Times, They Are A-Changin’

We are constantly reminded, as I remind you, that things are changing, and changing fast. But if one reflects, this really has always been the case. Back in 1964, before most of you were born, Bob Dylan wrote a song entitled, ‘Times they are a-changing’. The words ring true today:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times, they are a-changin’.

Likewise, the role of a teacher has changed over the past years, from the 1920s where teachers, the majority of whom were women, were constrained by some wonderfully archaic rules, for example:

Women weren’t allowed to get married, keep company with men, leave town, ride in cars with boys (except their father or brother), drink, smoke, or leave their house between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

I am sure there is some delightfully strange logic behind the fact that teachers in Ohio were:

forbidden from loitering in downtown ice-cream stores.

We have lost, forgotten, or dispensed with many skills that were prevalent back then, courting (without the use of the internet or dating sites), foraging, butchering, bartering (try this in Carrefour), haggling (tried to do this in Marks and Spencer; did not work), darning and mending (pay a visit to the new materials option in 9th grade to see how these skills have been lost), writing a letter or ‘thank you’ note, lighting a fire with only one match (did this once) and best of all, writing with a fountain pen (which I love).

We can sigh at the loss of such things, but as long as they are replaced with some similar, simple, gratifying and fulfilling things, I am not too concerned; but are they?

We read that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us. Within five years, a third of currently important workforce skills will be redundant (World Economic Forum, 2016). By the 2020s, only 100 years from that forbidden walk to the ice-cream store, advanced robotics, autonomous transport, the ‘internet of things’, artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced materials, and biotechnology, will be as standard and common as lighting a fire with one match.

As the World Economic Forum’s report continues,

These developments will transform the way we live, and the way we work. Some jobs will disappear, others will grow and jobs that don’t even exist today will become commonplace. What is certain is that the future workforce will need to align its skillset to keep pace.

A job description of a worker back in the 1920’s would probably have few of the skills sets that will be demanded from our graduating students in the coming years – cognitive flexibility, decision-making, emotional intelligence, working in teams, deep thinking, creativity, and those other attributes where machine intelligence ends. So, as we move to think about new curricula to meet these needs, buildings that are designed to foster an environment that encourages such attributes, I have been working on skills with which our teachers need to be comfortable. Because our teachers also need to reflect the future, continue to be capable of great feats of teaching; derive joy from not understanding how to do things; be ever cheerful when there is no reason to be so; have sound judgment to balance idealism and pragmatism; be interested in both the basics and the big picture;  have significant experience in getting it wrong; show contagious excitement when one finally gets it right; have the capacity to understand and be patient with others, oneself and technology; and laugh, participate and be comfortable with ambiguity.

The ice-cream shop is just a bonus.