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What’s it all For?

Earlier this month, I wrote an entry, trying to identify some of the characteristics of our social, economic, technological, cultural, blah blah conditions that have changed in the past decade or two, that I believe should be addressed as we attempt to adapt education to a new set of challenges.

Yesterday, Marco Polo posted a comment that I think is entirely appropriate at this time, the last week of 2005. It’s a time of reflection and anticipation, as a new year unfolds with opportunities and challenges. Polo says,

David’s questions suggest that the primary purpose of education (or school) is to prepare children for the future. When has mankind ever been ready for the future? The intriguing scenarios he poses (posed by science fiction writers for decades now) raise the question of what is the purpose of human life? Merely to chase after the future? Like Frankenstein trying catch his creation before it causes irreperable damage (to itself or others)? Or is there some other purpose there too, something that has remained the same regardless of the age or circumstances we live in? I made a similar comment on Miguel Guhlin’s blog a while back: in this brave new world, where is the place for the those like my Downs syndrome daughter? The presence of such people is a healthy reminder that man is not primarily made to chase after his own creations. It’s not all about getting ahead, staying competitive, etc., etc. I’m not saying those are not worthwhile goals; just that they’re not the only ones, and perhaps not even the most important. It’s easy to get carried away by the exciting possibilities: “people talking!” Yes, but how come that has become such a premium? How come we have allowed ourselves to create rootless gatherings of people, to dilute the power of community and family? Would the idea of people communicating and creating communities spanning the whole globe be so exciting if we were not living such isolated lives? And how did THAT come about?

I have little to say in response, except simply to elevate Marco’s observations to the front of my blog. I believe that he is absolutely right, that a race to the future defeats what is precious, the present, and that we may be robbing our children of their precious present for the sake of the future, and perhaps for the sake of political satisfactions much more selfish and insidious.

The future can’t be denied, and to improve the likelihood that all of our children’s presents will be happy and fruitful, we must do what we can to prepare them. However, I continue to maintain, that the classrooms that prepared me in the ’50s and ’60s are not appropriate for today’s children. It takes something much different to prepare children to not so much compete, but to be of enough value to cooperate, and to seek and attain what makes them happy and self-fulfilled in a time of rapid change.

Many thanks Marco, and happy new year.


  • http://theedublog.blogspot.com blakej

    One of my favorite Christmas presents this year is my cool 15 CD unabridged set of Thomas L. Friedman’s The World is Flat–A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. Parents are important stakeholders, but as a parent, schools are not all about my daughters. As a teacher that works with students that are not connected or tuned into anything other than the present, I am compelled by law and educationsl goals and objectives to prepare my students for the future. Laws like No Child Left Behind (one of many national mandates), North Carolina testing and accountability requirement (state goals), and local and school goals all agree that our educational success is based on preparing students to be productive citizens. Our schools (as is society) are plagued by drop-outs and drugged-out “stakeholders” in our schools. Schools are not able to fix all the problems of society. Are we successful all the time? No. However, schools are not computer programmers in India. Unlike computer programs, if the code is not perfect, we can not delete the line of code to fix everything. We can try new approaches, we can feed their stomaches, and attempt to motivate their minds to think…but we have to work with what we are given.

    If a factory gets raw materials that do not make quality products, the factory managers can change suppliers. If labor cost get to high, they out-source. Mama’s do not keep their “highest quality products” at home, they send us the best they have. Effective teaching and learning requires personal connections. Pardon me for having the desire and passion to prepare my students to be able to compete in the “flat world” we are living in.

    Remember–”Just Don’t shot the messenger”.

  • http://www.k12converge.com Jim Heynderickx

    With respect, I’m not certain that there ever was a “good old days” when we all lived in wonderful, interconnected communities of home, family and work. If you haven’t read “The Shelter of Each Other” by Mary Pipher, it’s a wonderful book that I recommend to others about the healing power of family and the importance of turning off all the phones, computers and televisions in favor of family time. That said, she doesn’t suggest we all move into isolated cabins in the woods (though I wouldn’t mind that for about one month a year).

    When I think back to my own college experience (pre-email and pre-Internet), for example, I was massively isolated. That helped me get my first degree in three years, but it was a rather disturbing existence. With all the problems of today’s Facebook, I have to admit that my college experience probably would have been impoved if it had existed back then– in terms of my face-to-face interactions with others.

    It’s an overused term, but this is still a balance issue. As a physics teacher told me the other day, “There has been no useful technology that has ever been successfully repressed.” These tools are useful, and we use and mis-use them accordingly.

  • http://www.artichoke.typepad.com Artichoke

    Preparing for the future has yet another context – if you started out as a biologist like I did – then when educators and politicians talk about the future you are slip back to the only significant role of the human organism – to get your genetic material into the next generation.

    Peter Greenaway captured this idea with more elegance than me

    “I think, finally, among intellectuals, certainly in Western Europe, we can grapple really importantly with Darwin’s central message – which is far too difficult and far too reductive for most people to grapple with – the basic notion that man is eminently very material and materialistic, and the only conceivable reason we are down here is to procreate, and that basically life is totally and absolutely purposeless; so finally, for the first time, we can forget God, Satan, the Communist Party, Freud, and our mothers. We are on our own, which I think is FANTASTICALLY liberating, and which would also prove that all the other checks, all the other codes, all the other organizations of our lives are human constructs, which we have attempted to invent in order to attack the notion of purposelessness.”

  • http://hent.blogspot.com/ roger

    I agree that as educators we need to look at what has changed and also at what it means to think about learners (and teachers) as whole human beings who can BE in the present.

    In identifying some of the characteristics that have changed as you did earlier this month I would add:

    Globalisation – eg the need to consider local and national economic viability – and its costs
    Technology – eg ICT, bio, nano
    Values, worldviews – eg some educational theory and practice is still inappropriately underpinned by 16th-19th century assumptions
    Global sustainability – eg the challenges facing humanity and the planet
    Generational change – eg young people have new priorities, lifestyles and sources of meaning and purpose

    Educational research has also changed what we know about learning and teaching:

    Brain/mind research – eg the last decade has highlighted many incorrect assumptions about learning and suggested new possibilities
    Pedagogy – eg a new consensus on the most effective learning and teaching practices
    Developmental psychology – eg a much better understanding of the relationship between ages and stages

    And then there are teacher issues:

    Too many teachers are not coping well with the stress generated by doing new kinds of work on top of what we have always done. We don’t have a coordinated response to change that enables us to choose between competing agenda rather than trying to do it all. The result is that for many teachers Wednesday feels like Friday. This is not sustainable.

    Last July I heard Peter Senge at an International Thinking Conference describe the three key drivers of societal change as:

    Technology – ICT, biotechnology and nanotechnology
    Spirituality (not religion)

    Other speakers had similar things to say: http://hent.blogspot.com/2005/07/thinking-learning-and-futures.html

    I think as educators we do need a new vision and it does need to be about being fully human. It needs to be about more holistic, systems and integral approaches to learning and learners. It also needs to include a futures perspective. For example: How do we empower students to co-create preferred futures – both personally and globally? Perhaps these links are some places to start: http://www.hent.org/futures.htm

    BUT if we don’t question our underpinning values, assumptions and worldviews bringing ICT into education may not have the intended impact on engagement, meaning, and purpose for students.

    Ref: http://www.hent.org/why/contents.htm

  • http://gwegner.edublogs.org/ Graham Wegner

    David, the other urgent pressing need beyond preparing our students for the future is doing something for the people in charge of these students today – the teachers. Teachers from the 50′s and 60′s were certainly in charge of their students as they were the “fountains of knowledge.” Even in the free and easy seventies, the teachers were still in charge of the experimentation and students had to follow their lead. But as you’ve pointed out so many times on your blog, teachers today are faced with a generation of “digital immigrants” and too many of my colleagues are saying, “The students know more than me.” Unless the powers that be do something about teacher development to increase their confidence and give educators time to work out best use of these new technologies, it is today we should be worried about.

Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
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Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
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