Monday, November 30, 2009

What are we preparing them for?

Reader Bonnie writes:
A question like “What are we preparing them for?” still stops me in my tracks. I thought all this technology discussion was about ‘how’ to prepare them. I know what I am preparing them for and it hasn’t changed for over 20 years.

I’m preparing them to think for themselves. I want my students to question everything, especially their own actions. I want them to celebrate diversity and respect difference. I want them to be responsible for their own actions and how their actions have global effects. I want them to care for the earth and their fellow living beings. I try to prepare them to act when they see or hear injustice.

The technology I’m avidly learning right now will definitely make my goal easier to achieve and I think more relevant and more interesting for students. These are great things! But I’ve known some amazing teachers who have achieved these goals with very little technology. Technology alone is not going to make our world a better place.

This is part of the reason why I think we've got to hit the mute button on the "T" word.

Fire is technology. The wheel is technology. The compound bow is technology. "Technology" is just the craft of figuring out a way to do something.

When I say “What are we preparing them for?”, I'm not qualifying that as a statement as to the bearings of education (let alone technology) on their rational and ethical thinking procedures.

I'm actually in a way thinking less of the students and more of the environment they'll live in. I fully realize certain limitations in bringing this forward in the debate, but I think about it nonetheless.

I think about what travel will be like in 2110. After all, it was only in 1910 when a North American airplane first claimed the life of a professional pilot; and yet, despite any hassles, air travel stands not only as the icon of the 20th century but as the safest form of getting from here to there.

I think about what art will be like. After all, it was only in 1907 that Picasso up-turned 500 years of European figurative painting. Been to a museum lately?

I think about what music, and the press, and grocery stores, and shopping malls will be like in 2110. In a way, only shopping malls seem relatively unphased over the centuries.

And so, I prepare my students to be critical thinkers. I prepare them to be able to handle abstract concepts and open-ended questioning. I try my darndest to prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead no matter what.

But in the end, I realize that the world facing them on the other side of the Digital Revolution is as foreign to me as the world of the Agricultural Revolution was to the hunter gatherers.

I'm obliged to recognize that I'm of a generation caught in the transition between two ages. And these sorts of cultural/technological revolutions just seem to catch up to us now and then.

One way or another, the world is fundamentally changed as a result.

Our students need the critical capacity to be able to handle this change. You better be putting them through the paces of Lao-Tzu, Plato, Seneca, and Kant. But none of that will forecast how the world looks after the dust of this revolution settles.

And thus, for a simple guy like me, all I can ask is: “What are we preparing them for?”


  1. I would argue that at its core, education is not about preparation for the unknowable future, and time spent analyzing possible future scenarios is largely time ill-spent. After all, our students may very well suffer from peak oil and population overshoot tissues that completely turn all of our forecasts upside down.

    Let's teach our students how to be critical thinkers. The rest will take care of itself.

  2. um, yeah, so that should be "issues"

  3. I think I forgot to mention that because of guys like you and simple questions like the one you asked I have hope for my grandchildren in your hands! Thanks again for a great blog.

  4. I'm preparing them to do research independently. Thanks, Shelly, for the reading list, a while back. I wound up cutting back on it a bit, and boosting the art history content... They've got 60 images to learn this winter term, everything from the Mask of Agamemnon to the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a Minoan snake goddess to Sophie Schliemann arrayed in the treasure of Priam, and everythign imaginable in between.

    I've told them that these 60 images WILL be on the final exam. And while I've provided a few hints, they are still going to have to use Google Search and other tools to locate the images/objects online, discover when they were made, and where, where they are now, what they're made of, and how, and for what purposes.

  5. I agree with all of this - technology is a tool. Remember film strips, mimiographs, and film projectors? Then overheads, then LCD projectors. I used computers in school - TRS-80's and Apple IIe's. I used 286 processor based computers in college. Technology changes. What I learned and what are students need to learn does not change.

    They need be able to think critically, research and analyze their sources, communicate, and self-learn. That is what we need to prepare them for.

    While doing that, we need to teach them how to use the tools that are available now. While technology advances quickly, companies and schools don't necessarily adapt the new technology right away. That means that students who use certain things in school will be prepared for college and jobs. They will have learned to use different tools, and if we have taught them to solve problems and be self-learners, they can apply that to future technologies and tools.

  6. This question is not a new one. What have we always been trying to prepare students for? The future is never here. I want en educated citizenry that is kind, compassionate, curious, creative, adaptable, moral, critical, reflective, able to solve problems, inventive, knowledgeable, and as Mike Wesch coined so well, "knowledge-able" (

    Every generation has a revolution of one type or another. I think what is most pressing is that teachers/education leaders keep operating in the present and not the past, facilitating relevant and meaningful learning opportunities for their students.

  7. As an education student about to graduate and go into the teaching world, I found this article awesome! I will be sharing it with all of my fellow student-teachers.... thanks!

  8. This article is such a good read, not just for educators but for parents as well.

  9. What a thought provoking post, everyone involved in education should read this.

  10. I suggest this site to my friends so it could be useful & informative for them also. Great effort.

  11. Really like this website, this really helps and very useful.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.