has changed over the last few years.

. . . Three years ago educators were looking to using new technologies to move towards a new model of education. Nowadays it seems to be all about bragging how you’ve used (web) application X before anyone else has. The edublogosphere seems to be overrun by educators who know the what but not the why. They’re impressed by those who can ‘leverage the power of the network’. This means, in practice, seeing how many people following you on Twitter respond to a shout out for information/hello’s whilst you move out of the classroom and into a consultancy role.

We need to be careful about the blind rush to the silver bullet of technology. I think we need to think a bit more like the Amish.

The Amish may seem backward and resistant to change. We can compare them to teachers who refuse to use the latest technology gadget or resist our 1-to-1 initiative. But I think we can learn something from how the Amish approach technology use. It’s not that the Amish don’t or won’t use technology – it’s that they make very conscious and deliberate choices about how and when to use technology.

Many won’t allow a telephone in the house but will instead build a small telephone booth by the road that is shared among families. There’s a very specific thought process here. Telephones are banned from the house because it promotes a separation of community. Instead of taking a carriage or walking to a friend’s house, the Amish feel that they would be tempted to simply stay home and speak on the phone thus limiting valuable face to face contact. Telephone conversations can also impact how time is spent with immediate family members.

The objective of this concept is to allow access, but maintain distance. Hence, the phone is not in the house and is used for necessary outgoing calls, not socializing. Owning a phone is not seen as wrong but using it inappropriately is.

The Amish make these same deliberate choices about other sorts of technology – cars, televisions, internet access, cell phones. There are very specific conversations that happen before ownership or use is allowed. As outsiders to that community, we may disagree with their final decisions but I think we can use the same sort of process when thinking about technology in education.

Technology for tech’s sake makes no sense. But I still have conversations with educational leaders who call and tell me that they just purchased 100 iPads for their middle school and ask what should they being doing with them.


We’re in the middle of a surge of online learning and MOOCs and eBooks v. textbooks and 1-to-1 mobile devices and Bring Your Own Device and . . . whatever the next shiny gadget is. We need to step back and take a lesson from the Amish:

Is this tool or idea really going to help kids learn more or be more effective? Or are we using the tool just because we don’t want to be the last one on the bandwagon?

My 2013 resolution?

Ask more questions. Figure out the why before the what. Think more like the Amish.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mary Land #

    Nice job Glenn! Good food for thought. I truly enjoy your articles!

    January 3, 2013
  2. Jenny Fry #

    Glenn this is a great Blog! Without saying more we can learn from the Amish.

    January 3, 2013
  3. Having lived and worked around the Amish for 11 years, including a stint as principal at Yoder Charter School, I really appreciated your comparisons. This is a good reminder to ask “Why?” before we ask “What?” Both can be important questions but in the proper order.
    Steve Noble

    January 3, 2013
    • glennw #

      Thanks for the comment! You’re right, both are important – but we (tech integration people, admins, and teachers) often switch them around.


      January 4, 2013
  4. Great article, perhaps we should devleop a technology purchasing decision making model to advise administrators about the anticipated purchase of new technologies?

    January 4, 2013
  5. I very much appreciated this article. Sometimes we in the more “seasoned set” feel negated by the bells and whistles and accompanying gongs of those who see the available “shiny gadgets” as the only worthwhile way to teach anything.

    January 9, 2013
    • glennw #


      It’s not that I’m against change, research-based strategies, or technology-based instruction. But I think we sometimes don’t think the process through enough and assume because everyone else is doing it, then it will work for us and our kids. We just need to be more deliberate in our decision-making process.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


      January 10, 2013

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