Students Today Can’t Prepare Bark to Calculate Their Problems

Teachers’ Conference in 1703? The Rural American Teacher of 1929? Gene Zirkel? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Everyone who works in the area formed by the intersection of education and technology has probably seen a hilarious collection of quotations that outlines the remarkable historical changes in education. Last month I saw these quotes, yet again, in a slide show. The first one starts with this sentence:

Students today can’t prepare bark to calculate their problems.

Usually there are six or seven quotes organized chronologically. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find solid citations for any of these quotes. Can you help?

Quote Investigation: This set of statements was printed in the Fall 1978 issue of “The MATYC Journal”, a publication that focused on mathematics education. The quotes were assigned the dates: 1703, 1815, 1907, 1929, 1941, and 1950. But QI believes these statements were actually constructed for the article in 1978. Copies of these quotes have been widely distributed and posted on many websites. They also have been published in multiple books and periodicals.

In 1978 the words were printed on a page labeled “Viewpoints” and the title displayed was “Probable Quotes From History”. The use of the word “probable” signaled that these quotes were designed with a humorous intent. Here are the six quotes and the final sentence: 1

“Students today can’t prepare bark to calculate their problems. They depend upon their slates which are more expensive. What will they do when the slate is dropped and it breaks? They will be unable to write!”  Teachers’ Conference, 1703

“Students today depend upon paper too much. They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?” Principals Association, 1815

“Students today depend too much upon ink. They don’t know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil!” National Association of Teachers, 1907

“Students today depend upon store bought ink. They don’t know how to make their own. When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words or ciphers until their next trip to the settlement. This is a sad commentary on modern education.” The Rural American Teacher, 1929

“Students today depend upon these expensive fountain pens. They can no longer write with a straight pen and nib (not to mention sharpening their own quills). We parents must not allow them to wallow in such luxury to the detriment of learning how to cope in the real business world, which is not so extravagant.” PTA Gazette, 1941

“Ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in Our Country. Students use these devices and then throw them away! The American virtues of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Businesses and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.” Federal Teachers, 1950

“Today’s students depend too much on handheld calculators . . .

This post continues with additional analysis and citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Students Today Can’t Prepare Bark to Calculate Their Problems


  1. 1978 Fall, The MATYC Journal [Mathematics Associations of Two-year Colleges journal], Volume 12, Number 3, Page title: Viewpoints, Article Title: Probable Quotes From History, Page 189, MATYC Journal, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans; Many thanks to the Science Library of the University of Georgia, Athens especially the helpful Reference Librarian. This librarian pointed out that the repeated phrase “Students today…” provided evidence of the artificiality of the quotes.)