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Ducks in a Row: Educating For The Future

by Miki Saxon

St. John’s College

Yesterday we revisited Does Education = Thinking?; today is a look at what education actually needs to do to accomplish that.

Education focuses on developing and boosting inherent smarts for career purposes, but the definition of smarts is radically changing.

“The new smart will be determined not by what or how you know but by the quality of your thinking, listening, relating, collaborating, and learning.” –Ed Hess, Professor of Business Administration and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business and co-author of Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age,

The new smart will include a high degree of empathy — not a common trait in highly educated men.

A growing real-world demand for workers with empathy and a talent for making other people feel at ease requires a serious shift in perspective. (…) SEL programmes in the US explicitly teach students strategies for developing empathy, managing their own emotions and working with others.

“The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility — these three forces are the very nerve of education.” –Rudolf Steiner

Waldorf schools are private (not cheap) and based on Steiner’s ideas. The schools have no tech — no computers, no iPads, no iPhones. There’s one in San Francisco and 75% of its student body are the children of tech executives.

Three of my sister’s grand kids attended the Waldorf in Denver; according to my sister, “Waldorf kids are usually ahead of other kids when they reach regular school.  It’s a very impressive regimen they follow.”

There is no argument that education is critical, but is education about learning specifics that fit kids for jobs today or should it be more?

Shouldn’t it, in fact, fit them for the yet-to-be imagined careers of tomorrow.

Put another way, AI can be taught to code, taking programmer jobs in another kind of outsourcing, but, on its own, AI can’t conceptualize what to code.

Just as importantly, or perhaps even more so, is the need for education to offset helicopter parents, who have followed their kids from college to the workplace. From the comments…

There are many young millennials employed where I work. Many are unable to navigate the most basic work interactions and have no idea about professional or workplace etiquette. (…) These young folks typically have a very difficult time when faced with any conflict because they have never had to think for themselves or handle difficult life situations by themselves.

What does it take to educate kids to think for themselves in spite of over-involved parents and the world they live in? What is needed to live and work successfully in 2030 and beyond?

A recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,408 technology and education professionals suggested that the most valuable skills in the future will be those that machines can’t yet easily replicate, like creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, adaptability and collaboration. In short, people need to learn how to learn, because the only hedge against a fast-changing world is the ability to think, adapt and collaborate well.

Is that the secret sauce that makes the Ivies so prestigious and expensive? Not really.

Ever heard of St John’s College?

Like Waldorf, St John’s specializes in learning how to learn and has done so since 1696.

St. John’s offers only the Program; it’s prix fixe is a higher education world of a la carte. Four years of literature, language, philosophy, political science and economy, and math. Three years of laboratory science, and two of music. That’s it. No contemporary social studies. No accounting. No computer classes. No distinct majors or minors. (…)

This curriculum is carefully designed not only to build knowledge, but also to understand how knowledge is ultimately created; it is teaching students how to learn. In this respect, St. John’s students de facto major in epistemology. And for those of us who never studied Ancient Greek (a St. John’s requirement for two years), epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge, or the investigation of what distinguishes substantiated and supportable belief from mere opinion.

These are the skills that abound in true leaders, but are feared and despised by pundits, ideologues, despots. politicians, command and control bosses, and others too numerous to list.

Image credit: Preservation Maryland

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