Are you ready to embrace the future?

 

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:

  •  Confidence
  • Persistence
  • Resourcefulness
  • Resilience
  • Able to seek solutions to problems
  • Openness to new ideas and possibilities
  • Creativity
  • Divergent thinking
  • Questioning
  • Optimism

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”.

peole_laptop

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:

Ready

I’m off now,” she said.

“Have you got everything?” asked Mum.

Yes Mum.”

“Are you sure you haven’t forgotten anything?”

I’m sure.”

Mum looked around. There must be something she’d missed.

“What about . . .?”

No, Mum. I’ve got everything.”

“Okay. If you’re sure.”

“Bye Mum!”

”Bye.”

She walked through the door and down the stairs.

Mum watched, anxious. What could she have forgotten?

“Wait!”

She turned, puzzled.

Mum leapt down the stairs.

“What?”

Mum hugged her tightly, whispering softly, “I love you very, very much. Always have and always will.”

“I know. Love you too Mum.”

 

24 thoughts on “Are you ready to embrace the future?

  1. Pingback: Visioning a better school, a better way of educating | Norah Colvin

  2. Bec

    Hi Nor, what a great post. You truly are a trailblazer through education and what society had as expectations for your future. I wonder what would have been done, back in the society you described, to future proof you for the future. Mandated shorthand perhaps? Thanks for the insights.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I think the future proofing I had was to be a good girl, listen to my elders, and don’t ask questions! I think I’m coping quite well in what was to be my future back then (if that makes sense). Does that mean it was effective? Thanks for your comment.

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  3. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    This was a thought provoking post Norah. I was at school when they introduced the Wyndham scheme which really, in my opinion, never worked. I found Tony Ryan’s Futureproofing kids very interesting and I agree that those core values are important in character building and saving. Your flash shows that love is essential – a great post.

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  4. Pingback: What Does the Future Hold? « Carrot Ranch Communications

  5. Lisa Reiter

    Tear jerking flash Norah – lovely. Love the context of your post on being ready to embrace the future. We don’t know what’s coming and to imagine we can predict it too much is probably a constraint on development, so you are so right to focus on the human qualities we can look to history to show us to be valuable time and time again, Lxx

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Lisa. Not sure that I meant it be tear jerking, but I think a child leaving home is always tinged with a bit of sadness for the mother, always wanting to make sure the child is fully prepared and not always ready to let go that little bit more; whereas the child, whatever age, is confident and ready to take the step. Thanks for your encouragement. 🙂

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  6. Greg Mischio

    Excellent post, Norah. I find there’s no fear of the future if you’re firmly engaged in the present. As long as you’re a participant, you’ll do fine. You just can’t sit on the couch and gripe about things not being like they used to be. Nice flash fiction too – a reminder that it’s the humans that make all that technology go.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for adding your voice to the comments Greg. I agree with you about being firmly engaged in the present. I think that is a great way of saying it – live in the now. It’s like doing it all one step at a time, one moment at a time. The future can look daunting if you look at it all at once, but looking at just the next bit ahead makes it seem achievable. I sometimes feel like that when a task seems overwhelming, but once I break it down into a series of smaller tasks which I tackle one bit at a time, it is less frightening and more achievable.
      I appreciate your encouragement for my flash fiction also. 🙂

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  7. Annecdotist

    I love your take on the futuristic theme, Norah. Everyone involved with children should be focused on giving them the flexible skills to go forward into a world that none of us can predict. Yet all too often, kids who can’t hack it at this moment are allowed to fall by the wayside – good to know this isn’t going to happen on your watch.
    I loved your flash, great how you communicate so much through the dialogue. A lovely warmhearted ending without being schmaltzy. You kept me guessing as to what it was she had forgotten to take with her.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Anne. I appreciate your comment. Glad I wasn’t schmaltzy – couldn’t have that! I was thinking it was probably predictable! It breaks my heart when children fall by the wayside. Not one should! It shouldn’t be ‘What can you do for the system?’ But ‘What can the system do for you?’ If every child was treated as an individual, capable of learning and respected for their own learning path and time, it could be so different!

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  8. Charli Mills

    Teachers hold the future in the palms of their hands as they guide today’s children into tomorrow’s citizens. I’ve always thought that education was important to overcome ignorance, as well as to learn how to learn. When I went to college, I learned that I didn’t need to know all the answers, just how to find them. It was so different from. The Forbes article does a great job of explaining how our current system trains for information–testing students for single answers when we really need to develop education that is more conceptual. Makes me think that we need the college liberal arts model in the American public schools. Or more schools like the School of Environmental Studies, an alternative high school in Minnesota that teaches students to learn by engaging with the environment as a classroom. Future-proofing kids can come through teaching them to never stop learning, to think creatively and critically. The list of attitudes and character traits really are the targets for what to teach. I suppose there are different theories as to how. And what a true observation on how demanding computers have become rather than creating free time! This is such a rich post, Norah. And your flash reminds us that no matter what changes the future holds, love will remain a stronghold. It’s what makes us “ready” for what will come.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I certainly agree with you about learning how to learn and how to find the answers. I very much treasure a comment (relayed to me) from a teacher who took the children I had taught into the next grade. She said that as learners they were the most independent and resourceful she had ever taught, a pleasure to teach. I don’t think she could have said anything that would have given me greater pleasure. Too often teachers will criticize the work of the preceding teacher, so to receive such praise was very satisfying. I felt I had done my job well. That was long before the days of test scores and data hungry systems. It was when we had time to follow children’s interests, to make the most of teachable moments and teach at the point of need, for individual children. ‘Those were the days.’ But I am blown away by what I am reading about teaching in blog posts and educational journals. There are many amazing and resourceful teachers out there doing fantastic jobs, working with or in spite of the systems to give children a great education. The School of Environmental Studies sounds awesome. I’ll have to look it up!

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      1. Charli Mills

        Teachable moments–there’s simply so much that test scores and data can do. It’s teachers who look for those moments, but how can you look when you’re so busy inputting the scores and data? SES teaches in pods. Each pod has a team of teachers. One of the first projects a student will do there is to conduct a pond profile. It’s in Minnesota so there’s lots of lakes. Students work in teams and each team is assigned a pond to analyze. They’re taught the basic skills and then told that their data will be turned over to the county as a way to monitor the ponds. It’s real-life work. No test score. Eventually, by the end of their second year, each student has to develop, complete and present their own project as a graduation requirement. It engages those students who long ago lost interest in education and yet it also challenges those students who are achievers. I don’t know what their “system” is per say, but their approach works. Many parents, though, are worried that their kids won’t get a “good education” at SES because it doesn’t emphasize all the traditional tests and college-prep. In some ways, I think parents are part accountable for emphasis on test scores because they don’t understand learning to learn.

        That another teacher gave you such a compliment, I can believe!

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for explaining a little of how SES works, Charli. It is a very interesting concept and I can understand why the students would find it so engaging. The fact that it is real work for a real purpose would make it so much more meaningful for them. When I think about the skills they would have to develop to conduct the analyses and prepare their projects I realise how rich their education would be. But of even greater importance than the academic skills are the attitudes towards the environment, developing a caretaker rather than rapist/plunderer attitude. Such a program must also build the skills of collaboration and appreciation for each other, and understanding of the connection of all things. It sounds great to me.
          I agree with your comment about parents; but parents only know what they are told. As long as tests scores and data are being loudly promoted, that’s what people will believe. In some ways I can understand it. Numbers and graphs are easy to see and differences are obvious. It’s not so easy to measure the development of traits such as independence, initiative and creativity.

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  9. TanGental

    I was reading, engaged as ever in your careful analysis ( and btw you’re right, what an unfortunate negative title to Tony’s talk) and your ’embrace the future’ sentiment – and I was thing ‘yep, much like I thought’ and then you added the extra piece ‘what can I do to help?’ as your admonition to us going forward and I realised where I’d missed a trick; I was being too individualistic, whereas our trends towards cooperation mean that must be an essential element in future thinking. Thanks Norah. And lovely, lovely flash

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Geoff. I really appreciate your comment. I think I may have omitted working collaboratively and cooperatively from my list. I think I intended a paragraph about them, but decided I’d written enough. A great thing about these blog posts (in general, not specific) is that they become quite a collaborative effort with all the comments that are made. Our understandings of each other, and ourselves, grows with every one. Thanks for adding to this one.

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  10. writersideup

    Norah, I honestly think that, other than technological advances that can make some things in life easier and less time-consuming, so many things will be a greater struggle. I see the raising and teaching of children not much different than it’s always been as far as how to prepare them: raise them to think for themselves yet value, not necessarily listen to, the opinions of others; to treat others with respect; to live life to its fullest and not waste it foolishly, and to learn when to say “yes” and when to say “no,” including to themselves. Of course, teaching them the many important values (and those can be subjective, as far as who’s doing the teaching) is key to being able to handle life, regardless of what future they will experience and what tools or cultural changes come to pass.

    Great and important subject, Norah!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your wonderful comment, adding so many other important characteristics to my list. I agree that values can be subjective, but being able to handle whatever life throws their (our) way is definitely important. Thanks for joining in the conversation.

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      1. writersideup

        Agreed, Norah, and the only way to do it is to set the examples, teach them whatever can be taught, not coddle and to allow them to think for themselves, too. They need to become independent so they can stand strong, and with the proper roots (foundation, as this post addresses SO well), they’ll be equipped 🙂

        And, as an aside, though I’ve only just recently discovered your blog, in case you “may” notice my absence, I’m trying to make a conscious decision on cutting back on how much time I spend on reading/commenting on blogs ’cause if I don’t, my own blogs will never be launched *sigh* I’m not disappearing…just fading for a bit with occasional apparitional appearances. I figure if I actually TELL people I’m doing this—I actually WILL! lol

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for popping back once again and adding to the richness of the comments.
          I know what you mean about trying to find a balance between writing and reading/commenting on others’ blogs. It is difficult, nay impossible, to fit it all in. There is so much I want to read, but I try to prioritize my writing first. Then I read and respond to those who comment on my blog (I’ve been popping over to yours expectantly), and then try to branch out from there. I never achieve as much as I’d like but I do what I can, and must be content with that.
          I look forward to reading your blogs when you post some content.
          Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on mine. I greatly appreciate it. I take no one’s time and effort for granted. Every read, like, share and comment is a gift I appreciate. 🙂

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          1. writersideup

            Norah, thank you SO much for that! What a compliment that you’re “waiting” for mine! I do hope I don’t disappoint 🙂 Also, there’s no need to keep checking if you follow by email ’cause you will automatically be notified since I’m not going to actually post until that day. All my set up isn’t in posts so you won’t be notified of that nonsense 🙂 You added brightness to my otherwise gloomy (don’t feel well) morning! 😀 Thank you!

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            1. Norah Post author

              I’m pleased I brought a little brightness into your day! Sorry to hear your day is gloomy otherwise. I hope it improves and you feel better soon. I’m sure publishing something on your blog will help.
              I know that an email will let me know when you post, but I sometimes worry that I may miss something among all the emails I receive. It can take me a little time to work my way through them. Look after yourself. I look forward to chatting again soon – when you are ready! 🙂

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