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What is the Future of Education? And Does it Even Matter?

I was invited to an event, which (sadly) I cannot attend, called, “What Might Education Look Like in 2040?” I love events like this. First of all, I am a huge nerd about all things education. And, secondly, I have a weird fascination with thinking about the future.

Thinking about the future gives me both a sense of excitement (thinking about what might be and what potential awaits) and a sense of anxiety (there is so much out of my control when I think about the future, and I like to be in control). Also, I find thinking about the future to be enthralling because no matter how smart you are or how well-versed you are about the past or how much research you do, you still don’t really know what the future holds. We’re all kind of on a level playing field and just guessing.

So, do we just give up and not spend any more time thinking about the future, then?

This time of year (fall, back to school, changing colors on the leaves, preparation for Jewish holidays) always brings a sense of reflection and thinking about the past. We generally like to use that reflection to then think about the future and new beginnings and where we’d like to be headed and how to make this coming year better than the past, but should we just stop and focus on the past and not bother with the future? If we can never really predict the future, is there a point?

In his book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know, Adam Grant states, “If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.”

He discusses the power of rethinking our long-held beliefs and suppositions. He talks about the dangers that arise when we “know” too much. He talks about how being too sure of how something will go can actually backfire as, often, when we dedicate ourselves to a plan, and it doesn’t go as we anticipate, we don’t stop to rethink it; instead, we double down and sink more resources into it.

The fact is that we know the past. We don’t know the future. We know what events or actions or conversations or research led to our decisions today (and, in this case, how our education system evolved as it did). We don’t know where we are headed.

There is power in questioning. There is power in not knowing. There is power in the ambiguity of the future. There is power in recognizing, acknowledging, and embracing what we don’t know.

But we also have another kind of power. In the words of either Peter Drucker or Abraham Lincoln (depending on where you look): “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Just because there is so much out of our control when we consider the future doesn’t negate all that is in our control, and therein is the true power.

Yes, absolutely, there are steps we can and should take to prepare for that ambiguity of the future, especially when it comes to something as important as the education of our youth. I am a strong believer in fostering skills like creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration as well as mindsets like grit that will, most likely, contribute to success in the future. I am all for embracing the advances of technology, such as artificial intelligence, and working with our students to be mindful, responsible, skilled users. I absolutely advocate for leaning into emotional intelligence and cultivating self-management and empathy. I definitely think it is wise to consider the shifting job market and the types of skills that are sought after professionally.

And there are steps we can take to direct that future. It’s up to us to consider the role of education and the role of schools. It’s up to us to decide what we believe to be best for students. It’s up to us to recognize what we don’t know, to rethink supposition and beliefs, to not sink more resources into a plan that isn’t succeeding.

We like trying to predict the future because it gives a sense of security and clear direction, and that’s so much easier than trying to prepare for the unknown, but it can be really short-sighted.

The fact is that we don’t know what is the future of education, and we should embrace that proudly. It means that we can be open and prepared and ready. And it means that the future of education can be whatever we want it to be.

And that’s exciting.

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