World Futures: Education Part Four

Los Alamos World Futures Institute

In Part Three of this series we examined what students need to learn about Earth as they are progressing through primary and secondary school.

Secondary school seems to be the ending point of societal and governmental supported education for everyone and finishes after grade 12.

While one might argue that government and society should support post-secondary education fully, perhaps through grade 14, one can argue that we merely need to alter the 12-year curriculum.

Of course this becomes a major challenge with the rapid evolution of knowledge and information.

Do we focus on content and learning existing facts or do we encourage creating new facts or knowledge as one progresses through school? This suggests that all students need to develop critical thinking. The challenge for future emerging adults will be preserving or altering American (or you name the country) traditions and social institutions while allowing uncontrolled technological development.

This requires collective critical thinking, identifying facts and non-facts, and assessing what is known and unknown. While one can argue that the solutions, both individually and collectively, are logic, a better statement is that it is the ability to apply logic. How do we develop this ability while we develop emerging adults?

A major aspect of critical thinking is what we know and what we do not know. In the late 1800s, the automobile was invented and seen as a great invention that allowed for much better movement of people and things. The perspective was that this was a great improvement for people in leading their lives. The population in 1900 was about 1.6 billion people worldwide and global CO2 emissions were relatively much lower assuming we really measured them. The people of the time saw the opportunity for an easier life style and the technology rapidly infiltrated human life.

One might argue that it was the internal combustion engine that was really the important invention because it powered things that supported a population that grew four times by 2019. But what if, in 1900, a high school student stated in class that the fumes from the engines had a bad smell and asked if they were bad for the air? More than likely the teacher would not have known and would have told the student the smells were not bad. The student, however, might have been viewed as recalcitrant and trying to disrupt the class even though he or she identified what he or she did not know.

Flash forward to today and the smart phone. Is it good or bad? What does the teacher know and not know and should the student be challenged to question its use?

Similarly today we are challenged by the subject of diversity at all levels of civil organization. In the United States there is freedom of religion and religion itself should not influence the execution of government; Christians, Muslims, Taoists, Jews, and Buddhists can all participate equally but their religious views should not influence their governmental perspectives.

Yet they do. As a government and society we agree that we need to preserve planet earth. Each of these mentioned religions has the same perspective even though they may differ in overall beliefs. This is the value of diversity in finding common, unifying values and establishing them as universally good.

Today the subject of diversity is again widespread in the news. Perhaps it has or always is or always will be in the news. As long as there are differences of perspectives, personal, societal and governmental, it will influence debate and instill anger and ennui. But is this caused by a lack of understanding the perspectives and teachings of other groups or is it caused by not understanding the value of diversity? And where in the curricula do you include it?

In most courses through the 12th grade the focus tends to be on how things work or facts about how we got here. Math, science, and history are good examples. While in 1900 a student may have challenged the theory of an ether for the movement of light, it would not have happened in the primary or secondary school system.

But perhaps an opportunity for challenging “facts” does exist in English. While English was first really taught in the United States in the 1920s, it is more than simply learning the mechanics. Incorporated in the courses are readings that reflect philosophical concepts and the inclusion of moral values with a diverse perspective. In fact, English is the most diverse language in the world and the most widely used.

Perhaps English can be used to inculcate the value of diversity and the peaceful discourse of differences. While these articles suggest some topics for inclusion in education and the list can be expanded, it involves more than just the teachers. The numbers are in the millions or even billions depending on your vantage point. Who is involved and what is the impact on them? Can we do it?

Til next time….

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