“Education… is a process of living, not a preparation for future living.” — Dewey, 1875
I want to talk about what we frame our intentions — our purpose — when we talk about ‘future focus’ and ‘innovation’.
I want us to consider how central motivations for educational change have been conflated with technological and economic advancement.
I want us to think about why we are told to reach for ‘disruption’ and ‘change’ in the face of a world that is fast-evolving and increasingly inequitable.
I want us to question deeply the source of these ideas.
Since I have been back in school, I have been feeling increasingly concerned about such messaging, and the economic/political lobbying that appears to dominate progressive educational discourse. I have been reading pieces such as:
- A Field Guide to ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’ (Doxtador, 2017)
- Equipping schools to fight poverty: a community hub approach (Haig, 2014)
- Inequality, ‘Brand Ambassadors’ and the business of selling (to) classrooms (Watters, 2017)
- Neoliberalism: The idea that changed the world (Metcalf, 2017)
I have been revisiting the principles of Paulo Freire and bell hooks, and talking through thinking with colleagues and friends.
And the viewpoint that is emerging is this: we know that global systems appear to be evolving (worsening?) in ways that are more complex and harder to comprehend than before. The ‘future’ of automated work and disenfranchisement of social groups is, in fact, already here. The rise of technology is happening now and central to educational policy (think NZ’s Digital Future 2017 manifesto and the swift introduction of computer science to the curriculum). It seems pretty clear that coding won’t save every young person and it’s tough for schools to focus on buying 3D printers when some of their students can’t afford lunch.
This argument — that education must pivot fast to serve these economic masters if young people want to work in the future — is both a false dichotomy and a bleak vision for change. In effect, it simply replaces one industrial model from the 20th Century with a new, shinier one from the 21st. It’s hard to motivate schools from this position. It puts economic promises and profit in the driving seat of curriculum design. And it ignores the fact that, if we are honest, we don’t need to ‘buy into’ new initiatives because we already have the tools to make the kind of change that matters most to people.
Looking for the bright spots
Instead, let’s look optimistically for those bright spots that might hold our young people, our teachers and our communities steady as society, now profoundly impacted by dominant political influences, becomes increasingly inequitable.
Let’s ask ourselves: What do we already know about those things that will still be important even as jobs continue to disappear, when mental health concerns continue to rise, when we become increasingly focused on lives lived online? What will matter?
Our connections to each other. Our sense of belonging. Being with people who believe we are worthwhile. A healthy body and mind. Feeling like we can make a small difference. Those schools who are focusing on being a stable anchor for their young people and their families have, I think, the right ‘future focused’ idea. Schools which are “a form of community life” (Dewey, 1897), which provide young people with the opportunity to learn how to make a difference, to participate, to care, these schools will be vital — check out Wellington High’s campaign for a women’s homeless shelter, for example. These schools — community hubs — also provide students with access to healthcare, legal advice, financial advice, legitimate pathways to various trades as well as university and so on.
I don’t think binary arguments are helpful in education – I understand that young people need access to healthcare AND access to the technology that now drives much of our economy.
But what we privilege when we talk about ‘change’ and ‘innovation’ needs a closer look.
I’m keen to talk with other educators who want to reframe the ‘future focused’ messaging in this way. Let’s reconsider those trends (and you know what they are….MLEs, ILEs, STEM, coding, blockchain etc etc) in ways that position them in relation to wellbeing for the community and inclusive access.
I’m looking forward to exploring this at a local level with the Wellington Loop in October.
Image source: Suzie Sparkle — ‘KoolAid’ (Used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
‘Why we need a fresh view on ‘future-focused’ education’ by Karen Spencer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.