Sunday, February 3, 2013

Chartering a New Course

Great discoverers of the past were successful in many cases if when they realized that the direction they were heading was leading towards danger or peril, they rechartered their course. Of course first you need the awareness that you are on a course that is perilous. And we have plenty of evidence that we are heading into more perilous waters with increased climatic disruptions, extreme inequality, accelerating uprisings of both fundamentalist believers and the oppressed.

Of course not everyone notices the signals, or denies they signal anything of significance. They are secure in their comfort with the status quo and assume that more of the same will make any necessary repairs to whatever minimal fractures in our society exist. For the most part, it is the latter that control the helm of our ship steering us towards our future. If we make enough noise to get their attention they may turn the ship slightly to avoid the most visible obstructions on our journey. But like many of the icebergs that are visible from the helm, most of the danger lies hidden beneath the surface.

A current example in Michigan is the direction of education. The dominant voices (governor, most of the legislature, corporate powers, mass media, etc.) offer solutions to the problem they see with education needing (take your pick) eithermore math and science, or more schools of choice, or more technology, or more virtual learning. The cacophony of these voices is startling. But here is a perfect example of a ship heading in the wrong direction. Those on the helm seem to believe that the purpose of education is to keep growing the economy and finding spots for enough laborers so that they can keep their comfort level at least at their current state, and that the current education system isn't doing that. If you believe in the infinite planet theory, as most neo-liberal economists do this system might have had some merit on a planet with a mere one or two billion inhabitants using appropriate technology. But the infinite planet theory has been pretty clearly debunked.

So if this isn't the direction education should be aiming at, what is education for facing 21st century realities? Well it's not that we haven't been offered some more reasonable alternatives. John Hannah, former MSU president, Chairman of the  U.S.Civil Rights Commission and many other governmental positions argued that "if there is one thing educators agree on,it  is that the primary purpose of education is to develop good citizens." If Hannah and other were right when he said this in 1962, was he considering citizenship as limited by nation-state? Or was he a forerunner of thinking of our need to become citizens of one finite planet - one human family.
Sir Ken Robinson, a world leading educational expert, has given a systems view of  Changing Educational Paradigms that should be viewed and discussed before any further resources are devoted to addressing what we need education to do. Robinson's insights clearly lead to thinking about a redesign of education. Fortunately, we have an architecture for education for global citizenship well crafted in the Earth Charter. We have practitioners, scholars, authors, teachers, and citizens offering us signposts along a possible way. But our mass media and those at the helm are either unaware or oblivious to these possibilities.

Tom Atlee, author and deliberative democracy leader, recently offered up some pearls of wisdom that link the possibilities of a better future with an orientation that blends much of the wisdom emerging from the many struggling to find a better way forward. Those in leadership positions within our political, economic, and educational systems need to explore this growing body of knowledge and wisdom to help shape our common future. Each of us has a voice in this journey and we sit quietly at our own peril. All hands on deck if we want to turn this ship around.