Yesterday in my talk on "The Future of Thinking" presented at the HumLab in Umea, Sweden, I made a classic "modest proposal" in the Swiftian sense. That is, I proposed something deliberately outrageous as a provocation. I proposed that every teacher and every student worldwide take a year sabbatical in order to think together about what kind of educational system we need, prekindergarten to the end of life, that will full take advantage of the possibilities of the World Wide Web.
My argument was that we've had over a hundred years to develop an educational system designed for the efficient, linear, specialized thinking of the assembly line and the 20th century office compound, a system that now operates worldwide. We're doing a great job of preparing kids for the 20th century. Now is the right time, two decades in to the widespread use of the Internet, to think about what is the right kind of educational system for the 21st century? How can we prepare students for their future--not for our past?
There are lots of visionary half-measures. My "crowdsourcing grading" experiment is designed, quite precisely, to make us think about what grading is and does. It's not as if grading is natural or honored from time immemorial. It was invented for the 20th century, to make educational assessment as efficient as the assemby line (and machine gradable too). So if it is not natural, that means we can think about what it is, what it means to grade, why we do it, what utility it has, and whether it really serves a learning purpose or merely a credentialing one? If the latter, is it the best way of certifying what we claim tht it certifies? Or is it merely an expediency? Once one questions a system in place, it is necessary to ask "why"? Why do we do things in a certain way? And do we want to continue that practice, that habit, that routine or ritual developed over the last one hundred or so years.
What else do we need to rethink? We can do it incrementally but that's a little like building the new cathedral on the old Roman ruins. The foundation stays the same and the artifice you erect on it bears the traces. That's not all bad, since every revolution brings along what went before. But if we are going to really make a fantasy, why not think about what education could and should look like for one of the great Information Ages in all human history. If we have changed the authorizing and hierarchical conditions of knowledge-making in the 21st century, if we have rearranged global scope and access to knowledge, how should we be training students? How are they learning differently? More important, how can they learn differently given this new, material condition and technological affordance?
We could do this in a year but it would require serious rethinking. That's why I propose a worldwide one-year sabbatical for every teacher and every student. There would have to be goals and deliverables at the end. We'd need to spend as much time working on a redesign for education (again, teachers and students together) as we work on normal classroom preparation or studying or homework. It would be a serious year dedicated not to the half-way measures but rethinking all of it--methods, content, fields, disciplines, specialization, hierarchies of knowledge, authority, assessment, advancement, mission, goal, pedagogy, epistemology, all of it. A year to think together. Worldwide. Not how to fix what we have but to invent the best system of education for this digital age.
What would we come up with?