John Bugg

Education for the 21st Century

Hedley Beare and Richard Slaughter. London: Routledge, 1993. 180 pages. Index. $39.95 (hardback).

Professor Hedley Beare and Dr Richard Slaughter are members of the Department of Policy, Context and Evaluation Studies in the University of Melbourne’s Institute of Education. There is a realisation at the end of the second Christian millennium that individuals can no longer live and act in isolation or without regard for the world community. Marshall McLuhan’s global village is rapidly becoming a reality. News Corporation’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, in an interview recently in the Australian indicated clearly that his company saw immense changes in the communication facilities of the global community in the next few years.

It is good, therefore, that Beare and Slaughter have taken up these matters and given them an educational perspective. The consequence is a very stimulating and challenging book that should be read by all school administrators. The writers suggest that we need to consider school organisation and curriculum development in the light of the changes now taking place in our global community. No longer can we consider ourselves in an isolated part of the world, taking for granted an almost unlimited supply of resources and believing that some social or economic event in some far off place in the world will not affect us.

Furthermore, to “educate young people as though the present patterns of thinking and living, or the past ones for that matter, provide a sound basis for confronting the future is quite plainly dangerous”. The suggestion is that schools have retained in an administrative model that retains pre-industrial elements onto which has been grafted some notions of the factory model. Schools are like monasteries with all the order and control of small isolated groups. The school is often run as if it is a religious order, devoted to teaching and learning, to personal growth and to preparing the individual for service to and in the world. Such an administrative pattern fails to take account of the real world where telecommunications are by satellite and it does not take three years to circumnavigate the globe.

The issue for schools to address is that things around us have changed and we must accommodate that or, like other organisations, become irrelevant. Educators need to provide a “credible vision of a future that works and that reconnects each individual with a wider world. They need a sustainable human vision which embodies a set of, viable purposes and meanings”. A futures curriculum needs to be established that is centrally concerned with negotiating and exploring new and renewed understandings … it has a role to play in defining a more just, peaceful and sustainable world”.

The book concludes with a range of skills that children will need to cope with this new paradigm, along with guidelines for teachers, and strategies that may be used to move the schools in a new direction. Beare and Slaughter have written a fine book. It is a pleasure to read about matters of a higher order than national curriculum and competencies. That we, as administrators and teachers, should consider the notion of myth and legend, the seeking of ideas beyond our immediate needs, and caring for one another and the world as a whole, is refreshing and overdue. How we deal with the economic rationalists, and the materialism of the twentieth century is clearly a challenge.

Education for the Twenty-First Century will be seen as a milestone in the continuing education debate in this country, and that honour will be well deserved.

At the time of writing John Bugg was a senior member of the staff of Geelong Grammar School, Corio, Victoria, Australia.

This article was published in the PR Guide, Melbourne, 1994.

Robert Owen

Education for the 21st Century

Hedley Beare and Richard Slaughter

This is a ‘benchmark’ book for the future of education in Australia. The authors are already well regarded in the field of education and this book will stand beside Sleepers Wake by Barry Jones and Hugh Mackay’s Reinventing Australia, as a rare example of futures thinking in Australia. The authors have distilled so much wisdom and practical suggestions into 170 pages, a real delight for busy people. It also demonstrates that good thinking can be simple. This book is the required text for the UNE Post Graduate Unit in Accelerated Learning detailed elsewhere.

Education for the Twenty First Century commences with a detailed description of the global forces that are driving the changes that impact on education at all levels across the world. It details how the shift into the information age affects the process of our industrial age models of learning that have served us well. In the final 100 pages the authors set out very clear and pertinent choices for Australian schools and teachers to consider if their skills are to remain relevant to the future of education in our information society. Turning to specific issues that will offer you stimulation and be of great application for Accelerated Learning practitioners, there are the insights to Values, Chaos Theory and Optimism. Several examples are as follows.

Values

“The central importance of change in values, in ways of knowing, in assumptions about meaning – in short, implications of the paradigm shift has too often been overlooked in the educational discourse (page 5).

“To put it briefly the Western industrial world view based on certainty, predictability, control and instrumental rationality (ie. reason applied to unquestioned practical ends) has become fractured and incoherent. Many core values and beliefs which once sustained the social fabric have decayed and are perceived as empty, threatening and problematic” (page 13).

“Equally, however, the scientific approach tends to be sceptical about core values and beliefs, about magic and enchantment, about mythology and religious experience. Yet these domains have their own intrinsic qualities, not the least of which is integration, the knitting together of diffuse pieces of knowledge into a wider and more coherent picture” (page 43).

Chaos Theory

One of the basic principles of chaos theory is the Principle of Positive Uncertainty. The authors quote from Beyond the Stable State by Donald Schon which I reviewed with readers in 1973 to indicate the value of understanding chaos theory. The authors conclude their commentary on the demise of the industrial era and its central process of reductionism. This then leads us into a very exciting section that gives credence to “global consciousness” being a pathway to seeing order in chaos (page 38).

Optimism and Pessimism

The authors demonstrate the importance of what Martin Seligman in his book Learned Optimism terms “our internal explanatory styles” (page 139). Educators who have attended our Advanced Teacher Level or the Post Graduate Unit and worked that text will be delighted to read confirmation of those same principles. Their view is refined in a more simplistic matrix to appreciate how people will explain negative and positive images from their ‘internal explanatory style’ (page 140). From this you will see the connection between the Chaos principle “positive uncertainty” and one’s “internal explanatory style”.

Good Schools

The authors present a fine definition of a good school which coincides with the same point of view presented by Alistair Mant in his book Leaders we Deserve on page 100, reviewed in the last Connections (page 73). Try this as a suggestion from the last chapter ” rates of change in these decades are such that people… are continually being taken by surprise, by developments that should not have surprised them if they had a longer time perspective … I propose as an answer … training in thinking in a time-span which I call the ‘two hundred year present”.

Wow, can you cope with that? Some can, because that point of view has been underpining the core of Connections over the last 20 years. However the brilliance of the authors is that they advance their concepts to a very practical level for you and me. That is an achievement, for which I am grateful as I advance the design of aspects of the UNE Post Graduate Unit.

In the last chapter “What can I do? Some bridging strategies” there are ten very fine and practical suggestions for parents and educators and are headed:

1. Watch your images. 2. Teach for wholeness & balance. 3. Teach identification. 4. Teach children not to accept blindly the value sets of others. 5. Teach about visualisation. 6. Give particular attention to visions of the future. 7. Distinguish between faith and hope. 8. Tell stories, apocryphal stories. 9. Teach and learn to celebrate. 10. Carefully select from and use the available tools.

The authors describe tools as enabling devices and Accelerated Learning is an enabling device, the best we know that works.

Published in Connections for Superlearning, No 31, Nov. 1993.

 

Laele Pepper

Education for the 21st century

Headley Beare and Richard Slaughter, Routledge, UK, 1993.

 

Educators who are in touch with students must be disturbed frequently by the fears, gloom and pessimism expressed by many young people about the future. They must ask themselves what can be done through schools and the curriculum to reconstruct these views into more positive attitudes and to rekindle the enthusiasm of young people for living. In Education for the Twenty-First Century by Hedley Beare and Richard Slaughter, the authors offer a theoretical and practical guide for educators who wish to tackle these concerns as they prepare young people for life in the 21st century.

These writers do not subscribe to a quick fix, technologically driven solution to the malaise of the present generation. Indeed, computers and nanotechnology are mentioned only in passing, as tools of the future, not fundamental elements in the changes needed. Rather, Beare and Slaughter concern themselves with a more profound mind shift. Their key argument is that schools must stop looking backwards and grounding their practices and rationales in outmoded ways of thinking and doing, and start to look forward, using a futures perspective to inform everything that takes place in schools.

They offer an outline of a number of well tried futures tools and concepts to assist educators in the task of shifting the focus of curriculum and teaching to the future. A busy teacher who did not wish to follow the detailed discussion of how and why the need for a profound mindshift has arisen in the late twentieth century could turn to chapters 7 and 8 and find a number of clearly explained strategies to use in their classes the very next day. But the book is not merely a technical handbook. The authors deal in their early chapters with three major shifts in which Western societies are currently immersed. While not oversimplifying the complexity of these developments, they expound them with admirable lucidity, placing them in a context of philosophical and theoretical writings.

The first of these is the decline of industrialism as a basis for employment, and the beginning of the shift towards a knowledge-based economy where the manipulation of information will be the principal way that people earn their living. The second major shift relates to global consciousness, the one world view. The view that humans inhabit a small, fragile planet dominated by natural systems of climate, geography and vegetation stems from the earth photos taken by the lunar missions of the mid-1960s. This view has come into sharp focus as we have begun to understand the strains being imposed upon the earth by unrestrained, and often unethical human activity.

Beare and Slaughter point out that the problem is not attributable only to greed or exploitation, but reflects an incomplete understanding of the complex interconnection of all of earlier systems. This situation has come about as a result of 300 years of reductionist thinking, which has encouraged specialisation and focus upon narrow fields of research but, in general, has not supported attempts to synthesise an overview of knowledge.

Therefore the third shift is the well-documented change in understanding about modern science and what constitutes knowledge. The fragmentation of knowledge into guarded fields of specialisation is being challenged by those who see the inconsistencies and inequities this generates. At the level of scientific theorising, new attempts are being made to integrate previously disparate fields of study. Within schools this change will affect the way specialisations are taught, and some educators are reworking the concept of integrated studies.

The most important and urgent task for educators to take on is to make a conscious shift from a past orientation to a futures orientation in every aspect of their work. There is a sense of urgency, which arises from the breakdown of old meanings and values, social dislocation and the destruction of past securities. This is compounded by the realisation that humans may have passed a point of no return in the way they have treated the planet.

Regretful reflection upon past experiences can be tempered by the powerful understanding that people can affect the future by the choices they make. The past is not a closed book – all change must proceed from what has gone before; but neither is the future predetermined by the forward projection of past errors and practices. The future is open very wide; a huge range of possible, probable and preferable futures can be brought into being by the choices made now. Responsible decisions can be made after people become informed, using techniques such as futures scanning and critical foresight, then choose to act in certain ways.

If a rationale for futures studies is sought, almost all human action is predicated upon the existence of the future. The future drives our present plans, purposes, goals, intentions and meanings … and curricula. Further, since humans have the unique capacity to range in imagination through past, present and multiple futures, there is no need for humans to experience catastrophe before taking steps to counteract it. These are the fundamental realisations that educators urgently need to bring to young people.

Beare and Slaughter, respected educators and futurists, have written this book from the perspective of Western worldviews and education systems, and it is immediately applicable in the Australian context. However, it is a book deserving wider circulation, as its message has relevance in a global context. Its argument is disturbing to the complacent; its challenge is profound to those uneasy with the present; and its proffered solutions are helpful, relevant and empowering.

At the time of writing Laele Pepper was Curriculum Coordinator of St. Pauls Grammar School, Warragul, Victoria, Australia.

Published in the WFSF Futures Bulletin June/July 1994, p 13.