This is all a part of the transition toward a postindustrial economy.This article touches on a subject that appears to be surprisingly absent in our discussions of school reform. Much of the current rhetoric around reform talks about preparing students for a globally competitive world of work, but seems to completely ignore the nature of what that work will look like.
Jeff Dachis, Internet consulting legend and founder of Razorfish, coined the phrase “everything that can be digital, will be.” To the extent that the world becomes more digital, it will also become more global. To the extent that the economy remains physical, business may become more local.
The question is, what is the future of work, and what can we do about it?
Work will always be about finding what other people want and need, and then creating practical solutions to fulfill those desires. Our basic assumptions about how work gets done are what’s changing. It’s less about having a fixed location and schedule and more about thoughtful and engaged activity. Increasingly, this inspiration can happen anytime, anyplace.I worry that much of what we currently do in schools is prepare students for the old model of work, for a world of work that is predictable, educating them for the routine instead of the novel:
There is a blurring of distinctions among work, play, and professional development. The ways that we measure productivity will be less focused on time spent and more about the value of the ideas and the quality of the output. People are also going to have a much better awareness of when good work is being done.
The old model of work provided an enormous level of predictability. In previous eras, people had a sense of job security and knew how much they would earn on a monthly basis. This gave people a certain sense of confidence in their ability to maintain large amounts of debt. The consumer economy thrived on this system for more than half a century. Location-based and formal jobs will continue to exist, of course, but these will become smaller slices of the overall economy.
The new trends for the workplace have significantly less built-in certainty. We will all need to rethink, redefine, and broaden our sources of economic security. To the extent that people are developing a broader range of skills, we will also become more resilient and capable of adapting to change. (emphasis mine)
It's easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel. . .I think many folks are looking at our current world and thinking we are in a time of massive upheaval, but then things will return to “normal.” But what if this is the new normal?
And then keep on challenging yourself, because learning doesn't end with graduation. In fact, in the real world, while the answers to the odd-numbered problems are not in the back of the textbook, the tests are all open book, and your success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free market. Learning, it turns out, is a lifelong major.
The new norm is for people to maintain and develop skill sets in multiple simultaneous careers. In this environment, the ability to learn is something of a survival skill. Education never stops, and the line between working and learning becomes increasingly blurred.I'd like to see my future principal lead our school community in a discussion of what this means in terms of how we're preparing our students for the world of work. I'd also like to see a discussion that might be even more important – is the basic structure of how we are educating our students compatible with the emerging structure of the world of work? Are 59-minute classes, with bells that ring and fixed curricula, with grades and class ranks, with high-stakes tests (that are most certainly not “open book” much less “open Internet”) and rigidly set schedules really the best way to go about this?
. . . Fixed hours, fixed location, and fixed jobs are quickly becoming a thing of the past for many industries, as opportunities become more fluid and transient. The 40-hour workweek is becoming less relevant as we see more subcontractors, temps, freelancers, and self-employed. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that these “contingent workers” now make up a third of the workforce.
Imagine an office [school] where meetings [classes] are optional. Nobody talks about how many hours [credits] they worked last week. People have an unlimited amount of vacation and paid time off. Work [learning] is done anytime and anywhere, based entirely on individual [student] needs and preferences. Finally, employees [students and staff] at all levels are encouraged to stop doing anything that is a waste of their time, their customers’ time, or the company’s time. [bracketed comments mine]I'd like my future principal to help us imagine.