Thursday, January 19, 2006

Luddites Revisited

"I doubt the Luddites would have seen the irony in the situation. On Jan. 19, 1812, in a news item titled "Execution of the Luddites at York," the London Times reported: "Precisely at eleven o'clock, on Saturday, the following persons suffered the sentence of the law due to their crimes: John Hill, Joseph Crowther, Nathan Hoyle, Jonathon Dean, John Ogden, Thomas Brook, and John Walker."

The Luddites were a group of 19th-century weavers whose name is now synonymous with opposition to technology, and the irony lies in the precise timing of the execution. A mechanical clock or watch was doubtless used for the occasion. So the Luddites -- who had destroyed the new weaving machinery that threatened their employment and whose protests had led to riots, assault, and murder -- ended their lives following the precise mechanisms of a machine.
At the trial, the judge gave a long speech in which he insisted on the "excellence of our machinery." Yet, in preferring the machines and what they represented, he showed little sensitivity to the human costs of new technology.

It is easy, I believe, to dismiss historical opposition to machines as being mindless or simply irrelevant because the events happened a long time ago. But when we consider the ways in which computer technology is used in education, particularly in developments such as virtual schools, it is useful to consider past examples of how people's lives have been affected by machines."

Virtual Schools: What Role Should Online Learning Play in the Future of Schooling?, Glen Russell (

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