Ten Ways to Change the World through Education
Innovation and renovation are constant themes in life today. Technology reminds us daily of the forward thrust and pace of change. Arguments over health care, business, politics, and environment highlight failing systems, crumbling institutions, and the pressing need to reinvent our world. Everything feels ripe for transformation—and it’s coming, even if we don’t know how or when.
But one institution, schooling, that grand sector of life that provides the foundation for all other enterprise, remains immune to drastic overhaul. Despite education’s promise to help us create the future we want, it stands alone as most resistant to the demands of our radically different world.
In this space, I won’t analyze why this is so. Suffice to say that fear of the future, parental nostalgia, industrial obsessions with measurement, and a general confusion as to how to proceed in a suddenly-transformed world have combined to form a Maginot line yet to be breached by reformers.
Beyond the visible issues, though, is a fundamental block. In a Google-based, one-click, information-rich environment, we know future education must be process-based, not information heavy. We also understand that children need to collaborate, communicate, and problem-solve—the kind of 21st century skills now being introduced in schools. But here’s the block: As we stop teaching information, then we begin a new era of teaching young people how to be more effective human beings, along with designing systems that maximize human performance.
This goal is doubly important as the world economy destabilizes and environmental issues become more severe. More than ever, we need to grow human capacity, not just prepare young people to go to college or work. But this shift cuts against the grain of five hundred years of history and requires a fundamental reorganization of our thinking—and we’re not there yet. To paraphrase Einstein’s famous observation, we continue to try to solve problems at the same level of imagination that created them in the first place. So here’s my ten point plan to start the conversation. I call it edge-ucation:
- Don’t look to education for answers—Think, instead: If you were to invent schooling for the present world, what would it look like? Search out solutions from peak performance psychology, personal growth methods, entrepreneurship, and high-performing industries. The redesign starts with incorporating the best of what we know about human excellence.
- Redefine ‘smart’—Let go of the myth that we understand human capacity, IQ, or the ultimate function of the brain. Every day we seem to discover that people can do much more than believed. Free each and every child to surprise us.
- Trust love—There is too much fear in school. Fear motivates, but it has also been proven to shut down the frontal cortex, as well as being a handmaiden to neurosis, poor performance, and general unhappiness. Love, in the form of caring relationships, respectful communication, and gentle expectation, is considered by most of us to be a much more powerful force. It works in schools just as well as it does at home.
- Recover the heart—It’s time to bring back 5,000 years of wisdom from indigenous peoples and other civilizations in history, all of whom knew that the heart is as critical as the brain to performance, wellness, and emotional stability. New research proves this, but we continue to operate as if the brain works in isolation. Not true. More important, we possess proven technologies that help children tap the power of the heart.
- Teach resiliency—How to raise successful, adaptable human beings is no longer a mystery. Children who master important tasks, find meaning in their life, and have an adult mentor to help them define their path and navigate rough patches do just fine in life. Breakthrough findings in resiliency and positive psychology confirm this; we currently ignore it in mainstream education.
- Stress collaboration, not competition—This is a key shift. For education experts, it’s all about teaching kids to beat the competition overseas. Each country applies the same mantra (U.S. needs to beat China; China needs to beat India; India needs to beat UK, and so on.) One problem: Competition will prolong, not solve, the world’s pressing issues. Plus, I’ve never heard a student say, “I can’t wait to beat those guys in the other country.” In fact, it’s the opposite. Global children want to collaborate and serve. Their instincts tell them that their future depends on it.
- Let go of curriculum—As we transition to a full-fledged, cloud computing, global society, no one can agree on exactly what children should ‘know.’ But in general: Less is more. Teach core information, but just enough so they can find more and use it on their own. A world full of highly effective human beings will do just fine in figuring out what else they need to know.
- Require teachers to be mentors—The model from the 1500’s still prevails: Stand at the front of the room and channel information from God. This ‘Lord of the Board’ routine is fading, but we need to go to the next level in a hurry. Every teacher should be trained as a mentor. This also means recruiting teachers with personalities that welcome, understand, and foster human development.
- Start with questions—The list of major problems to be solved keeps growing. Add this one: Recent research shows that U.S. students are becoming less creative. Why? First, students passively consume information; then they are tested for recall. And, given a stuffed curriculum, teachers can only skim the highlights. As the principal of my son’s high school said, “We only do surface learning here.” Not good enough for today’s world. We need to routinely use powerful methods to encourage creativity and problem-solving.
- Open the mind—Speaking of questions, how about letting kids know we don’t have all the answers? A standard curriculum treats reality as if it is fixed, rarely referencing the momentous scientific breakthroughs and general upending of known truths likely to occur in the next 50 years. Study physics in high school, and you’d never know that Einstein had a few choice observations about Newton’s world. Study math, and you’d never learn about complexity and chaos, the drivers of a mathematical revolution. How about a taste of the future to get our multi-talented youth curious and excited—and primed to reinvent our world?