I admit that sometimes I do judge a book by its cover. And that’s the reason I picked up and finally just finished a title written by David Weinberger, “Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now that the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room.” As an educator, a parent and a person of these times, that was a cover and title I couldn’t resist.
While I don’t agree with all that Weinberger puts forward in “Too Big to Know”, I absolutely concur that the type of learning that must take place in this connected world of ours streaming with overabundant information must be different.
When I was an elementary student a million years ago, three of the current educational imperatives were not remotely considered by most educators nor part of the vast majority of my school experience. Information processing, global communication, and being self-directed were not understood or incorporated as they are now. We learned historical facts, but didn’t have discussions around whose version of history we were reading; we learned how to cite sources but didn’t learn how to verify sources; we weren’t publishing our own thoughts and ideas and information beyond our classroom’s bulletin board display; we covered syllabi, but weren’t allowed to take the time to study an issue or problem from multiple perspectives and design our own solution attempts and trial balloon them.
As I see our students grapple with juicy problems put before them by teachers who then give the children time to think and try and create solutions, I often think of the hours upon hours I spent memorizing bits of information without being given the opportunity to apply that information to novel experiences. Information that a Google search will return in a couple of seconds! Yes I knew what explorer sailed where, but what united those various explorers and the lands “discovered”? And how can that new understanding impact life now and in the future? Where was my voice as a student in offering a new perspective?
I believe among the many qualities boys and girls take with them from their years in a great school in these modern times is the ability to not just interact meaningfully and well with this overflowing information age – but to lead it. They will be able to handle novel situations, ask critical questions of themselves and others, and drive towards understanding through their hard effort. So, to Weinberger’s point, if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, so long as there are some well-educated, differently-educated individuals in the space, too, we are sure to be driven to new ways of looking at the question and we will have their courage to inspire our attempts to work towards a solution.
Thanks to the technology wrapping our world tighter these are challenging times to be an educator. So, too, to be a parent. Holding steadfastly to essential, core values while having the entire world in its agony and glory in the phone in your pocket – and in the pocket of your child’s backpack – is no small feat. I’m so happy schools like mine (Montclair Cooperative School) exist, and that other schools are beginning to turn their attention to the big shifts happening in our world – for they need to happen in our classrooms, too. What school looks like is bound to continue to change more in our lifetimes, and as the grown-ups, our ability to grapple with that allows us to model the very thoughtful consideration, creative problem solving, and joyful collaboration that are the hallmarks of the classroom of the future, and of their successful students, even when the world may be, “Too Big to Know.”
In their schools, our children need to be prepared for jobs that likely don’t even exist yet. What do YOU think are three of the essential qualities our children should posesses so they can bravely relish and meaningfully respond to the challenges of the future? I look forward to reading your responses below.
Maggie Granados first wrote about Schools of the Future on her blog, Maggie’s Musings. She is Head of School at Montclair Co-op.