click “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
http://sel-services.com/impo.php The author L.P. Hartley opens his most well-known novel* with this haunting sentence. He is reflecting upon the changes in society that had occurred between the early 1900s, in which his story is set, and the 1950s, the decade in which he was writing the novel.
here These changes are accelerating. Fifty years from today society will be almost unrecognizable, in ways that are impossible to predict.
This poses a problem for today’s parents and teachers. Since the advent of mass education during the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, the world’s children (those fortunate enough to attend school, anyway) have been educated for the society and workplaces of the day. Children have been taught the cognitive and vocational skills sufficient to survive, and hopefully to thrive, in the world in which they were growing up.
coumadin standing orders But we are now falling behind. The accelerating pace of change has made traditional education wholly inadequate for tomorrow’s world. Not only will society change but, at a more profound level, the ways in which we are required to think will change too. Not only that, but our children and our children’s children will not be the only thinking species on our planet. The other species is what we now tentatively refer to as Artificial Intelligence, and we so far have no idea what form these machines, or implants, or self-reproducing organisms will evolve into. We are indeed waving our children off into a Brave New World**.
Learning facts and formulae, which is what happens in the majority of the world’s schools, will not prepare our children for the future. Our children will need to be ‘adaptive thinkers’ because they will be required to adapt to a changing situation that is beyond our current comprehension. Teachers and parents can help children to become adaptive in their thinking by re-focusing the way in which we teach and nurture children in the classroom and the home.
Here are just a few examples of ways in which we adults can help our children prepare for their future lives; I have written about some of these in previous posts:
- Teach children to think about things at a conceptual level. The national curriculum of your home country may not require this, but this does not prevent teachers and parents from taking children of all ages from going beyond the basic curricular requirements. For example, instead of teaching “the life cycle of the frog” ask children to investigate the similarities and differences between the life cycles of various life forms. All children a capable of doing this.
- Teach children to think at different levels of challenge. Refer them to Bloom’s taxonomy and require them to move between the different levels of thinking by posing different levels of questions and instructions. All children are capable of doing this. Ask them to develop their own questions at the different levels. All children can do this too.
- Ask your children open-ended questions. The teacher and the parent do not have all the ‘correct’ answers, so please let us not pretend that we do. The extraordinary physicist Richard Feynman*** credited his father’s skills as a questioner for his own early intellectual growth. During walks in the woods, for example, his father would not ask the young Richard to ‘name that bird’ but instead he would ask him ‘to observe that bird’s habits’. Naming the bird would have restricted Richard’s thinking. All children are capable of thinking more deeply than reciting basic facts.
- Give your children problem-solving activities. These engage and excite children to stretch their thinking and imagination. Any number of books and online resources exist to help you. I’ll leave you to find them. All children are capable of solving seemingly intractable problems, but they need to practice logic and divergent thinking skills. When they have solved the problem, ask them to solve it in a different way. All children are capable of doing this, even if we are not!
- Use metaphor and analogy when speaking with your children and ask them to do the same. Require them to make connections between seemingly unconnected phenomena. Make it fun: ‘In what ways is your best friend like an ice-cream sundae?’ It helps children think at a deeply conceptual level. All children thrive on metaphor.
- Ask ‘what-if’ questions. Here are three examples: ‘In what ways would America be a different country if President Kennedy had not been assassinated?’; ‘What would happen if the moon were to leave the earth’s orbit?’; ‘How could we cook tonight’s dinner if we had no electricity, gas, or fire?’ Children are capable of hugely imaginative thinking if we allow them to attempt questions such as these.
- Ask them to interpret today’s main news story from the point of view of a person from another country or culture. Children have high levels of emotional intelligence and empathy, but we need to challenge them in these ways of thinking too.
The list of ways to extend your child’s thinking goes on – in the home or in the classroom. You don’t have to know the answers when you give your child a challenge. If you only ask questions to which you have a ready answer, then you are limiting your child’s thinking to the knowledge that you yourself have acquired through your own education and life experiences. That will not be enough.
It is our role as parents and teachers to extend our children’s horizons beyond anything we have known and experienced ourselves, because their lives and experiences will be very different from our own. Please help them develop the ‘big picture’ thinking skills that they will need in order to adapt. After all, it’s their future – not ours.
Next time: The child’s world and the child’s classroom
*The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley, 1953.
**Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1932. One man’s glimpse into the future. Aldous Huxley and L.P. Hartley were friends.
***Start by reading, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman? by Richard Feynman, 1985. Feynman writes with the lightest of touches about the limitless possibilities of the human mind. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965 – and was also an expert safe-cracker and player of bongo drums!