Revisiting the Icehouse

Ice House SignAs we continue to put students at the center of their learning and as we explore emerging and disruptive technologies that can transform and engage our students in ways that were previously impossible, it’s essential that we keep our eye on the prize of twenty-first century learning. Though some may find “twenty first century learning” is becoming a cliché, its value is more important now than ever before.

Indeed, even if we are incredibly successful in engaging our students, without strong twenty first century skills they’ll be unprepared to successfully participate in a world that is rapidly changing.

A parallel can be drawn by examining societal shifts a century earlier. In the late nineteenth century, the Knickerbocker Ice Company was flourishing right here in our own backyard. It was a successful company and many young men learned the ice harvesting trade. Undoubtedly, many were proud of their hard work and were confident in the future of this flourishing industry. The skills they were learning would enable them to provide for their families, as their father’s had before them. Unfortunately, they were ill prepared for the shifts that took place in the early twentieth century.

Established in 1831 at Rockland Lake, the company grew to be quite an operation. In a span of just over fifty years, the Knickerbocker Ice Company had grown tremendously, employing roughly 3,000 men and shipping its crop of ice to municipalities nationwide! In its heyday it owned 12 steamboats and more than 70 ice barges to deliver product (ice) to its clients.

Business was good! It was so good that apparently Rockland Lake was known as “the Icehouse of New York City” and the business operated year round. In fact, according to an article by Laura Incalcaterra titled “Rockland Lake Ice House Remains are Deteriorating,” which appeared in The Journal News, February 10, 2008, “Knickerbocker’s Ice House No. 3 could store more than 40,000 tons of harvested ice. The walls of the wooden structure were insulated with sawdust to keep the ice blocks frozen until they were shipped to buyers in the summer. ” Business was indeed very good.

Of course, teens and young adults who planned to use that 19th century skill set (ice harvesting) were not prepared for the changes of the 20th century, when Rockland Lake’s wonderful ice business began to quickly melt with the advent of refrigeration and mass distribution of electricity. Those who based their future plans solely on the past success of ice harvesting found themselves standing alone in a puddle, hoping to make a living in an industry that was no longer viable or necessary. As stated in the article referenced above, “Rockland Lake’s ice business began to collapse in the early 20th century and advances in refrigeration eventually brought an end to the ice industry.”

The impact of this”shift” from the 19th to the 20th century in our own backyard can serve in many ways as a metaphor for the global shifts that are taking place in our world today. As we continue working to engage our students and raise standards, it’s essential that our goals are aligned with the 21st century skills that are already so essential to succeed.

The information related to Rockland’s ice harvesting industry was gleaned from an article by Laura Incalcaterra titled “Rockland Lake ice house remains are deteriorating,” which appeared in The Journal News, February 10, 2008

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