Alvin Toffler has been working on the future for more than forty years. I’d bet that many people who wander through here have read his classic book Future Shock or have been influenced by his ideas.
So, according to Toffler, what’s the most pressing need in public education?
Shut down the public education system.
I’m roughly quoting (Microsoft chairman) Bill Gates, who said, “We don’t need to reform the system; we need to replace the system.”
Unlike many politicians, he admits to not having all the answers for building a modern education system but he does have some questions that need to be answered first.
Do I have all the answers for how to replace it? No. But it seems to me that before we can get serious about creating an appropriate education system for the world that’s coming and that these kids will have to operate within, we have to ask some really fundamental questions. And some of these questions are scary. For example: Should education be compulsory? And, if so, for who? Why does everybody have to start at age five? Maybe some kids should start at age eight and work fast. Or vice versa. Why is everything massified in the system, rather than individualized in the system? New technologies make possible customization in a way that the old system — everybody reading the same textbook at the same time — did not offer.
I suspect for many of us the questions are not half as scary as honest answers would be. Like this view of the teaching profession.
I think (and this is not going to sit very well with the union) that maybe teaching shouldn’t be a lifetime career. Maybe it’s important for teachers to quit for three or four years and go do something else and come back. They’ll come back with better ideas. They’ll come back with ideas about how the outside world works, in ways that would not have been available to them if they were in the classroom the whole time.
I’m not sure I’m ready to buy all of Toffler’s ideas but his fundamental point is an excellent one. The basic structure of what we call school has much wrong with it and needs a major overhaul, if not complete rebuilding.
However, more than anything else, we need to seriously reconsider what it means to be “well educated”, the purpose of school, and the role of teaching and learning in society.
I hope many edubloggers will read the article and toss their ideas into the mix. It’s a conversation that’s long overdue.