One of the favorite lines of Faux Reformers like Bill Gates, Lauren Powell Jobs, Michelle Rhee, etc. is that American schools haven’t changed in a century, maybe two centuries.

Larry Cuban posts a delightful remincence of Changing Classrooms by Henry Levin, a distinguished ecomist who taught for many years at Stanford and Teachers College.

As Levin shows, classroom technologies are continually changing. And continually becoming obsolescent.

He fondly recalls being the boy who changed the ink in the class pens. He remembers later technologies that were state-of-the-art but have disappeared.

I started school in 1943, and by the time we were in third grade we were introduced to writing cursive using an ink pen. Initially these were the pens with long tapered wooden handles with replaceable pen tips or nibs, but by sixth grade we were expected to use fountain pens because they were less messy. I remember filling carefully my pen by maneuvering a lever on its side that compressed a rubber bladder inside to draw ink from the inkwell on its release.

I was also given the responsibility of refilling the inkwells each day or every other day. We used huge bottles of Quink (perhaps a liter), and they had to be manipulated in just the right way to fill (three quarters), but not overfill the inkwell. My recollection is that this was a permanent ink that could not be removed from my clothing. Once I dropped the entire bottle on the floor, leading to a large spill. That required initially placing newsprint and paper tissues to soak up most of it, followed by a mopping and scrubbing with water and suds. Still, a shadow of the ink remained, and the teacher reminded me periodically that I needed to be careful not to further damage her floor. Towards the end of high school some very expensive ballpoint pens began to replace the ink pens, and we were no longer expected to use the ink paraphernalia.

But, the old desks last for a long time. Even in the late fifties (I was in college), I visited my old high school and found that all of the student desks still had inkwells. Students wondered what they were for.