Over the past 4 weeks, The Epoch has been covering a series of topics about living life in a digital age. For me personally, this series of podcasts and blogs has dramatically increased my awareness that there truly isn’t a single aspect of our human existence that isn’t in need of a significant reboot in response to the changes technology is presenting to us.
- Longevity and Health
- Spirituality and Personal Growth
- Our Work and Income
- And Now… Our Education
I have no doubt that even the idea of a family unit, nation-states, and the meaning of life itself will likely undergo their own reboots in due time, but for now, I think we have plenty of work ahead of us.
And that’s just it. Everything is changing. Yet, the only way we can powerfully manage this change is by educating and preparing ourselves for this change. Nonetheless, the very idea of education is also in need of a complete reboot, leaving us the question of what comes first, a reboot in education that prepares us for a reboot of everything else, or a reboot of everything else that prepares us for a reboot in education?
Basic Skills vs Personal Preference
In full disclosure, I need to say that I am probably not the world’s best source of thought when it comes to what problems need to be addressed in the world of formal education. Yes, I went to school and got a 4-year degree from a major university, so I’m not COMPLETELY ignorant about the realities of the system. But I have been out of that system for 20 years now, and I’ve never been a fan of it, even a little bit. I don’t have any children, so I don’t have to deal with it as an adult. And I have made a profession out of educating people informally, in many ways, as a rejection of the formal systems themselves.
Still, I went to school. I learned how to read and write. I learned basic math, science, history, and SOME life skills (like typing). I was a ‘professional student’ who easily got straight A’s. I knew how the system worked. And I couldn’t wait to get out of it.
And this is where I feel the tension.
I was good at ‘school’. It was easy for ME. So easy, it was boring.
Yet, I needed school to learn the basic skills of life.
This push and pull between needing to learn basic skills that every human needs to know, while also wanting my education to be personally engaging in ways that many other people wouldn’t find to their liking… This is the challenge our modern world has presented us with.
Why #1: To Learn Basic Technical Skills
Obviously, I agree with the idea that we all need to be taught the basic levels of education for being functional in society. Things such as reading, writing, vocabulary, basic math, science, and history aren’t really things that you can live independently without (at least not yet) in a world that’s filled with other human beings.
As it goes without saying… There are certain aspects of being human that technology can’t do for us. In my opinion, the #1 reason for the modern education system centers around learning how
But think back a few generations and you can see that the ideas of reading and writing as basic functions of being human are not as universal as you thought. A large percentage of the human population has lived and died without these ‘basic’ skills, yet we know that our CURRENT world requires these skills to interact with the existing system.
But what happens when talk-to-text and virtual personal assistants render reading and writing completely unnecessary for functioning in the world? When you can hear other people’s thoughts read out loud and record your own thoughts for other people to hear via text… why do you REALLY need to learn how to read and write?
Which brings me to my first point…
The current/old model of education that most of us grew up with was great. Why? Because it taught us how to function in our society on a basic level. It gave us the tools we needed to succeed and be a part of the current version of reality.
I believe this is the primary function of school in the early years of life, and thus, I view the old model as a great success… for the last age. But this begs the question: What does basic human functionality look like in the current age? Because whatever that looks like, that’s what schools should be teaching. That’s what the old model did for the industrial age. And that’s what the new model should do for the digital age.
Why #2: To Learn Basic Life Skills
Once we’ve learned the technical basics of human interaction, why do we keep going to school?
Assuming the education system figures out how to teach children how to function in the current society, where do you go from there? I mean, can you really expect a 10-year old to function in society, completely? Sure, they know how to read and write (or whatever that generation’s functional equivalent is), but we instinctively know that a 10-year old still isn’t ‘ready’ for the world… at least not our current world anyway.
I believe a quality education system for any culture must also include a significant focus on basic life skills at some point in the education process. The current educational model has largely steered clear of this part of human education for a lot of reasons, but I believe technology is giving us ways to do this that avoid so many of the pitfalls that an
No parent wants their child to be indoctrinated into belief systems or behavior modification programs. Still… the advent of technology allows parents to know EXACTLY what their kids are learning. It could even allow parents to select what specific things they want their children to learn, while still utilizing the external services that a ‘school’ provides.
While there are MANY MANY unanswered questions surrounding these issues, it is abundantly clear to me that at some point the educational focus of children needs to shift from technical basics to life basics. After all, learning how to LIVE a happy life is significantly more enjoyable than learning multiplication tables (for most kids).
Why #3: To Discover Personal Passions
Jumping off of that last sentence above… we all realize that there are some people who actually do enjoy learning their multiplication tables. Conversely, there are those who would rather eat chalk than learn multiplication. Some people love history, while others hate it. Some love art. Some don’t. Etc. Etc. Etc.
The reality of human personality and individual preference has only become more illuminated in recent years as the internet has exposed the entire world to… well… the entire world. This exposure to literally any idea that I want to search for has naturally moved humanity away from generalization and towards specialization. And the mechanism behind it all has been
No longer are we limited to learning what our parents tell us or what the school system thinks we need to know. Sure, we might have tendencies towards certain thought systems that pervade our local culture, but NO ONE is ‘locked in’ anymore. We get to learn what we WANT to learn.
If I want to learn another language, I don’t have to hope it’s offered as an elective at school anymore. If I want to learn how to weld, I can sign up for classes online and have a teacher send me the materials and grade my work over video chat. If I want to rebel against my parent’s religion, I can listen to anything I want on YouTube and come up with my own answers. If I want to become the world’s foremost expert on pine trees, all I have to do is pick my path and start walking it.
The internet and its accompanying technologies have made the education process highly specialized for those who want it, and I believe it’s time for this kind of specialization to find its way into the formal education system. We need to switch from our previous goal of standardization to a modern goal of personalization. We need a system that teaches us how to be US, specifically.
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”– Plutarch
Why #4: The Enjoyment of Living
I believe the entire point of life is to learn how to enjoy it.
And yes… it is something we must LEARN how to do.
Once a child has proven their ability to function well with basic technical and life skills, education really becomes about becoming an adult who knows how to pursue happiness as we’ve personally defined it. Yet, many of us were never given the chance to learn how to do this. How do we actually create the life we want? How do I deal with the challenges and changes along the way to my happiness? What if I don’t even know what it is that I want?
This pursuit of happiness is the reason why I believe the educational path of every student needs to switch to a different motivation at some point. It ceases to become about learning how to function as a human in society on a technical level and begins to shift into learning how to pursue joy and purpose in ways that add to the joy of the world.
While some might make th case that college is intended to accomplish this, I would argue that specialization and the pursuit of happiness should begin much earlier than college. We have the technology to create an entirely new concept of learning. There is no reason a single high school student should ever be stuck in a class they don’t enjoy with a teacher that bores them to death.
If we can figure out how to create a system of education that funnels the best teachers to the most amount of students, while funneling the most students to their favorite subjects, I believe we can create a world where more and more people as satisfied in life. And not to be cheesy… but I believe that a world where more people are satisfied in life is a world with less conflict and sorrow.