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IN A TIME OF FEAR, HOPE FOR OUR KIDS

Optimism in the face of Covid-19

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X5BK90 Hispanic girl day dreaming in garden
X5BK90 Hispanic girl day dreaming in garden

THESE ARE FRIGHTENING TIMES.  COVID19 has thrown the world into fear—especially for our kids. Many are out of school. Others are struggling, along with adults, to do what they did in school through unfamiliar online methods. Many parents are forced to decide whether to go to work and leave kids alone, or stay home and risk losing jobs they still have (or losing their sanity when they try to do both!) Many teachers are being laid off, as the pandemic forces schools to close down.

No one knows how long this situation will last. Most hope that a vaccine (or other solution) will arrive so we can go back to “normal.” But that timeline is far from certain, and the “new normal” is unlikely to be just like the old. Whatever the time it takes humanity to conquer Covid19, many worry that their kids will have been harmed. In fact, parents are already being warned by educators about dangerous “slides in learning” that can occur from long absences from school. There is even talk of a “lost generation.”

Kids—who might otherwise have enjoyed an extended vacation—see their parents worried sick about their kids’ education, about their own jobs, about family members getting sick or dying, about getting sick themselves—and so kids are becoming fearful themselves. Some react by flouting mask and contact guidelines, extending the problem. But there are reasons for kids—and for us all—to be optimistic—and have hope.

THE ARGUMENTS FOR HOPE

Why should our kids—and all of us—be optimistic about our future, even in these times? What are the arguments for hope?  Let me offer four reasons why kids should be optimistic (although these may not be as encouraging to adults, as they require changes on our part)

1. Beliefs are changing

Our deepest beliefs—which are most often unconscious—act as filters, shaping the emotions we feel and the actions we take. If adults believe kids are still powerless (as we were at their age) they will continue to control them and feed them what we think they need to grow, just as was done to us. But today’s kids are starting to believe they are powerful, and that means treating them differently. 

An often-unnoticed point is that a great many beliefs—about kids’ power, along with other deeply-held beliefs from the 20th century and before—are now in the process of shifting dramatically. For example, kids have different beliefs about technology from many of their parents, seeing it as more of a “new body part” than an “external tool.” Kids’ beliefs about gender and race are shifting radically in many places.  Kids’ beliefs regarding privacy, property, personal relationships, sexuality, race, security, power, themselves, work and jobs, empathy, violence and abuse, god and religion, justice and injustice, money love, government, and even time and space are currently in flux.

It is very important that adults understand that their children’s beliefs might differ radically from their own on important issues—one example is privacy. Adults should not see this is bad—one’s beliefs must fit one’s times. Yet because our beliefs are so deeply-held and often unconscious, it can be deeply disturbing to adults when their kids’ hold different beliefs than they do —whether those beliefs be religious, ethical, or personal. Today, in 2020, all of the adults in the world were born in the 20th century, and most formed their beliefs in that previous century. Because the internet did not start to become a big influence until around the year 2000, today’s adults collectively comprise “The Last Pre-Internet Generation” that the world will ever know. It is crucial that adults re-examine their beliefs in the connected, Internet world of their kids.

My sense is that new beliefs are a source of optimism for kids, in the following ways (at least):

  • Kids now generally believe technology is a helper, and an aid for problem-solving, rather than a force that is in conflict with our “humanity.”  Becoming “Symbiotic Hybrids” with technology is far less scary and more welcome to them.
  • Kids are starting to see—and believe—that they are powerful. The new power kids have is still mostly unrecognized by them (and not encouraged by adults.) But that is starting to change.  Greta Thunberg began protesting alone, out in the rain. Today she uses technology to organize kids around the world.
  • Kids recognize that their 21st century world will be quite different from that of their parents—they can already look up and see the tracks of the Starlink satellites that will soon connect every one of them. They know—at some level—that they are engaged, through their games and social media, in the first experiments about how to behave and function in a connected world. Unlike many adults, they see this as useful and necessary. The more they share, and profit from, this perspective, the better off they will be.

2. Technology is about to be seen differently

The people who have long been advocating for more use of educational technologies in our schools see these times as validation—and some might even say “happy days.”  Because of Covid, technology is moving into education and schools everywhere, fast.  Multiple billions of dollars are being invested in edtech startups. Sal Khan, one of the most successful of the edtech entrepreneurs, sees himself as creating “the educational institution of the future.”  Sadly, he isn’t—he has built only a nice museum of old, once good, 20th century practices. Today’s edtech is actually pulling the world—and our kids—backwards.

Almost all of what is happening through widely-used tools like Khan Academy and Zoom, is putting precisely the same education that we gave kids before—lecturing, discussions, content and explanations—into new, online forms. This appears to many adults to be a good thing. But it is actually dragging our kids, and the world, back to the 20th century, when the same curriculum was actually useful for all. Contrary to what many educators and parents think, today’s kids no longer need most of what 20th century education offers—and their new needs for the 21st century are not being met at all.  Technology will certainly be a huge factor in our kids’ future world, but NOT though putting the old education online, as is happening today. That merely offers a palliative “stopgap” to allay parents’ fears about their kids “losing out.”

The reason for hope is that new thinking is emerging about what it means to bring up kids in a 21st century world, and about technology’s place in doing that. The “21st century skills” that many advocate for are not wrong—but grafting them on to what we had before is not nearly enough.  We need our kids to become “good, effective, world-improving people” fit for their 21st century environment, and not just to be the same people who are, perhaps, “better complex problem solvers,” “better critical thinkers,” and “more creative” (those are the top three 21st c. skills of the World Economic Forum—all purely cognitive.)  Creating “good, effective, world-improving people” in a time of high technology, AI, and other inventions—and not just making lists of 21st skills— is what some are finally starting to do. As this happens, it is extremely important that we distinguish real, future-helping innovation from doing the “old things in new ways” (e.g. as Khan is). Our kids are demanding far more novelty and experimentation from us, such as kid-friendly processes for 24-hour cross-time-zone collaboration on projects, and not the education of the past.

3. 21st century opportunities and models for kids are arriving

An important result of many kids’ doing their schooling at home online because of Covid19 is that parents around the world are seeing—many for the first time—what their kids actually do behind the closed doors of their classrooms. Kids have been complaining about this— and adults ignoring them—for years. But now it is in the light. This is not to blame our teachers, who for the most part, try valiantly to do what they are asked to. It is that 21st century kids need different things than we needed in the 20th century.  That message has not yet fully gotten around, but it is now starting to.  The biggest thing missing that 21st century kids need—and that kids haven’t gotten in the past—is real-world accomplishment, through continuous, real-world-impacting projects (and not just occasional PBL.)

 “Empowerment” and “Accomplishment” education, based on kids’ continuously doing real-world impacting projects, is now emerging in many places. Some experimenters are creating “Empowerment Hubs” so parents can already choose a different kind of education for their kids—an “Empowerment and Accomplishment” alternative to the world’s standard “academics”—without creating lower-valued “vocational” tracks. Some parents are forming “Pods” (i.e. small groups of kids in their homes) to explore new ways to empower their kids.  Worldwide groups like Design for Change are implementing a powerful FEEL-IMAGINE-DO-SHARE methodology that kids and teachers of all ages can use anywhere in the world to do world-improving projects. They have already helped kids do thousands of projects (dfcworld.com) and are currently affecting kids’ education in over 70 countries. Other emerging methodologies include online design sprints, hackathons, and more.  

Because they are so invested in the education of the past, our existing educators are not always helpful here. We select almost all of them from the academic tradition—requiring them to have “academic credentials”— rather than choosing from the accomplishers in our workplaces. Most of our professional educators view academic courses, pedagogies and assessments—with slow incremental change—as what “an education” means for all times. 

But going forward, kids need little of what we currently do—they need the key messages (rarely taught) and not (except in very specific cases) the amount of detail we do provide. For their future, they need not only better cognitive skills, but also action skills, relationship skills and especially accomplishment skills. We want our future kids to be not just critical thinkers, but imaginative, effective accomplishers. As Google once posted on their website: “We need people who can get things done.”

4. “New Basics” are emerging

While most adults agree that “kids still need the basics,” the basics are changing. A new understanding of “what the basics are” is emerging. The so-called “basics” of the 20th century—i.e. unassisted, “in-your-own-head” reading and arithmetic (no devices!) followed by detailed course knowledge of math, language, science and social studies—are no longer vital, in the same way, for the 21st century.  The idea of grafting “21st century skills” onto our old 20th century curriculum does not work.  Not that those skills (complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordination with others, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility) aren’t important things for kids to get better at—they are—but they miss the point.

The New Basics, I believe, are:

  1. An understanding by kids and adults that kids are empowered to begin to fix—immediately—any problems they see in the world, and that that is their goal. For that to happen, we have to give them not just skills knowledge and information but  experience—building and accomplishing in teams with Measurable Positive Impact starting in their earliest pre-school and kindergarten years.
  2. Encouraging in all our kids, from the very beginning, Love, Empathy, Gratitude and Optimism (L.E.G.O.).
  3. Assuring that Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, and Kindness (T.R.I.C.K) is given and received by peers and teachers at all times.
  4. Preparing our kids and ourselves for continuous change, by never doing the same thing the same way twice, but always inventing and improving to fit the changing situation and environment.

WHY HOPE OVER FEAR

The year 2000 will long be remembered in history as a time when two huge “tsunamis”—massive technology change and massive beliefs change—hit humanity simultaneously, and a time when Covid19 forced us, willy-nilly, to make changes in many of our behaviors.

Faced with this we have, in the largest sense, only two options. We can either (1) try to pull our kids back into our past—and “regroup” before trying to make changes once the pandemic ends—or (2) we can thrust our kids and ourselves forward into the 21st century—even in the time of Covid—both guiding, and being guided by, our kids.

Our New Frontier

A new frontier has opened before us—a situation that humans have faced many times in the past. Our new frontier is about how we move into, and raise our kids in and for, a connected, technology filled and AI-enabled future. 

In every “frontier time” there is a big fear of the unknown, and many choose to retreat. But others always find the courage to move forward and create the new world. Remember, courage is “feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” It is now a time to both feel our fear and to courageously move forward, inventing new, better ways to raise our kids for their 21st century lives and beyond. We cannot, and should not, rely on any educational “experts” in doing this, because the so-called “experts” know only about the past. We now need to invent—i.e. “make this stuff up”—and all opinions must be welcome. Our kids will not die, be lost, or even truly wither if it takes us some time—even many years—to figure out the new, better paths. But our kids will suffer greatly from staying on the old paths—even if those paths are technologically delivered. The legacy of those old, outdated educational paths—so useful to us in the 20th century and therefore so comforting and attractive to so many adults today, even in our new environment—is our biggest problem.  Our job now is NOT to put new“icing” (i.e. the incremental changes) on our kids’ old educational cake, but rather to invent new recipes for “cake” for our new generations of connected, symbiotic humans. We can do this.

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