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The Perils of Predicting the Future of Education

December 2, 2018

The on-line magazine Quartz offered a series of articles earlier this week on The Future of College, one of which by Natasha Frost, “Experts predicting the future of education would have got an F“, offered some intriguing examples of ideas that were either almost right or completely off base. The predictions included this picture from 1910 by artist Jean-Marc Côte depicting the school of the future:

The article also included predictions that radio, “sound movies and mechanical tabulating machines”, personal computers, “practical use of direct electronic communication with and stimulation of the brain”, and flying classrooms would transform education at all levels and that universities would die off because “Colleges had become such hotbeds of Marxism, feminism, and affirmative action” that they would be inhospitable to most attendees.

As one whose entire blog is based on the premise that schooling in the future will incorporate the coordinated provision of medical and social services, the robust use of technology, and increased training in relationship building, I found the predictions both humorous and unsettling. The humor is evident in looking at the picture above… but the unsettling part is that each of the predictions have a dark side that one could see unfolding in our current schools.

There is a capability to avoid schooling altogether based on parental distaste for the culture that is implicitly taught in public schools and, with the advocacy for vouchers, it is conceivable that funds earmarked for “government schools” will be increasingly siphoned off for de facto madrases that inculcate religious values in children.

There is also the capability to avoid schooling altogether by engaging in on-line learning and passing a test that certifies one’s “mastery” of “career readiness” without experiencing the give-and-take of a classroom or a school. In this way a child could be shielded from contact with peers and become single-mindedly dedicated to, say, coding or micro-biology.

And there is also the capability (or in some cases proclivity) of schools to administer drugs to children to help control their behavior and thereby increase their ability to perform well in the classroom. The most unsettling quote from Ms. Frost’s article offers evidence of this: “A 2008 poll of Nature readers found that 20% of them “used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration, or memory” … and I assume those drugs are stronger than the large cup of coffee I am sipping to help me arouse from slumber and focus my thoughts as I type this post.

Despite the possible adverse directions education could take, I remain optimistic that reasonable minds will see the value of improving human relationships and the importance of having equity in our economy and opportunities. Assuming that is the case, Martin Luther King Junior’s prediction will prevail: “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Let us hope that is true.

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