Anyone who has traveled with small children or watched one of the National Lampoon Vacation movies understands both the humor and unrelenting nature of the question above. I pose this question not to be amusing but rather to have the reader pause and analyze technology education in the United States. We are at a point where all those interested in technological literacy must take a critical, unrelenting look at the professions history, research base, and contemporary practice. This article will discuss each of these areas to help us in our travels.
Reflect for a moment on the history of education in the United States, specifically the required subject areas of language arts/reading, mathematics, history/social science, and science. Each of these areas became a part of general education for very different reasons. Language arts and reading were initially taught by many churches in order for children to study the Bible. Mathematics and history were endorsed in a bill introduced by Thomas Jefferson in 1778 to respectively help students "manage their affairs" and "improve the citizens' moral and civic virtues" (Urban & Wagoner, 1996, p.72). Science, however, was not accepted into the education mainstream until the strong endorsement of the National Education Association's (NEA) Committee of Ten in 1893 (DeBoer, 1991).
How can technology education be recognized as a required subject for all students? The practice of studying technology within general education has a well-documented history dating back to the 1870s (Anderson, 1926). Recent research shows that the acceptance of Standards for Technological Literacy (STL) (ITEA, 2000/2002) within state educational frameworks has increased but also shows that technology education is only required in twelve states (Dugger, 2007). The likelihood of a Jeffersonian-style solution a la mathematics and social science is highly unlikely since education is primarily a state endeavor in the United States. Nevertheless, endorsement of STL by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and many recent publications by the NAE and the National Research Council (NRC) do emulate, on some levels, the support science received from The Committee of Ten.
The book Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More About Technology (NAE & NRC, 2002), for example, is a well-articulated argument outlining five reasons for the study of technology. Benefits include improving decision making, increasing citizen participation, supporting a modern workforce, narrowing the digital divide, and enhancing social well-being. Each of these benefits is highlighted with examples and tied to the three dimensions of technological literacy (Figure 1). Additional publications from the NAE and NRC aid the research effort in technology education.
Shortly after the release of Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (STL) (ITEA, 2000/2002), the NRC published Investigating the Influence of Standards: A Framework for Research in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (NRC, 2002). Figure 2 illustrates the NRC model, with student learning as the outcome. Steps in the model leading to student learning include contextual forces, channels of influence within the educational system, and teachers and teaching practice. A fourteen-year review of literature shows that all of these areas have received a considerable amount of attention, but the level of research support in each area varies widely (Reed, 2006).
The strong support for STL from the NAE and NRC highlight the influence of contextual forces. Additionally, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has held several conferences on the importance of technological literacy. Despite these efforts, there has been little follow-up research on these efforts. How have these efforts impacted student learning or technological literacy in the United States? …