Six years ago, the video “Shift Happens” (2007) was featured at our school’s professional development day. I clearly remember one take-away:
We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t exist using technologies that do not exist in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.
The video was created by Karl Fisch, and modified by Scott McLeod. The slides provided statistics on the rapid exponential growth in population and in information, highlighting the differences between the present and what was successful in the past, specifically England’s position on the world stage in 1900. Several slides are alarming in calling attention to the building tsunami of information available to students with examples such as ” there is more information in a week’s worth of the The New York Times than what an average person knew in the 1700s”. Since 2007, there have been several updated versions of “Shift Happens” uploaded to YouTube; there have also been many imitations.
I thought of this video this week when I drove past a sign on a large office building: Strategic Information Technologies.
“What does that mean?” I asked my friend Catherine, “Is the technology stategic because of geography? Strategic because of a choice of software or hardware?” I continued, “I don’t know what a ‘strategic information technologist’ does…Is this one of the unknown new jobs were are ‘preparing’ our 21st Century students to take?” I referenced the video.
“That’s ridiculous!” Catherine responded, “The people who ‘prepared’ us for the 21st Century were not worried about what new jobs would be available in our future. In fact,” she continued, “they taught us what they knew…what they thought we should know, and we are doing just fine.”
I was startled. Could a “Shift Happens” video place a misguided emphasis on adjusting skills and content in order to prepare students for the unidentified problems they don’t even know are problems yet?
“After all,” she continued, “We are the generation that created these new technologies that we didn’t know would exist today.”
When I reflect on her statement I think about how my favorite teachers in grades K-12 (Sister Ella, Mrs. Rowland, Miss Montessi) were not obsessed with preparing me for some unidentified job in the future. Instead, their collective obsession was to prepare me with basic skills and content so that I could be a productive member of society I was taught to think, to read well, write well, speak well, know math, appreciate history, recognize science, and, since I attended Catholic school, recite my Catechism.
Perhaps, educators cannot predict the future for their students, but educators can address trends. For example, in 1957, the American public began to reconsider how the role of public education may contribute to winning the Space Race with the Soviets once Sputnik had been released. The investments in education made as a consequence resulted in increased scientific advancements and many spin-off technologies. In contrast, however, predictions such as those at the 1964 NY World’s Fair of a future with flying cars, jet packs, vacation trips to Mars and beyond, underwater cities, and robot laborers have never came to fruition.
Similarly, Karl Fisch’s video alerted educators to the rapid changes in education and the global implications in preparing students for the real world. He wrote:
“…it’s a different world out there. A world whereanyone’s ideas can quickly spread if they happen to strike a chord.”
This is just one of the reasons that I believe our schools need to change. They need to change to reflect this new world, this flatter world, this information-abundant, globally connected, rapidly changing, technology super-charged world that they are going to spend the rest of their lives in.
Fisch made no silly “predictions” like those at the NY World’s Fair. Instead, his video served to bring attention to trends that require an increase in the skills of communication and sharing information.
In order to communicate and to share, students from grades K-12 must think, read well, write well, and speak well regardless as to what predictions are being made about new industries or technologies. In trying to anticipate the future, educators must not discount how the generations of students who learned these important skills became the graduates who are now responsible for evolving changes of the present.
Shift is not an entirely new enterprise on the world stage, for example, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution are all examples of global “shifts”. In the six short years since the “Shift Happens” video, Facebook has replaced MySpace as the world’s most formidable social network; Twitter has evolved into a powerful communication tool. The role of educators is not to predict the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or company that will spawn new jobs or dominate an industry or the next “shift”. Instead, the role of educators must be to continue to teach those skills of thinking, reading, writing, and speaking well that contributed to the “shift” that is happening for our students.
There is no surprise that “Shift Happens”, and the students who are prepared to think, to read well, to write well, and to speak well will not be surprised either.