Thinking About the Future: A Vision

by Mr. Hugh Burke


Over the next two weeks, I am going to offer some draught sections of a possible vision document which may guide how our children learn at our school. Much of what you will read has emerged as a consensus from the parent meetings and surveys that we have conducted. As well, a good deal of research has gone in to shaping this document.

This first section will deal with what we should teach in the future. This will be followed, over the next two weeks,  by statements about technology in schools, and what we mean by learning in our school. I would like to invite your comments and questions.

On the Future: What should we teach?

I like my new telephone, my computer works just fine, my calculator is perfect, but Lord, I miss my mind!  ~Author Unknown


There is a preoccupation with the future in education. That is as it should be, since we are preparing children for success and happiness in a time yet to come. However, we are not certain that the future is any different from what it used to be.

As we consider the past, the world seems to have been awash in change, although the pace of change seems to us to be a bit faster now. The telescope changed how we perceived the universe, and the Great Chain of Being; it overthrew Kings and rattled the Church.  The microscope opened whole new worlds, and led to huge changes in medicine, public health, and human longevity. Industrialization shifted populations, and led to increases in productivity which staggered the world. In the 20th century, the rise of materialism led to a belief that religion was declining, and the rise of consumerism has shifted whole cultures.

Marx famously wrote, in the Communist manifesto:

Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones … All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

Perhaps Marx did not foresee the rise of religion as a major force in world politics. But he seems to have been on safe ground when he predicted uncertainty and agitation; it has been around throughout history.

The constant state of humankind is change. Our past, our present, and our future are linked, and we always find ourselves, in the words of T.S. Eliot:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.


 

The issue then becomes one of recognizing that we are always in flux, and that we cannot predict that flux with any certainty, but that our fundamental human nature is stubborn, and does not change easily. It is also important to recognize that there may not be a single body of knowledge which our children must know in order to succeed. There may be characteristics, dispositions, and abilities which will allow them to be continuous and lifelong learners. These are what will allow them to “dance” as they go through life, and fuel the lifelong learning and strong values which will enable them to lead in shaping our world.

There are probably some things that we can depend upon when we predict the future of the world, and our small part of it. These may include:

  • Technological change will continue, and grow very quickly.
  • The population of the world will grow.
  • Resources will become more scarce, and more costly. This includes water and food.
  • Advances in communications will create closer ties between different parts of the globe, and we will become more interdependent.
  • The information explosion will continue.
  • Much communication will be virtual, and there will be challenges in the construction of the digital self.
  • Globalism will be matched by regionalism.
  • Centres of global power will shift.
  • Political structures will change.
  •  Religion will continue to be a force.
  •   There will be even more propaganda, manipulation, & persuasion by various forces.
  •   Everyone will have a digital voice; there will be a sea of individual voices.
  •   There will be a rebirth of agriculture as peak oil undermines agribusiness.
  •   Human nature will not fundamentally change.

We may add more. To summarize,  population growth is a challenge to our world; communications are bringing us together, as cultural clashes set us apart. New technologies promise a different kind of relationship with others, but our relationships will still be defined by human needs. The virtues and the vices will continue; family (of all types) will continue; diversity will be embraced as distinctions are embodied in more and more people. People will continue to fall in love.

So what should we teach?

We want our graduates to shape our world, to serve and to lead.

As problems continue, we need to develop global citizens, people who are active, engaged, and involved.

Our children must be able to recognize problems, and to love inquiry: they must know how to gather information – gather through books, through digital means, through interviews, through observation, and through listening and talking and being curious.

They have to be able to use that information in a variety of ways – to comprehend, to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate, to create, to imagine, to produce.

They must also be able to communicate, and be able to play the entire symbolic range: language, art, dance, movement, mathematics, photography and film, multimedia…but importantly, they must understand the qualities of excellent communication. They must be able to affect an audience and to understand when and how communication affects them.

They need, in other words, to know how to learn – to acquire, use, and share information – and how to apply that learning to the problems and challenges that await them. The way we teach our children to learn is what they will take with them to become the leaders of the future. Process has become the new content, and our model of learning is a strong curriculum.

As in every age before us, our children also need to look after themselves. They need to understand their bodies, and what keeps them healthy. They need to take risks, because life has no guarantees. They need to be able to regard themselves, and reflect on what they do, or think, or believe, because the only real knowledge is self-knowledge.

We live in and cherish communities, not just our selves, and so our children must be caring, so that natural justice will spread with them. This caring for others has to inhabit our school, and help our alumni to “Shape our world” as leaders.

They need to be principled in their decision-making and in their actions, in order that they live well with others and for others, and create just communities. They had best be open-minded, since the world is a changing place, and being adaptable requires open-mindedness. They need to be balanced, ensuring that they are looking after their heads, their hearts, and their hands: intellect, emotions, and body…thoughts and words and deeds.

And even though there may not be some completely stable body of knowledge which all should learn, every child should be knowledgeable. Without knowledge, there can be no “good things to think with”.  History, Mathematics, Rhetoric, Literature, Science, Physical Education, Drama, Dance, Economics, Business…and more…all have a place within the curriculum, and provide the basic knowledge needed to function within a society. This curriculum provides the substance with which children can learn those processes, dispositions, and characteristics that will shape them into life-long learners and leaders.

Hurried children are not good learners, and they are not happy children, so that learning has to be developmental, and support the natural developmental stages.

If we anticipate continual change, we should prepare continual learners. If we want a desirable future, we must help our children to be the creators of it.

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