Beyond Future-Proofing: Re-Imagining School for a Connected World
The primary challenge facing educators today is not to teach “new literacies,” but rather, to find ways to prepare tomorrow’s citizens with adequate habits-of-mind for a connected world. They need to learn to make use of language, knowledge, and academic content within the context of new social, cultural, and economic paradigms. In this provocative keynote session, Jordan Shapiro will take us on a disruptive tour of past, present, and future—helping us discover what really matters as we re-imagine education paradigms for a world of predictive algorithms, block chains, and artificial intelligence.
Although we often think of “context” as if it were some sort of abstract cultural or historical zeitgeist, the reality is much simpler. For humans, context is all about how we use a specific set of tools to intellectually, emotionally, and materially fabricate our world. Digital, online, and blended tools are the new context.
The problem for educators is that it’s hard to design radically new schooling structures when we’re confused about what needs to be taught. We are now almost twenty percent of the way through a new century, and yet we’re still told that we must equip the next generation with flexibility skills—prepare them to adapt to an economy that the grownups can’t yet imagine. Of course, it’s true; we should make sure folks are ready for what’s to come. But it’s absurd to boil it all down to “flexibility.” For one thing, humans build tools. Tools don’t build us. And learning outcomes shouldn’t cater to an unstoppable cycle of planned obsolescence. Moreover, the future has always been uncertain. Even in 500 BC, living in a seemingly slower-paced world, Heraclitus of Ephesus recognized that “nothing is permanent except change.”
Unpredictability is not unique to our time. Nor is the current rate of progress exceptional. Flexibility and adaptability have always been the keys to future-proofing the next generation. These are the very reasons we send them to school in the first place. We know that the past is full of wisdom, ingenuity, and ideas that need to be transmitted from one generation to the next. We also know that values, skills, and concepts will need to be adjusted so that they remain meaningful and applicable even in ever-changing contexts.
Vannevar Bush put it nicely in his famous 1945 essay, “As We May Think”—a work that’s often called out as the conceptual inspiration for the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that drives the world wide web. As the first US Presidential science advisor, Bush initiated the Manhattan Project and lobbied Congress to establish the National Science Foundation. He knew, even decades before the internet existed, that information technologies are only useful to the extent that they ensure “knowledge evolves and endures throughout the life of a race rather than that of an individual.” (Bush) Even without seeing his vision of the future realized, Bush somehow understood exactly what twenty-first century grownups often forget: the internet is just a memory tool. One that allows us to build on the past in exciting new ways.