The flash fiction challenge posed by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week deals with the future. What a perfect prompt for a teacher, for is not education firmly focused on the future?
We educate ourselves so that we will know more, be more skilled, or be able to do more in the future than in the past; we may learn new skills that keep us up-to-date with the changing demands of society or technology; or we may seek to improve our employability or income possibilities.
We educate our children so that they will be independent and contributing members of society, able to participate in the world of the future, and having the knowledge and skills to enable them to achieve their goals.
We educate for the future, but we are unable to predict the future, so the challenge to making decisions about education is difficult and highly-charged, attracting many different opinions and suggestions for solutions.
Forbes Magazine featured an article in 2012 which queried the purpose of education.
A 2013 TED conversation about the purpose of education, related to a talk by Ken Robinson, Changing education paradigms, attracted many and varied comments.
In 2014 Tony Ryan hosted an online seminar about Future-proofing Kids. Tony says,
“Many of the children alive today in Western societies will still be around in the 22nd Century. How can we possibly predict what they will experience between now and then? And if we can’t do that, then how do we best prepare them for whatever is up ahead?”
I think of greatest importance in preparation for life, all of which will be in the future, except for the present moment, is the development of attitudes and character traits including:
- Able to seek solutions to problems
- Openness to new ideas and possibilities
- Divergent thinking
In addition to the character traits, a certain level of skill is required in both literacy and numeracy, and especially an ability to locate and critically evaluate information.
The title of Tony Ryan’s seminar, Future-proofing Kids, to me belies the value of the content Tony shares. To me ‘future-proofing’ indicates that the future is something to be protected from, like water proofing protects us from water; something perhaps of which to be scared. But Tony’s seminar is far more optimistic and future-oriented than that.
We don’t know what the future will bring, but we never have. We can plan for it, we can hope and dream and set goals; but we can make no guarantees. Prophesies have never accurately foretold the future. I’m thinking of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or the more recent Y2K Bug. I’m thinking of all the teachers who told their students they would never amount to anything, like Thomas Edison’s teachers who said he was “too stupid to learn anything”.
In the early 1980s I was told at a conference that by the year 2000 computers would do so many of our menial tasks that we would have an enormous amount of free time and wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves! How inaccurate was that prediction! The menial tasks have only increased in number and instead of computers being a tool to simplify our lives, in teaching anyway, they are now an unrelenting, ever-increasing and demanding master requiring the completion of data bases and spreadsheets, the creation of graphs and statistics, reducing life to a series of expected numbers and standards
The potential employment opportunities of today’s young women could not even be imagined when I was growing up and making my work choices. My apparent choices were teacher, nurse or office worker, and ultimately mum. Because I had chosen an academic path after year 8 and hadn’t learned shorthand and typing, office worker was eliminated. If I had chosen the commercial, shorthand and typing, path my choices would have been even further restricted.
My generation was the one that began shuffling the female role in society. Had I been born just a few years earlier, I would have worked until I married; after which I would have stayed home and looked after the children. Many female teachers were required to resign when they married. Pregnancies were hidden under loose and voluminous clothing, and the whole process was considered an illness. Unmarried mothers were considered an embarrassment and ‘sinful’ and most had their babies removed and that part of their history hidden.
Women of my era were able to return to the workforce, but it was not encouraged before the youngest child had started school. At that time child care was not readily available and often grandmothers, who had not returned to the workforce after marriage, looked after the children for mothers who worked, often part-time and for low wages.
The current generation of women have far more career opportunities but are also expected to stay in the workforce, often required to return to work when their babies are only a few weeks old in order to maintain security of employment. Many now work through pregnancy, almost until the birth of their baby.
Pregnant women no longer try to hide under voluminous layers of clothing but, partly with thanks to Demi Moore and Annie Leibovitz in 1991, take pride in showing off their changing shape. The term ‘unmarried mother’ is almost an anachronism in today’s Western world. There is no shame in having a child, whether married or living with someone or not; and babies are not forcibly removed from their mothers.
I am no more able to predict the future than I am to make sense of the injustices and horrors of the past. However I think part of the purpose of education must be to help individuals grow so that they are able to stride towards the future with arms outstretched saying, “Give me what you’ve got!” while at the same time with a listening ear and an open heart asking, “What can I do to help?”
What do you think?
I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of the article or my flash fiction piece:
“I’m off now,” she said.
“Have you got everything?” asked Mum.
“Are you sure you haven’t forgotten anything?”
Mum looked around. There must be something she’d missed.
“What about . . .?”
“No, Mum. I’ve got everything.”
“Okay. If you’re sure.”
She walked through the door and down the stairs.
Mum watched, anxious. What could she have forgotten?
She turned, puzzled.
Mum leapt down the stairs.
Mum hugged her tightly, whispering softly, “I love you very, very much. Always have and always will.”
“I know. Love you too Mum.”