Big questions leave us uneasy, so we invent workarounds, particularly in education, where the goal is to control outcomes. The brain works like a computer, so we simply need to change the input codes. Intelligence can be dissected and tested. Deep behaviors such as empathy and curiosity can be fostered through ‘strategies.’ Pretty much, we’re still focused on the amoeba theory of learning. Poke and prod enough, and good things will happen.
If we’re honest,we know little about human beings. The brain is increasingly considered a quantum dynamic organ, bringing with it all the mysteries of a sub-visible reality that underlies biological functions. Evolutionary theory is in the throes of revolution, as we discover that genes are malleable and DNA is not destiny. Consciousness itself—how we think and know—remains in the same state since the dawn of humanity. That is, we have not figured ourselves out.
I don’t believe any of this. I never have. But to this point it hasn’t mattered much. Society has built a good track record despite a faulty foundation.
But the foundation is crumbling…everywhere. There’s demolition afoot worldwide. The extraordinary challenges of the second half of the 21st century demand the courage to take a fresh look at how we prepare young people (and ourselves) for the unprecedented confluence of artificial intelligence, global climate disruption, social unrest, and general disorientation. If you, as an adult, feel a bit bewildered now by the turn of events, think ahead. How will the five year-olds of today cope with 2050? And the still to be born in the next thirty years?
The bottom line is that the world needs a huge influx of talented individuals—from every corner of the globe—to make it through the next fifty years and beyond. And, the talent focus needs to change from outward competencies to inner strengths—the exact kind of talent that we know little about and continue to support through outdated and flawed theories. Those strengths include a deep sense of curiosity about the world and self, a heightened capacity for empathy and openness, and a kind of flexible resiliency drawn from a purposeful inner life that builds resistance to trauma and daunting circumstances.
How do we do this?
- Go holistic. Rather than continue to slice and dice humans into discrete skills, behaviors, and fact-retaining organisms, stop separating heart and head, or pretending that emotions arise through a wiring diagram in the brain. See learning as a whole body endeavor fueled by purpose, challenge, and meaning. Think social emotional learning and wellbeing first. Do this well, and the academics will take care of themselves.
- Work as a Guide. Start thinking of humans through a quantum lens. We’re composed of a wild range of emotions and energies, which through formal schooling we hope to corral. That’s not working any longer. So, embrace uncertainty (the proven scientific principle which underlies reality). One way to do this: Think of humans as a field of expression, with unknown and mysterious capacities. How do we stimulate this field? Through appreciation and intention. The goal? Infuse this field with positive influences.
- Shift the Mission. In education, supporting student growth is the mantra, but this is more flawed reality designed to hide a deeper truth: We want students to be who we think they should be. Schools and curriculum, as presently designed and delivered, don’t liberate inner talents. Freedom, exploration, and passion are the only signposts to a positive future.
- Be a Future Ready Educator. If you’re an educator, you’re as close to ground zero as it gets. Around the world, educators and schools are awakening to the impulses of the future. Project based learning, inquiry, maker spaces, design thinking—all these represent an intuitive response to a deeply transitioning society. Use the methods with your students. Become competent as a practitioner, facilitator, coach, mentor and changemaker. Push your schools. Be an activist.
- Gather the courage to change. Realize that, within the next fifty years, the demolition extends to schools. This shift is in motion already, but acceleration is certain. Classrooms, the 50-minute period, and standardized curriculum will disappear. Testing as we know it will be gone. ‘Grade-level’ thinking will be an anachronism. In their place, personalized pathways to learning, focused on strengths, deep interests, and inner conviction and intuition will prevail. Imagine your response. The same talents required of students will be necessary for teachers. You will need to be the face of courageous change.