Becoming Future-Ready

“Future-Ready Students for the 21st Century”

It’s the title of the goals document for the North Carolina State Board of Education and it begins with, “..every public school student will graduate from high school, globally competitive for work and postsecondary education and prepared for life in the 21st Century.”  I’d love to ask that appointed body, “What does this mean and how does it translate to the “what” and “how” the children of this state are being educated?”

A few mornings ago, I was working in my office on a fairly redundant task, which usually affords me the opportunity to pay attention to a podcast or partial attention to a movie or TV episode, usually playing over the air to my iPhone.  The 3 1/2 inch display provides less distraction than my iPad or computer screen.

On that morning, I was playing 2010, the sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve enjoyed re-watching 2010 over the years because it has more dialog and slightly more action than the original.

Composite of the scene’s camera pan.

What struck me that morning was a scene, where the hero scientist, Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider), is sitting on the beach preparing for his upcoming journey to Jupiter, studying reports, an issue of OMNI (which stopped publishing in 1995), and a portable computer (see right & below).

Notice the computer the former chairman of the American space Agency is using and consider that the scene depicts “mobile computing” in the year 2010 – from the perspective of a film produced in 1984.  More than anything else, the computer resembles Apple’s forgettable Mac Portable, launched only five years later.  Scheider’s 21st century machine perhaps even more closely resembles its more contemporary Apple Iic, with a flat four-inch display and parallel ribbon cable connecting the two.

Predicted Mobile Computing for 2010 Apple IIc – 1984-1988 Mac Portable – 1989-1991

It is also worth noting that the 1968 film predicted human spaceflight to Jupiter in a 460 foot spaceship by 2001.  

These are two fairly unimportant and dramatized examples, but if living through half of the 20th century and a tenth of the 21st has taught me anything, it’s that most attempts to accurately describe what we will do, how we live, what’s important to know, and what we care about 30, 20, or even 10 years from now, is at best a challenging intellectual exercise, and a worse a gross display of arrogance.  

Yet, isn’t this what our institution of education is attempting to authoritatively do, predict what our children need to be taught today to be ready for a future we can not possibly accurately describe.

Tom Whitby addressed this a few days ago in How We Teach Trumps What We Teach.  He questions our concern for content, assessment and data, saying,

Maybe “Content is King” merged with “Data is King” does not add up to a learned individual. Maybe the focus on content, so that education can be easily assessed by Data is really the wrong thing that we should be analyzing. Maybe, how we teach, is a much more important element in learning than what we teach. Maybe the data is totally correct about what it is assessing, but what it is assessing is not what we should be looking at. 

We need to be much more willing and humble enough to say, “Maybe,” a lot more than we do in education.  But even Tom, I believe, does not go quite far enough.  He refers to becoming a “learned individual,” when Eric Hoffer’s famous quote comes much closer to my view, that..

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. 

How our children learn is critical today, not so much as a point of pedagogy, but for the development of a distinct and most important skill – learning.

The job of education should be to wean children from the teaching, helping them to become, at graduation, independent, skilled, inspired, and responsible learners eager to adopt and adapt to changing conditions, turning uncertainty into opportunity.

Being future ready will not happen because of the rigor of ramped up standards.  It will happen by scaling back the standards as the education years pass, focusing on passion, and providing students with the support, opportunity and facility to learn and to make themselves experts in their shifting fields of interest, fields that educators skillfully usher them through.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.