Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below is from an interesting and controversial article on the
changes in education awaiting us in the coming century. The author, Edward
Miller, was formerly editor of the *Harvard Education Letter* and is now an
analyst and consultant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The essay first
appeared in *WorldPaper* (Dec., 1997), and was slightly revised by the
author for NETFUTURE. Miller can be reached as firstname.lastname@example.org.
My thanks to Arun-Kumar Tripathi for
bringing the article to my attention.
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TEACHING THE THREE `M's IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM: (MULTI-TASKING,
MATERIALISTICS, AND MIND MANAGEMENT)
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By Edward Miller
American education will look very different in the next century because of
two simultaneous trends that are already affecting schools. The first is
the near universal belief that education is necessary for personal
prosperity. The second is the erosion of political support for a free
public education system.
Proponents of the education-equals-income theory point to the large and
growing gap in income between the highly educated and those with a high
school diploma or less. Whether education really makes people more
productive is beside the point. All that matters is that people believe,
as they increasingly do, that schooling makes them more employable. Those
who go to the "better" schools get the higher paying jobs regardless of
their actual ability to do anything useful.
Those students relying on the public schools to get them to this exalted
academic level are on crumbling ground. Historically, public schools in
America were justified as necessary for democracy: without education,
Jefferson and the other founders of the nation argued, people could not be
trusted to act as responsible citizens. But with economic advantage now
replacing democratic ideals as the reason for education, public schooling
makes little sense.
In a market economy there must be competition, meaning winners and losers.
There is no incentive to provide every child with a good education. Parents
naturally want their own children to be the winners. Why should they pay
for other children's education? As the willingness of the public to put
money into public schools evaporates, the inevitable result is that
education will, in not too many years, become a subsidiary of the business
world, controlled and managed by multinational corporations.
The beginnings of this change are already evident in the growth of for-
profit charter schools, companies specializing in preparing students for
standardized tests, and corporate sponsorship of various aspects of public
school operations from curricular materials to athletic teams to the
American businesspeople have long thought that they would be much better at
running the education system than the fuzzy-headed academics and social
welfare types who are still, for the most part, in charge. In the 21st
century, they're finally going to get their chance.
The captains of global industry will soon decide that the old curriculum,
founded on the traditional "three Rs," has little relation to the emerging
needs of 21st-century business. Reading and 'riting take too much time,
and 'rithmetic is much better done by machines. As for history,
literature, and the classical disciplines of art and music, these subjects
have little value as mass entertainment and therefore no business in
education. Thus, the three Rs will in time be replaced by the "three Ms":
Multi-Tasking, Materialistics, and Mind Management.
What the emerging technology-driven corporation needs, first of all, is
workers who are able to do many things at once. Productivity suffers when
employees are undone by information overload or the demands of multimedia,
hypertext, the interactive office, and the totally connected economy. Thus,
Multi-Tasking will become an essential skill that must be learned from
Most young children, after all, display an unfortunate tendency to
concentrate all their attention on just one object or task at a time. The
development of television demonstrated that children could be trained to
take in -- and even to prefer -- visual and auditory stimuli delivered at a
much more rapid pace than was previously thought possible. In the primary
schools of the 21st century children will watch ten screens simultaneously
while carrying on three synchronous telephone conversations; passing grades
will be awarded to those who do this without being distracted by the other
children doing those same things in the tiny cubicles all around them.
The explosive development -- and commercial use -- of virtual reality and
computer- mediated experience will necessitate a whole new kind of
learning, which will be lumped under the name Materialistics. Simply put,
people will have to be taught to distinguish between objects and actions in
the material world, which operate under the old limitations of physics and
biology, and those in the virtual world, which resemble real-world objects
and actions but are limited only by the imagination of their human
creators. Since most aspects of daily life will be lived virtually,
schools will take students on carefully controlled field trips into the
"material environment," that is, the real world.
The growth of Multi-Tasking in the workplace of the future will present
another kind of problem. The unmanageable volume of data will produce a
phenomenon known as "mindblow," in which the worker's personality gradually
disintegrates as he begins to spend all his time in the virtual world,
creating avatars (alternate versions of himself), immersed in elaborate
role-playing games, and finally descending into incoherence and catatonia.
The solution (to be invented in the year 2037 by the consulting firm
Andersen, Ernst, Coopers, & Waterhouse) will be called Mind Management, in
which children learn to monitor incoming sensory impressions and to filter
out all those that are not immediately useful, in a task-oriented, value-
added sense. Mind Management will also offer 21st-century educators
another benefit: it will prove to be enormously effective in training
children not to ask annoying or troubling questions about school.