My ten year old son’s Cub Scout troop is working to earn their scholarship badge. One of the components of the badge is to understand and describe how a school is structured. During the last pack meetings, each scout was given an index card labeled with components (or cogs) which make up the school system.  Words such as “Teacher”, “Administrator”, “Superintendent” and “Student” were labeled on these cards. Each boy was asked to place their card in hierarchical order on a poster board.

Now I don’t have a problem with the Cub Scouts and the values, sense of responsibility and respect they are trying to instill in future young men. But this exercise reflected, for me, the essences of the industrial age school model in which card was place in linear order much like a conveyor belt on a manufacturing line.

For the second exercise, the scouts were asked “What have you learned from your teacher?” The first scout to respond said “My teacher taught me how to use a computer.”  While I find that difficult to believe considering many 2 year olds are experienced smartphone users, I did wonder if the next question should be “and what did the computer teach you?”

Toffler describes education as an industry in which students are “raw materials”, teachers are the “workers” and the purpose of the school is to train students within an environment similar to the factory he or she
will soon be working in.  “Mass education was the ingenious machine constructed by the industrialism to produce the kinds of adults it needed” (Toffler, 1970). In pondering the best ways to prepare society of tomorrow, should the education system posed Toffler’s question to itself “should education should take place in a school at all?”

Today there are alternatives.  School districts such as Putnam County, Tennessee are now requiring its students to take an online course as requirement for graduation (Davis, 2011) modeling Toffler’s suggestion in Future Shock that students are educated in the same way in which they will one day work.  Students can attend from K-12 online and for-profit online colleges are the ones with demonstrated growth while enrollments in traditional forms of higher education have remained stagnant (Bradley, 2011).  Yet, with all due respect to my colleagues in the field, these alternatives are
derived from an educational model which has been turned into a business model.  When will the field of education truly accept these alternatives beyond just dipping a toe in the water?  When will social, collaborative and constructivist education be valued at a premium?

I have worked in the distance education field for over 15 years and yet I spend an inordinate amount of time in my car driving from one industrial model school to another.  I am particularly frustrated on days where I drive 3-4 hours battling traffic and weather conditions to attend meetings about the future of distance education.  I am literally caught in the undercurrent between two waves as described by Toffler’s Politics of the 3rd Wave. The first wave attributed to the Agricultural Age, the second being the Industrial Age and the Knowledge Age as the third.

Living this paradoxical existence makes me wonder…exactly how long does a revolution take?  Am I supposed to be patient, satisfied in the small strides which have been made so far?  Is an online education the way of the future or is the “blended” or “flipped” classroom the optimum model?  How do we prepare today’s students for the challenges of the tomorrow in which they will be fully riding the Knowledge Age wave?    Must I hope to live long enough to witness a true educational transformation or am I just a victim of a future crash?

Toffler, A. (1970). Future shock. New York, NY: Random House.

Toffler, A., Toffler, H., & Gingrich, N. (1994). Creating a new civilization:
politics of the third wave. (xiii, 98 p. ed.). Washington: Progress &
Freedom Foundation.

Bradley, P. (2011, May 18). Traditional Classrooms Vanishing as Rise In
Online Education Accelerates | Community College Week Blog. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://ccweekblog.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/traditional-classrooms-vanishing-as-rise-in-online-education-accelerates/

Davis, M. (2011, October 17). Education Week: States, Districts Move to
Require Virtual Classes. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from
http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2011/10/19/01required.h05.html

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