The Future Part 1: Another Argument for Dumbing-DownApril 5, 2012
Although I have spent most of last year’s blogpost discussing the aims of education, and have tried to address every possible aim that can be given as an alternative to making children smarter by passing on knowledge, I have missed one of the key arguments against knowledge. This is the argument that technological and social change will mean that knowledge will not be valuable in the future. This claim can be used alongside any other argument for dumbing-down, but it is a distinct argument in that it is independent of whichever alternative aim of education is being put forward.
The argument is commonplace in education. Examples I will be looking at include the following speech by Caroline Walters, the “director of People and Policy” at BT:
There is no doubt that global dynamics have shifted the ground beneath our feet, we have a global economic landscape that nobody could have imagined, probably even in their worst nightmares, but technology is having a profound impact on how and where we operate. What we are beginning to see is the thing that has been talked about for a long time become a reality: the global workforce.
This leads on to an explanation of how there will be no “knowledge economy” as knowledge will not be valuable in the future.
Another example appeared recently in a blogpost by Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of learning technology in the Faculty of Health, Education and Society, at Plymouth University. A long argument against the teaching of knowledge is concluded with:
It’s about time we all woke up and realised that the world around us is changing, and schools need to change too. After all, the school still remains the first and most important place to train and prepare young people for work. If we don’t get it right in school, we are storing up huge problems for the future. Education is not life and death. It’s much more important than that.
However, the most infamous example, one that has been thrown at teachers time and time again and provides the “factual” basis for so many others, is one that does not explicitly condemn knowledge or draw conclusions about teaching methods. Instead it bludgeons everyone around the head with outlandish claims about the impending obsolence of everything. Inevitably, I am talking about the “Shift Happens” video. The UK version of which is below:
The view that the future will have no place for existing forms of knowledge is an implicit assumption behind many of the attacks on the English Baccalaureate for favouring GCSE s in the “dead languages” of Latin and Greek over qualifications in ICT or engineering. It is behind most attempts to label educational ideas as “21st century” which are particularly common in the form of an absurd claim that there are distinctive 21st century skills and dispositions (criticised very effectively here). It fits comfortably into the mindset of those who believe that technology will transform education (discussed here) and those who have a “Whig view of history” which sees humankind as making continuing moral, technological and intellectual progress from a primitive past to a glorious present and into a utopian future. I argued here that this type of thinking as an attempt to create a secular salvation narrative that is harmful when applied to education. However, in my next few blogposts I wish to contest the content of the argument rather than its philosophical background. I intend to answer the claim that the world is changing in such a way that our knowledge is no longer suited for it. This argument that such change has occurred, or is occurring is usually based on three grounds:
- Developments in economic competition from overseas;
- Changes in the labour market;
- Technological change (as normal, as unprecedented or as enabling us to look everything up).
No doubt all these changes are happening. What is in severe doubt is whether they are unprecedented changes that serve to outdate all or most existing knowledge. I will address each of these points in my next few blogposts.