Today’s Toronto Star bannered a curious – even startling – headline: “Schools plan leaner lessons.”
It is not meant to dumb down lessons, but Ontario’s government seeks to review curricula from Grades 1 to 8 to “fix what educators charge is an overcrowding jumble of disconnected facts that fail to prepare the province’s 1.4 million students for the future.”
“The curriculum does not engage students within their own realities, or does it integrate the skills society hopes to see in a 21st century learner,” posits a recent submission by a group of principals, teachers, superintendents and trustees.
“Our kids live in a world where they are immersed in content through things like Twitter and Google, so we don’t want them memorizing facts they can access easily, but we want them to think about how to apply that knowledge, and how it affects how they live as citizens and workers,” Karen Grose, Toronto District School Board system superintendent summarized the intention of the submission.
What were the planners thinking of in the first place? What future did they have in mind when they set up the curricular expectations? Were they napping when futurists like Alvin Toffler, Daniel Bell, and John Naisbitt were postulating that this future (21st century) revolved around an “information age”?
When did the expectations of education veer away from the acquisition of knowledge and skills that would serve as equipment of the citizen to participate productively in a democratic society? When was education ever merely the acquisition of inert information? Education has always been “educare” and “educire” – an enterprise to “educate” in order to make one “educable”.
At no time in human history has education been merely the amassing of information or even knowledge. Education has always been geared toward the development of an equipment to make man capable of adopting and adapting to his chosen habitat and milieu.
It is foolhardy to premise educational efforts in pursuit of shibboleths like “education for education’s sake,” or “art for art’s sake”, or “knowledge for knowledge‘s sake.” There is always a purpose behind these human activities --- to prepare the individual to live as comfortably as he could a life of dignity and achievement.
Alvin Toffler, author of the futuristic trilogy Future Shock (1970), The Third Wave (1980), and Power Shift (1990), situates this future in what he terms the “Third Wave,” which is broadly the era after the 19th century’s age of industrialization preceded by the “agricultural age” in the 18th century. Toffler himself called it “super industrialization”; Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell termed it “post industrial society,” and John Naisbitt (publisher of the quarterly Trends Report) called it the “new information society.”
This is the advent of the electronic technology and information economy.
“In the information society, we have systematized the production of knowledge and simplified our brainpower...we now mass-produce knowledge and this knowledge is the driving force of our economy,” Naisbitt wrote in his book, Megatrends, in 1982. A decade later, the knowledge industry was upon us.
Education --- which should foster skills of learning how to learn, relating, and critical selection ---- prepares one for this and the next century.
Naisbitt expresses the urgency of preparing for this future when he wrote: “while the shift from an agricultural to an industrial society took 100 years, the present restructuring from an industrial to an information society took only two decades (20 years). Change is occurring so rapidly that there is no time to react; instead, we must anticipate the future.”
In Toffler’s terms, “the curriculum of tomorrow must. . . include not only an extremely wide range of data-oriented courses, but a strong emphasis on future-relevant behaviour skills.”
Even as early as the 1920s, educator-scholars like Will Durant have warned: “Human knowledge had become unmanageably vast; every science had begotten a dozen more, each subtler than the rest...Human knowledge had become too great for the human mind.
“All that remained was the scientific specialist, who knew ‘more and more about less and less’, and the philosophical speculator, who knew less and less about more and more. The specialist put on blinders in order to shut out from his vision all the world but one little spot, to which he glued his nose. Perspective was lost. “Facts” replaced understanding; and knowledge, split into a thousand isolated fragments, no longer generated wisdom. Every science, every branch of philosophy, developed a technical terminology intelligible only to its exclusive devotees; as men learned more about the world, they found themselves ever less capable of expressing to their educated fellowmen what it was that they had learned. The gap between life and knowledge grew wider and wider; those who governed could not understand those who thought, and those who wanted to know could not understand those who knew. In the midst of unprecedented learning popular ignorance flourished...
“In this situation the function of the professional teacher was clear. It should have been to mediate between the specialist and the nation; to learn the specialist’s language, as the specialist had learned nature’s, in order to break down the barriers between knowledge and need, and find for new truths old terms that all literate people might understand.”
This called for the humanization of modern knowledge.
Lest it be muddled once again in this effort to review the curricula, perspectives for learning must not be lost. Facts must not replace understanding, and knowledge must generate wisdom.
In this scheme, the classroom teacher is and has always been the primary and major instrument of education as mediators between the expectations of education and the pupils.