A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Sunday, March 13, 2011

New Threats to Freedom Contest, $5,000 Prize

Response to Michael Goodwin’s Loss of the Freedom - Scholarship Contest

In New Threats To Freedom, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Goodwin identifies “the loss of the freedom to fail” as a root cause of a “crisis in education,” but the problems Goodman cites are merely symptoms of a deeper problem. Goodwin cites “social promotion” in education as leading to a nation where “nobody rises above, nobody strives, nobody creates, nobody builds, nobody tinkers, nobody invents.” While there is considerable evidence of a “crisis in education,” and while Goodman has identified disturbing trends, his analysis remains in-the-box, and ignores a historical trend that is poised to shake and rattle the field of education to its core: the acceleration of technological change, and the changing relationship of people to technology.

I suspect that a 20th century educational paradigm, combined with the false premise that “data drives instruction,” has led to panic among educational leaders, who have devised curricula that is failing to prepare students for 21st century challenges. In my recent application essay to a program to earn a Master of Education in Special Education, I cited futurist, and pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, Ray Kurzweil:

At the dawn of the 21st century, Ray Kurzweil is warning that change is now accelerating. Kurzweil argues that computer technology is poised to uproot traditional roles in surprising ways over the next two decades.

I also cited Jane M. Healy, Ph.d., who noted in her best-selling book, Endangered Minds, population-wide declines in basic skills and increasing numbers of students in special education programs, which have led to the “dumbed down tests” cited by Goodman. In a nation that spends over $10,000 per student annually, the stakeholders, the American taxpayers, are demanding results. In response, educational leaders have gone to great lengths to create the appearance that test scores are on the rise. Data-driven instruction has led to a classic bubble, like the housing crisis or the banking crisis, where numbers were artificially inflated for years through accounting tricks. What if Kurzweil is correct and the evolution of robots such as Watson and Adam is leading to a world where even knowledge workers like Goodman’s grandchildren might need that social net he complains about?

In my recent essay, I cited a talk given by Dr. Louis Fein, nearly half a century ago:

In 1967, at a conference in Berkeley, California, Louis Fein, an engineer and Ph.d. from Brown University, posed essentially the same question: how should curricula change in a “rapidly and radically changing society?”

As Dr. Louis Fein suggested in 1967, and Cardinal John H. Newman had suggested a hundred years previously, perhaps we need to look at whether schools are preparing students with the habits of mind and learning disciplines needed for the 21st century, or whether students are being force-fed a production line mindset. If the 21st century demands a nation where more people rise above, create, build, strive, tinker, and invent, perhaps we need to revisit the goals of education.