Sunday, March 30, 2008

Education for the Conceptual Age

The following article is a summation of Daniel Pink's work "A Whole New Mind" and its potential impact on changing our education systems to meet the needs of the conceptual age our students will face.

Many of us had the opportunity to attend the recent NCEA conference in Indianapolis and hear Thursday's keynote speaker Daniel Pink author of the best selling book "A Whole New Mind". Pink's work pushes us towards self reflection as school administrators. What are we doing to address the changing world? How are we addressing the flattening of the world documented in such works as Friedman's "The World is Flat"? Are we holding our teachers and staff accountable for teaching relevant curriculum? Are we collectively pushing our school's to develop right brain creative contextual thinking? In many ways our American education system seems to be stuck in the past in terms of structure, pedagogy, and goals. As Catholic schools we have the freedom to recreate our pedagogy while staying focused on the Gospel message.

Let's take a look at Pink's basic premise. "A Whole New Mind" argues persuasively that the three forces of abundance, Asia, and automation are substantially altering the playing field our graduates will face. Our material abundance is greater than ever. We own our own homes, possess multiple automobiles, and generally live pleasant middle class lives. Ironically this abundance leads to a spiritual awakening as the emptiness of things taints our post-modern lives. The rise of Asia as an economic superpower and the outsourcing of menial tasks has shifted our economy away from the industrial and eveninformation age to a conceptual age where different skills matter. Automation coupled with technology and powerful software has rendered many safe middle class jobs as on deck for outsourcing and off-shoring. For example products such as turbo-tax and online legal forms are narrowing the need for an entire class of workers.

In this changing world, Pink argues six new traits or skills will become invaluable. These are: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Let's look briefly at each.

Design provides the competitive edge. Pink provides the example of a toilet brush. The technology used in toilet brush design is the same. Without a forward leap in technology design now distinguishes a product. Design can create a desire for a product. Pink gives the example of the toilet brush industry soliciting the work of top designers. Another example is Apple with the iphone. Many other phones do the same things the iphone does and sell for half the price but Apple's commitment to design helps create a huge desire for their product. The iphone is just cool.

The ability to share a story and communicate will be a powerful global skill. The ability to communicate mission and purpose in a powerful way helps provide context and uniqueness to a product. The story of an organization is a compelling part of a group's ethos. This story creates attraction for the mission of an organization. Pink's chapter on story is chalked full of powerful examples of the power of story telling. How many of us have witnessed outstanding teachers who have the gift of story? These teachers are the natural sages of the stage that powerfully reach their audience. Not everyone who graces our classrooms but those who have the gift of story powerfully impact learning.

Symphony or the ability to think abstractly regarding the entire context will become an important skill in the global economy. How do we overcome the fragmentation of our industrial model of education to help students see connections? Why do many of us fail to pair a subject like American Literature with the study of American History to help draw out meaning and to see relationships? The industrial model of station to station learning and the fragmentation caused by current scheduling models is often blamed for the lack of engagement in American secondary education.

Empathy. My wife claims I am empathically challenged and she may be right. I'm a left brain person but the ability to see someone else's point of view and to work collaboratively is certainly an incredibly valuable skill we hope to find in our employees. We all know of that special employee or teacher whose lack of empathy and ability to collaborate stifles organizational change and creates so many pleasant phone calls. How valuable is empathy? Do we look for it as we hire new employees?

Play. The ability to laugh and to see things through in a humorous way will become increasingly valuable. I couldn't agree more. Humor and play with the ability to take enjoyment out of our work will certainly help us face the massive transitions that are coming our way and to embrace necessary change.

Meaning. This echoes Pink's theme from earlier. With our material needs being met how do we make sense of the world? Man's search for meaning and the answers to the core questions of meaning will begin to animate our discussions. Catholic schools are uniquely poised to play a pivotal role in these discussions. Our world view provides meaning and purpose.

So how do we teach these six skills of design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning? How do we guide our curriculum to address these skills? Pink argues for more fine arts as they push right brain contextual thinking? I know our school is currently in the process of discussing fine arts requirements for graduation.

In the end the burden of pushing for change falls on our shoulders. It is one task we can't delegate away. To steal from Pink, "Our schools need to educate our children for their future not our past". It is sometimes scary to think of the future because we just don't know what it will bring. I think we can all agree graduating students who understand their Christian dignity and mission coupled with the six skills mentioned above will certainly make the world a better place.

All of us are at different places in this process. Part of the purpose of the blog is to share our successes so we can be good thieves of one another.

What is your school doing to address globalization?
What strategies does your school use to promote right brain thinking?
How do you push these items with your teachers and staff?

Images courtesy of Flickr:


Anonymous said...

Mr. Roy;

Thank you for sharing this very important and thought-provoking piece. I was unable to attend NCEA this year and it would seem as if I certainly missed an outstanding session. One thing is certain- I will be examining Mr. Pink's work.

The task of responding to our global society and its inherent challenges can at times see daunting; however, it is our moral imperative as leaders of Catholic Schools.

God's Blessings
Dan Garrick
St. Francis DeSales High School
Columbus, Ohio

Dan T said...

The concept of globalization is probably not as new as we are told by the media. Certainly we have been considering the competitive global challenges in the United States at least since Sputnik. And teachers were railing about the soon-to-come dominance of Japanese technology in the 80s. Now we worry about challenges from India and China from an economic perspective.

As most of our students have grown up in an age of increased technological communication, by and large, they are much more open-minded and understanding of the global atmosphere in which we live. They are more open to communicating with people in other places, and many may have already done so. One way we can continue to educate students about the global society is to teach about other cultures and encourage communication through e-mail, blogs and even texts. Remember the old days of pen pals? Well, it certainly isn't such a bad idea to keep finding ways to incorporate global communication.

Charlie A. Roy said...

I certainly see an openness from our students but an occasional lack of openness from staff regarding using technology to forge global connections.

I think most of the obstacles come from fear of seeming inadequate. We're working on some training methods that divide teachers into smaller groups to help reduce the fear factor.

In terms of our students and the above skills we are looking at adding more selections to our fine arts department and we are also reconsidering the structure of our day with scheduling. If we can lengthen class time we believe we can incorporate more projects and better implement technologies.

Dan Tully said...


Great point about faculty and staff being open to technology use. Many people are afraid of moving to new technolgy, including teachers. We have found that if training is provided, our teachers are very eager to add to their teaching arsenal.

Your point about adding electives in fine arts and changing your schedule to allow for more technology is also right on. We struggle even to add world civilization to our western-heavy social studies curriculum. I think that our religious studies and English departments do a great job of providing courses with a global perspective too, including world literature, world religions, and including diversity as a significant topic in other courses too.