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.


6 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. I never made dittos myself by my father used them to print out the church bulletins and the like. He had a light table that he could use to trace pictures on the ditto master. I remember thinking that was pretty cool.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally remember receiving dittos as a child, but never making them. Many years ago though, I do remember some teachers photocopying dittos. There were thicker lines to those worksheets.

    I have to admit, Doug, that when I saw the first sentence in your post, I thought, knives are still alive and well in some classrooms. We’ve had kids use butter knives in kindergarten for cutting plasticine, playdough, and pool noodles. They could also be good for cutting food items, back in the day, pre-COVID, when kids could cook together in class. A different knife use, I guess. 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Doug ….. When I was in elementary school we were travelling from Hamilton to Toronto … On one side of the QEW was a building labelled Ditto … I guess it was where the ditto machines were manufacured … At the time I thought it meant that it was the same company as the building beside it !

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Doug, we are from ‘almost’ the same era, in that I have fond memories of ditto from high school and university and remember learning how to use the machine in Teachers’ College.

    I remember the instructor in media class wearing a lab coat, safety goggles, and elbow length rubber gloves and telling us we’d have to do the same at our schools due to health and safety concerns.

    I remember smiling at the person next to me and saying, “We won’t be using those for very much longer.”

    But I too thought you were going somewhere else, because of our age…

    Every boy I knew in grade school went there with a jack knife in his pocket. It was an ‘essential tool’ for every pre-teen and teen in my world. Great for sharpening a pencil without leaving your desk.

    I remember my first suspension for a boy who clearly had the thing in his pocket as a tool, but he’d used it so often that the blade fell open with a flick of the wrist… (illegal weapon.) The police happened to be there that day. I was new to the school and Principals had the responsibility…

    Times change.

    Liked by 1 person

Please share your thoughts here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.