That Alvin Toffler quotation

Well, you really never know what will happen when you blog something.

Yesterday morning one of my colleagues gave me a copy of a page she’d made from Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1970), containing that quotation. You remember the one:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Well, the full quote comes from page 414 of the Bantam paperback edition:

Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy of the Human Resources Research Organization phrases it simply: “The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction—how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.

Alvin Toffler himself did not make that statement – it was made by a Herbert Gerjuoy. (The book’s notes state that “Gerjuoy’s comments are from an interview with the author”.)

Future Shock book cover

(Who rewrote the more quotable version that we see everywhere around the web, I wonder?)

That paragraph was in a section entitled “Learning” which was in Chapter 18, “Education in the Future Tense”.

Learning. Given further acceleration, we can conclude that knowledge will grow increasingly perishable. Today’s “fact” becomes tomorrow’s “misinformation.” This is no argument against learning facts or data—far from it. But a society in which the individual constantly changes his job, his place of residence, his social ties and so forth, places an  enormous premium on learning efficiency. Tomorrow’s schools must therefore teach not merely data, but ways to manipulate it. Students must learn how to discard old ideas, how and when to replace them. They must, in short, learn how to learn.

Early computers consisted of a “memory” or bank of data plus a “program” or set of instructions that told the machine how to manipulate the data. Large late-generation computer systems not only store greater masses of data, but multiple programs, so that the operator can apply a variety of programs to the same data base. Such systems also require a “master program” that, in effect, tells the machine which program to apply and when. The multiplication of programs and addition of a master program vastly increased the power of the computer.

A similar strategy can be used to enhance human adaptability. By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education.

Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy of the Human Resources Research Organization phrases it simply: “The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction—how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.”

I might have to read the book – glancing through, it seems very readable, and it’s quite amazing how much of it still seems to be describing Western society today. The book is over forty years old, is it not?
Page from 'Future Shock'
But back to the quotation. Armed with the name Herbert Gerjuoy I have of course managed to find other blogs discussing this quotation and the fact that Alvin Toffler was quoting someone else. See Visual Turn, for example, and Dean Groom’s post, and All Things Learning, for starters.

I haven’t looked very hard for information about Herbert Gerjuoy himself, but it would appear he does have a web presence. I suspect I might have to look for more information in books

Thanks again to my colleague (who wishes to remain nameless) for all the effort she put into looking this up. I didn’t even know you read this blog!

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2 Responses to That Alvin Toffler quotation

  1. Angel says:

    I did enjoy the quote (heck, even used it in a job interview, but that is another story). The sentiment is still there. I did read the book, but that was years ago. I may have to, like you, revisit the book down the road. I think back then I was a bit too young to really appreciate it.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  2. Paul says:

    I will have to read this one. As a primary school teacher I am all to aware of the relevance of this quote. Does the book go into how to teach this or is it just philosophically based? It would be interesting to see if pedagogy has shifted enough – probably, in my opinion, no. Related idea: resilience. What is the relationship between building resilience in children and learning how to learn?

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