John Dewey: ‘We must prepare our students…for their world.’

John Dewey: 'We must prepare our students...for their world.'

According to John Dewey, ‘We must prepare our students…for their world.’

by Terry Heick

“The world is moving at a tremendous rate. No one knows where. We must prepare our children not for the world of the past, not for our world, but for their world–the world of the future.”

That’s not Ken Robinson, but John Dewey.

In the 1940s.

The ideas we hold fast to in hopes of revolutionizing–or at least iterating–education were en vogue eighty years ago. Project-Based Learning? Authentic, community-based-learning? Creativity? Technology Constructivism? Collaboration?

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All present and accounted for in reaction to what was viewed as ‘non-progressive learning.’ The video below explains “drill learning (from the 1920s and 1930s) was simple if not monotonous…as if to measure the strength of his memory rather than his understanding.”

YouTube video

A century later, things have certainly improved–which is great, if we’re satisfied with the direction and scale and rate of improvement.

Or better yet, the long-term effects of the improvements.

Schools Are Bad At Innovation

For whatever reason, schools are really bad at innovation. This isn’t arguable, but it doesn’t need to be perceived as ‘criticism.’ We can’t improve until we accept what and where we are.

But what is the source of the delusion that allows us to convince ourselves that what we’re doing is enough? Not you or me, but all of education.  This is partly due to the audience for these calls for innovation: Teachers. Teachers alone can’t be held responsible for innovation.

The push for innovation has to come from the top and bottom, but as an industry we expect non-progressive thinking to create progressiveness. The terms, forms, and purposes for our schools by design suffer from a lack of imagination, but we ask teachers to be imaginative and data-driven and right-brained and left-brained and incredible. This isn’t much different than asking the newspaper delivery boy to bring newspapers, as an industry, into the ’21st-century.’

We will be able to further the success we have had when we are able to push for broader innovation–new sources and wider scales–without asking for permission. This is part of what makes global professional learning networks so exciting.

The issue becomes, then: With another century of experience, always-on communication and curation tools, unparalleled visibility for possibility, global networks, and stunning mobile technology available, we’re running out of excuses. It’s time to answer this familiar call for progressiveness with progress once and for all–and with explosive innovation that unsettles the processes that have long stifled it.

The question is, what would that answer look like? Feel like? How will we know when we’ve found it? What if it’s already out there, in some Petri dish of a classroom in rural Nevada, waiting to be copy/pasted everywhere? What if one too many TED Talks and twitter chats have numbed us to the possibility, and we naysay it away because we’re addicted to the madness of it all–the posturing, the endless guesswork, and the often aimless reinvention?

Or more broadly, what if there is no ‘it’? No single form for teaching and learning that we’ll all instinctively and collectively smile at? That wouldn’t happen, would it? Maybe that’s the challenge then–that we’ve established ‘scale’ and mass appeal as our terms for success for innovating education.

So let’s create a more functional scale that actually results in something made for people and not ‘masses.’

Answering A Familiar Call For Progressiveness