Editor's Note (The View From Here)
Education is a continuous process, a process
that must change as we do. For students to
learn, they need to process information in a way
that relates to them. Looking back, we can see
that education has changed to match the times.
G.K. Chesterton said, “Education is simply the
soul of a society as it passes from one generation
to another.” For us to better understand the
present and forecast the future, it’s helpful to understand the social
factors that shaped the systems of the past.
Agriculture — Prior to the First World War, farmers composed
the largest single group in the U.S. For the most part, education
was informal, taking place anytime, anywhere. The facilities where
learning took place included the home, the church and the one-room
schoolhouse. More advanced skills were learned through apprenticeships.
The learning environment was multi-age and multidisciplinary,
with formal education being reserved for the elite.
Industry — As the population shifted from rural to urban, education
became institutional. The transition from agriculture to industry
was seen as a period of hope and opportunity. Social institutions grew
and the factory model for schools was born. School buildings mirrored
the factory — central corridors, symmetrical classroom wings, eggcrate
design. Education reflected the values of the time — conformity,
compliance, centralization, standardization. The goal of education was
to “finish” school in preparation of entering the workforce.
Knowledge — The Industrial Age, born with the steam engine,
died with the silicon chip. Most factory workers did not possess the
qualifications to thrive in this new information-driven age. Education
and lifelong learning are at the core of the “knowledge age.” Rather
than to “finish” school, the goal of learning became to acquire access
to more knowledge well past the age of formal schooling. Today an
“educated” person will be someone who has learned how to learn,
and continues learning throughout his or her lifetime.
Technology is an enabler of change, allowing education to become
customized, personalized, specialized and portable. Access to the Internet,
distance-learning opportunities and BYOD allow learning to happen
anytime, anywhere. Global competition, jobs and the economy have also
been drivers for change, spurring programs in STEM/STEAM, technical/career and adult education. But the real driver for change is the new
generation of students. They have been comfortable with technology
since an early age, interact on social media, prefer hands-on learning,
are entrepreneurial and are the ones changing how change is made.
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.