The Academy of Human Interaction
Why we need a new type of public education
As we speed towards an ever more automated and remote world in post-pandemic times, the importance of teaching interpersonal skills is needed more than ever. So, envisioning an academy that will teach with a focus on the depth and diversity of modern social interaction is an imperative conversation. Yes, there are some private or charter style schools that are glacially moving in this direction, but the necessity for all students to have this opportunity cannot be overstated. We cannot continue to save our best ideas for the most privileged. By calling the framework an ‘academy’, we can move away from the negative connotations that arise from the word ‘school’.
History of Schools
Public schools were designed during the Industrial Revolution and in a similar model to an industrial factory. There is a single central location with raw material going in and a specific product coming out, as Sir Ken Robinson tells us. The educator, originally female, worked to socialize and teach children and young adults with the purpose of making them useful to the local world in which they lived.
Even a hundred years ago it was a big deal if a young adult moved out of the country in which they were born. Culture shock was a real thing. Now, with the world being so much more accessible, moving about is deemed an important part of social growth. But the methods of teaching have not changed to match this difference in human movement. We still hire teachers to socialize and teach children in a single locale, a myopic setting really, for a world where society is a shifting concept.
There is a general fear in the political world that money spent on education can’t prove measurable evidence of its value. Because we must demonstrate need, importance and significance of every public dollar spent, politicians of all stripes find it easier to define value when there is a successful tangible product at the end.
In the early days of public education, that meant becoming a contributing member of society. Now, we look for transferrable literacy, numeracy and critical thinking skills and believe that we can demonstrate improvement on standardized tests. By comparing, over time and location, the implementation of specific actionable and achievable goals, the public purse-holders are happy. But, as we know, this has nothing what-so-ever to do with education.
The continuous need for political proof is over-riding anything that could be categorized as a modern, interactive, or creative education for our children. The focus on achieving and sustaining/improving test results has created schools that chase currency carrots. And, because of that, we no longer trust our politicians, our professionals or even our parents to guide us towards a style of education that produces the innovative and interactive individuals who are needed for our precarious future.
Every new educational idea needs at least a generation to determine its worth. However, we shift from one idea to the next far too quickly to prove anything other than the need for more money. The mounting pressure of instantly conforming to a new world view with each news cycle is having consequences on kids that we are only beginning to understand. Every world event is immediately available to help inform our opinions — only if we are given time to assess it. But we are not. And the kids are not alright as they try to calculate why we are constantly shifting our fundamental beliefs. They are caught in an endless cycle of upload and download. Results, results.
As we are teaching kids to be ultra-focussed in the areas of literacy and numeracy, education itself has moved away from its generalist purpose (society as a whole) to a specialized purpose (individual or specific interest). And this is where political manipulation of the education system has cost us the mental and physical health of our children.
Instead of looking at education as an opportunity for organic growth and choice, we are forcing young people to ignore the cacophony outside the window and to focus on a piece of paper in front of them that has no tangible connection to their over-stimulated lives. And if they can’t focus on the paper (that only has value to the adults), we medicate them until they do. This is insane. This is a torture that you would never endure on your job.
Rather than ignoring or trying to protect kids from these truths, we must integrate this knowledge into the curricula and give them the tools to embrace the whole messy world much earlier than we do. They will never thank us for lying to them if we don’t. Just think of the mixed-messaging that has surrounded the horrific Parkland massacre and how the victims have shouldered it. From the spin-off, even their own experiences have been judged suspect.
What the Future Could Be
This is where an Academy of Social Interaction could shift the educational paradigm from thinking that each person must move through an age-appropriate assembly line of static information uploading, to a cyclical study of thought/action/reaction/reflection as it relates to each topic. Here we can assist young people in finding balance in an ever-unbalanced world. Finding more diverse purpose and passion for students will demonstrate our commitment to their whole education. The alternative is chaotic and angry youth who produce guns instead of words.
By employing natural human empathy and curiosity at an early age, combined with an ever-widening view of community, perhaps the global catastrophes of war, poverty, and climate can be mitigated. We have forced kids to delay living for far too long and it has cost us.
The adults currently in power — whether that be in an economic, political, or social arena — always want a cost-effective solution to their education investment by insisting that young people and schools bend to their will. But this is no longer happening. Kids are looking past their restricted worlds and embracing disparate ethical stances without a safety net. Here is where misinformation can take root. Without giving kids real practice, they will rebel towards destructive actions that mask as solutions.
The problem is that our issues know no boundaries. Money, climate, war and information are continually pressing towards new points of intensity that young people must comprehend right now. In fact, it is socially, politically and economically dangerous to assume our cultures will survive if we don’t educate children towards their own aptitudes, engaging in their own passions and allowing for schools to be more than a collection of bricks.
Please stay tuned for more on this topic. Next up will be a look at the physical location and a day-in-the-life in my imaginary school! We need change and there are some remarkable people pushing for it. For more information look to https://www.sirkenrobinson.com/ , https://mindup.org/ , https://edpolicy.stanford.edu/library/publications/543