A seed to grow a learning community for the future

  • Students attend the first day of school at Highbridge Hill Elementary in New Ipswich on Aug. 28. Tony Marquis / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monday, September 04, 2017 6:32PM

Education is changing. Tech can bring master curricula to anyone with a device, which frees teachers to mentor individuals. Private, home and charter schools change the way youth learn. Lower birth rates mean we need fewer public school buildings, yet costs continue to rise. The dwindling middle class and growing ranks of poor means more kids come to school hungry and unprepared. Many early learning, after-school, summer and extracurricular offerings exist, yet often the kids who need them most have the least access. Meanwhile, vocational re-training, entrepreneur mentoring and adult learning opportunities extend the breadth of education far beyond what we consider traditional schooling.

At the same time, the needs of the workplace and civil society are changing. Employers need explorers, the specialists who keep advancing their products. They need managers who understand tech basics enough to integrate teams and communicate with all kinds of people. They need skilled detail people who assemble, test and problem solve. They need salespeople, who can analyze customers’ needs and represent their companies with charisma and effectiveness. And all these citizens need to be able to sift through increasingly confusing information and choose good leaders.

The post-WWII classroom developed to meet the needs of America’s burgeoning mass-production factories and common family farms. Children were treated en masse, as if they were parts on an assembly line. Summertime, from planting to harvest, required time off.

Traditional classrooms also assumed a different type of student. Churches, two-parent and extended families taught obedience, hard work and responsibility for family and fellow man. Interactions with siblings developed teamwork skills. Youngsters today typically have had more exposure to media than to church and extended family combined. They likely have few, if any, siblings.

Teachers now must focus on building these soft skills. Computers can deliver individualized instruction in subjects like math and reading, but they are only tools that empower teachers to break out of the mass-instruction paradigm.

Meanwhile, because birth rates have dropped and technology reconfigures the workplace every decade, adults must stay in the workforce longer and expect to learn new skills well into their senior years. What a change from my childhood, where brains were thought to stop developing around the same time the body matured!

All this begs the two questions we’ll be exploring at our Sept. 12 Community Conversation: What resources do we have already in our regional learning community? What would an ideal learning community – for all ages and across varied interests – look like if we integrated and supercharged those resources? We will start with the viewpoints of providers, but then add those of employers, parents, seniors, teachers, students, taxpayers and dreamers.

This session is for analyzing our resources and dreaming. If we glimpse possibility, if we can envision a future that might just be attainable, if we are willing to investigate and collaborate to reach it, this conversation could be the seed. And this seed might grow into a new way of living, in concert with our society, our workplaces and each other.

Please join us Tuesday, Sept. 12 at Bass Hall in Peterborough to discuss how we might create learning communities for the future.

Jeanne Dietsch will moderate the Sept. 12 Community Conversation at Bass Hall in Peterborough.