Building Adaptive Thinkers is the #1 Goal of Education in the 21st Century
March 19, 2017
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Thomas Friedman’s fantastic new book is called Thank You for Being Late – An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. I recommend it as essential reading for educators and parents alike – as we all try to come to grips with the incredible rate of change in our world and what it means for our children.
Friedman points out in poignant detail exactly what is changing and how: “The three largest forces on our planet – technology, globalization and climate change – are all accelerating at once.” And the rate of change is faster than anything we’ve had to adapt to before. Friedman says it is “surely one of the great transformative moments in history.”
The possible pathways forward for us to adapt as individuals and as a species center around our ability to be resilient and adapt in the face of this potentially staggering change. This ability will increase if we can become “radically inclusive” – each of us bringing into our work “as many relevant people, processes, disciplines, organizations and technologies as possible.” “Indeed as the world becomes more interdependent and complex, it becomes more vital than ever to widen your aperture and synthesize more perspectives.”
In reading this book, it struck me like a lightning bolt that Friedman is also laying out in stark detail the pathway forward for education. This pathway is both exhilarating and daunting. Exhilarating because there is a world of new opportunities for collaboration, of new technology platforms and of interdisciplinary explorations. Daunting because we ourselves need to adapt our thinking about education itself – and be courageous enough to let go of the old and explore the new.
If we are to help build new neural pathways for innovation and creativity, we must allow our students the space necessary to explore and develop curiosity. We must build into the schedule time for students to go deep with subject matter and discover connections between subject fields. We must allow the opportunity for students to get into the flow of the learning process by supporting what they are passionate about. And we must foster the opportunity to collaborate, share projects and add their own improvements to the innovations of others.
In these ways we can begin to begin to foster the kind of adaptive thinkers who can leverage the changes we face – and transform them into net positives for humanity . To accomplish this, we as educators and parents will need to learn – and to encourage – a new capacity called “dynamic stability”. Dynamic stability is like riding a bicycle: you cannot stand still, but once you are moving it is actually easier. Eric Teller, CEO of Google’s X Research and Development lab says, “It is not our natural state. But humanity has to learn to exist in this state.” As we move into this state of adaptive change, Friedman says, “We’re all going to have to learn that bicycle trick.”