THE FOUR ELEMENTS OF EMPOWERMENT
Marc Prensky, Founder, The Two Billion Kids Project
I define “empowerment” in terms of output. People — including kids — are empowered not just when they know how to get things done, but when they DO get things done. The Elements of Empowerment presented here are not “competencies” to be measured outside the real-world, but means to use within it. They are also simultaneous, not sequential, all reenforcing each other.
1. EMPOWERMENT THROUGH NEW BELIEFS
A big change has happened in young people’s capabilities — i.e. at what age they can start doing powerful things — but most kids in the world do not realize how powerful they now are compared with kids their age in the past.
Today, and going forward, kids are getting more and more capabilities daily — through new technology and the collaboration it enables. More and more kids already have much of this new enabling technology in their hands and pockets — and soon all will have a good amount of it.
But the technology by itself does not change things — the kids must use it in new and powerful ways, and to do that, they must believe that they can. Today most kids are not aware of the power to get things done and change things that is rapidly coming into their hands, and have very little understanding — if any — of the power that creates in themselves. They are certainly not told about this by most adults. The guidance of their parent’s generation is almost entirely “go to — or stay in — school.” The adults’ beliefs is that only adults are empowered to accomplish.
A great example is Greta Thumberg. When she wanted to change things, she began by thinking that the most powerful thing she could do for change was to demonstrate outside the Swedish Parliament in the rain — just as her parents might have done in their youth. When she did, the broadcast media technologies — of her parent’s time — did spread awareness. But that, frustratingly, accomplished little or nothing. Gradually, Greta began to realize that she could, with technology, connect with young people all over the globe, which she is now doing. I believe there is far more Greta, and kids her age, could be powerfully doing. Today, Gretas exist all over the world — they are all of our kids.
In order to be empowered, these kids — our kids — need new, more powerful beliefs about themselves. Forming new beliefs about their empowerment gives kids the realization that they can accomplish in the real world far earlier, and it leads them to demonstrate this — to themselves and to all of us. The new beliefs kids are starting to acquire include the change from an “I can’t” (or “I can’t yet”) belief to an ”I CAN” belief. Another new belief change is acquiring a “Growth Mindset,” as described by Carol Dweck and an “Abundance Mindset” described by Peter Diamandis. There are many more empowering belief changes that kids can adopt (see Beliefs for21c. Kids). As they adopt these new beliefs as their own, young people will have more power, and their power will manifest itself in the world.
2. EMPOWERMENT THROUGH REAL-WORLD ACCOMPLISHMENT
The way this new power of 21st c. kids manifests itself in the world is through their real-world accomplishments. Kids around the globe have now done tens of thousands of family, community, nation and world-projects demonstrate their power (For a sampling see The Better Their World Student Project Database.) Such accomplishments, building on each other, help that power grow. In previous times it was all about “individual achievement” by kids — making progress, ranking higher, earning prizes — which admitted them into new places in the education hierarchy, and eventually into the workforce. The 21st century and empowerment are all about accomplishment by kids, in teams, starting as early as possible. (Here is a video of kids starting at age three.) In tomorrow’s world, what you know — unapplied — won’t matter — nor will your unapplied skills or competencies. What will count is ONLY how you actually apply those to useful tasks in the world. Every one of our 2 billion kids is capable of real-world accomplishment at some level. The more they accomplish, the more it reinforces their belief that they can do so, and the more it benefits others as well. The metric for kids’ empowerment is no longer grades, or honors (as it was for achievement) — it is Measurable Positive Impact on some aspect of your world. Empowered kids build resumes of accomplishments, not transcripts of grades.
3. EMPOWERMENT THROUGH APPLIED UNIQUENESS
The goal in the 20th century was to give all kids the same basic skills, so they could all compete for the kinds of 20th c. work available.. These were called “jobs” and jobs defined who people were. We often asked kids “what do you want to BE when you grow up?” — expecting a job category as an answer.
What this ignores is that every human is unique — not just in how they look on the surface, but in their dreams, interests, capabilities and passions. Today, in a time of automation, this uniqueness needs to be very much the source of future human progress.
The 20th century was built around making kids the same in many senses — giving them the same knowledge and the same skills — so that they could take each other’s place easily. This was necessary for the repetitive “assembly-line” era of the 20th c. to function well. If individual interests and talents emerged — as they always did — they were called “hobbies.”
But with our advance in technology the need for repetitive behavior is going away — anything that two people can do equally well is subject to replacement by a machine, whether that repetitive “thing” be factory work or doctoring. Much of any job today is repetitive — doing or saying the same thing over and over, day after day. We have essentially made most people, in their working lives, into robots, using their human skills only for the exceptions. And, for better or for worse, our robots are now getting better and better at more and more previously human tasks.
The only defense against being automated is to become unique–-if no machine can do what you do, they have to use YOU. And the good news is that each person on this planet IS unique in the combination of their dreams, what they care about, what they’re good at, and what they love to do. This uniqueness is a big part of what empowers us as a species.
But we have lost much understanding of this. Diversity, and its value, is returning to our conversations — but the truest form of diversity is uniqueness. We have done a terrible job up until now of helping kids figure out and apply their uniqueness to real-world situations — particularly at earlier ages. In fact, we have hardly tried. But now we must.
How can we do this? We need to replace the knowledge testing that we now do with our kids (that they both hate and that is no longer very helpful) with new means for identifying each kid’s uniqueness — and showing them where they might apply it fruitfully. Many attempts at this exist — so-called “instruments” and tests — they could be combined, put into appealing form for all ages, and administered to all kids yearly. Doing this becomes easier as technology evolves.
But the best thing we have for identifying uniqueness is interested people — adults who observe kids and give suggestions, and kids who typically know what their peers are unique at. It is important that we harness this capability, and shift it from being from a sense of derision and bullying to a sense of mutual help.
We should also watch how each person’s uniqueness evolves over time, suggesting fruitful avenues for each person to pursue as this happens.
4. EMPOWERMENT THROUGH TECHNOLOGY & TEAM SYMBIOSIS
Many don’t admit it, but humans are changing radically as we enter the 21st century (to the dismay of many adults, who, today, were all born in the 20th c.). We need to face, first, the fact that our kids will not be the same humans we were, and, second, that this is also a form of empowerment.
Not only will our kids be different in the ways, we have discussed — in their beliefs, in their accomplishments from early ages, and in their self-knowledge of their own uniqueness — they will also be quite different in terms of two other big things — their capabilities when paired with new technologies, and their connection to others as a result of these technologies.
20th c. adults (i.e. those from the “Last Pre-Internet Generation) tend to view people as “humans with tools” — with the human side taking complete priority. In this view, tools, although they extend the range of native human capabilities, are merely “things” invented and made by people. Proponents of this view believe there is some “human essence” of which our tools are only extensions and helpers. “People can exist and function to some extent without tools,” they might say, “but the tools cannot function without the people”. This, belief, however, is no longer strictly accurate — think of anything “automatic,” like traffic lights, that function night a day without much, or any, need for human intervention. Once the technology can self-repair, it becomes independent.
The belief in a strict human-tool distinction is, I believe, changing rapidly in the 21st century, particularly in our young people. Many so-called “tools” have already moved inside our bodies. But, far more important, is not what is happening physically, but how we view things: we, and particularly our young people, are starting to see technology as new parts of our human body — under its own control, perhaps, rather than ours, but in ways that help us.
We are, of course, continually improving the technology in terms of upgrades and maintenance.. This is what is known as a symbiotic relationship. In such a relationship each part helps the other thrive — and eventually each can’t survive without the other. It is very similar to the relationship humans have with the trillions of bacteria in our gut and skin. All those bacteria are, in fact independent organisms living outside our internal, blood-fed body (even the ones in our gut.) But they generally act in synch with us, and each of us supports the other in a positive way.
Such symbiosis is what I believe is quickly happening with humans and technology. Today, pacemakers, artificial organs, heart and insulin pumps are currently inside our bodies, and apps and smartphones, with all their capabilities, are currently outside. But his will quickly evolve.
One of our biggest 21st c. needs in empowering our kids for the future is to successfully and positively integrate new parts into humans symbiotically, so that the whole functions better than any of the parts before. This is what is already happening, I believe, with our kids and their smartphones — which is why we all lose if we try to take the devices away and “make the kids 20th c. humans again.” Taking away a kid’s phone is like cutting off a body part — painful today, and possibly, in the future, fatal. Our kids are not 20th c. humans, nor should they be. They are 21st century Symbiotic Human Hybrids.
A second symbiosis — Mind-to-Mind Connections
There is, additionally, is a second kind of symbiosis emerging as well — with other minds. The barrier preventing us from knowing other people’s minds directly has always impeded human progress. This new “mind-meld” symbiosis is currently starting with our dependence on teams and teamwork to get things done: Today almost nothing gets done alone — the “individual contributor” is quickly passing.
The direct connection with other minds, via neural connections, and/or a so-called “hive mind” has already begun. We can count on our kids being empowered in this way.
Connecting with where we started, one of the most important belief changes of the first and future Internet generations is that this symbiosis is not just possible, it is a valuable new human trait for the 21st century and beyond. Both technology and newly connected minds are becoming new, integrated, symbiotic parts of humanity.
Each of these four elements
· New Empowering Beliefs
· Real-World Accomplishments (with MPI)
· Applied Uniqueness
· Tech and Team Symbiosis
is new — things that up until now neither parents nor education spent much time providing our kids. But all working together, they are what will make the generations of the 21st c. and beyond far more empowered than any humans who have come before.
If we have any task left as the last Pre-Internet Generation, it is to help our kids acquire these new elements sooner rather than later — and direct those elements toward a better world for all of us.