02 April 2008

Transforming Education: Step One

In my most recent post, I mentioned in passing the possibility of defining education with vision instead of tradition. This seems deserving of elaboration, and I am nothing if not elaborate.

All education is prediction about the future. If you teach a child about spelling, you are predicting that he'll be writing and not live in a world of massively available voice recognition systems. If you teach a child dates about history, you assume that she'll be unable to quickly and easily look up those dates in on-line searches. If you spend time educating someone, you assume that they'll use their new knowledge in some useful way.

This assumes that you've given thought to the world in which a child will live once he's an adult. And yet next to no effort seems to go into developing a vision of the future context of lives. Children who are 10 now will reach their peak earning years about 2040 to 2050. It might be worth thinking about what will define that world and what skills will matter. We have, after all, about 12 to 20 years of formal education in which to educate them in preparation for this. Use properly, this ought to be plenty of time.

So, what skills are we confident will matter in 2050? As difficult as it seems to define that, I would imagine that communities could define fairly interesting and comprehensive lists of things that matter. I've touched on it before, but my own guess is that the list of things that will still matter in 2050 include:
Ability to stay engaged in tasks that matter
Problem solving
Ability to stay engaged in relationships that matter
Emotional Intelligence
Ability to collaborate and coordinate with others
Social Intelligence
Ability to find and define a sense of meaning, feeling like one's life matters
Having a sense of purpose
Managing one's finances
This merely a list that occurs to me, a rough draft. I would imagine that any community of interesting people would come up with a list different and more comprehensive. The point is, identifying the skills that will matter in 2050 ought to be the first step in defining the curriculum that matters today.

And speaking of communities, I have a community of readers that makes up, for me, the most interesting and thoughtful community I've experienced. What do you think will matter in 2050? What does that suggest we ought to be teaching? For bonus points, what is it that we're teaching today that is unlikely to matter in 2050? What should we eliminate from our curriculum?


exskindiver said...

going straight for the bonus points--
being able to identify what we should eliminate from our curriculum today in preparation for 2050 seems to be the equivalent of saying we can predict the future.
Because of this, I think a valuable addition to the list of skills would be:
This way our children will be ready for whatever the world has to offer.

cce said...

I'm struck by your idea: social intelligence. I can't tell you how many brilliant brilliant people I know just simply lack social skills and therefore are destined to mediocrity. I also am always blown away by the individual of marginal intelligence who makes a great success of his/her life based on their likeability. Having said that, I'm not sure social intelligence can be learned. Perhaps it's one of those innate qualities that defines survival of the fittest.

Gypsy at Heart said...

Once Slouching Mom said here in your blog, that she had been rendered uncharacteristically mute after a comment she'd read. After reading Chesca and Cce's comments I too wonder at the intelligence of the answer I'd thought to give and that is perhaps because I'm such a literal kind of human being. I was going to do what I thought you'd asked for but now, I'm not so sure that my responses fit the question.

Going for broke anyway...
For the curriculum add-on I would say, ability to understand and respect religious differences. Also empathy and brotherhood. We lose the sense of the latter two skills more and more everyday.

As to what will not matter? Geographic differentiations. Environmental consequences will force upon us the kind of world where it will not matter one whit where any of us are from. We will end up huddling together, wherever survival is most possible. The sooner we learn we are one and not separate (most likely the kind of lesson that can never be really taught, just lived), the better chances we will have at preserving something of the human race.

Pomposity again Ron. So sorry. Lately, I can't seem to shake my inflated sense of self.

Damon said...

so long as we're continuing to teach a healthy dose of History lessons, I'm satisfied.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ron- I think you've started a really terrific list. It's thoughtful and provocative. I'd like to add a couple of more suggestions.
Socratic philosophy classes that would teach children how to think - how to ask better questions. If you have beter questions, you get better answers.
Another would be conflict resolution. There will always be conflicts and I believe with the increasing population and the stress on the environment this is important. There are very effective tools for teaching these skills which stimulate dialogue, keep people engaged in the dialoguef. They also instill respect for differences.
Lastly, I would love to see children learn about patterns..I recently did some work for a highly respected Italian eco think tank and some of the most interesting and exciting work that was being done internationally was by groups who are using a wholistic approach, exploring the connectedness of nature.
I truly appreciated your recent postings! Thank you for getting your blog out there. I'm sure it takes a lot of time and thought.
Sam Crespi

Dave said...

I'm probably not thinking this through properly; but, I don't know that deleting from the cirriculum is a good idea. Teaching the basics of the various disciplines, how to love to read, research and think, I think covers the academic part.

Too, are you expecting too much to expect schools to teach social skills? Isn't that the job of family and community?

Lifehiker said...

Good questions, Ron.

I would like to see school be both more restrictive and more free.

More restrictive in that kids have to be there and have to mind their manners - kind of like at boot camp.

More free in that they should be able to make more choices about what they study and how they study it.

I remember reading books in my lap during fourth grade classes that bored me silly. "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" was much more interesting than whatever drivel Miss Simpson was serving up. Got the picture?

Ron Davison said...

Great catch and great point. Thanks,

I'd like to see schools give Goleman's social and emotional intelligence books a go as a type of textbook. It may be that such things can't be taught, but wouldn't it be better to try it before making such a conclusion?

I was going to respond to what I thought was a really intelligent comment until you pointed out that you were being pompous. :) Seriously, though, I do think that the point about geographic differentiation becoming meaningless is a really profound point.

I can't believe I forgot history! Seriously kicking myself here. I think that anything can be taught through history. Why did I have to wait until some young punk came and reminded me of that?

Thanks again for coming by and commenting. And I quite like your additions. Independent thought, conflict resolution and pattern recognition (the most basic measure of intelligence) should be on the list. No doubt.

I guess I think that adding without subtracting suggests more time than we have.

I wonder if schools felt more confident about properly preparing all students for school if they wouldn't feel more confident about keeping kids in school. Actually, I gues that they already do feel inexplicably confident that even if it takes coercion, they'll keep those kids in class.