We can't predict the future


Jduy Jetson photo

Hanna-Barbara couldn't predict the future;
neither can we 
(Photo by Mrs. KLF 19)

so often educators and reformers think, if we’re educating kids for the future,
we need to do a better job of adapting our education system to meet the needs
of tomorrow. That our education systems needs to, in some sense, “get with the
times” so that we can better serve our students today. The latest argument to
that effect comes from a book (Now You See It: How the Brain of Attention Will Transform
the Way We Live, Work, and Learn
) written by Cathy N. Davidson
and a related blog
by Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times. In her piece,
Heffernan argues that “fully 65 percent of
today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented
yet…For those two-thirds of grade-school kids, if for no one else, it’s high
time we redesigned American education.”
And so, because today’s
students will be doing things that we can’t imagine, we need to rethink the
kinds of work we’re assigning today: including research papers, which Heffernan
argues have outlived their usefulness.

Thing is, we’re no better at predicting what today’s
elementary students will be doing in twenty years than Hanna-Barbera was at
depicting twenty-first century life in the Jetsons. Our job as
educators is not to hitch our wagons to the latest education fad in response to
changing—and often fleeting—technology, but rather to identify the timeless
knowledge and skills that all students must master to succeed in any
environment. Writing a witty blog post to be consumed by one’s peers is surely
a skill, but one that says nothing about a student’s ability to synthesize complicated
information in a persuasive way, grounded in facts, research, and reading.
These skills are critical—and their necessity will remain long after that of
motherboards and cloud computing.

This piece originally
(in a slightly different format) on Fordham’s
Flypaper blog. To subscribe to Flypaper, click here.

Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade
,” by Virginia Heffernan, New York Times,
August 7, 2011.

Kathleen Porter-Magee
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.