Monday, June 12, 2017

The Future of Education

As always, society is engaged in a great battle for the future. Education is ground zero. The New York Times reports on how the heads of tech giants like Netflix, Facebook, and Salesforce are using philanthropy to try to improve education.
In the space of just a few years, technology giants have begun remaking the very nature of schooling on a vast scale, using some of the same techniques that have made their companies linchpins of the American economy. Through their philanthropy, they are influencing the subjects that schools teach, the classroom tools that teachers choose and fundamental approaches to learning.

The philanthropists are running up against reactionary forces that want to return American education to the three Rs of the 1950s. Both the philanthropists and the reactionary forces have the best interest of children at heart. But there's a third side in this battle: crony capitalists. These last are the state legislators and their business friends who are interested mainly in making a buck off the government.

The reactionary forces would muddy the water by conflating the philanthropists with the crony capitalists. But there's a difference: crony capitalists are trying to make money; the philanthropists are trying to give their money away. Bill Gates has made enough money in his career. For the rest of his life his challenge is to spend his fortune on philanthropy. The crony capitalists don't welcome that because the philanthropists are a rival power center. They can directly empower schools with grants. That's a disruptive force to the business of education. The reactionary forces don't like it, either, because philanthropy funds innovations that threaten to move schools farther away from the 1950s than they already are.

Which side will win out? The reactionary forces might wage an effective rear-guard holding action, but over time, the future will win out over the past. It always does. That's why we call one the future and the other the past. The crony capitalists will eventually adapt as they always do, just as soon as they figure out how to make a buck off whatever system emerges. I don't know exactly what schools will look like in sixty years, but I'm confident they will look a lot less like the schools of today than the schools of today look like the schools of the 1950s. Future schools, perhaps unimaginable to today's educators, will emerge from the innovations encouraged by the philanthropists today.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

I understand the words philanthropist and reactionary have connotations. But the connotations cut in different directions for different people. For some, a philanthropist means a generous person, for another it means capitalist pig. I remember being dumbfounded to realize that tolerance is not considered to be a universal good, that for conservatives tolerance is a weakness, inspiring the pejoratives political correctness and snowflake. I don't apologize for using loaded words. I try to use words that I think have more or less the literal meaning I intend. Whether readers are complimented or insulted is up to them. Sometimes, that too is intentional.