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.


“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.