Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book, Future Shock is credited with numerous quotables in the realm of education technology. One of his most famous quotes is “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Forgive me if my interpretation strays from his original quote because, this is not an actual direct quote. While developing my final research paper on the integration of Web 2.0 technologies within Hackathons, I came across some of Toffler’s many educational quotes, which would compliment my research. The above quote seemed appropriate for one of my chapter introductions, so I purchased a paperback copy of Future Shock from Amazon and skimmed through the book trying to locate the quote and ensure that I would not use it out of context. After a few hours, I had no luck finding this quote in its entirety. However, I found many fragmented instances of the quote throughout Chapter 18: Education in Future Tense.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
I searched online to find out if anyone else cited this quote in hopes of finding a reference to its page number or chapter. I came across an article by Darcy Moore from 2009, which addressed the same issue I was facing. He also could not locate the direct quote in Toffler’s book. I quickly thought of the irony to this situation. Toffler spoke in length within his book about teaching the students of the future how to collect, analyze and interpret large sets of data in order to identify and clarify conflicts (Toffler, 1970). With so much information available on the Internet, it has become common to accept misinformation as fact. In short, I ended up reading the entire book and found the “quote”. Ok, it wasn’t the exact quote but the crux of it fit my introduction and context of my research. “By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education” (Toffler, 1970, p. 211). It was perfect! As you can see, this quote has pieces of the altered requote that has been attributed to Toffler.
The fact is, Alvin Toffler’s “quote” is actually a requote from Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy of the Human Resources research Organization who he credits in the paragraph below as saying,
“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.”
Segments of Toffler’s actual quotes are actually paraphrased and have been collected, merged and adapted over time. What’s the moral of this story? If you ever come across a quote that you intend on requoting, be sure to check your sources. You might have to unquote that requote of the quote you cited. 😉
Toffler, A. (1970). Future Shock. New York, N.Y.: Random House, Inc.