Monday, June 25, 2018

New Literacies for a Complex World

We live in a time of great uncertainty and change. Economic, political, cultural, technological, and societal disruption are forcing us as educators to reexamine what it means to provide a quality education for our students that prepares them for the world they will face.

And, we are realizing that this reexamination will have to become the norm. Nothing is guaranteed in the future except for continued change.

Too often the discussion of how to shape our education systems revolves around the economic needs of our societies.

“What do our students need to find jobs when they graduate?”
 “How can we prepare students for the 21st Century workforce?”
“What skills will our students need to be productive members in a time of rapid technological advancement?

This is the wrong focus, and these questions leave out some of the most important aspects of education.

The damage we could inflict upon an entire generation of children by reducing them to cogs in an economic machine designed to maximize profit would be devastating.

Education encompass so much more than “college and career readiness,” a term that is often used in the United States.

We must strive to ensure that our children get an education that allows them to be happy, healthy, and successful in life – with “success” being defined in a broad sense that includes much more than the generation of wealth. Of course, within this greater goal, students will be prepared for their future careers and potential further learning after graduation at an institution of higher learning. But, they will also be prepared for so much more.

In order to prepare our students for such a broad goal in this time of rapid change we will need to move beyond the traditional literacies taught in school. The importance of reading, writing, mathematics, science, and history will not wane in the future, but they will have to be intertwined with new literacies in order for our students to meet the complex demands they will face after graduation.

The questions we must ask ourselves must focus on both the old literacies and the new.

“How can we show our students ways to use the learning in school, their passions, and their talents to solve problems in their local and global communities?” 
“What experiences do we need to give students in school that will prepare them for a world that is complex, globally connected, and pluralistic?” 
“How do we help our students develop the ability to have respectful, nuanced conversations with others who have diverse perspectives?” 
“Can we prepare students for the workforce, while simultaneously preparing them to be civically engaged and reflective members of their community?”

Answering these questions means focusing on additional competencies and literacies that must be developed in our students. Here are a few of those “new literacies.”

Global Literacy – In the first decade of my teaching career it was either impossible or prohibitively expensive to provide my students with any kind of video conferencing or virtual experience outside our school. Now, children are routinely chatting face to face with each other from every part of the globe, a field trip to a museum on another continent is a Skype call away, and finding time disconnected is much more difficult than finding ways to connect. In fact, I’m even writing this blog post on an airplane 35,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. Our classrooms and lessons must reflect this interconnected world. We must be giving students access to a diversity of cultures, learning experiences from the globe, and collaboration with those applying concepts being learning in school in actual ways.

Global Literacy, featuring Michael Soskil from Discovery Education on Vimeo.

Emotional Literacy – Studies have shown that emotional intelligence and empathy correlate highly with success in business. Those who are compassionate are also better able to see their worth and are more able to use new learning and resources to help their communities. We must strive to provide opportunities for our students to feel the joy of helping others while they are in school. If we can find the intersection in our schools of technological relevance and strong relationships built on respect and empathy, our future generation will have the building blocks for a peaceful and prosperous society.

Informational Literacy – As information has become ubiquitous due to technology, the ability for manipulation of the public through information has risen exponentially. Our students must learn to identify bias in the information they consume, judge the reliability of sources, and seek multiple viewpoints in their research. They must learn to break out of ideological bubbles caused by social media and recognize the danger of confirmation bias. Success in the future will be dependent on one’s ability to navigate the complexities of constant and instant information.