Inevitable: The New Rigor in Schools

Futurist, Kevin Kelly’s latest work looks at the technological forces that will inevitably transform our lives. Kelly’s main focus here is not education, but the implications for schools are profound. We are, the author contends, entering the era of the “Endless Newbie” such is the rate of perpetual technological change that is our new reality:

“At the center of every significant change in our lives today is a technology of some sort. Technology is humanity’s accelerant. Because of technology everything we make is always in the process of becoming. Every kind of thing is becoming something else, while it churns from “might” to “is.” All is flux. Nothing is finished. Nothing is done. This never-ending change is the pivotal axis of the modern world.”

The implications for our lives from this maelstrom of change will be neither dystopia or utopia, he suggests, but a constant state of “becoming” wherein technology will continue to incrementally enhance our lives with a degree of inevitability that can’t be halted. Significantly, technology will arrive at a point in which the inevitable implications for every sphere of our lives will be ultimately transformative. It is already happening, as we know, in business, shopping, the entertainment industry, transportation services, and medical science. Schools will not be immune. For those who wish to hold back the tide of change or decry the implications of the tech revolution, there is bad news:

“In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet! The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning. It is only becoming. If we could climb into a time machine, journey 30 years into the future, and from that vantage look back to today, we’d realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2050 were not invented until after 2016.”

It is easy – if one adopts a certain mindset – to be dismissive of the work and thinking of a futuristic reading of contemporary society and modern life. While Kelly does make several forays into the crystal ball of what we will become, none of his thinking or predictions seem unduly far-fetched or fanciful, given what we already know about how technology is already changing the way we work and live.

If we are at the beginning of an explosion in technological change that will have profound implications for schools – and few can argue with this particular inevitability – what should educators be doing to prepare for this? Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Kelly’s work and the potential answer to this mammoth question lies in a short, compelling section of his book in which he defines the key to developing innovators and ensuring that we continue to move civilization forward in the most fundamental way. The key, according to Kelly, resides, not in answers – traditional schooling – but in good questions, which he defines as follows:

A good question:

  • is not concerned with a correct answer
  • cannot be answered immediately
  • challenges existing answers
  • is one you badly want answered once you hear it, but had no inkling you cared before it was asked
  • creates new territory of thinking
  • is the seed of innovation in science, technology, art, politics, and business
  • is a probe, a what-if scenario
  • skirts on the edge of what is known and not known, neither silly nor obvious
  • cannot be predicted
  • will be the sign of an educated mind
  • generates many other good questions
  • may be the last thing a machine will learn to do
  • Is what humans are for.

It would seem – given all the competing demands and trends that currently dominate education – that if we can nurture a technology-rich environment in which good questions are the driving force of how we all learn together and how we assess learning, then we will truly be making learning meaningful and authentic. Ultimately we need, as Gary Stager reminds us, to “liberate learners from their dependency on being taught.” The old, linear lines are no longer sufficient.

Schools are clamouring to locate and define the “new rigor”. Adhering to the quality of deep questions based on these principles is, inevitably, the new rigor. We simply need to start with a good question. Perhaps, more urgently, we need to eliminate the poorly-constructed questions that have been the hallmark of schooling for generations. This is a challenge that all talented teachers are capable of meeting. Technology will not just force us to embrace this reality, it will enable us to. It’s inevitable.

Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future
Sylvia Libow Martinez, Gary Stager, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom

Image credit @bryanMMathers via Visual Thinkery.