Visions 2000


Diane Ravitch


I am most interested in education because it is the lever to every other kind of change. I'm not sure we can accomplish what we should accomplish by the year 2000, but I am absolutely certain that we must try. As a major nation in a post-industrial, highly technological world, we have to develop our human resources. And we are now in a situation where very significant numbers of our kids as well as our adults don't understand the world that they live in, or are afraid of it. They don't understand change, they're overwhelmed by it, they're frightened by it. Education is one way of learning to change. The biggest challenge we all have is that change is happening so fast that it is frightening. If you are on top of things, it's a little scary and if you're not on top of things, it has to be totally frightening because the pace of change has accelerated in our life tie beyond anything that any other generation has ever had to experience.

We're in a world where technology, science, all products of the above, are changing the conditions of life. Family relationship are changing, they are much more fragile than they have been in the past. People are much more mobile than they have been in the past, and a lot of people find it very hard to cope with the stresses of modern life. Knowledge and information, both are unique kinds of personal power in these changes. The more you know and the more you understand, the more you are able to deal with your life, and make good choices, and that basically is what education is about.

One of the problems with our current educational system has been a focus on too much functionalism-preparing for a specific role in the job market, or to carry out some specific function. Education is basically the result of a predisposition to want to learn more, and it's really hard to get that across to people that just that is what it is all about. Most people today say they are going to school to get a piece of paper, and when they get the piece of paper, their education is finished. But the way the world is changing today, the need for life long learning is greater than it has ever been. We are seeing people today going through career changes with a fair amount of frequency, which would have been unthinkable forty years ago. In post-industrial society, you begin your education with school, but you then find yourself, through education, changing roles throughout life. Said another way, the thing you are preparing yourself to do may not exist by the time you are ready to do it. This makes an absolute demand that you be prepared to learn to do different things. Interestingly, society is teaching this lesson more than the schools are. Kids look around, and they see what is happening to their own families. They see it reflected in television, and they see it in real life more than they see it in schools.

If the schools really understood what was happening in society,they would be much more willing to stress a liberal education. The very thing that was considered an academic education, with a generalized set of knowledge and skills to prepare you for every occupation is what is needed. But the schools have been wedded to preparing students for specific occupations, and that turns out to be not very relevant, because the very occupations they are preparing kids for may be the ones that are disappearing. You would be better prepared for modern life if you had read, for example, than if you took a vocational training program. You would understand something about history and about change and how to understand what is going on about you and how to understand politics. A really great novel like that tells you more about life-anywhere-than a how-to book that was written last year. For a long time the people who thought like this and favored a liberal education were encouraged to get out of the education field. Now there is a growing number of people who clearly see the need for this type of approach.

For the year 2000, we could have a real change in attitudes about education in this country if parents really got involved with their kids, and understood that they were responsible for their mental and emotional and physical well being up until the time they are young adults and able to take care of themselves. If schools could be places where there is a joy in learning, and the benefits of education could be spread across the whole population for both the young and the old-that would be a pretty fantastic thing. I don't know if this is likely to happen, but as I said at the outset, we sure have to try.

  • This document was created from the article, "Visions 2000" written by an unknown author for the November/December 1991 edition of "Chief Executive." The original article is located in MS134.003.027.00017.
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