Future shocked

It was sometime around December, 2009. Although I don’t remember the exact time or date, I do remember the feeling. I left my classroom and was making my way through the downstairs hallway (sometimes referred to as the “middle school” hallway, since it is dominated by grade eights) and I suddenly noticed, as if for the first time, how many students were listening to MP3 or iPod devices and how many of them were gathered around cell phones, tapping away at instant messages or playing video games on tiny screens. It was then that it hit me for the first time: I felt what famed sociologist Alvin Toffler famously described as “future shock.” Writing in 1970, Toffler described future shock this way:


Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time. Future shock is a time phenomenon, a product of the greatly accelerated rate of change in society. It arises from the superimposition of a new culture on an old one. It is culture shock in one’s own society. Yet among the young, we find an incomprehension of change: students so ignorant of the past that they see nothing unusual about the present. (Alvin Toffler, 1970) 


Is there a better description of what’s happening in our rapidly and constantly evolving digital society? Like all great thinkers, Toffler’s insights are even more relevant today than when he first defined them.

So what does this have to do with my philosophy of education?

After my realization that I had, for the first time in my life, experienced future shock, I started to think about precisely that question. I began to wonder if I was becoming obsolete. It might sound funny for a (then) 38-year-old to feel as if he is facing his own obsolesence, but there you have it. But it inspired me to dig a bit deeper (fortunately) and to try and figure out what the eternal questions are, the significant ideas that will remain relevant regardless of social or technological change. This, in turn, might better help me understand my own relevance.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Regardless of social or technological change, students will always need to learn how to ask thoughtful, intelligent question about themselves and the world around them.

2. Regardless of social or technological change, students will always need to learn how to think intelligently about right and wrong, truth and error, and perception and reality.

3. Regardless of social or technological change, students will always need to learn how to reflect on the question of what it means to be a human being, and what it means to exist as a human being within a social construct, be it family, community, society, or nation.

4. Regardless of social or technological change, students will always need to come to terms with the past, and learn how to think about the past with an eye to the future.
5. Regardless of social or technological change, students will always need to move towards mastering language, both in thought and communication, oral and written, regardless of which media are the dominant forms of the day.

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