In a classroom like this, something
educationally revolutionary would
happen: Students and adults would
connect in a global, purposeful conversation that would make the world a
better place. We would pry the Socratic
dialogue from the hands of the past and
lift it into the future to serve the hopes
and dreams of all students everywhere.
In the future, we will incorporate
a whole array of technological options into
how, when, and where we learn.
The Future Is Here—Almost
Some of what constitutes this new
approach to learning is already
underway. Teachers and students
already use the Web to create lessons,
communicate, and share with others
across the globe. Schools have Web-based curriculums, and many people
already use Web 2.0 technology to reach
thousands, if not millions, of learners.
But a model like the LearningSphere
would add another dimension. Learning
would take place both in and out of
school. Teachers would no longer
manage learning through the rigid
enforcement of rote learning but would
learn alongside their students, creatively
adapting curriculum to their students’
needs. Like any creative effort, this
collective journey would include errors,
lack of good information, and false
starts—a process of which Socrates
would approve. Because teachers are
knowledgeable about the learning
process, they could serve as capable
guides for their students, all the while
promoting the requisite 21st century
thinking skills of critical reflection,
empirical reasoning, collective intelligence, and metacognition.
Organizing this new learning model
is the work of the 21st century. Just as
the industrial age developed a particular
form of organizational life, the electronic
age is developing models of organizational life that are more atomic in their
structure than they are brick and
mortar. When Einstein shocked the
world by suggesting that energy equals
mass multiplied by the speed of light
squared, he gave us a new way to think
about our world.
There has never been a time in
human history when the opportunity to
create universally accessible knowledge
has been more of a reality. And there has
never been a time when education has
meant more in terms of human survival
What Would Socrates Do?
At the beginning of the 20th century,
the world’s population was 1.6 billion;
at the beginning of the 21st century, it is
roughly 6.6 billion. To meet the education needs of this rising tide of
humanity, we must think outside the
box of conventional schooling.
To start, we must overhaul and
redesign the current school system. We
face this great transition with both
hands tied behind our collective backs if
we continue to pour money, time, and
effort into an outdated system of education. Mass education belongs in the era
of massive armies, massive industrial
complexes, and massive attempts at
social control. We have lost much talent
since the 19th century by enforcing
stifling education routines in the name
of efficiency. Current high school
dropout rates clearly indicate that our
standardized testing regime and
outdated curriculums are wasting the
potential of our youth.
If we stop thinking of schools as
buildings and start thinking of learning
as occurring in many different places,
we will free ourselves from the conventional education model that still dominates our thinking. Socrates did not
teach in a conventional classroom; his
classroom was wherever he and his
students found themselves. His was the
first “personal learning network,” and
he taught with the most enduring
teaching tool of all time—the
purposeful conversation. He called
himself a citizen of the world because
the questions he asked were universal.
Even though Socrates was a philosopher, he did not hide in an ivory tower.
He used knowledge to challenge the
status quo. I think Socrates would
embrace the new learning era with all
the energy he had. We need that same
embrace today to move beyond the false
dichotomies and empty arguments of
our tired education disagreements and
to joyously engage with the future. L
Huff, G., & Saxberg, B. (2009). Full immersion—How will 10-year-olds learn?
Education Next, 9(3), 79–82.
Iyer, B., & Davenport, T. H. (2008, April).
Reverse engineering Google’s innovation
machine. Harvard Business Review.
Peter W. Cookson Jr. holds the Katsuso
Miho Scholarship in Peacemaking at Yale
Divinity School. He is the author of
Sacred Trust: An Education Bill of Rights
(Corwin, forthcoming) and a board
member of the Partnership for 21st
Century Skills; firstname.lastname@example.org.