8 Future Forwards: Exploring Frontiers in Education
In response to my question one student wrote:
“The ‘class’ from which the ‘we’ in Springsteen’s song ‘bust out of’ is an instrument of the Ministry of
Truth—a place where students are fed a revised version of knowledge. The irrelevance of the revised
knowledge, served to the students, is so obscene, intellectually insulting, and counter-intuitive that it
ironically inspires them to ‘bust out’ of school.
Both Orwell and Springsteen have studied their history well, for if history has taught us anything, it is
this: Although Mankind may, for short periods of time, be contained by oppressive and tyrannical
regimes, in the end the human ‘No Surrender-Gene’ will kick-in and give birth to rebellion.” 3
Obscenely Irrelevant and Intellectually Insulting
Why do schools exist? In the simplest of terms schools have always existed to help create a literate
population. But what is literacy? According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, Literacy is “the ability to
read, write and acquire knowledge that relates to specific subjects.” I suppose this is one dimension of
literacy, albeit a rather superficial one. Webster’s definition clearly fails to capture the Mission and
Vision of schools that are passionately committed to ensuring that they never serve their students
“obscenely irrelevant and intellectually insulting knowledge.”
In my search for a more appropriate definition I came across the work of David Warlick. Warlick is an
educator, an author, and a technology integration speaker. He suggests that “There is only one relevant
literacy — using your information environment to learn what you need to know [in order] to do what
you need to do.” 4 I don't know much about Warlick, but when I first encountered this quote, it
resonated with me. It made sense. Of course, I thought to myself, schools need to teach children how:
to use the information they have access to, in order…
to better define what they need to know, in order…
to best do what they need to do.
It sounded beautiful; until, that is, I went to Gujarat. A few months ago, I was in the Indian state of
Gujarat working with a group of public schools—our location was a remote and rural corner of the state
where schools had no electricity, no furniture, and no books. Needless to say, this experience shattered
every context and definition I had formed about the "information environment" of the 21st Century.
Students at schools like mine (highly resourced schools serving a highly affluent population where
parents, students, and faculty have high expectations of innovation and relevancy in their schools) had
access to a completely different "information environment" than the children at the schools in Gujarat.
Clearly, there are many differences between these two schools. What school leaders and learners in our
two schools will need to know and be able to do will differ, but the need of the students for success are
the same, to have the agency and skill to master their information environment to do what they need
and aspire to do.