If we can point to a moment when educators finally realized that the world was changing so dramatically that we had to take notice, it was within a year or so of the publication of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. Friedman has a remarkable ability to take something complex that many of us know to be true, and illuminate it in ways that are timely, concrete, and intellectually accessible. I am a few chapters into his newest book, Thank You For Being Late, and this is just the first of what I know will be several posts as I try to summarize key points within the language and relevancy context of K-12 education.
Friedman’s central thesis is that the rate of change in three key areas–technology, global markets, and climate change– have overwhelmed our ability to adapt in ways that have worked for human individuals and institutions for past millennia. He shares in detail a conversation with Eric Teller, CEO of Google’s X research and development lab. Teller outlines the difference in rate of change of “scientific progress” (which includes but is not solely based on what we think of as “technology”), and “the rate at which humanity–individuals and society–adapts to changes in the environment”. I have stolen the simple figure that Teller drew for Friedman:
The dot Teller places on the graph, “we are here”, represents the fact that “the rate of technological change is now accelerating so fast that it has risen above the average rate at which most people can absorb all these changes. Many of us cannot keep pace anymore.”
Within the context of Friedman’s thesis, the exponential curve is not just technology, but a combination of scientific advances, changes in global economic relationships, and climate changes that, regardless of Luddite opposition to evidence of the cause, are occurring at an ever-increasing pace. This point of “where we are” is a perfect description of the dissonance facing many, if not most, educators today. The institutions of “school”, and the skills in which most educators have been trained, are inadequate to keep pace with the changes around us. It creates what Teller calls “cultural angst”, leaving us feeling, as Friedman says, “disoriented”.
This is why I have preached that schools need to acquire both the comfort and capacity to deal with change. We have the tool kit to get beyond the angst and disorientation so we can embrace, rather than fear the inevitable, particularly as the curve of environmental change is getting ever steeper. School leaders need to acquire and provide that took kit for their organizations. The only alternatives are these: an ever increasing drag of angst and disorientation, or a failure of the school, either locally and/or systemically. Both of those futures are bleak, but both are completely realistic if we fail to embed in our systems the ability to align the curve of human adaptability to the curve of change in the world around us. We know the tools we need; they are within our grasp. We CAN change angst and disorientation to enthusiasm and opportunity…but it takes some work.
More later as I progress through the book!