The Problem of Modern Education
The University, indeed almost all universities, and the primary and secondary education systems as well, are finding themselves increasingly out of touch with the needs of today’s youth, and therefore with the requirements of tomorrow’s citizens. When we see the size of the widening gulf between students’ everyday lived experiences in the world, and their experiences when they are incarcerated in classrooms and lecture halls, we know that there is a major inconsistency between the world of educators and policy makers, and almost the entire rest of the contemporary world.
In fact, we are facing a generation gap, the likes of which we have not seen since the fifties. Educators and policy makers seem to be tremendously ambivalent and confused by what is going on. So I am moved to ask, what is the role of education in a society, and therefore, what is the role of the educator? And if the context within which that role exists and is enacted changes, how must the enactment of that role correspondingly change? I suggest, therefore, that it is time to get back to the basics, to coin a phrase: to understand precisely how we arrived at the education system we now have in order to reframe our thinking relative to the education system we now need to be consistent with contemporary circumstances.
The Generation Gap
There is a generation alive that was socialized and acculturated in a world defined by modernity, structured by the mechanized, industrialized foundation of linearity, determinism, and fragmentation that emerged from the 17th century. And, there is a generation alive today who were socialized and acculturated – between the ages of approximately eight and ten – in the year 1995 and later. These are people who today (in 2009) are twenty-four years of age and younger. They are living in a world in which – according to them – the Internet never didn’t exist. They are living in a world in which Google never didn’t exist. They are living in a world in which everyone who matters is either a click away, or text message away, or a Twitter tweet away, or a posting on a Facebook wall away, among a variety of devices, all of which – regardless of what they look like, or how they functionally operate, or what they are called – are the precisely the same: they are connection devices.
Unlike we of the “fogey generation” who were socialized and acculturated in a societal ground defined by the effects of mechanized print, in which our experience with technology and media is primarily within a linear, hierarchical, sequentially causal context, today’s youth and tomorrow’s adults live in a world of Ubiquitous Connectivity and Pervasive Proximity. Everyone is, or soon will be, connected to everyone else, and all available information, through instantaneous, multi-way communication. This is ubiquitous connectivity. They will therefore have the experience of being immediately proximate to everyone else and to all available information. This is pervasive proximity. Their direct experience of the world is fundamentally different from that of us in the fogey generation, as we have had to adopt and adapt to these technologies that create the effects of Ubiquitous Connectivity and Pervasive Proximity (UCaPP).
Collaborative Construction of Identity
For the UCaPP generation, identity is established and constructed collaboratively, relative to a complex sense-making and meaning-making process that occurs when artefacts that individuals create and control interact among diverse contexts that are contributed by those to whom the individual is connected among one or more social networks. The UCaPP generation who “say everything” through diverse social media, from weblogs to Facebook, are not indulging in narcissistic wastes of time, or publicity-seeking through the realization of Andy Warhol’s iconic fifteen minutes of fame. They are instead rehearsing a fundamental existential imperative, answering the timeless question, “who am I?” with a through-the-break-boundary Cartesian redux: “I blog, tweet, and post, therefore I am.”
The 4 Cs
But in the UCaPP world, the reframing of identity as being collaboratively constructed suggests that the foundation of our contemporary education system must similarly be reframed. In my view, this means replacing the 3 Rs of the modern education system with the 4 Cs of an education system that is consistent with living on this side of the break boundary. Those 4 Cs are Connection, Context, Complexity, and Connotation.
Education is What Remains
I have suggested that the “what” of education is about locating oneself in the context of society’s structuring institutions. But what about the “why” of education – why do we do it? I have always maintained that education is what remains after you have forgotten everything that you have been taught. With an obsessive emphasis on outcomes, skills and test scores, the focus shifts from what remains to what is taught. This is a very dangerous course for society, because a society is formed of “what remains” – the social values, the moral and ethical sensibilities, and the ability to effect transformation in the face of systemic injustice. A primarily instrumental focus in teaching content ironically encourages ignore-ance – literally, the learned ability to ignore much that is politically, ethically, and morally problematic in our world in favour of that which is instrumental, efficient, and merely economic. Don’t get me wrong: Instrumental and functional learning is important as skills and specific capabilities comprise the basic building blocks for any civilization or culture. However, all learning must be contextualized by the broader notion of education: that which remains. Eliminating or minimizing this vital consideration – which is the prevailing tendency among all first world countries today – negates any potential societal benefits of skills, job training and instrumental learning.
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