I was asked by edu-leader Ulcca Joshi Hansen to read a pre-publication version of her new book, The Future of Smart, (available now for pre-order; shipping in mid-September) and I give it a strong “two thumbs up”. If you follow me and this blog, you know I am tired of hearing the same arguments for “why” we have to change education; we are deep into the “what” those changes look like and, more importantly, “how” school communities can transform to better meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world. While I may not share her level of optimism that transformation will be successful across the board, Ulcca’s book adds important material to the discussion and provides a valuable set of exemplars and helpful templates for moving boldly towards the future of school.
Ulcca offers a fresh and clear articulation of “how we got here” in education. We have all read a lot of books that tell the story of the last 150 years, or the last three decades. Ulcca makes a clear and compelling argument that the “traditional” model of K-12 education was born in the age of scientific discovery and the co-emergent Euro-centric socioeconomic philosophies of quantification and efficiency. She makes an equally clear distinction between the traditional left-brain, engineered learning system and what she calls holistic-indigenous learning that is much more centered on human and community connections.
I also like how Ulcca clearly defines three models of education systems today: the traditional, industrial-age model; a modern progressive model that has re-emerged in the last decade or two that is rooted in inquiry, relevance, and experiential and project-based learning; and her holistic-indigenous model that is typified by Montessori and Waldorf-type schools, built around an ecosystem-like set of relationships, as I explored in greater detail in my own book, #EdJourney in 2014. While many of us are trying to move from the first category to the second, Ulcca argues that the latter largely consists of “bolting” on new bits and pieces to a fundamentally flawed system, and that real change will not take place until schools throw out the basic chassis that is built around quantification, efficiency, and putting students into pre-sorted boxes. Her classification is useful as each of us puts into context where our school and its goals lie on this continuum.
Ulcca is optimistic that, over the next two decades, most or all schools will inevitably evolve into her HIL model. She believes that the learning experience and outcomes of this more humanistic model align more closely with stakeholder aspirations across the board, and that the pandemic year has given us a profound boost in this direction. While I sincerely hope she is right, I cannot share her optimism that this evolution will succeed at the scale she predicts, and certainly not within a couple of decades. It has taken the first two decades of the century for just a fraction of school systems to move from the traditional model to something that even remotely starts to look more student-centered and inquiry-based. The inertial dampeners on the system writ large are enormous and I think there are large demographic/political swaths of the country that will strongly oppose her HIL model as being somehow overly “progressive” and not “rigorous” enough. Again, I hope she is right and I am wrong!
I very much recommend The Future of Smart to those who are pursuing school change!