In my pocket is a magical device that opens a portal to nearly all the accumulated knowledge humankind has acquired in the past ten thousand years. That knowledge includes all the major scientific, historical and cultural understandings we have gained as a species.
There is another such portal device in my schoolbag.
All my students have similar devices as well!
Think about this. It is an absolute miracle! It has taken thousands of years for humans to create our complex cultures, to develop all our versatile technologies, from the Neolithic Revolution to the Industrial Revolution to the Age of Technology.
All of this, is available, right now, at our fingertips.
Isn’t this the answer to all our most outrageous dreams as educators, where knowledge is abundant and free, where students can find answers, and better yet explore questions, at any time, from nearly anywhere?
And yet many of my fellow educators would wish this miracle away, spurn it, deny it, pretend it does not exist… not allow these “portals to knowledge” to appear in their classrooms.
Dear fellow educators, we cannot, nor should we even try, to return to a time when we were the sole keepers of the keys to the gates of knowledge, a time when students were lined up in rows to receive our wisdom, then obediently spit it back to us on a test.
What we have been doing, perhaps even doing well, 20, 10, or even just 5 years ago, is not going to cut it anymore.
However, fear not! This truth does not mean we are out of a job! Quite the contrary I believe we are still very much needed, but our role is going to be different. In fact, it is going to be harder than ever, because fate has given us the job of shaping the new educational paradigm.
The old model of education we grew up with, prepared us for the world of the twentieth century, a predictable world where we knew the script: go to college, get a job, raise a family in the certain context of increasing prosperity for all. We don’t live in that kind of a world anymore. Times are changing and the future is less secure.
We are tasked with readying this new generation of youngsters to tackle the most challenging century the human species has ever faced.
Look around. Civilization has some tremendous difficulties to tackle in this next century. We have climate change with an energy crisis, environmental degradation, human hunger, wars and genocide, sectarian divides and religious conflict, and most of all, a human population overshooting the carrying capacity of the planet.
It is our job to prepare our students to run the planet as we hurtle headlong and inexorably into these crises. Do you think they need some help from us old folks to get up to speed before they are in charge of things? You bet they do! And our job preparing them is going to take all our collective intellect, imagination, courage, and a whole bunch of hard work.
To deal with the challenges of the twenty first century, our students will need to break away from the passive model of learning we have inherited because they must become truly active problem solvers. They will need to be innately curious and persistent learners, able to connect concepts across fields of knowledge to anticipate and prevent catastrophes. We will need people who are passionate inventors of new ways to grow food, reduce pollution, power society, adapt to climate change, protect the planet that sustains us, and reduce human conflict and wars. It is a fairly hefty homework assignment!
There is no shortage of work for us to do, preparing our students for this future. Let’s get busy!
Our first step might be to start modeling what our students will need to be, and that is avid, collaborative learners and creators. Hmm… where can we go to find ideas, and other people who want to work on the new educational paradigm?
You probably have one of those nifty portal-to-the-universe devices in your pocket or schoolbag right now.
Use it! 😉
And by the way, teach and empower your students to use that portal too. They are going to need it.