Whatever happened to …

… knives in education?

If you’re young, you probably won’t get the context.

My inspiration for this comes from a comment on a blog post earlier this week from David Garlick.

I remember though, the dark ages of ‘white out’ and correction tape when my teachers told us we had to hand in our first draft, all marked up with crossings out and arrows and new and better wording written above or below the original poorer wording.

There actually was even darker ages in education. David has been an interesting connection that I’ve made since we both left education even though we worked in the same district. If you know Essex County, you’ll know what I mean when I say that I taught at the “new” Sandwich and he was principal for a time at the “old” Sandwich. The big differences – his Sandwich has historical significance and many levels of floors. My Sandwich has air conditioning. Our paths crossed by happenstance – computer programming contest at his school, Pumpkinfest at another of his schools – but it wasn’t until social media that we connected nicely and I’m all the better for it. He’s got great interests and isn’t shy about sharing them on social media.

Anyway, back to the topic for today.

Before whiteout and correction tape which made the perfect document possible for testing, we had dittos. I grew up with them in elementary and secondary school and they were a mainstay for creating classroom documents. There are some pictures in this blog post. In our department, we had a ditto machine in the paper supply room which was poorly vented. It backed onto my computer room and the alcohol smell always let you know when someone was using it. A ditto master was created by writing or typing on the front which applied pressure against this purple backing sheet. You’d then rip the master away and wrap it around the Ditto duplicator, snap a clip and then start cranking out the desired number of copies. The sheet had alcohol applied to it which somehow turned the purple stuff on the back of the ditto into purple content on the papers.

When I was at the Faculty of Education, we had classes on media and a message there about media production and duplication kind of stuck. It went something like “how can a student get 100% if your test wasn’t created 100%. Haven’t we all experienced things like:

  • getting instructions from the teacher before a test to change a question because there was a problem with it
  • having one question completely removed from assessment because there was something wrong with it

So, in that media class, we learned how to fix errors on a ditto. It involved using a knife to scrape the purple stuff off the back of the ditto and then you’d slide the paper to a fresh area of the purple stuff and make the correction.

If you had handwritten the ditto, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. But, if you’d just used a typewriter to create it, you’d have to scrape off the error, reload the ditto and do your best to line it up correctly, roll to the error and make the correction. Sometimes it even worked well but usually you could spot a correction made using this primitive technique.

One day, an experienced keyboarding teacher saw me doing things that way and told me I was doing it all wrong. Today, it would come out as “Greatest Hack for a Ditto Ever” or “An Important Thing about Dittos You Didn’t Know“. I really was doing it wrong. The key was not to put the top of the paper into the typewriter but put the bottom in first. Then, you proofread while the paper is still in the typewriter. If there was a mistake, just pull the bottom forward since it wasn’t attached to the backing, scrape off the mistake, roll it back into position. Easy-peasy and everything was perfectly aligned.

Of course, David’s suggestions about white out and correction tape naturally followed and made for better error correction.

For a Sunday, your thoughts?

  • does your memory as a teacher or student take you back to ditto handouts?
  • what was that purple “stuff” on that second page of a ditto actually called?
  • did your Health and Safety person ever drop by to put “Don’t Drink This” labels on the alcohol that you used with your ditto machine?
  • I have the urge to go back and capitalize the word “ditto” in this post. Should I? Is it a copyrighted term?
  • does your school district have two or more schools with roughly the same name or historical reference? How do you distinguish between the two?
  • have you ever learned a career changing technique from an experience teacher? Or, if you are an experienced teacher, have you passed off your wisdom to a newby?
  • I know you’re an educator – after watching that clip above, do you have the desire to watch “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” again? Admit it; you’ve already laughed your way through it once

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

All of the “Whatever happened to …” stories are archived here. I do go back to read the posts periodically and I always enjoy the comments. If you have an idea for a Sunday morning post, there’s a Padlet there to submit an idea or just reach out and inspire me like David did.


OTR Links 03/14/2021

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.