Alvin Toffler, Transforming Education: The Organizational Attack

Such a movement (See: The Educational Revolution: Listening to the Future) will have to pursue three objectives—to transform the organizational structure of our educational system, to revolutionize its curriculum, and to encourage a more future-focused orientation. It must begin by asking root questions about the status quo.

We have noted, for example, that the basic organization of the present school system parallels that of the factory. For generations, we have simply assumed that the proper place for education to occur is in a school. Yet if the new education is to simulate the society of tomorrow, should it take place in school at all? As levels of education rise, more and more parents are intellectually equipped to assume some responsibilities now delegated to the schools. Near Santa Monica, California, where the RAND Corporation has its headquarters, in the research belt around Cambridge, Massachusetts, or in such science cities as Oak Ridge, Los Alamos or Huntsville, many parents are clearly more capable of teaching certain subjects to their children than are the teachers in the local schools. With the move toward knowledge-based industry and the increase of leisure, we can anticipate a small but significant tendency for highly educated parents to pull their children at least partway out of the public education system, offering them home instruction instead.

This trend will be sharply encouraged by improvements in computer-assisted education, electronic video recording, holography and other technical fields. Parents and students might sign short-term “learning contracts” with the nearby school, committing them to teach-learn certain courses or course modules. Students might continue going to school for social and athletic activities or for subjects they cannot learn on their own or under the tutelage of parents or family friends. Pressures in this direction will mount as the schools grow more anachronistic, and the courts will find themselves deluged with cases attacking the present obsolete compulsory attendance laws. We may witness, in short, a limited dialectical swing back toward education in the home.

At Stanford, learning theorist Frederick J. McDonald has proposed a “mobile education” that takes the student out of the classroom not merely to observe but to participate in significant community activity. In New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant District, a sprawling tension-ridden black slum, a planned experimental college would disperse its facilities throughout the stores, offices, and homes of a forty-five-block area, making it difficult to tell where the college ends and the community begins. Students would be taught skills by adults in the community as well as by regular faculty. Curricula would be shaped by students and community groups as well as professional educators. The former United States Commissioner of Education, Harold Howe, II, has also suggested the reverse: bringing the community into the school so that local stores, beauty parlors, printing shops, be given free space in the schools in return for free lessons by the adults who run them. This plan, designed for urban ghetto schools, could be given more bite through a different conception of the nature of the enterprises invited into the school: computer service bureaus, for example, architectural offices, perhaps even medical laboratories, broadcasting stations and advertising agencies.

Elsewhere, discussion centers on the design of secondary and higher education programs that make use of “mentors” drawn from the adult population. Such mentors would not only transmit skills, but would show how the abstractions of the textbook are applied in life. Accountants, doctors, engineers, businessmen, carpenters, builders and planners might all become part of an “outside faculty” in another dialectical swing, this time toward a new kind of apprenticeship.

Many similar changes are in the wind. They point, however tentatively, to a long overdue breakdown of the factory-model school. This dispersal in geographical and social space must be accompanied by dispersal in time. The rapid obsolescence of knowledge and the extension of life span make it clear that the skills learned in youth are unlikely to remain relevant by the time old age arrives. Super-industrial education must therefore make provision for life-long education on a plug-in/plugout basis.

If learning is to be stretched over a lifetime, there is reduced justification for forcing kids to attend school full time. For many young people, part-time schooling and part-time work at low-skill, paid and unpaid community service tasks will prove more satisfying and educational.

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