The Answer to All Our Problems
Envisioning new and better post-pandemic schooling.
Posted May 15, 2020
Promising to solve all our problems is surely hubris, but transforming schooling comes close to being a panacea for the world’s ills, and there’s no better time than the present to envision and plan for post-pandemic schools. Some may think it’s too soon to talk about what schools might look like on the other side of COVID-19. After all, teachers, children, and families need support for remote learning during the pandemic right now. But if we don’t talk about what schooling could be – how transforming educational approaches would be great for kids, great for teachers and families, great for communities, and great for the world – we won’t pursue fresh ideas or adopt new frameworks when kids return to their school buildings.
Just as we’re paying a heavy price for not heeding warnings and changing our food systems (which likely would have prevented COVID-19 as well as several past epidemics), we will continue to pay the price for not using the time and insight that this pandemic affords us to consider how our educational system could be so much more relevant, engaging, and meaningful. In fact, given that the educational system lies at the root of so many other societal systems that we’ve created, failing to take this opportunity to examine schooling and transform it wisely means failing to effectively address every other problematic system that emerges from “educated” minds. Our political, economic, energy, healthcare and production systems, just to name a few, could be dramatically improved by a generation that was simply educated differently.
There are many critiques of schooling, but they often miss deeper core issues. For example, it’s not just that many students are graduating without necessary skills in literacy, numeracy, and science; it’s that even if they graduate with exceptional skills, they will not by design or purpose be prepared for the important task of solving local and global problems through the professions they pursue.
It’s not just that bullying is a problem in school; it’s that our daily lives are inextricably connected through the global economy to institutionalized brutality, injustice, and environmental devastation, and we do not learn in school how to be kind and responsible in a world in which our everyday choices impact other people, animals, and ecosystems across the planet.
It’s not just that students aren’t performing up to the standards that have been set for them; it’s that the standardized tests we rely on for assessment are often inadequate, outdated, unrelated to our students’ (and, therefore, our society’s) true needs, and compete with the time required to help young people develop fundamental skills in critical, systems, strategic, and creative thinking.
It’s not just that there is an achievement gap; it’s that the achievement gap is nested in an opportunity gap and income inequality gap, as well as within structural forms of discrimination. We can’t address a gap without addressing the systems that perpetuate it.
It’s not just that there is ineffective teaching; it’s that so many public school teachers are required to “teach to the test” and are rarely educated or prepared to teach about the interconnected global issues that are essential subjects in order to help build a healthy future.
It’s not just that so many schools aren’t succeeding at achieving their stated objectives; it’s that many of their stated objectives are no longer the right ones for today’s world.
So what’s the answer to all our problems? We must adopt a bigger purpose for schooling than “preparation for global competitiveness,” and that purpose should be to educate young people to be solutionaries, eager and able to address real-world problems and solve them in ways that are good for themselves, other humans, other species, and the ecosystems that sustain all life.
To reach this goal, we need to value teachers as the transformational leaders in society that they are. We must prepare educators to bring real-world problems into their classrooms in age-appropriate ways, using modalities that engender deep intelligence, practical optimism, abundant compassion, and effective solutionary skills.
Schools can become places where students gather not only to collaborate with each other and their teachers, but also where technology allows them to reach beyond their neighborhoods and nations to learn from people across the globe. The buildings and grounds can provide the physical spaces for artistic and scientific creativity to develop and be showcased, and where ideas and innovations come to life. As we have seen during COVID-related remote learning, huge numbers of children have no access to technology and other crucial resources at home, leaving them academically behind their peers, and in many cases isolated and discouraged. Schools can and must even this playing field, which means that school funding should not be constrained by property taxes. A child's address should not determine how much money is spent to educate them.
Schools should be hubs of connectivity and collaborative learning, without bells and regimented subjects. Instead of offering numerous disconnected classes each day, schools can integrate subjects such as social studies, language arts, math, science, art, and global language learning into interdisciplinary real-world learning experiences that are designed to help kids solve problems worthy of their solutionary efforts.
During this pandemic, students are endeavoring to learn in vastly changed learning environments. This is a perfect time for them to dive into solutionary work to solve problems they care about, using a solutionary process, and to spend this otherwise isolating time collaborating with peers doing work that matters. In doing so, they will likely experience:
- Meaning: because their learning and actions make a difference
- Confidence: because pursuing and achieving positive goals reveals what they are capable of
- Knowledge: because a solutionary practice involves investigation, connection with stakeholders, and learning from experts in various fields
- Essential thinking skills: because becoming a solutionary requires the development of critical, systems, strategic, and creative thinking
- Joy: because making a difference in one’s community and world feels great
This 90-second video describes how we can actually solve problems if we bring a solutionary lens to our challenges and paints a picture of a positive future for kids and communities.
So, let’s put on our solutionary glasses and make this vision a reality. When our children return to their school buildings, let them find a new system starting to take root—a system that will not only help humanity avert future crises but will also offer young people an education rich in meaning and purpose. Let school become the place where students learn what it takes to create a future in which all can thrive. If we transform schooling in this way, we’ll create an educational system worthy of our kids and the world they will both inherit and shape.