kottke.org posts about Future Shock

Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning

This is a quote I like that’s attributed to Alvin Toffler from his 1970 book, Future Shock:

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

It turns out that’s not a direct quote — it’s been cobbled together from two separate passages in the book:

By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education.

and:

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.”

Somewhere along the line, someone combined Gerjuoy’s observation with Toffler’s phrasing to create, IMHO, a more insightful quote about the flexibility their future (and our present) requires.

For more misattributed quote debunking, see also “I Hate to Write, but I Love Having Written” and Where the Rich Use Public Transportation…


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