Moving BEYOND 20th Century “Education” to 21st Century “Post-Education-Empowerment”
by Marc Prensky, Founder, The Two Billion Kids Project
MANY ANXIOUSLY ASK “What will education be like after Covid?” Piercing though all the fog and anxiety, here is what I see happening with education in the 21st century and beyond:
20th CENTURY EDUCATION (20cE) HAS HAD ITS TRIUMPHANT DAY.
It was a wonderful human solution for the 20th century, but it was already dying before Covid-19 dealt it another, possibly mortal, blow.
20th CENTURY EDUCATION CANNOT — AND WILL NOT — -BE “FIXED” FOR THE 21st.
I predict many will go down trying.
Rest in Peace, 20th century education, Rest in Peace.
There’s no need for 20th century Education (20cE) to change — what’s needed is for us to let it go. It no longer meets our needs, nor will it ever meet them again. Once it had the right stuff, but its stuff is no longer right for our kids’ future — except for a small few with an academic bent. While many look at our present education and see delivery problems, inequalities, family disruptions, kids falling further behind, personal and college admissions crises — i.e. our immediate, short-term problems — we also need to be thinking 10–20 years down the road, to the mid-to-late 21st century in which our kids will live. The important question now is not how 20th century education can survive, but rather how, and with what, to replace it.
HOW TO REPLACE 20cE WITH SOMETHING DIFFERENT AND MORE USEFUL FOR THE FUTURE
As 20cE gradually leaves us, despite the many noble efforts to “reform” it, we DO have a pressing need to replace it —gradually at least but hopefully quickly — with a different, more useful alternative for all kids in the 21st century. And eventually we will. The system humanity will create next deserves a new name to differentiate it from 20cE and what we did before — and while it is too early to predict, the world will eventually find a lasting name. But I suggest, for the moment, we start with “POST-EDUCATION.” Its theme, and new goal, is “empowerment” — i.e. making our kids capable of fixing all the problems they have inherited.
I do not mean “post-education” in the sense of “first get an education, then a post-education,” but rather in the sense of a next historical step — a 21st century alternative to the “education of the 20c” that takes a diametrically different approach. The empowerment of post-education is NOT an extension of, or “fix” to 20th c. education. It is designed to be education’s long-term replacement for most people — although some may still choose the old way. It therefore requires a new name to differentiate it.
Why Replace? Why Not Just Revise 20cE?
20th Century Education was, at its best (and is, in theory) a lovely thing — all about learning and knowledge. Pre-turn-of-the-millennium both of those were scarce (and in some places still are). 20cE was designed to remedy that scarcity — first by spreading written literacy and arithmetic to as many as possible, and then by increasing those kids’ historical knowledge of math, language, science and social studies.
And we succeeded! 20th century Education was enormously successful — even if not completely, or everywhere. A great many 20th century people benefitted. Today, at the start of the third millennium, the world has millions more “educated” people (and a far bigger percentage of them) than it did pre-20th century. ALL are alumni of 20cE. And this was accomplished as the world’s population more than quadrupled over the 20th century! We should say bravo, 20cE! (except, sadly, for those people we missed.)
But then came a major historical turn, more or less coinciding (conveniently enough for all to remember) with the turn of the millennium. The times are still confusing as we live through them, but the world will long point to the huge and important historical change from “The Last Pre-Internet Generation the World Will Ever See” to “The First Internet Generation the World Has Ever Known.”
Actually TWO Big Changes, simultaneously
What makes this transition even more momentous is that two huge changes are happening simultaneously. One is the exponential advance in digital technology, which almost all of us either see or know about. This technology changes is accompanied — crucially — by huge generational changes in beliefs — about how people see the world and each other. It is the combination of new technology and new beliefs that is newly powerful, because taken together they constitute what historian Thomas Kuhn would call a “paradigm change.” Today the term “paradigm change” is heard frequently, but I would suggest most who use it don’t fully understand its meaning, implications or extent.
According to one cultural anthropologist, the world’s beliefs are quickly changing generationally, In our times, with regard to:
technology, privacy, property, relationships, sexuality, race, security, power, work, empathy, kids, god and religion, money, love, violence, justice, government, and even time and space.
That is a long list, and probably incomplete.
Technology and Beliefs Changes
Although technology changes and belief changes are interrelated, it is not always the case that they go hand-in-hand. Many people resist either one, the other, or both, as we see many adults doing today. But when the two change simultaneously, it produces a new world. These twin changes are already having — and will continue to have — an enormous effect on human society in our lifetimes, and their ramifications will continue long beyond. No wonder so many adults today are confused and upset! Many from the “Last Pre-Internet Generation” — which comprises, today, all our adults — are trying to resist either technology change, belief change (or both.) But this is an impossible job.
When kids’ beliefs are changing almost as fast as their technology, as they are now (just look at recent changes in sexuality, gender and race beliefs, plus the wholesale integration of smartphones into kids’ lives) we see cultural revolution.
And we are living it. Not like the 1960s with its counter-cultural style and language— but even more profoundly. And our 20th century Education (20cE) is a casualty. Not just a casualty of Covid-19, but rather a casualty of changes already happening.
How The World Has Changed Already
Most of us see — and care deeply about — only the world immediately around us. If our own kids are struggling with education, that matters to us. If groups of kids (poor, culturally different) are struggling with education, that matters, sadly, to fewer of us. If all the 2 billion kids in the world are struggling with education, few really see that picture. But today ALL 2 billion ARE struggling — -struggling to adapt to a very new world.
Here’s an eye-opening example of how different that new world is from the world of the 20th c. where all today’s adults grew up. : If, at any time in the 20th century, a Western member of the Last Pre-Internet Generation had moved to China (or someone from China had moved to the West) they would have required years of education and language study — either before or after their move — to function effectively. Today, a person raised in the West, and speaking only English can go live in China and,IMMEDIATELY, using her/his smart phone, function adequately, both locally and globally. Their device will read for them in either language , write for them in either language, and translate for them in both writing and real-time conversation. The technology enables almost complete interaction not only with the culture where they are, with their former culture and the entire world as well. This human capability, along with many others, is totally new to the 21st-century. And although currently limited to some, thee new capabilities will soon be everywhere.
20cE doesn’t address this at all. Whatever its success in the past, 20cE’s great and valuable 20th c. as the world moves on to the 21st c. and beyond, 20cE’s great and valuable 20th c. benefits of literacy and historical knowledge have begun to rapidly decline as the world mores on to the 21st c. and beyond.
Easy to Criticize, Hard to Fix
It is not hard, of course to identify the shortcomings of 20cE for the future. Many have made a good living from doing so. Most people see at least some of the problems. What is lacking are new ideas about what to do. That is what Post-Education provides. But for now, unfortunately, the world has fixated on on “reforming” the old 20cE. Can we do this?
IS “FIXING” or “REFORMING” 20cE EVEN POSSIBLE?
There is no doubt that humans will continue for a long time into the future — -an possibly forever — to bring up our kids in some way with the guidance of adults. Human offspring need a societal upbringing in some form. But that upbringing must fit the times. That is why 20cE — which fit the 20c needs so well — spread everywhere. Today “reforming” that 20cE is the direction that almost everyone is taking — in the education profession, field, or “space” (as the venture capitalists call it.). Everywhere, locally and nationally, large numbers of people are trying desperately to “reform” 20cE. Countries are bringing in “experts.” And on the surface, it all sounds good. It sounds like we are doing what people are asking for. Reform sounds to most like precisely the right thing to do. It sounds like our educators and politicians are “on the case.”
BUT IT IS ACTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO REFORM 20cE — except at the (meaningless) margins.
Moreover, I believe that it will continue to be impossible FOREVER to reform or fix our current 20cE.
So, in order to support our future kids, I have resigned, intellectually, from the “education reform movement” and the “education space.” I believe everyone in it (including me) has been wasting both time and money trying to reform 20cE. It is time now to create a widespread alternative. Going forward, all my thinking and energy are now devoted to establishing and promoting the new concept, and space, of POST-EDUCATION and EMPOWERMENT.
I’m NOT saying that whatever incremental changes are made— I call them “ICEing” (for “Incremental Changes to Education”) — will not benefit any kids. They will certainly do so. New “ICEing” is now becoming widespread. It includes creating “charter “schools, providing laptops, adding distance technology, online learning, blended learning, social-emotional programs, STEM, STEAM and many other things. But the “cake” i.e. THE SAME OLD “BASICS” and THE CURRICULAR DETAIL IN THE 4 SUBJECTS OF MATH, ENGLISH (or local language), SCIENCE and SOCIAL STUDIES —what I refer to as “THE MESS” — remains the same. Re-ICEing the same old cake will benefit some kids in the short term. But if that is ALL that happens — as I predict will be the case— in the long run all kids will lose.
WHY CAN’T 20cE BE REFORMED?
There are many important reasons for the impossibility — and NOT just difficulty — of reforming 20cE. Most of these are either ignored or underappreciated. Here are several of them (there are certainly others):
- Adults still want 20cE for their kids. I.e. they want their kids to have the same thing they got — only better!
- There is an incredibly strong belief in the Last Pre-Internet Generation (i.e. all adults) that “Education” (20cE) is “so important and beneficial that every child should have one.” The importance of 20cE is a given among the Last Pre-Internet Generation. Almost any adult alive today will proudly defend the huge importance of “education” for kids. No parent today would want their child to go without one if they could possibly provide it for them.
- There is a very clear idea throughout the world, because so many of today’s adults went through 20cE, of what “AN EDUCATION” is. “An education” is the “OLD BASICS” of reading, writing, arithmetic, followed by “THE MESS OF DETAIL” of Math, English, science, and social studies — all delivered by a teacher. 20cE is, for most, what today’s adults got. Claiming that any element of it is not needed drives almost any 20th c. parent into a frenzy.
- There are new needs that 20cE knows it cannot meet, but it doesn’t care. These new needs — that 20cE doesn’t and can’t meet at all — are for EMPOWERMENT THROUGH BELIEF CHANGE, REAL-WORLD ACCOMPLISHMENT, APPLIED UNIQUENESS and TEAM & TECHNOLOGY SYMBIOSIS.
- Few parents are really willing to try something completely new — the words they often use are “don’t experiment with my kid.” Small, incremental changes only, if you please. Yet there can be no useful change without experimentation.
- A huge global infrastructure — in every country — has been put in place to support 20th c. Education, and a great many depend on it for their livelihood. It consists of enormous numbers of schools, administrators, maintainers, teachers, test makers, rules, laws, curricula, and standards and the politicians and educators who make them. This huge group is completely dependent on Education’s continuing more or less as it is.
- PISA now ranks (and so legitimizes) what everybody currently does and pushes them to do better at it.
- There is no consensus on where else the world wants to go or how to get there. There are lots of scattered first steps, but no new overall vision uniting them. In fact, the vision is scattered all over the place.
- There are almost no alternatives available. No one knows what to do instead of 20cE, or how to do it. Most know their role, and what is expected of them well, and know how to get it done at an acceptable level. If all of them were asked suddenly to do something completely different, most wouldn’t be able to — even if we knew what that was, which we don’t.
- Whatever “change-pressure” there is — and it is increasing — is not for fundamental change, but for Incremental Change (“ICEing”). There is large demand form parents for — and parental satisfaction from — particular incremental changes that benefit their own kids, whether those be athletics, music, programming, advanced placement courses, or something else. Such ICEing includes, as we said, charter schools, laptops, distance technology, online and blended learning, social-emotional learning, STEM, STEAM and many other forms. But most want the “cake” i.e. the OLD BASICS and the MESS OF DETAILS, to remain the same.
- The system has developed, for self-protection, extremely strong “antibodies” against change. This goes way beyond teacher unions, currently the target of many reformers. The saying in the NYC schools was “You can get a pilot for anything, but it will never be adapted everywhere.” Someone once quipped that “if education discovered a cure for cancer, in 20 years we would still have cancer. Not because the cure doesn’t work, but because education won’t or can’t change to provide it.” Even Bill Gates failed when he tried to get a new “Big History” curriculum he liked adopted universally.
For all these reasons — and more — 20cE is IMPOSSIBLE to change fundamentally — and extremely hard to change even incrementally. If we want something different, 20cE needs to be (gradually but hopefully swiftly) replaced with something new.
Yet Despite Reform Being Impossible, Much is Wasted Attempting It
Today, over and over, people are still trying to reform 20cE. (i.e. the “OLD BASICS” of reading, writing, arithmetic, followed by “THE MESS OF DETAILS” of math, English, science, and social studies, delivered to classes by teachers.)
Daily, around the world, huge numbers of people hit their heads against the wall trying to change some or all of this (you may know some of them.) They spend — and waste — enormous sums of time, money. and human energy. Yet despite this huge effort, they accomplish nothing that fundamentally affects, in almost any way, what today’s education basically offers and provides — beyond adding bits of incremental “ICEing.”
20cE NOT ONLY HOLDS BACK OUR 21st c. KIDS ENORMOUSLY (compared to where they could, and should be at this point,), BUT IT ACTUALLY HARMS THEM.) Yet this “MESS” is almost impossible to clean up.
How 20cE Holds Our Kids Back
Sadly, every one of its basic building blocks contributes to 20cE’s holding our kids back:
- The whole process of “education” holds our kids back because of how the world defines it; i.e. OLD BASICS, A MESS OF DETAILS, LECTURING and TESTING.
- 20cE’s outdated focus on “learning” holds our kids back because learning is treated as an end in itself — and not a means to accomplishing something useful.
- Sending our kids to buildings called “schools” holds our kids back because so many of those buildings are “warehouses” where kids do nothing useful. We really just use them as a means of keeping our kids safe (i.e. not roaming the streets) while their parents work.
- Calling our kids “students” holds our kids back because it implies that they are “not yet ready” to do anything useful.
- Calling the adults who work with our kids “teachers” holds our kids back, because it implies their job is to teach kids things we already know, instead of empowering them to go further.
All those are concepts from the past, based on left-over beliefs from the 20th century. The concepts may have been useful back then, but they are NOT the concepts that our kids need going forward. Wile every day, around the world, with enormous good faith and hard work, many struggle to reform and fix 20cE, with a firm and noble belief that this will be helpful — they are engaged in an outmoded, no-longer-needed effort. Just as 20cE was enormously successful in spreading text literacy, horses were once enormously successful in extending transportation. But we moved to something better as soon as it became available. Even with all the reforms, 20cE is still, today, universally and mightily engaged in building saddles and buggy whips, with as yet no new place to go.
HOW 20cE ACTUALLY HARMS KIDS
It is one thing to say 20cE holds our kids back — it is another to say it actually harms kids. Does it?
Obviously, it depends on your definition of harm. I always remember the response of a high-school girl when I asked her whether she played video games. “No.” she replied. “My parents deprived me.” Depriving people of what they need — especially when it is in your power to give it to them — is harming them.
Some, in our current Covid-19 time, say that NOT being in school harms our kids. I think that this depends very much on the kid, and I believe the kids’ not being in school actually harms the parents more. Being physically out of school is certainly not hurting my 15-year-old. He gets online, often lying in his bed, the same stuff he would get anyway — little of which he likes or finds worthwhile. Other than missing seeing his friends in person as much (he still sees them all daily virtually) he is far happier. But every kid is different.
Physical harm to kids can be prevented by keeping them in buildings, or with their parents, or possibly by other means, yet to be invented. But there are other forms of harm besides physical. Kids need preparation for the future, and to leave them unprepared for that future is to harm them.
Sadly — even when in in-person session — 20 cE does not prepare our kids for the 21st c. future they will live in. It’s not even neutral. Kids getting a 20cE are being underfed — -denied the the nutrients they need for the future, even as we overstuff them with outdated food (i.e content) that was once.good.
And even more than with the outdated content, 20cE harms our kids with the old, 20th c. no-longer-useful beliefs it offers them. These include: ”You are powerless until you get an education,” “You should always do your own work rather than collaborate,” “Kids benefit by being kept in school every day,” and many more. I recently published a free online eBook with 20 new beliefs I think all our kids need to succeed in the 21st century. They are listed below. As you read them, ask yourself: How many of these are provided by 20cE? How many do you — and other 20th century parents and teachers — even agree with?
Beliefs for 21st Century Kids
“I am, first, a member of the human race and a citizen of the world — before my many other identities.”
“I have a unique set of dreams, passions, strengths, and capabilities that no other human has. “
“I can understand my uniqueness and apply it to bettering my world in my own unique way.”
“I have the power to create positive change — as an individual, and even more powerfully in teams.”
“I can and will take my own dreams as seriously as I want to.”
“I live in a technology age. I will make my human and machine components work together well to solve problems.”
“My goal is to become a good, effective, world-improving person, doing the most good and the least harm I can.”
“My best self combines: What I care about most, What I’m best at, and What I love to do.”
“My key sources of happiness are LOVE, EMPATHY, GRATITUDE & OPTIMISM.”
“I am entitled to TRUST, RESPECT, INDEPENDENCE, COLLABORATION & KINDNESS from others — and will give the same in return.”
“I can build my self-esteem and self-confidence by continually accomplishing positive, useful, tasks in my community, country and world…and can personally better my world by joining in world-improving projects.”
“My ideal life is a good balance of: -Socializing, eating, exercise & play; -Contributing to my world; and -Renewing myself through reflection and sleep.”
“I am in charge of, and responsible for, my own life and future. I also welcome well-intentioned advice and guidance from all sources.”
“I am free to believe whatever I want to. — But I am not free to cause harm to others or the world.”
“I will not be under-respected, under-appreciated- or underestimated because of my age, gender — or anything else.”
“I am nobody’s pet, property, or slave. No person has the right to control me, beyond stopping me from doing harm.”
“I know, and welcome, that my life will be one of continuous change — and this may even Include changes in my beliefs.”
“But much of my adult life will be determined by the beliefs I form growing up.”
“No matter what anyone tells me, all these things are true.”
Sadly, We Are Victims of Our Own Success!
How did this happen to us? How did we wind up with a system that now does our kids harm? Clearly no one set out to harm kids. So how did a system (20cE) that now does hurt our kids come to dominate the world so completely? How did it develop such enormously strong antibodies to change? And, most important of all — What can we do about it?
The short answer of how 20cE came to dominate is by doing such a good job for its time. The value of 20cE for the 20th century was enormous. Almost every world leader whet through it. Societies ran more smoothly because of it. It helped commerce get done and businesses and factories grow. 20cE produced, in large part, the dynamic 20th century we had.
Few ever want to throw away or change something that works so well — in fact they generally want to expand it — which is now our problem. As county after country copied the great educational success models of England, Germany, the US, China, and others, all 20cE educations became the same in their essence. “Education (20cE)” now means, to most of the world “teaching kids reading writing and arithmetic in the early years and teaching them the historical outlines of math, language, science and social studies in their teens.” That’s what we have, today, everywhere. Different countries (and different localities within countries) do it slightly differently, and less well or more. PISA ranks nations higher or lower at doing it. Educators run around the world to high-scoring places like Finland or Singapore looking for answers. They find none.
Unfortunately, 20cE, in its essence, no longer prepares our kids for their future. Even proactive countries like Finland and Singapore, which have made many changes, have affected how they prepare their kids only marginally. That is because they still have the same old goal — education — and employ many of the old, unhelpful metrics to measure it.
The short answer to What we can do about it? is “create something new, side by side, that will — as its superiority becomes clear — gradually take over.” That is what is developing — bottom up — in still-isolated pockets around the globe. That is Post-Education, a/k/a “Empowerment.”
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “REFORMED 20cE” AND “POST-EDUCATION OR EMPOWERMENT’ IS: NEW ENDS, NEW MEANS, and NEW MEASUREMENTS
We should all be very clear about what differentiates — sharply and distinctively — “Post-Education and Empowerment” from “Reformed 20cE”. The most important is new ends, followed by new means to achieve those ends, as well as new metrics. Why do we need new ends, means and metrics? Because the 21st century has brought a shift in what kids need for their future, and only having different ends and means — and measuring them differently — will lead to different outcomes. If our ends and means don’t change, we still have 20cE — no matter how different it may look because of its new ICEing. What will happen at best — and all that will happens— is that 20cE will get better at the old, outdated ends it has.
New Ends versus Old Ends
What are the old ends and what are the new? The “old ends” (i.e. the ends of 20cE) are to improve individuals — mostly intellectually — so that those individuals can later go off, ideally, and improve the world. (Of course we rarely ever check if they do.) The “new ends” of Post-Education / Empowerment are to improve the world immediately, through teams of kids’ accomplishing real-world projects with Measurable Positive Impact — and for those who do so to get better and better at it through constant practice and improvement.
The Post-Education / Empowerment process — in stark contrast to 20cE — makes those who go through it understand that they CAN improve their world, and that they KNOW HOW TO improve their world for the rest of their lives — because in their Post-Education / Empowerment process they have done so over and over again.
That is Post-Education / Empowerment’s difference — and power. One could reasonably assert that both 20cE and Post-Education are about producing “better people and a better world.” But the two differ radically in their goals, methods and timing.
Post-education / Empowerment is based around improving the kids’ world immediately, through real, world-improving projects. It starts kids off accomplishing — and having Measurable Positive Impact on their world — on Day One, and improves their ability to do this as they continue to accomplish throughout their formative years. 20cE, of course requires people to spend years in school learning before they get to do anything useful (other than, perhaps, one or two “service projects” — which often mean just “collecting money.”)
How can you tell which is which?
Most of the ‘reforms” we hear about today are just “ICEing” on top of 20cE. How can a parent or kid (or educator) who wants one, spot a Post-Education / Empowerment program? Here’s a quick way to tell. If the school, or program is working primarily to help individual kids get better intellectually — and is judging or ranking kids on how well that happens — it is just a version of 20cE (perhaps with ICEing). That was a noble 20th c. goal, but it is not now, by itself, enough. Nor is it what most kids in the world now need. On the other hand, if it is helping the world get better, in real-time, through continuous real-world projects with Measurable Positive Impact — and is improving the participants’ ability to do this in the process — it offering Post-Education and Empowerment.
Here are two other ways to tell: (3) If there is a curriculum of “classes and courses,” it is a 20cE (despite any ICEing.) If there is no set curriculum, but only a series of projects, different for each kid, it is Post-Education and Empowerment. (2) If what kids get out of the school or program is a set of marks and a transcript of grades, it is 20cE. If the kids leave with a resume of real-world accomplishments, it is Post-Education and Empowerment.
Should adults who “care about education” work towards “reforming 20cE,” or towards “creating Post-Education and Empowerment?”
Belief in “the importance of education” is very strong among the adults making up the world’s Last Pre-Internet Generation. Pretty much any of them will defend, fiercely and proudly, the extreme importance of education for kids. Many will cite Nelson Mandela’s pronouncement that: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” But while Mandela’s thought may have been correct in the 20th century, it no longer is. The world has moved on. We now have new, more powerful “weapons of change,” i.e. Empowerment and Accomplishment. That means kids with new tools and beliefs who apply them to bettering their world. Our role should be to help our kids become impactful teams of networked people.
In the 20th century (and before) it was almost always individuals who “made their mark,” both as leaders and contributors (with of course many followers.) was about improving individuals, because, In the 20th century (and before) it was almost always individuals who “made their mark,” as leaders, and contributors (with of course, many followers.) So it made sense for 20cE to be about improving individuals. Going forward, “being human” and “making your mark”is now a team sport — everywhere. It is teams of networked people, supported by new technology, that are our new, more powerful “weapons of change.” This is a big part what makes 20cE — with its core tenet of “do your own individual work” — outdated.
The Irony is that just as we finally put a system in place for all…the world changed!
Every one of today’s adults was either helped — or wishes they had been helped — by 20cE. By the late 20th c., after centuries of preparation, 20cE had finally taken hold in the world. At the height of the Last Pre-Internet’s Generation’s power, “educating everyone” (with a 20cE) became a global, societal goal., and was given a name United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #4. Today the United Nations, through SDG 4 — and every country — supports giving at least a “basic” education to every child in the world. The 20cE system — although far from perfect — is now in place just about everywhere. Today, every country in the world has an education program, led by a Minister of Education (or equivalent) who, like all of them, went through 20cE her or himself.
Today’s adults deeply believe in the power of “education” (i.e. 20cE) to help individuals, and the world, succeed and move up, in large part because so many adults experienced the help of 20cE personally and first-hand. This has become a huge part of the Last Pre-Internet Generation’s “belief-system.” They believe 20cE improves lives, and therefore society — that is a big piece of what the Mandela quote expresses. Every parent who feels they benefited from “having gotten an education” (or who watched others benefit) wants to pass on those benefits to their kids.
But before we could get even the simplest 20cE to everyone, the world began to move past the need for one. Today, while many still struggle mightily to provide a basic 20cE for all, the world has moved on. Today, the process called “Education” in the 20th century (20cE) no longer brings most kids the long-term benefits it used to. This is not yet the case universally — it may still do so in some places, and cases, that are behind. But the generational sea-change from “The Last Pre-Internet Generation” to the “First Internet Generation” is global and rapid, bringing with it huge shifts in our needs for the future — as well as new consequences from our current actions, including continuing to do with our children what we did in the past. What 20cE brought to the world — which was so incredibly valuable in the 20th-century — is quickly becoming far less valuable in the 21st-century.
“OLD BASICS” VS. “NEW BASICS” — HUMANITY’S NEEDS HAVE CHANGED
I hope that adults who “care deeply” about education — as many tell me they do — will focus not on more “ICEing for 20cE,” but on Post-Education and Empowerment for kids.
Our needs — both individually and societally — have changed in the 21st c. This is true even for those who may not have yet caught up, because soon ALL will be at a level that is far higher than that of the 20th c. (even as some have more). What 20cE brings our kids — almost without exception — are huge numbers of things that were of benefit in the past — it is, in many sense, a museum. 20cE no longer gives kids even a reasonable part of what they need now. Worse,it gives kids, in their formative years, much that they don’t need, like “old basics” and a MESS of details. Today most kids in the world don’t need a 20cE.
So what today’s and tomorrow’s kids need? What will prepare them for their future? I see the answer as a combination of NEW ELEMENTS and NEW BASICS.
THE NEW ELEMENTS
At least FOUR NEW ELEMENTS are needed by 21st c. kids, and 20cE — as we have conceived it up until now and continue to conceive it— DOES NOT PROVIDE A SINGLE ONE. That which is why we need Post-Education and Empowerment..
Entirely missing from 20cE are the 4 key elements of EMPOWERMENT:
· EMPOWERING BELIEFS
· REAL-WORLD ACCOMPLISHMENT
· APPLIED UNIQUENESS and
· TEAM & TECHNOLOGY SYMBIOSIS.
I will discuss each of these new elements in just a minute. But first, let me address “basics.”
“THE BASICS” FOR KIDS HAVE NOW CHANGED — DRAMATICALLY
A great many, these days, ask educators to go “back to basics.” What those who ask don’t realize is that for the 21st c. the basics have changed. Here is my reasoning forI saying that the old basics (i.e. old curriculum and skills) are no longer needed.
Reading, Writing and Arithmetic Are No Longer What They Were in the 20th c.
It is not that we are seeing a shrinking need for communication and calculation — both are increasing. It is rather that there is a shrinking need in the world for traditional literacy in reading, writing and arithmetic as those formerly human-essential tasks move to machines. Not having all our reading, writing and arithmetical power in our human heads alone is something extremely hard for the Last Pre-Internet Generation to accept. Their typical objection is “What if the power goes down?” The 21st c. answer is “If and when it does, we fix it and move on.”
Every human can do, naturally, some combination of speaking, hearing, seeing, remembering, and conceptualizing. Every human can take in information, store it, put it out, and understand the basic concepts of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. The methods humans use to actually do these things have evolved and improved over time — and it makes sense to use the most efficient and modern means one has at one’s disposal. Writing, and then printing, were for a long time our most efficient means of storage. Reading was needed for retrieval. For arithmetic, in the East the abacus was the most efficient tool, and it was taught in all schools — but never in the West, which preferred pencil and paper. Those were the basics of that time. Today the most efficient means for all of these are computers, which, for many things, are becoming trivially inexpensive (putting a 4 function calculator on any chip costs next to nothing). Once you have one, arithmetical calculations of any size are trivial. The “basic” job is NOT to teach old means, but rather to get kids to understand when to do what, and to move them to the new best means as quickly as possible. One hundred years ago every engineer used a slide rule, today none do. It is the most efficient means that are the “basics” of the times.
Up until roughly the year 2000, speaking in your native language was trivial, but being able to speak in every language was impossible — learning even one or two languages that you didn’t grow up with took years of study. Today, with the capabilities in smartphones, communicating in any language is fast becoming trivial. Reading is the same— reading fluently in your native language unaided (e.g. by dictionaries)was hard, and doing so in any other language required a combination years of either translation by others or language study. Today a smartphone can take anything ever written in any language and read it to you in your own. All you have to do is ask it to.
In the 21st c., all our kids either have, or soon will have, totally new human capabilities, which include far easier means of doing what were previously very complicated things. Yet few, if any, recommend letting go of — or even phasing out — the old basics.
Really? No more physical reading and writing?
In 5–10 years, being literate (in a reading/writing sense) in any language — or even possessing many of today’s needed skills, since many will move to machines — will bring far less of an advantage to a person than it does now. Everyone will have the capability of doing these things a better way. Why should kids sped years mastering these old skills, when a machine can already do much of it for them, and do it better? For how long do we have to continue to teach the metaphorical equivalent of horseback riding in an age of bullet rains, supersonic planes and rockets?
The physical art of writing is going away. I, along with many people in the world, already bypass physical handwriting (or even keyboarding — another interim tool) as much as possible with voice-to-text (as I am writing this article.) A smartphone allows voice input for almost everything. Anything in any language can either be read into your ears — either as created or translated into any other language on-the-fly — by the device millions of kids now (and soon billions will) carry in their pocket. When one of my writings is published in another language (or if I want to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak mine), I have Google translate and other tools at my disposal. They are trivial to use. Today I am privileged to have these, but they will soon be in everyone's’ hands and pocket.
Reading and writing text, unaided, is a tremendously hard process which takes years of work and practice — which is why the world is still incomplete in providing it. But in possibly less than a decade or two, we will no longer have to provide it at all.
Today accessing knowledge — which was always a problem pre-millennium — can all be done just by speaking and listening — which almost every human can do without help (although help can make you much better at it).Although much of our information was historically stored as written text, we no longer need reading and writing to access it — or to store more of it. Those are “Ex-Basics.”
What I now call our “Ex-Basics” includes teaching kids to read and write from paper or a screen — one can, today, read with one’s ears. (One of the periodicals I read already offers all its article aurally.) Ex-Basics also includes, in an age of ubiquitous smartphones, arithmetical calculation on paper. One can already ask Siri, via voice, to divide a restaurant bill into seven parts.
And, in an age where, with a smartphone, “any 10-year-old walking down the street can access all of human knowledge” (as Ray Kurzweil says), about anything that may interest him or her, “ex-basics” include all the historical details we still teach about math, language science and social studies. What every kids really needs are the key nuggets and points — -things that 20cE typically does not offer in memorable form. I now refer to the four once-important subjects of Math, English, Science, Social studies as “THE MESS” OF DETAILS. The subjects are NOT a mess in their essence — the concepts in each are important — but they are a mess in their extreme detail and historical approach to things like math and science.
Very importantly — the generational change in beliefs is that this move away from the “old basics,” and once-necessary detail, is quite positive for humans. Only those from the previous generation (today’s adults) see it as negative. Who really wants to go back to “Ex-basics” or “to the MESS OF DETAILS” when they don’t have to? No kid I know, and I believe no kid anywhere.
So What Are the “NEW Basics?”
Just as there were old basics to fit 20th c. needs, there are New Basics to fit 21st c. needs. In addition to the four New Elements of Empowering Beliefs, Real-World Accomplishment, Applied Uniqueness and Technology Symbiosis mentioned above (and discussed in detail later on), I believe New Basics — not generally included in 20cE — include:
- L.E.G.O. (Love, Empathy, Gratitude, Optimism.)
- T.R.I.C.K. (Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, Kindness.)
- A “NEW ABC LOOP” (of Accomplishing useful, positive projects, Bettering your world & Becoming a good, effective, world-improving person, and Continuing to do so.)
- Preparation for CONTINUOUS and CONSTANT CHANGE.
Certainly NOT “new basics” are all the “new” forms of ICEing (Incremental Changes to Education) of laptops, social-emotional programs, arts programs, sports programs, enrichment programs and electives — although these are all nice to have for some. How do we know these are not considered basics? Because, as we see today in Covid time, they are quickly eliminated in any crisis.
What about “21st Century Skills? Are they “New Basics”?
Many groups, such asThe World Economic Forum, are now promoting lists of so-called “21st c skills. The WEF list includes:
· Complex problem solving, Critical thinking, Creativity, People management, Coordinating with others, Emotional intelligence, Judgment and decision making, and Service orientation.
Are these “new basics”? How important are they? Will adding them on to 20cE make 20cE better, and valuable again? Or are they really, just more ICEing?
I say “more ICEing.” All are clearly useful skills to have; it would be nice if all people had more of them. But — although the list may please many from the Last Pre-Internet Generation — such a list completely misses the implications of the dual changes that are happening. The skills on the list are not new — and most will be done symbiotically with machines in the future. But adding them into 20cE as additional ICEing will make no difference at all to the future value of that education, because the actual 21st c. needs are for the new elements and basics I have mentioned.
But aren’t “Thinking Skills” what we need? — Doesn’t 20cE produce them?
Many — particualrly academics — focus on “thinking skills” as what an “education” is really about. 20cE certainly tries to provide some thinking skills — it grew out of our academic “thinking-only” tradition. But it hasn’t done a very good job — except occasionally, for the very brightest kids academically. Tests show that most kids come out of college thinking pretty much the way they did when they came in. While there is a key 20th c. (and a 20cE) belief that “thinking skills” are prime — almost certainly derived from academia — most people in the world are not primarily “thinkers.” Most people are doers and accomplishers — who, of course also think. So “academic,” or “critical” thinking, important for some, devolves for most in the world, in 20cE — into rote memorization and textbook problem-solving.
Historically, what 20cE has been most useful at doing is grouping those who are good at thinking skills with their peers. This is something the academic world had recognized for some time, which is why there is a hierarchy of colleges and universities.
Today many are trying to change that — and promote better “thinking skills” for all. So they have “re-branded” as “21st c. skills” a number of long-existing thinking skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, judgment, and decision making. The re-branding is necessary because 20cE did such a poor job of providing those skills to most — despite huge effort. I’m sure you’ve heard, as I have, a great many teachers and college professors proclaim, over and over, “I have to teach my kids to think!” (i.e. in the ways academics do.) Few succeed at this.
Hopefully we can do better. But a key point is that it’s not just “thinking skills” that 21st century kids need for their future. Effective thinking is only a part of what all kids need. Our future kids need a combination — unique for each person — of effective Thinking skills, Action skills, Relationship skills and Accomplishment skills (a list of these skills is at the end.)
The last three: Action skills, Relationship skills and especially Accomplishment skills, are important to almost everyone. Yet 20cE doesn’t even pretend to focus on these (except, perhaps, for the recent introduction in some places, of “social-emotional skills.”). Putting everyone though an education that emphasizes only thinking skills was one of the biggest mistakes of 20cE. 20cE’s other big mistake was believing that “thinking skills” could be effectively built outside of the context of doing and accomplishing.
Changing, Perhaps — But in the Wrong Direction
Many adults today DO understand we should begin now changing how we raise our kids, Some do see that the mid-to-late 21st century is when today’s kids will live, and that that time will be remarkably different from today. That growing perception of needed change — focused mostly on what isn’t working — is spurring all the “education reform” movements in the world, currently happening everywhere. The trouble is that the “reform” movements — and almost everyone in them — are taking our kids — and us — in wrong directions, because their assessment of needs are based on their old, 20 c. needs, and not on the needs of the future.
Now — when the great, valuable benefits of 20cE (text literacy and some historical knowledge of math, language, science and social studies) have begun to rapidly decline, it is really the time to leapfrog to something new. All 20cE offers, for most, is a combination of EX-BASICS and THE MESS OF DETAILS. Most of us know that kids memorize this stuff for the test and then forget it. Other than for purposes of ranking — no longer necessary in a time where uniqueness, and not rank is what counts — it doesn’t matter whether these are acquired or not, because in 10 or 20 years they will no longer serve.
OUR KIDS NEED SOMETHING NEW, THAT 20cE DOES NOT, AND CANNOT PROVIDE. That thing is EMPOWERMENT.
It comes through NEW, EMPOWERING BELIEFS, REAL-WORLD ACCOMPLISHMENT, APPLIED UNIQUENESS, and TEAM & TECHNOLOGY SYMBIOSIS.
Let me now discuss these in more detail.
- EMPOWERMENT THROUGH NEW BELIEFS
Empowerment is the ability to get things done. There are still some who think that “20c education empowers.” (That is one of their rationales for bringing it to everyone.) The truth is that Education did empower — greatly — in the 20th century, before new things arrived. But it no longer does, anywhere near as much. Now what empowers — gets things done — is the combination of new beliefs and technology. The world will not change because more kids get a 20cE. It will change — if and when it does — because kids, as they become adults, do different things. The big change that has happened is in young people’s capabilities — at what age they can start doing powerful things. In the 20th century and before, kids couldn’t accomplish much wen they were young. They essentially had no power other than to study. So 20cE was fine for them. Today, and going forward, kids are getting more and more power — through a combination of both technology and belief change. More and more kids have new technology (and soon all will have a good amount of it.) But kids also need, in order to be empowered, new, more powerful beliefs, such as the change from an “I can’t” belief to an ”I CAN” belief. Carol Dweck has described another needed belief change as acquiring a “Growth Mindset.” There are many more empowering belief changes that are in progress.
2. EMPOWERMENT THROUGH REAL-WORLD ACCOMPLISHMENT
20th c education was all about achievement — making progress, ranking higher, earning prizes — which admitted you into new places. The 21st century, Post-education, and Empowerment are all about accomplishment. What you know, unapplied, doesn’t matter, not your unapplied skills or competencies. What counts is ONLY how you apply those to useful tasks. Achievements (a big part of 20cE) benefit only you, while Accomplishments (a big part of Post-Education and Empowerment) benefit others as well. The new metric for accomplishment is no longer grades or honors — it is Measurable Positive Impact on some aspect of your world.
3. EMPOWERMENT THROUGH APPLIED UNIQUENESS
20cE was built around making people the same — giving them the same knowledge and the same skills — so that they could take each other’s place easily. This was necessary in the repetitive “assembly-line” era of the 20th c. 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 be a factory worker or a doctor. The only defense against this 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. 20cE has done a terrible job of helping kids figure out and apply their uniqueness — particularly at earlier ages. In fact, it hasn’t really tried. But now we must. We should also watch how each person’s uniqueness evolves over time, suggesting fruitful avenues for each person to pursue as this happens. This is one of the strengths of Post-education and Empowerment.
4. EMPOWERMENT THROUGH TECHNOLOGY & TEAM SYMBIOSIS
Many 20th c. adults (i.e those from the “Last Pre-Internet Generation) view humans as “people with tools” — with the people side taking complete priority. Tools in this view, although they do extend the range of human capabilities, are merely things invented and made by people. They 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, the tools cannot function without the people. This, belief, however, is no longer strictly true — think of anything “automatic,” like traffic lights, that function night a day without much need for human intervention.
In the 21st century, the belief in a strict human-tool distinction is, I believe, changing rapidly. Some of the “tools” have already moved inside our body. But far more important is not what is happening physically, but how we view things — we are starting to see technology as part of our human body — under its own control, perhaps, but in ways that help us. We, of course help the technology, in terms of upgrades and maintenance . This is what is known as a symbiotic relationship. It is very similar to the one humans have with the trillions of bacteria in our gut and skin. All those bacteria (even ithe ones n our gut) are, in fact, outside our internal, blood-fed body. But they act in synch with us, and each of us supports the other.
This symbiosis is what is happening quickly with humans and technology. While pacemakers, artificial organs, heart and insulin pumps are currently in our bodies and apps and smartphones outside, this will quickly evolve. One of our the biggest 21st c. needs 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 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.” Our kids are not 20th c. humans, nor should they be. They are 21st century Symbiotic Human Hybrids. In fact, there is a second kind of symbiosis — with other minds —now happening as well. This is currently manifested as our need for teams and teamwork to get things done. Someday soon it may come from neural connections, and/or a so-called “hive mind.”
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 in the 21st century and beyond. Both technology and newly connected minds are becoming new, integrated, symbiotic parts of humanity.
20cE —IMPOSSIBLE TO “FIX”
“Fixing” 20cE would mean changing its ends — from improving individuals to improving their world — -which is what I see as impossible for 20cE to do. My own 15-year-old son currently goes to the top-rated public high school in California (by 20cE metrics) and dislikes almost all of it. As his parent, I would love to give him something different, and I know he would love it. We both recognize it is not going to change, so I encourage him to “play school” as much as possible. But my son is — -outside of school and 20cE, giving himself Post-Education and Empowerment by pursuing, every day after school, his dream of becoming a pilot. At age 15 he has already qualified, on his desktop simulator, both to fly commercial jets around the world and as a tower controller (there is a world-wide community doing this. He is taking, when we can afford them, actual flying lessons, and for that end — i.e. getting his professional pilot’s license — he is constantly studying and learning. We don’t know what the demand for pilots will be post Covid-19 and with automation, but he now knows what it means to pursue his own interests and passions, rather than those of his 20cE teachers. I have to push him hard to “play school” in 20cE. Will doing that help him in the long run? I doubt it. I can’t even just call his passion pursuits his “home schooling,” because he will have to take a 20cE test.
The Alternative — A Post-Education, Empowerment Option and Vision
So what do we do if we can’t (and I really mean CAN’T) change 20th century Education (20cE) as it currently exists — but yet many of our kids’ needs have indeed changed in ways that the 20cE system cannot provide? The answer is that we create an alternative. We create something new and different for those who are currently badly-served and dissatisfied by what our 20cE offers. This is already beginning in a few pockets, although not, as, yet in any countries as a whole.
I call it Post-Education-Empowerment. It is a 21st century alternative to 20cE. It is NOT an extension of or “fix” to Education in the 20c sense, but its long-term replacement — a diametrically different approach, with a new universal name still to be determined. Creating this a huge challenge and opportunity for our world.
What Will Post-Education-Empowerment Look Like?
Unlike 20cE education which — because all countries have emulated a few to a large degree — is the same (more or less, and with varying levels of “quality”) everywhere at this point, there is no single answer to what Post-Education and Empowerment will look like. We are still — and may forever be — experimenting. There may never be a single answer, as there has been, other than on the surface, for 20cE. Post-Education-Empowerment may be — and probably should be — as unique as the individuals who get it.
One thing that is very clear is to me that Post-Education-Empowerment needs to differentiate itself distinctly from 20th c. Education (20cE) — and it will (although we will still continue to have 20cE for some time). So how will the Post-Education-Empowerment world be different, in broad terms? My own vision follows on the coming pages.
How Adults Can Help — and Be Helped
In addition to greatly helping the kids, I believe the Post-Education-Empowerment vision can also help today’s adults. Today there are a great many adults who want to help kids and improve their chances in the world. Currently, all they have to focus on is “education reform” — be that charter schools, new programs, or other kinds of ICEing. Because they are focusing in these wrong directions, a great many adults who think — and tell themselves — that they are helping kids by helping particular kids or groups of kids do better at some aspect of 20cE are actually not helping — and are even hurting — the future of kids in general. I recently watched a talk — aimed at kids — from a young, totally well-meaning teacher in Asia. She used all the right buzzwords: Empathy, Teamwork, Finding solutions, Reflection — but there was no place in her vision for belief change or accomplishment by kids. It was still telling kids “you need this.” Although intended to be the opposite, it was completely 20cE. We need to move past this.
My sense is that adults can best help not by telling kids that “things need to change” but by putting kids in situations where they can create change though accomplishment. That is what Post-Education and Empowerment will do.
I hope to see many more venues and opportunities for Post-Education- Empowerment in the coming years — and I hope you’ll join us in creating it.
What follows next are my broad outlines of a Post-Education-Empowerment vision for the future.
THE OUTLINES OF A POST-EDUCATION-EMPOWERMENT VISION FOR THE FUTURE
The vision of Post-education-Empowerment, and its important goal, is to provide an alternative path for raising kids in the 21st-century. Not necessarily for all kids, but rather to offer parents and young people a real choice that they don’t really have today.
ALL the so-called choices offered and available to kids and parents — Public schools, Charter schools, Private schools and even private tutors — offer, at their core, the same thing (a 20cE) in different ways and qualities. They have no fundamental differences among them beyond differences of degree and the fashion in which they deliver the EX-BASICS and THE MESS OF DETAILS with various kinds of ICEing (Incremental changes).
That is all we will ever get from any reform of 20cE, because that is what the core of education is considered by almost everyone to be. Were we to change it radically so that the experience becomes no longer about the ex-basics and the MESS of details, — but rather about EMPOWERMENT through
- ADOPTING NEW, EMPOWERING BELIEFS,
- HAVING OVER AND OVER AGAIN POSITIVE EXPERIENCES OF ACCOMPLISHING,
- APPLYING THE UNIQUENESS THAT YOU HAVE, and
- BECOMING SYMBIOTIC WITH TECHNOLOGY AND TEAMS,
we would have something quite different. That is that is “Post education-Empowerment.”
We really do need to call it something different. A possible candidate is to call it “THE FUTURE.”
BEYOND EDUCATION — TO NEW GOALS AND NEW BASICS
A key differentiator between 20cE and Post-Education-Empowerment is that the new end for kids is accomplishing, not learning. Whereas the pillars of the 20th Century education are the “ex-basics” of reading and writing and arithmetic and the “formerly-key” subjects of Math, English, Science, Social studies (i.e. the MESS OF DETAIL), Post-Education-Empowerment rests on NEW BASICS, meeting new needs, as well as NEW ELEMENTS — very different pillars and things that that a 20th century education doesn’t provide at all . The new elements, described above, are things that should be desired by every parent for every child in the 21st-century world: EMPOWERMENT through NEW BELIEFS, REAL-WORLD ACCOMPLISHMENT, APPLIED UNIQUENESS, and TEAM & TECHNOLOGY SYMBIOSIS. I have already described these above.
BEYOND “SCHOOLS”— TO “EMPOWERMENT HUBS”
In the Post-Education-Empowerment vision there are no “schools” (i.e. buildings where all kids go every day.) Post-Education-Empowerment, does not — as 20cE does — necessarily group kids either locally, by birth date, nor herd them into what one educator calls “local warehouses.” Instead, kids show up (or check-in) daily at ”Empowerment Hubs,” i.e. “bases” for projects. The kids have opted to be there, and show up because they want to be there.If they don’t they are back to 20cE.
Every kid opting for a Post-Education-Empowerment experience, rather than a 20cE, belongs to one Empowerment Hub (or more) anywhere in the world. Some Hubs may be physical, but many will be virtual, and there will be blended combinations. Some Hubs may specialize in particular interests. Based at these hubs, kids will do, in ever-changing teams, a continuous series of real-world-impacting projects. Hubs will not have a fixed number of enrollees, as the number of projects each hub hosts can expand and contract over time.
A great name for the hubs — and for all of Post-Education -Empowerment— would be “THE FUTURE.”
Parents could decide if they want to send their kids to “the past” (i.e. to 20th c. school) or to THE FUTURE (21st c. Empowerment). Kids could decide as well in which direction — past or future — they want to go. All we need is for enough to choose THE FUTURE to make it viable. I think that is likely.
The Empowerment Hubs of THE FUTURE (and others) can be both publicly and privately funded. But they cannot be just a different name for the 20th c. schools we have today. The whole point is to have, and differentiate, two distinct equally-valued options for parents and kids. Parents can opt to send their kids to either a school or a Post-Education hub.
What happens in Hubs will be radically different from what happens in schools. Those kids who opt (or are forced by their parents) to go to 20th c schools and continue to receive our current 20cE as is, with whatever “ICEing” and reforms educators add. 20th c school buildings will continue to exist (and still be called schools, and still do 20cE) until no one opts for them anymore. That may never happen — each otion will suit some kids better than others — but there will be a choice that is far better than the “academic” ve. “vocational” choices of today. It will be a choice, in any field of interest, between “academic learning’ and “real-world accomplishment.
BEYOND INSTRUCTION TO PROJECTS — THE NEW MEANS
Empowerment Hubs will be different from any 20cE school, because schools see their mission as learning — and NOT accomplishing. Empowerment hubs (like THE FUTURE) will exist to facilitate something very different: Continuous accomplishment of real-world-impacting projects by teams of kids. The metric Hubs use is not grades, but Measurable Positive Impact by the kids on some aspect of their world outside themselves.
The process Hubs employ are methodologies of project design and management, adopted , when necessary,for younger people. There are now several examples of these One that has proven itself with kids around the wold is FIDS: Feel-Imagine-Do-Share, a simple-to-understand design process created by Kiran bir Sethi of Design for Change. But hubs could use a variety of project methodologies — including “design sprints” and hackathons — with the emphasis on results and impact. A curated selection of world-impacting projects already done by kids, using various methodologies, — can be viewed at btwdatabase.org. Aa model for doing this in brick-and-morter public schools is High Tech High in San Diego, CA, USA.
BEYOND STUDENTS — TO DREAMERS, IMAGINERS, DOERS
The kids who come to the hubs will not be the random masses often forced into our local schools. Nor will they only privileged kids. They will be kids — from anywhere — who have opted to come there specifically to BECOME EMPOWERED. “Opting-in” is different from “testing in” as we do for some elite schools, or having an admissions process, or even from random selection — ALL who opt-in, from anywhere, can start the process.
Kids who have opted in to Empowerment Hubs will NOT be called “students,” because they will not be “studying” — except when needed to get a current project done. They will instead be called DREAMERS, IMAGINERS AND DOERS, because that will be their role. From the earliest years they will be continuously doing projects that they create to improve their world (see this video for a project done by 3-year-olds.) Dreamers, Imaginers and Doers will not be encouraged to “do their own work” (as in 20cE) but will work only in teams — which they will form, on projects they create and design themselves based on common interests and objectives. Teams will be worldwide — even cross-hub — with members from anywhere.
Their projects will be declared complete only when they can show Measurable Positive Impact on some aspect of the kids’ world. The kids will not be building up a transcript of grades, but rather a resume of accomplishments. You will be able to ask any kid, in any Hub “What is your current project?” and they will tell you with enthusiasm. There are already examples of this. Kids who attend such empowering programs as Esther Wojcicki’s journalism program at Palo Alto High School in the U.S.often don’t want to go home, but work well into the night on their magazine or newspaper publishing projects. And in these “production crunches” Esther is happy to be there late, guiding them.
The reason this works is that the tasks, and work, of all these Dreamers, Imaginers and Doers will be to choose projects they want to do, to form into teams with others, and to get the projects done. The goal is accomplishment — NOT learning. In Empowerment Hubs (such as THE FUTURE) learning is NOT seen as an end in itself but rather as a means to accomplishing useful things. The kids in Empowerment Hubs hold new, empowering beliefs that guide and reinforce their behavior. These new beliefs, or mindsets, include that “they can accomplish useful things in the world even while they are young,” that “they learn in order to accomplish,” and “doing projects one choses and loves is the best preparation one can have for becoming a successful adult.”
BEYOND TEACHERS — TO EMPOWERERS, ENABLERS, AND COACHES
There are no “teachers” in Empowerment Hubs, because there is no set curriculum to “teach.” But there are many dedicated adults — some full-time, some part-time, some volunteer. Every team has at least one dedicated, qualified adult to help them — ideally not assigned to the team but chosen by them. These adults do not have to hold “teaching qualifications” in the same sense that 20cE teachers do. While the ability to work with kids well and safely is required, most current teacher qualifications are not needed in Empowerment Hubs— certainly not a college degree in education. The adults in the Hubs take on the role of Empower, Enabler, and Coach for each team. More complex projects and larger teams s can have more than one. Each adult helps guide the team in helpful and productive directions. An existing highly successful model here is the FIRST ROBOTICS program started by Dean Kaman, now in the U.S. and around the world.
Being a Empower, Enabler, and Coach will be a different job, in almost every respect, from the job that 20cE teachers currently do. In fact, our current 20cE teachers may or may not chose to — or be able to — do it. There is no curriculum to teach, only kids and projects to guide. An added benefits is that any adult will be able prepare and qualify for this role, opening up the job of raising kids outside of the home enormously, to all qualified people in any field who want to help kids. The job of these adult Empowers-Enablers-Coaches, full time or part time, will be to guide the teams of kids to accomplish real, world-improving projects — in their own families, communities, countries and world — that have a Measurable Positive Impact (MPI) on the world they live in.
BEYOND THE PAST — TO THE FUTURE
One of the most interesting differentiations between 20cE versus Post-Education-Empowerment is that 20cE is almost entirely about the past. No one argues that the past is unimportant, yet by focusing only there — as 20cE does — kids have trouble moving forward. For those parents and kids who think that years of studying our current knowledge of the past is necessary to move ahead, there will still be 20cE. But many (including me) believe it is possible to distill the past knowledge required by all radically — possibly to a single volume — that all kids can read or listen to. This is the goal of my “Nuggets to Remember” project.
Anyone who thinks they can, and should, “reform” 20th c. Education — keeping the name “education” but changing the content and substance — is, I believe, on a fool’s errand.
I know so many who are trying. I see them every day — rubbing their heads which are aching from being beaten against the walls of resistance, gaining, at most, only tiny victories. I see no fundamental change, yet huge amounts of wasted wasted time, effort, money. And I see failure after failure at finding a new and better path for our kids.Humanity can do better, I believe. But we will need to see our task differently — not as reforming the old, but as inventing something new.
One of the saddest stories I’ve heard is of a highly experienced, reform-minded teacher who bought, when she finally got some budget to spend, chairs with wheels for all the classrooms in her building, so students could roll around and form teams — which they did, every day, in her classes. But all the other teachers in the building opted to take the wheels off and put the chairs back in rows.
What we are up against is a 20cE system THAT DOES NOT WANT TO BE REFORMED despite the changing needs of our kids.So I propose that those of us who don’t want the old for our kids move on to a Post-Education-Empowerment world — at least far enough to give frustrated parents and kids an good alternative — just as fast as we can.
For countries, both developing and developed, that have been struggling to “catch up” in PISA’s ranking of 20cE, there is an interesting (and perhaps instructive) analogy — the arrival of mobile phones in the late 20th century. Many countries that were far behind in providing wired telephone service to their people were able to just abandon the race to provide wired infrastructure, and, by by moving to something new and very different, were able to provide their citizens with better telephone service much more quickly. I suspect moving to Post-Education-Empowerment will similarly allow developing countries to provide a much better system for their young people — one that produces the empowerment— through new beliefs, real-world accomplishment, applied uniqueness and technology symbiosis — that their young people desperately need tin the 21st century to improve their country, their world, and their lives.
Note: The term “Post-Education” was suggested to me by Robert Levin.
APPENDIX — LIST OF SKILLS
Any such list is incomplete, but is intended to give an idea of scope. Each person needs to find, develop and apply his or her unique combination of these:
Quantitative & Pattern Thinking
Curiosity & Questioning
Inquiry & Argument
Habits of mind
Self-knowledge of one’s:
- Strengths & weaknesses
Focus & Sitzfleisch
Contemplation & Meditation
Habits of Highly Effective People
Body & Health Optimization
Leadership & Followership
Reality Testing & Feedback
Resilience & “Grit”
Strategy & Tactics
Making effective videos
Innovating with current & future technologies
Communication & Collaboration
- In teams
- In families
- In communities
- At work
- In Virtual Worlds
Coaching and Being Coached
Mentoring and Being Mentored
Completing Small & local projects
Completing Larger Projects
Completing Distributed Projects
Completing Global Projects
Insistence & Focus on Measurable Positive Impact
Building & Maintaining Effective Teams
Project Management & Agility
Marc Prensky is an award-winning, internationally-acclaimed speaker in over 40 countries and author of 8 books. Coiner of the term “Digital Native,” he has taught at all levels, from elementary to college. Marc is the founder of The Global Future Education Foundation and THE TWO BILLION KIDS PROJECT, devoted to developing and spreading young people’s empowerment to better their world. Marc’s many talks, writings, interviews and videos can be found at www.marcprensky.com and marcrenskyarchive.com. Contact Marc at firstname.lastname@example.org .