Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
August 30th, 2009

Transforming Education for the 21st Century – Part Three

In the last two columns I looked back at the history and development of the American School.  I also wrote about some recent developments that both transformed a school and became the genesis of what is now an on-going process to create the 21st century educational campus for K-12 education.  This column, and future ones, will describe what a task force of committed people in the general area of education is doing to truly face the future of education in America.

[A promise to all my readers who enjoy focused commentaries on a variety of subjects:  I will continue to write those while continuing to write about transforming education for the 21st century, so please continue to come here the subject matter will not just be about education]

As a futurist I spend most of my time thinking, writing and speaking about the future.  I make my living through the sale of the Shift Age Trend Report, my book The Shift Age, and primarily speaking engagements.  I truly believe that my highest value is to be a catalyst to get people to think about the future and to hopefully at times facilitate a conversation about the future.  Now, in addition to this activity I find myself participating in actually creating one of the most important elements of the future; the 21st century American school.

I say American because the task force of which I am a part is focused on the creation of new forms of K-12 education in this country.  That does not mean that what is created cannot be contributed to the global community, just that it is taking place in real time in this country.  I say school as that is what we all call the institution that generations of children up to the age of 18 have attended.  School has been a metaphor for learning as in “going to school” “being schooled” “going back to school” or on playing fields and courts of this country “being taken to school”.  What now must occur is reinventing the educational process so much that even the word school might become obsolete.

A few weeks ago a number of leaders and experts in the area of K-12 education came together for a two day symposium.  It was called the” 21st Century Educational Campus Symposium”.  The idea for such a conference first came up over a dinner of Chicago deep dish pizza that Darryl Rosser, CEO of Sagus International, Amanda Burnette, Director of the South Carolina Turnaround Schools Initiative and I were having in early summer.  However, the real driver, and host of the conference was Amanda’s boss, Dr. Jim Rex, State Superintendent of Education for South Carolina. Dr. Rex immediately mobilized his staff, donated his technologically state of the art conference center and hosted this symposium.  To say that Dr. Rex and his staff are passionate about improving education in the state of South Carolina is an understatement.

In addition to Rex, Rosser, Burnette and me, there were a number of well respected participants, listed here.  With Rosser and Rex acting as co-hosts the rest of us presented and discussed the issues that had to be addressed as we face education in the 21st century.  I had the honor – and challenge – to deliver a keynote address to the group following Richard Riley, two time governor of South Carolina, and the Secretary of Education for all eight years of the Clinton administration.  The intelligence, passion and commitment to education in the room was palpable and exhilarating.

While there were many quotes I could insert here, there are two in particular that have stayed with me.

The first is from the Honorable Leon Lott, Sheriff of Richland County, who, as the last speaker on a panel about Health, Social and Onsite Services, leaned into the microphone and asked the audience:  “Have you ever had your child sleep in the bathtub during the night to insure they wouldn’t get shot  due to random gang gunfire?  This is the environment some of our students live in.”  He was speaking to the need for the 21st century educational campus to not just be a place for learning, but to also be a safe haven, a force of goodness and opportunity within a community.  In other words, any educational campus must also be an integral part of the community it serves as it is the community that both supports and benefits from the campus.

The second quote is from Dr. Rex in his closing remarks, as he was acknowledging all the enthusiasm and commitment we had shared over two days.  He said:  “We know so much more than we have ever known about child development up to the age of five and older.  If we could just integrate that knowledge into practice we could change America in a generation.”  In a larger context, this means taking all that we know and bring it to the process of creating the future model of education.

It is time to reject the status quo.  It is time to no longer let vested interests and political agendas dictate the educational system.  It is time to just decide that every single aspect of K-12 must be looked at completely unencumbered from the past. Even practices that have worked well in the 20th century must be closely analyzed as to their efficacy in this new century. Create the vision for the future of the 21st century K-12 campus based not on the past, or the present, but what it could, should and might be in the future.

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In times of global uncertainty and disruption it takes a futurist to provide context and understanding.

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