Education Must Adapt to Change

Where is your cellphone at this moment?  In your pocket?  Perhaps in your handbag?  I bet it’s in close proximity to your person.  How many times have you used your phone today?  How many different applications have you employed?  Where would you be without it?  How has your cellphone changed your life over the course of the past dozen years?

I just read a brief announcement in Business Weekly last week.  Nokia, the Finnish high-tech giant, hinted that it may re-enter the smartphone market.  Apparently the company is working on a top secret project.  Back in 2008, Nokia dominated the global cellphone market.  By 2013, Nokia dropped out of this sector and sold all of its remaining assets to Microsoft.  Nokia is but one example of the blur created by dynamic change in today’s culture.  “Here today, gone tomorrow” describes our potential standing in the global struggle to remain relevant.  No nation, no business, no worker can afford to relax.  Rapid change is now a way of life.

America spearheaded much of this disruptive innovation.  We reaped spectacular rewards and continue to do so.  But what if the innovation stops?  What if the well runs dry?  What then?  Leaders in business and education are asking this question every day.  And it should challenge every one of us in the work of public education.  How do we confront the threats and opportunities of dynamic change as educators?  Will we innovate?  Will we risk failure to reap the rewards of success?

Public education in America sits on a precarious chair.  Our scores no longer shine bright on the global scene.  The trends shout at us, you’re slipping! So what do we do?  “Work harder,” cry the politicians.  We must score better on our high-stakes test, or else  . . . ,” reply our state officials.  So we work harder.  We target specific objectives.  By golly, we will improve our scores.  We will be a high achieving school.

But is this enough?  We improve our scores.  Every child now knows how to take these tests, there are no surprises.  What have we accomplished?  Can our children now compete with our global competitors and win?  Have we equipped a generation that can adapt to the new realities of disruptive innovation?  Or have we simply created efficient test takers for specific tests?

I believe we need to ask a different set of questions to better frame and address the real issue of change and adaptability.  What is required to deal with novel situations, problems?  What skills must we employ to engage new information, ambiguity?  Can we ask the right questions?  How do we define the problem?  What strategies with scope and sequence do we employ to solve problems?  Do we persist with strategic purpose?  We can no longer afford to construct education in a linear fashion.  We cannot assume the specific skillsets of today will be required tomorrow.  We must teach our children to think critically, creatively.

What do we mean when we say we must teach children how to think?  Specifically, what is critical thinking?  Are there specific components?  How do we develop our instruction to integreate those skills into general education?  How can neuroscience inform our teaching?  How do we measure success anecdotally and empirically?  In the weeks to come I want to explore the basic components of critical thought.  I aim to demonstrate why every child must acquire these skills.  Finally, I hope to illustrate why these skills are absolutely vital in the midst of change, how these skills readily transfer to varied challenges.

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