What is the future of school as we anticipate the future during the early years of the 21st Century? Can we find some clues as we reflect on the 20th century? In 1900 our ancestors were deeply involved in agriculture as the early reaches of industrialization were developing. Most of the states in America had adopted public education, most had included grades 1-8, and some were beginning to add kindergarten. World War I inaugurated a massive change as the Industrial Revolution captured the heart of the United States. A high school diploma quickly replaced the eighth grade diploma as evidence of readiness to begin employment. Office and shop courses were added to the curriculum, including the creation of junior high schools to accelerate preparation for jobs.
By 1950 schools were preparing and training a national workforce. Even agriculture was being transformed by industrialization, with the advent of farm machinery that greatly reduced the need for farm labor. In 2000, the United States was in the transition from Industrialization to Computer Technology. With the proliferation of social media with the advent of the smart phone, which profoundly affected the West’s and the World’s social and political life during the early decades of the 21st century changes to schools appeared. School have adapted over the decades to the dramatic changes that have shaped the daily life of citizens. The early arrivals to what became the United States believed in and practiced 3R education for children. Who could have imagined K-12 public education in the 17 century?
Today, schools must consider a world far different from that century. Today, with travel, social media and world trade the world is “next door.” To live and thrive in the world today requires that school prepare our young more broadly and more in depth than the village schools of that era. While the 3Rs—reading, writing and arithmetic—increase in intensity throughout school today, these skills are increasing in demand and complexity even beyond K-12.
Some schools are pursuing International Baccalaureate programs to fully prepare our students for the world in which they will live as productive citizens. Field education, where students travel to special areas to fully appreciate their world, such as natural history, like Mount Lassen National Park, the eastern Sierra Nevada, such as Bodie, an early gold rush village, at Mammoth the use of water to produce electrical power, Big Pine, the location of telescopes tracking the celestial systems, and Manzanar, the local of Japanese Internment, and the early history of settlements on the East Coast and Washington, D.C.
Technology, robotics and Artificial Intelligence is being introduce in many schools to better prepare students for a world where 50 percent of entre level jobs will be replaced during the coming decade. Science continues to open many opportunities from the ordinary-every-day to medical health, transportation, and even how we live. Schools are recovering the arts—visual, performing and mechanical—as creativity and imagination pursue every detail of daily life. Some schools are adapting STEAM curriculum—science, technology, engineering, art, math—as the best means to undergird students for productive and thriving lives. In recognition of today’s world, schools are extending their courses in history and social sciences, to recognize that racism and prejudice need to be contended with and are providing bi-lingual education, including Spanish and Mandarin. Some businesses in the community are providing work opportunities for students in middle school, for a portion of a trimester to acquaint future employees with the daily regimen of a job.
Research in early child development is undergirding the notion of early childhood education. May be it is time to consider reconfiguring school, as it was conceived during the early formative years. Is it time to consider 3 year olds would benefit from pre-school as we have also discovered the value of including 4 year olds in Transitional Kindergarten? Early language formation is critical to academic success in future years of school. The initial years of school might include 3, 4 and 5 year olds (kindergarten was introduced over one hundred years ago to prepare students for school. Perhaps, 3 and 4 year olds should be included in public education. Grades 1, 2 and 3 are considered primary years, 4, 5 and 6 are intermediate years, 7, 8 and 9 are middle years, with 10, 11 and 12 secondary school years. Some high schools are even collaborating with local colleges to include courses that qualify for college credit, thereby shortening the number of years required to obtain a bachelors degree.
We are a long way from 1900 when many innovative changes were made to public education. Those who came before us had the vision and courage to make profound changes to public education. Curriculum was added, days and hours were extended to accommodate changes they envisioned. Junior and senior high schools were invented to vastly improve the preparation of the nation’s young for citizenship and a life of productive work. Many states added kindergarten to better prepare students for the anticipated rigors of an expanded school year. We live in a fast moving age, in an evolving world of exchange and close proximity. Preparing our young requires imagination and courage, if we are to lead in the preparation for our young to be thriving and effective citizens that the world is becoming. Promising schools need the serious involvement and engagement of parents, citizens and the business community.