It seems like I spend a great deal of time reflecting on, writing about and discussing the many changes that education is going through.
Watching Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” lecture was very interesting on the heels of having read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. There seems to be a real convergence of thinking materializing on behalf of American society. Both Pink and Friedman seem to state that if we (as Americans) are not careful, we will be caught while we are asleep and will not be able to recover economically as a country. Similar to Pink, Friedman, paints a very clear picture of how forces, that are as opposite and as powerful as Pink’s Abundance, Asia, and Automation, need to emerge if we are not succumb to trailing behind China, India, and other countries as an international powerhouse.
Friedman illustrates clearly how Netscape’s internet browser, the development of personal computers and their ability to revolutionize workflow have already changed the world more in the last ten years, than in the previous one hundred years. Browsers, dot.com, fiber-optics, digital formats have all had a major contribution to the change. His encyclopedia example of uploading (creating your own information-Wikipedia) versus downloading (taking someone else’s information-either through a computer disc or purchasing a set of books) illustrates that a new form of creativity needs to emerge so we can connect and collaborate. His ‘new’ iron rule of business, “Whatever can be done, will be done” has resulted from value created horizontally based on who you connect and collaborate with versus the vertical hierarchy that we’ve had historically. Individual creativity, and what inspires, enables, and empowers us is going to be more important than in the past.
I would agree with what Thomas Friedman states in his lecture and book. Even within my own small world, I have seen the need to think more and more globally and how to apply that thinking to the world I live in. The advantages of creativity, invention, and innovation have been more and more revealed as I have moved from my classroom teaching position to the district level curricular position. Being able to think outside the normal box of traditional roles of education is going to be what helps schools survive the massive changes we are just beginning to experience through with House Bill 5 and Kasich’s biennium budget, not to mention the need to rethink education to help our graduates be competitive with other graduates from around the world. Changes in education that I’ve heard described in the past month are putting us on a whole new playing field. While others have discussed the need for 21st Century Skills, Friedman explains is really why what is being said is relevant and timely for all of us.
The essence of Sir Ken Robinson’s message is also similar to Pink. Robinson asserts that creativity must be given a higher interest in education, especially as the education of today’s kindergarteners will need to not only take us into future we can’t imagine, but help us survive that future. Children have tremendous capacity for creativity, but the current education model we use, that of the school as a version of an industrialized factory, is snuffing not only the creativity, but the capacity of creativity. We need to rethink the traditional hierarchy of subjects that not just America has, but other countries as well, with arts on the bottom of the educational heap. Instead of the traditional stereotype of academic achievement, modeled on the higher education model, we need to rethink intelligence to be more inclusive. Robinson states that if we don’t “radically rethink our view of intelligence”, we will lose all hope for the future. Creative capacity needs to be appreciated for the hope that it is.
I have watched different version of Sir Robinson’s lecture over the past couple years, and every time I see it, I am struck by how true I believe his words to be. Creativity and the arts have not been appreciated in the past like they will need to be in the present and future. The traditions of education and American society of the past several hundred years are not going to be able to help keep America as the economic and cultural superpower we are used to being. Just the sheer volume of English speaking citizens in non-USA countries, should be enough to convince us that we need to up our game if we want to remain competitive. In Pink’s words, Asia, Abundance, and Automation, have put us into a different version of reality than any of our parents would have been able to imagine for us. We do not have the ability to anticipate how different schools will be in ten years, much less fifty years, and if we don’t start growing the creativity capacity of our children, we won’t be able to keep up or survive the changes.
What really resonated with me about these lectures is the idea, that in reflection, the world has changed drastically in the twenty years since I’ve been teaching more so than in the previous century. I can look back at the beginning of my teaching career and remember clearly that there were no computers in classrooms. There were a few DOS models around that secretaries used for managerial work, but most people did not know how to work them. I can remember clearly the first time I saw an internet browser and a dial-up modem and how it was nothing to sit waiting for an hour for something to download. I can remember clearly when an AOL CD-Rom or disc came in the mail weekly as well as inserted in every magazine that would could purchase. I can remember going home at lunch to use my internet at home because there was no internet at school. What Robinson and Friedman’s lectures bring to mind for me is that those recollections for me will be as memorable later in life as my parents talking about the first television they ever saw. The technology is now such a part of everyday life, that is something that everyone, including my own students and children take for granted.
The lectures also brought into light for me the notion that as drastic as those changes were for me in the past twenty years, we are bound to see that much progress or change in the next four years, or three. As the speed of progress and the rate of information created increases, it is not enough to reflect on changes between then and now. What is important is for us to realize that we can’t even imagine what technology and therefore life, education, economics, will look like by the time my eleven year old learns to drive in five years. If I am honest with myself, high school as we’ve known it for the past several hundred years, will never look the same ever again. Credit flex, online schools, and educational options in Ohio, has opened up not just the doors to high school, but removed the walls and ceiling completely. In order to hold onto our educational excellence or advantage that we perceive we have, my school district, and every district in America, will need to reinvent themselves as quickly as possible. It won’t be hard for our students; it will be hard for our faculties.
While the importance of creativity, collaboration, problem solving, and other “soft” skills were ones I’ve always valued for students, I think these lectures illustrate for me that it is not enough to “try” to incorporate them more, but essential that we look for every opportunity to integrate those skills into our classrooms. Instead of trying to “nice” some of our the teachers into changing, I think we might need to shove them off the dock and then teach them to swim all over again. The denial by some educators that sometimes see, that education is changing, is so strongly rooted in large portions of American teaching faculties, that even if it were an anchor on a sinking ship, they would still cling to it. Friedman’s “rule” of “Whatever can be done, will be done,” is one that resonates clearly with me. Since I believe that I would rather have it done by me, rather than too me, my own creativity and collaboration needs to continue to be strengthened as part of a leadership team that is going to need to rethink the way we present education to our students and community.
- If you haven’t seen Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on Ted, I actually recommend the animated version you can see on YouTube. I wish I could talk and illustrate at the same time! It would make everything I say so much more entertaining and memorable!
- Along those lines, here is a link to the recently viewed Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat MIT lecture.
- My favorite TED video I shared with our superintendent is Derek Siver’s talk How to Start a Movement. I’m sure there are times when you’ve been the lone nut, the first follower, or just one of the crowd!