Friday, November 5, 2010

Not Reinvent the Wheel?

I’ve decided that I really don’t like the aphorism “You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.” Actually, what bothers me is what usually follows this statement—a rationale for not changing something. Well, imagine if we hadn’t been constantly reinventing the wheel. Would we still be driving in vehicles like Fred Flintstone's hot rod?

Actually, the earliest evidence of wheeled vehicles is from the mid-4th millennium BCE in Mesopotamia, the Northern Caucus, and Central Europe. Their adoption spread rather rapidly through the next two millennia, particularly once the chariot was introduced around 2000 BCE. The first wheels were simple wooden disks with a hole for the axle. The earliest use of spokes, which provide greater stability and strength, appeared with the chariot. In the 1st millennium BCE Celtic warriors introduced the use of an iron rim around the wheel. This basic spoked wheel dominated without major modifications until the 1870s, when wire wheels and pneumatic tires were invented.

 Would you want one of these on your car?

Reinventing the wheel, or at least an innovated version thereof, has been at the heart of other key technological developments: the water wheel, the astrolabe, the cogwheel, and the spinning wheel. Key spinoffs include the propeller, jet engine, flywheel, and turbine. It’s no wonder the wheel is a symbol of basic human innovation.

Here’s the irony and the real lesson for education. Even when the concept of the wheel was first imagined and the crude prototype created, the wheel was dismissed. Wide adoption was delayed because too many roads weren’t smooth enough or had too many obstacles. For both merchants and travelers, carrying goods on human backs was preferred and more efficient.

Now that we have the information superhighway, don’t we need to reinvent some of the wheels of education?

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