Educating for an Unknown Future

The one thing we can say with certainty about the future is that we don’t know what it holds for us as a world community. Did You Know, a popular YouTube video, suggests ” We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist….in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” Did You Know has received 4.5 million viewings.

Obviously, no one knows which of the skills we teach today will enable our students to solve unknown future problems and make meaningful contributions to their societies. This is a dilemma facing us all as educators.

A recent post to an ISR blog caught our attention because it took the Did You Know theme a step further to say “institutional education is heading down a path that no longer serves the coming generation. A revolution is coming!”

A revolution is coming to institutional education as students continue to be “schooled” for a future that no longer exists. More and more, noted educators like John Gatto and Sir Ken Robinson are willing to say, “The Emperor is naked!”

We, home schooling parents, who have totally stepped out of the institutional school model are raising our children to have the time and resources to maximize their natural talents and creativity. As the rest of the industrial world continues down a path that no longer serves the coming generation, I beg credentialed teachers to be willing to ask the “unaskable question” (the one that is on the tongue of every student), “Why do I have to learn all this stuff!?”

ISR invites you to share your opinion:
Do you believe the “stuff” you teach will be relevant in the rapidly accelerating world of technology and skills? How individualized and focused on personal talents and creativity should education be? Should our present model of teaching past knowledge be our curriculum guide as we educate and prepare children for an unknown future? Has the Emperor become, indeed, completely disrobed?

ISR Invites YOUR comments

28 thoughts on “Educating for an Unknown Future

  1. So true, trav. IMO parents are totally responsible for all aspects of a child’s upbringing, including the child’s education. Parents may use teachers to help with the process, but parents cannot abrogate any aspect of the *responsibility* to others. Once that happens, parents can then blame the *experts* when their children don’t grow up “successful”.


  2. What all of this ignores is the power of the parent. I have worked at schools that tried to be progressive and student focused, but most parents are far too worried about test scores and college applications. They want rigor, which they define as lots of lectures and homework.

    The majority of teachers are on board with the kinds of change needed; however, until we educate the public-at-large, we will continued to be pressured via ridiculous make-or-break exams and a population who determines excellence through test scores.


  3. The 43 years I spent working in business and education proved to me, beyond a reasonable doubt, that our current tradition of industrialized ¨education¨is counter-productive and ¨teaches¨ kids many attitudes and erroneous preconceptions for today and the future,such as;

    1)A certificate,degree,or other piece of externally determined ¨certification¨is essential for ¨respect¨and ¨success¨in the world.
    2)There are mostly winners and losers, successes and failures, dummies and smart kids, and similar dichotomies in life and only an education determines which one you’ll be.
    3)Only adults know better than kids, what is right and good for kids and what is important in life and what they need to be and do to succeed.
    4)There are soft ¨subjects¨ which are nice but not essential and then there are the 3R’s which are far more important. We must sacrifice the former to prioritize the latter.
    5)Strength, winning and domination is more important than collaboration,cooperation and community, which are actually ¨liberal¨ and socialism/communism in disguise and should be feared and rejected at all costs.
    6)There is No God worth believing in and adoring but the golden calf of Western consumerism and capitalism. Power, wealth, excess consumption, self-indulgence, materialism and tangible riches are all anyone can gauge as representing success and worth in this life.
    7)There are ¨good¨jobs or careers reserved for the top graduates of ¨big¨schools and then there is the
    lesser drudgery for the majority. Life in the fast lane and your ,status in the eyes of those who ¨count¨, depends on playing the system and adhering to its mantra of ¨clawing¨ your way to the ¨top¨ over the bodies of those who couldn’t compete.
    8)Emotions and personal values/ethics must be sacrificed to ¨get ahead¨ in life. Only the ruthless and ¨strong¨survive in the cutthroat world out there. There is no room for ¨weakness¨ (aka humanity) and caring in such a harsh world.
    9)Measuring and assessing one’s worth must be done using short-term, punctual and externally examined tools created by others who don’t know you,don’t care about you and don’t see you as something other than another statistic. The correlated results are the principle and fundamental measures against which you are valued…no soft,artsy, subjective, humane views can be tolerated in our ¨modern¨ meritocracy.

    I could continue for another 40 pages or so but the truth is that the inmates (pseudo-educators, politicians, misguided and indoctrinated parents, educational corporations,successors to the industrial educational monopoly, et. al) are in charge of the asylum, and while they are,nothing significant will change. Dewey said it best when he pointed out in his 1912 essay on educational reform, that education of our children is too important to be left in the hands of educators. This is as true today as it was a century ago!


  4. American Nicaraguan School offered guitar courses, big band, and drama during the day.
    Many students went to dance lessons after school. The soccer program was offered after school. Intermurals were at lunch. Knowledge Bowl and extra help were available after school. Swim team, track, Chinese language, and basketball were offered after school too. Some AP teachers came in on weekends to help students prepare for exams. Students were not deprived of much.


  5. As teachers, we are salespeople. We must be positive about what we teach. Math is the subject that many teachers love to hate. However, I imagine at least 75% of teachers have to teach math at least once in their career. By portraying math as something awful, we do the kids a disservice. Most international schools are college prep schools, and college prep schools aren’t for every student. However, to get into a good university in the States, SATs are mandatory.
    I was a poor reader at school. Should my teachers have discouraged me from reading? Ross McIntosh.
    Ross McIntosh.


    1. One of the things Ken Robinson says is that most schools are a protracted effort at college entrance. Do you think it is possible to come up with a curriculum that allows individuals to function well in society and, at the same time, leave enough room for the individual’s personal interests to lead him or her to a full life? Or is our tasks as teachers to make everyone “employable” according to how we currently value employability?


    2. It’s very possible. That’s all David Orr and Kurt Hahn were talking about. Both believed there needed to be an added piece of passion, compassion, and empathy included in the pursuit of intellectual success. They also believed that the way to change the focus on education was not by shutting it down, but creating a new kind of college or university that focused on social justice and sustainability. To think that a home school education is the only answer when there are many examples of schools, some public, some charter and some private seems somewhat void of vision. Why have a hypothetical discussions when there are many models of schools out there who have combined the best of both worlds?


    3. “To think that a home school education is the only answer…”

      I certainly hope no one thinks I believe home education is the *only answer* as I’ve never said that.


  6. The essence of this discussion seems to have been lost. What do we do to help our young people prepare for a future that requires them to learn independently, seek appropriate information, adapt to change, develop a love of learning and at the same time lead fulfilled, good lives? Ideally it should be a journey through school communities that enrich, stimulate, nurture and excite them. Yet we must realize that each of us also grew through difficulties and challenges. I again think it is wise to reflect on what excited and motivated us growing up and what was it about the individuals, the teachers, the environment, the experience that made it memorable and helped to shape us in positive ways. This is a wonderfully challenging and very personal business we are in – hopefully because we love young people and have a passion to help them through life.


  7. This is precisely my point. What if they didn’t WANT jobs with Intel? What if they wanted to be ballerinas, or gourmet chefs or…? What adult has the right to say to a child, “You will be a ‘math’ person;” or, “What you have in your heart to do isn’t worthy to pursue.” Please don’t hear what I’m NOT saying. Everyone, who can, needs a level of math skills to function in a 21st century society. But, to decide before knowing the individual what he or she will NOT do in life is not appropriate, and today’s curricula has the potential to do just that.


    1. My older brother is a well known artist. His wife plays flute on the Toronto Symphony. My little brother plays jazz sax, and his wife is a lawyer. Obviously, math isn’t everything. I just think that kids need do their best in all subjects. That way, their choices won’t be limited when they go to college.

      What if a student who practiced ballet at high school changes his/her mind and decides to pursue engineering. That won’t be possible if he/she has neglected math. Ross McIntosh


    2. I would be horrified indeed to hear a teacher say something so ridiculous as, “You can’t possibly do that!” But I wanted to be a boxer when I was a kid. No one told me I couldn’t, but I did change my mind, so I am glad that someone did not decide, “Lo! He likes boxing! And boxing he shall do!” and try to nurse some non-existent skill within me to the detriment of other things to learn.

      My daughter wanted to be a ballerina this past summer. She now wants to be a ‘race car driver. Kids change their minds. “Education” gives them the freedom to do this.


    3. I hope this thread does not become too adversarial but that a new spirit of discussion re: curriculum might begin to take place.

      My sons went through many and varied interests as they grew up. I never assumed any of these interests would become permanent; but, of course, eventually one did.

      Along with the “basics”, I always made time for where my sons’ interests were leading. It is this *time* to discover oneself and one’s interests that I believe institutional schooling robs from our youth as they sit in class and learn things they often forget once the test is taken.

      Ken Robinson is right is saying that school is basically boring as it ignores both the individual and how the curriculum we teach has any relevance to one’s life.

      What is the alternative?


  8. I have taught math and science in international schools for the past fifteen years. Recently, I worked with the daughter of the general director of Intel in Costa Rica. She was having difficulties with mathematics, so her mother brought her to school an hour early for extra math help on a daily basis. Naturally, she improved considerably as the year progressed. I also taught in Tianjin China, and the students ate up the math and spat it out. They were so motivated. I have never taught in the States, but my advice to American students is to embrace the challenge. Mathematics requires effort, so if you are not prepared to do the work, be prepared to be left behind. Since the general director of Intel expects his daughter to have good math skills, wouldn’t he expect other American students to have good math skills too, if they wanted a job with Intel?
    Ross McIntosh


  9. All educators, dedicated to doing all they can to help their students become as well prepared as possible for the future while becoming good, responsible citizens, know that it is a process – much like parenting. There is no guidebook, nor will there ever be. However, there needs to be a healthy, dynamic tension between traditions and the need for change with this ever-changing world. Just as responsible adults, parents, and educators do not rely on a guidebook, neither should students. As a science teacher I daily evaluate whether I should be teaching the content. For example, the typical college level biology text is around 1,500 pages. In no way can I do justice to that and know that my students understand concepts and processes. The great thing is – it is not all required! I can pick and choose any number of relevant topics to teach what I consider essential AND cover whatever curriculum framework that is in vogue for that year. I expect them to learn to understand, appreciate science and develop a love for learning. In fact, it is the combination of learning skills and the passion for learning that will stand them best in the world.

    Howard Garner’s “Five Minds for the Future” is an excellent read and provides a change in our thinking – and simply makes sense. School’s that are dedicated to becoming dynamic learning environments already know that this is the way forward. This is a creative enterprise, not a prescriptive one. Educators, schools and school communities need to understand this and become active participants with their children.


    1. You are extremely fortunate. A 7th grade history teacher recently told me, “There are only 5 questions on the year-end standardized test related to my subject. I don’t get to know what those questions are so I must treat the entire book as if every page is as important as every other. I know this is not true, so I teach what I believe to be important. After teaching 25 years, I am now statistically the worst performing teacher in the school. My student’s test scores are jeopardizing my career, my Principal’s career, and the ranking of my entire school. What do I do? I will continue to teach what I believe important and will probably be fired.


  10. These conversations are happening a lot in my school since we all watched the Ken Robinson RSA video in a staff meeting. It is useful to have philosophical discussions to make a change from pedagogical ones.

    David’s question above is the first of many that need to be asked: What would we want to change about curricula? How would our school day be structured (ie, optional attendance, shifts of morning or afternoon or evening?) What level of input about curricula would each stakeholder have? How would a new system be resourced (ie, what buildings would be used? what resources would be needed to provide for every child’s preferred learning styles/times/sensitive periods?)

    It seems to be rather complicated.

    What occurs to me is that 1) no actual alternative ‘system’ has been proposed by these educators and 2) how would an alternative system be funded?

    It smells faintly of elitism. Montessori, Steiner/Waldorf and other alternative schools, and home-schooling are for those people who have the money to be able to provide this for their children. The rest (those people who cannot afford private schools or to home-school their children) will be left with the alternative. Unless of course the general public, and subsequently, governments embrace these ideas and support them, which is, of course, not going to happen anytime soon.

    Also you have the issue of post-secondary education. How does this fit in with the utopian ideal of learning? Would students suddenly, after 18 years of learning in their optimum way, suddenly have to cope with university, or would these institutions be run in the same way? Then the question – would you feel comfortable being operated on by a doctor who had been educated in a system where there were no formal methods of assessment? It seems silly even posing these questions, but then is this not the extreme of what these educators are proposing?

    A colleague of mine has also pointed out, with no small amount of irony, “Who would clean our toilets then, if every single child became creative, skilled, self-actualised adults? Where would our working class come from?” Although a comment like this is tantamount to blasphemy in a school, one must consider this in the context of the reality of the societies we live in.


    1. I am so glad this conversation has begun in earnest. I have met far too many adults who hate what they do, but the dreams of their youth were treated with contempt, as in, “You’ll never get a job doing that!” What arrogance.


  11. I would like to state respectfully that some of the presumptions that have prevailed in our profession for decades are being addressed (and sometimes challenged rightfully) in this thread. One of them is that, “Why do we need to learn this stuff” is an “un-askable” question.

    I, for one, have never forbidden students to ask that question, and I always do my best to answer it. One of the things I say (especially when teaching algebra) is that it develops problem solving skills in that one day, the “x’s and y’s” will be your family budget, your checkbook balance and even the ability to choose the best value out of several options on offer. Of course, these answers do not always satisfy the student, but I don’t let that concern keep me from being willing to offer an opinion about it.

    As far as preparing students for a future that no longer exists”, I believe this has always been the case anyway. We must do the best with what we have at the time, and even admit to students that things change so fast that they should see their time in school as the beginning of their learning. In order to take advantage of the best opportunities out there, they must discipline themselves to continue their learning voyage for years to come. The time spent in formal schooling is life preparation , not just some purgatory they are enduring till they graduate.

    Of course, there is also this dreaded, “stifling of creativity” bomb. I do not deny that students ought to be given opportunity and room for making the most of their creative abilities. However, we also owe it to them to set boundaries, such as disallowing any “work” that is offensive to the moral (and even religious) sensibilities of society at large.

    Should we always cover every part of a curriculum that has been provided? Well yes, but like all tools, we are obliged (if not obligated) to work out the best use of those things which are provided and even take the time to search out useful things that many not have been. Curriculum must be respected, but it also must be our servant, not our master!

    This is my story, and I’m sticking to it! 😉


  12. Each of these posters makes some interesting points, but most of them fail to address exactly what it is that schools are teaching that is so harmful and is to be pitied.

    In the elementary grades what to take away/replace? Do we really want a generation of children to grow up who cannot write in their own language? Or read, do math, know some of their own history?

    In Middle School and High School are students only to study and be exposed to topics, ideas, concepts that they are already familiar with and that they “like” because they have a “natural talent” for them? How are children going to expand their horizons if they are not provided the opportunities to do so?

    How many of my HS student’s have parents who are able, willing and have the time to teach the Chemistry and Physics concepts, ideas and skill that I do? Mr. Davis and the other posters are implying, or stating, that students will blossom and thrive away from schools that provide a variety of subjects to study and instead schools should “…graduate students who flourish in what they have a heart to do with their lives..”. In this vision of education, how and when does a child become exposed to something new that lights the fire of imagination and interest if the child is only going to be further educated in ideas, topics, etc. that he/she is already interested in?

    This discussion has been going on for many decades and success can be found in small scale circumstances, but each fail to be as successful when up-scaled to a larger population. Mr. Davis is to be congratulated for being able to meet his son’s needs, how would he do with 25-30 more students? Ms. Jessica’s comments about whom home schooling is appropriate are important and need more discussion.


    1. David. I fully appreciate what you have said. How does a nation educate masses of humanity with a finite amount of money? As far as I can see, this can only be accomplished through age-segregation and treating children as generic human beings.

      The superintendent who recently hired me told me, “We used to teach individual children. Now that the highest priority is how our schools score on The Test, the curriculum (and even how and in what sequence it is taught) has become our master.”

      I can’t see institutional education changing. Money demands efficiency and efficiency demands standardization. Ken Robinson’s analogy of institutional education as a “factory” is correct. How else can so many be educated? I am really suggesting, “If this is education, perhaps we need to take a new look at how we are defining the word.”


  13. This is a good question and one that I have been wrestling with for awhile. On one hand, things like Handwriting and Spelling are quickly becoming outdated skills to teach by technology. While on the other hand, new skills are emerging as more important such as social media, mobile technology and blogging. I think schools will never lose their foothold completely. There is too much power and money at stake. If they are to sustain, they need to shift their focus to transdisciplinary skills that are fundamental to the future of learning; collaboration and communication skills. Schools have to acknowledge that curriculum is in a dynamic state of change constantly and with less emphasis on the fact that it is specific end product but rather a medium for learning. For example, it doesn’t matter so much what the students are learning but how they are learning it.


    1. Yes Mark, there will always be a market for the process of learning, and current content will soon be seen to be obsolete. Thus, I choose to teach process over content, using the salient points of current content in the story of how science moves forward.

      I see content as providing a time-line of the evolution of human consciousness. Past ‘borrowed’ knowledge may have its place, but that place may be relegated to historical context solely. As I understand, there was a time when the majority held that the world was flat; will future generations equally find our so-called facts amusing?

      I respect that Einstein concluded: Imagination is more important than knowledge. Anything that encourages a student’s imagination has educational value to me. I also think education should start with the student’s question, and perhaps this is a Socratic approach. Educate derives from the Latin ‘educere–to draw forth.’ The student’s demand for relevance is justified, because learning that cannot be applied is hardly useful.

      Thank-you for this topical question, ISR; it is most poignant for all of us educators of the future. I have often told my students that the math/science we are doing does not matter; but it is a good excuse for us to communicate.


  14. Suggesting that prioritizing a child’s natural talents, interests, and creative leanings is never meant to suggest allowing kids to play all the video games they want, yet that comment is always brought forth in such a discussion. I was only suggesting that contemporary curricula not only wastes huge amounts of a child’s time, but deprives many children of ever discovering what THEY might want to do with their lives–as if only adults know what that could possibly be.

    I agree that institutional schooling may be the only educational opportunity available to most children, but that is the very reason I believe it is so harmful. If the only choice a child has is something that prepares him for a future limited to what standardized curricula produces, I pity the child. Is it not possible to create schools that are not competing with one another for the best test grades but are competing with one another to graduate students who flourish in what they have a heart to do with their lives? I know it is possible so let’s stop with all this “Which country produces the highest test scores in —– subject.”


    1. Hi Chris – sorry if that is what my message implied, I didn’t mean that this alternative is the only other option, rather that it is an place where I think people become hung up, re: video games and wanting to create a parallel experience in a classroom/education.

      I totally agree with the premise that institutional schooling can be harmful for many for a variety of reasons – I work in a non-traditional environment and I’m glad the option my school provides is available for students who were consistently bullied in their old schools or who are chronically ill. I despise standardized tests and think they continually show how ineffective teaching to them is for the purpose of actual education.


  15. The home schooling option is certainly the right choice for many involved parents and families who have the time and initiative to be the director of their child’s education. While this doesn’t have as much to do with international education I’d say that schools are the best chance many students in poverty or with uninvolved parents have to find success and that a school that has a mix of traditional instruction (so they can be seen to be educated to the people who “run” the system) is important as well as more time devoted to exploration with guidance by people who can direct them to distinguish between credible and non-credible resources.

    I’d like to see schools change in other ways as well, this idea of grouping students by their age instead of what level they are at isn’t the best thing for students, an RSA video on youtube compares this method to a factory since education came about during the industrial revolution and took many of its ways of creating institutional education from the factory method. Search for the video, it’s only about 10 minutes and very interesting to see! I disagree with some parts (giving into this idea that we have to cater to students in the same way video games do, there have always been activities that people prefer to do over school, but they learn to divide the time in their day to spend in appropriate manners) but overall it brought a lot interesting ideas to the forefront.


  16. I have spoken at homeschool conferences for 30 years sharing the same theme Sir Ken Robinson now shares on YouTube (your quote, above). Finally some well known international educators are willing to say, “The Emperor is naked!” As substitute teacher in the institutional system (and familiar with international schools), I see nations trying to one-up one another as each clamors up an educational ladder that was set against the WRONG WALL to begin with. Schools kill individuality, individual creativity, and individual initiative because of our marriage to curricula that bores kids to death and never allows them to ask, “Why do I have to learn all this stuff?” We don’t allow this question because we don’t know the answer. Homeschooling my own three sons allowed me to treat their individual gifts and talents as more important then “regulation” curricula. They are grown and flourishing in their personal lives. My middle son recently said, “Dad, I know almost no one who is doing what he or she loves to do. I am one of the lucky few who was allowed to. Thanks for what you gave me!” Public schooling and its curricula are “The Matrix”. When will we stop pretending we are doing right by the next generation? They are smarter than we are because they know better.


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