Are we asking ourselves this question? We should be, regardless of our individual ages.
I know this isn’t the world I thought I’d be living in when I first became politically aware at age 17, arguing for the admittance of Red China to the United Nations and fending off the label of “communist.” Thirteen years later I visited the Peoples’ Republic of China months before President Carter normalized relations with them and had unforgettable experiences with the Chinese people.
I became very discouraged with the advent of Ronald Reagan, and my view of our potential world kept “slip sliding away,” small step by small step. Until November 2016….
I had often wondered how people in war-torn countries coped with such a sudden change of events. The last years have shown us we’re not coping well at all, even though on a day-to-day basis literal bombs aren’t raining down on us.
We face a lack of progress in this country, a lack of any visionary ideas for our collective futures, dissatisfaction with the status quo and no idea how to change it, disappointment in our lives, disillusionment with our institutions, anger and despair at just about everyone, and impotence in our ability to make meaningful change.
Disillusionment, anger, despair — and no way out…or so it seems. What’s missing from us for the last several decades is an educational system that allows us to create, reform, and re-envision our future. We cannot go blindly into this future without systemic change in how we educate.
We are not a farming nation, dependent on a weather calendar.
We are not a manufacturing nation, dependent on a workforce of skilled individuals.
We are not an educated nation that values its teachers and pays them for their daily efforts in creating thinking adults.
We are not an equitable nation, with millions fighting to stay alive medically, emotionally, financially, educationally, with liberty and justice for all.
We are now a service nation, dependent on jobs that barely allow us to earn enough to live at a subsistence level. We are now a have — have-not nation, divided along economics, class, race, gender, and religion.
What do we do?
First, identify the people who will develop this systemic change — those with “skin in the game,” as Nassim Taleb writes.
We need teachers of all levels, with practical experience (not just coursework), retired or not.
No more teaching to ridiculous tests. Flip our classrooms so teachers facilitate while listening to the concerns of the students. Climate change? Develop a set of essential questions and turn the students loose to research, question, plan, and present ideas.
I’d venture that a good percentage of teachers who are underpaid and want to leave the classroom because of the restrictions, abuse, and policies that prevent them from working with students would stay in classrooms if they thought they could take over and actually teach critical thinking. I would go back in my seventh decade if I thought I could change how we teach and learn.
Part 2 tomorrow
An earlier version of this story appeared in The Start-Up, a Medium.com publication. (2019)
ADDENDUM: after completing the draft of this last night, I woke up with a burning thought of my own. This is so WHITE. My white privilege was showing through most of the ideas and questions. Yes, I as a mature white woman am asking these questions…because I think they are critical for our survival.
But in a classroom of young people, I need to be sure my students are diverse. I learned from actual experience what that looks like: in 2010 I returned to Vermont from Tucson for a retirement party for a friend. I walked into the high school I taught at and gasped — literally. The school was a sea of white. No people of color at all, but that is the general demographic of rural Vermont. As I walked out I realized how fortunate I was to be at the largest high school in urban Tucson with its multitude of ethnic groups. My teaching was better because of it. I was better at understanding.