July 22, 2011
Teaching for the Future
The most basic principle of special education is that it is to lead to self-sufficiency and independence to the degree possible, depending on the potential of the individual child. In what kind of a world will our children live and work? It will be as different as before and after electricity, television, and the computer age. If we are over 40 we simply cannot conceive of it. Yet that must be central to building skills through IEPs, in maintaining or initiating friendships, in employment, and in maintaining mental flexibility and creativity. It is at the core of our children’s survival and happiness when we are gone.
A friend recently sent me a list of nine things that will disappear in our lifetime. They were:
- The Post Office. It is said that they are in terrible financial trouble, without the revenue to stay alive. Most of what is delivered is junk mail and bills. This past year I continued to use a small toy mail box so my students could practice mailing their hand made holiday cards to family and friends. Getting that card into the tiny mail slot also required good eye-hand co-ordination. But when a 5 year old asked why we couldn’t email it I knew I had to completely rethink the unit.
- The check. It costs billions of dollars a year to process checks. Plastic cards and online transactions will soon lead to its demise. So when we teach life skills, budgeting, and paying bills the old approaches will no longer be useful for people living through the 21st century. They will need to learn how to use the specific technology for the specific transactions they will do.
- The newspaper. Most of the younger generation does not read a newspaper, but track events through their computer. Very few subscribe. But newspaper and magazine publishers have formed an alliance with Apple, Amazon, and the major cell phone companies to develop a paid subscription model for e-readers. Current events, as well as the arts, sports and business sections of the paper will need to be read and understood from the screen. This will make it easier for some students, and much more difficult for others. But if students are to understand the world they live in, they must learn to make daily reading of at least one newspaper online an automatic part of their lives beginning early in the elementary school years.
- The book. Many of us older folks (Old depends on viewpoint, right?) are vehement that we want the physical book in our hands and like turning actual pages. But online books allow us to browse or preview a chapter before we buy. I’m told that once you get used to it you forget you’re holding a machine instead of a book. That will be true for our children and grandchildren, so we must get them ready to use the digital world wisely, encouraging reading e-books with as much excitement as we would our old paper books that yellow with age- just as we do. We must also remember that there are still many children who do not have computers and how to adjust what will be a fundamental inequity in their education with children who do have computers at home.
- The Land Line Telephone. Most people no longer have a land line telephone. I miss the curly wire and being tethered in one spot. I have a pull toy telephone in my school with wobbly eyes when it moves that my 2 year olds don’t recognize as a telephone. But cell phones are everywhere and need to have proper use taught as part of the curriculum. They are often seen as a hallmark of youth, texting and sexting, and not used as serious avenues for learning. Appropriate uses of the cell phone, with all of its other attributes, must become part of the curriculum in several ways, ranging from social skills to social studies and communications.
- Music. Music is dying a slow death for a number of reasons. New music does not get to the people who would like to hear it. It is generally agreed that greed and corruption is the problem. My son has been working on a book about this for three years and the facts truly are sickening. Nearly half of the music bought today is traditional music of older, established artists. For students who are musicians or who enjoy music, the reality of the recording and publishing business is gut wrenching, but needs to be part of their transition plan if that is what they want to prepare to do.
- TV. Television is dying. One night of viewing should convince you. People watch TV and movies, play games and do many other things on their computers, rather than sitting down to watch TV. Though students do not have to be encouraged to use computers, they do need to be taught to apply judgment skills in their use. This needs to be part of every curriculum to prepare for life throughout the 21st century.
- The “cloud”. I don’t fully understand this, but it seems that what we own and store on a CD or DVD may not soon exist. I guess the skills we would teach about the “cloud” involve conceptualizing and finding alternatives to something we can’t rely on or don’t like. It seems that Apple, Microsoft and Google are completing their newest “cloud” services. So when you turn on a computer, the Internet will be built into the operating system, with Windows and the Mac OS tied straight into the Internet. (I have no idea what this means…) This is a virtual world where you can access literally everything from your computer. But do you own any of what is stored, or can it simply disappear at any moment? Nobody knows. But the reality of virtual worlds is no longer science fiction and the children of this century must develop new skills to understand, use, and judge what is good from what is not.
- Privacy. There is very little privacy left. When we see what children and teenagers put on Facebook we can be left speechless. They have no sense of who sees and hears them and leave much of their lives and vulnerability exposed. Cameras are on the street, in most buildings, built into your computer and even your cell phone. Whoever wants to know where you are can find you through GPS coordinates and Google Street View. When you buy something your habits go into millions of profiles. I’m not complaining. But I am worried that 21st century society is raising children with 19th and 20th century ideas about privacy and who are not realistic about their exposure in nearly every venue.
Why is all of this important for parents and professionals who raise and educate disabled children? Fundamentally, it deals with employment. The June 2011 jobless rate for disabled Americans was 16.9 %, a significant jump over May at 15.6% (Disability Scoop, Unemployment reaches Record High for People With Disabilities, Shaun Heasley, 7/8/11). Since approximately 50%, or 6 ½ million of the public school special education enrollment comes from children with learning disabilities, there is no reason why these children cannot receive instruction that will enable them to become employed. If they are age 10 now, they will be 60 in 2071. Where will they work? In what fields? How much money will they earn? We need to think about their options in a world based on being alone with a computer. And what about the other 50%? Whatever instructional choices are made, their care, interests and recreation will inevitably involve a computer. So life skills will have a new meaning for many.
As we think about all of the changes and the technology that surrounds us in surprising ways, what we may miss is that all of these changes are creating an evolutionary change in our brains. Several research studies have documented these subtle shifts in neural wiring. We see increased difficulties with social skills because there is no need to practice them when you’re alone, surrounded by 750 Facebook friends. Unused brain circuitry disappears. Spoken sentences are shorter, as is attention span. There is little need for handwriting. There are so many things to consider when teaching and raising children to live in the future, where science fiction is a daily reality. When they raise their children they won’t ask them to go to the post office because post offices will be gone. They won’t write a check for the junior prom because there won’t be any checks. Life will revolve around e books and newspapers, so that paper isn’t needed- a good thing because trees are almost gone and the rain forest cut down. Many of the songs will still be from the American Song Book, or hip hop from the old days of America’s Got Talent or American Idol because everybody gave up trying to get new music played or published. Everybody will have a cell phone and can hover at will in virtual reality, plugged in but tuned out.
There are surely many positives about these innovations. But it doesn’t have to do with negatives or positives but with reality. This is coming. It is here now but many of us don’t see it. Much of the teaching staff of America is over 50 and still teaching skills for jobs that don’t or won’t exist. Look at the IEP for school that begins in September and see what needs to be done to update the skills that are needed to compete and survive in this brave, new world.
You may enjoy this Youtube link about reforming our educational system.