It’s often said in graduation speeches that “education is the future.” But most of our schooling is based on the past. We read books that were written in the past, discoveries that were made in the past, quotes people said in the past, and so forth. Much of what students do is simply reproducing the culture of the past. The present and the future are still largely neglected, if not completely ignored at the moment.
I think that schooling should show more of a balance between the past, the present, and the future. We should move the notion that “education is the future” from cliché, to reality, as much as we can.
But don’t get me wrong, I think it is also extremely important that students learn about the foundation of knowledge that the humanity before them has laid out for them. So, overall, the majority of the time spent should focus on the past. So if (hypothetically), the percentages are at: 80% past, 15% present, 5% future, we should try to shift it to something like 55% past, 20% present, 25% future.
So while I’ll cover “the present” in a future post (perhaps there are puns intended…), here’s my Recipe for a Future-Oriented Curriculum which can be applied to mostly any subject:
- The future of society: Write papers envisioning what they think the future of our society will be like, or what they hope the future will be like. (Focusing on 1 aspect of it, the topic will vary from course to course.)
- Future leaders of society: Read and talk about leaders in the world today who have a long-term vision, and are trying to bring about that vision on a practical level
- Their future role in society: Write, or talk about how they see themselves being a part of / contributing to this future society. Have them ask themselves, “Am I going to be a part of the problem, or a part of the solution? And how can I remind myself of these commitments in the future?” –> Hopefully, this can contribute to their moral foundation that can guide them later on in life. We see all too often examples of fully grown adults who have clearly forgotten what they learned in kindergarten!
- The future of their personal lives: Have students write about their personal life will be like, to set long term goals for themselves. Ok, so I remember in Grade 8, we actually did something like this. We set short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals. And this is great. But, as with much of what we did in school, there was never any follow up with our goals. My suggestion here is to have students hold on to these plans (or have the teacher hold on to them), and to bring them out twice a year to have student check-up on how they’re doing. To add a sense of continuity to the exercise.
- The future of a body of knowledge: For science, social studies, and other classes, have students try to come up with their own theories, or new insights they can add to the material they’re learning. It can either be a theoretical insight, or an applied one e.g. In biology class, a student can ask what allows plants to stay upright and grow, or how the emotions of animals differs from the emotions of humans (ok, ok, that was something I asked in biology class!) But instead of having it be a passing thought, allow the class to incorporate the student’s suggestions and interests and discoveries.
Not only will implementing this be a virtue in and of itself, but having a future-oriented curriculum, I believe, would actually be very intrinsically motivating for students. Knowing how what they’re learning is going to affect their future gives students an extra sense of purpose and meaning in school.
Learning and producing knowledge generally go in that order, but it’s not absolutely necessary that they do. They can also go hand in hand, you know…
The way our system is set up, it is assumed that students have to keep acquiring knowledge until they reach graduate school at around age 22. For two reasons. 1) It’s assumed that only then are they mature enough to start producing new knowledge and have the rest of the world take them seriously. And while I agree that maturity is a factor that shouldn’t be ignored, children and teens offer something special: extra doses creativity and passion. A lot about making a new discovery requires creativity, and children are full of it. Why don’t we leverage that?
2) Our traditional educational model assumes that you need to learn everything that has been researched in an academic field before being able to contribute to it. But I disagree with this notion. I believe students have the capability to come up with insights, knowledge, and new questions to be explored as they spend years exploring the material. Okay, so students at a young age might have all of the experience necessary to write a lit review for their paper, but this is where teachers can help them out. To work with the student, rather than lecture at him or her.
For instance, even in the second year a student learns biology, they are capable of coming up with new hypotheses to be tested. If a student comes up with something novel, their teacher could help explore that topic, by providing them with whatever resources they need, and by offering them with advice. The student should feel free to take a break from their usual schedule of learning, to go into further depth on their topic of choice, on occasion, to conduct real research to a real audience, and then to return to whatever else they were “supposed” to be learning at that time.
This is all about sending the right messages to kids. At the moment, we send the message that society won’t listen to them, and doesn’t really care about that they think until they become an adult. I think it’d great if we started sending them different messages.
PS: If you’re interested in this last topic I brought up, check out this wonderful related TED talk by Adora Svitak: