Yes, you read that right. Just 2007. Imagine a world with no iPhone? When I read that I had to sit down!

ambergI was seriously blown away at how much the world has changed since then and it’s not slowing down. What else has changed in that time? There are now millions of apps, the entire social media platform (the explosion of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), the iCloud (which I’m still trying to wrap my head around!) – just to name a few. Put these things together and think for a bit about what the world was like pre-iPhone and pre-Facebook. It’s hard to do! And it wasn’t that long ago! We are living in an unbelievable time in history. But we can’t slow it down enough to realize it.

So why does that matter? Well, for as much as the world has changed, schools in most respects, for most students, have pretty much stayed the same: industrial, factory style, bell-driven, segregated subjects, one answer, test driven.That needs to change and is a change we have already implemented at MPA.

Our students are growing up in a world that is on many levels radically different from that of their parents’ and teachers’. They will not be walking into factory jobs like their grandparents; many of the top jobs of today didn’t even exist as jobs 10 years ago. Apparently there’s a need for Chief Listening Officers today! Who knew? If so many of the jobs in big demand today didn’t exist 10 years ago, why then does school, in general, not reflect this new world?

If we are to do right by our kids, here are 3 things we need to understand as parents and educators:

  1. First, information is not a scarce commodity anymore. It’s everywhere! Teachers don’t hold the answers to the questions students ask, Google does. Kids don’t come to school to get information from the classroom like they used to do – the world literally is their classroom. The student today brings the information to the classroom and it needs to be our job as teachers to help them learn to decipher and evaluate it. This takes time and requires us to look hard at the content we teach and ask, “What can we let go of?” Instead of focusing so heavily on content, as teachers we need to teach students to ask questions of their content like, can you trust it? Is this accurate? Where did it come from? What’s the bias? With the amount of information out there today, this is an exhausting job, but it is the new reality and if we do it right, we will help raise globally responsible citizens.
  1. Because of the overwhelming amount of information we have access to, it is important that we become comfortable with the idea of not knowing. It’s ok as students, teachers, and parents to NOT know an answer. Having gone through school in the 80’s and 90’s, for me, this idea can be downright frightening. But think about how much information we are talking about. With the internet, students literally have this rapidly changing world at their finger-tips! What student can be expected to know all of the answers, all of the time? And besides, Google can oftentimes get the answer faster than recalling it. Admitting we don’t know is both humbling and liberating. Humbling because we are reminded, as Socrates stated, that there is much we do not know. And liberating because as teachers and parents we allow ourselves to be human in this new world.
  1. The rapidly changing world with its unpredictable future leads to the need for schools to see value in creativity, global education, and service, like MPA does. In public schools, creativity is often squashed out of our kids through the educational process. “Kids enter school as a question mark and exit as a period.” While I first heard this more than 20 years ago, it is an eerie reflection of today’s public schools. Art programs are cut and music is frequently slashed. Those making decisions too often deem the arts as less important than “core” subjects, or the money’s just not there. Somewhere along the way, creativity is not just lost, but authoritatively stamped out of students. This is not just sad, it’s dangerous. Why are we homogenizing our children’s talents in school when homogenized skills are increasingly being done by machines or outsourced?

Divergent thinking is what is needed to solve the global issues of our time. There is no single answer to ridding the world of poverty, terrorism, global warming; curbing population growth, consumerism, and disease; sharing resources and improving education globally. If we want students to see themselves as global citizens, schools need to give students the time, exposure, opportunity, and guidance to explore real world issues. These are the questions of their time and they’re not going to be answered independently. Instead, an organic classroom that allows students to collaborate and investigate naturally encourages the exploration and exchange of ideas as they emerge. Flexibility matters in today’s classrooms.

To do this, ideally, schools need spaces for kids to create: maker-spaces, green rooms, seminar spaces, and global forums. When we change the space, we change the learning that takes place.

So if divergent thinking is so important, why is the focus in traditional schools based on convergent thinking? The answer is simple – convergent thinking is easily tested. The information can be quantified. But being human is so much more than what can be measured on a test. Think about the other parts of the child that go unrecognized when we do this: how do we measure things like creativity, empathy, alertness to opportunity, global competency, and passion, among others?

I think the answer lies in reflection – something we too often leave out of the process to save time. If we could slow the world down long enough to honestly consider what kind of learner we are creating with our current system, what kind of human being we are nurturing, and what type of society this person will construct with their education, maybe then together we would demand better for all of our children. Imagine that.

By Colleen Amberg

Ms. Amberg teaches Middle School English and Social Studies. She is also the Director of Global Learners Program.