The unprecedented times of the new normal. Two terms or phrases I could happily do without. I mean, enough already. However, we cannot deny that we face a new normal and many of our institutions will never be the same.
I’m confident that my field of education will never be the same. In many ways it was already operating on borrowed time and was unsustainable. Higher ed has been financially unsustainable for quite a while and K-12 was functionally unstable.
I’m also confident that attempting to isolate and understand and resolve both ecological and societal issues (so essentially all issues) in isolated ways is what makes our efforts unsustainable. So, let’s look at how some things connect: standards-based education, constitutional originalism, and health care and retirement funding. Wait, what?
Thomas Friedman wrote last week in the New York Times that “the most critical role for K-12 educators…will be to equip young people with the curiosity and passion to be lifelong learners who feel ownership over their education.”
How are we doing with that? I’d say, “not so good.” For many teachers, and therefore their students, the education experience is a rushed, frantic grind to complete assignments (without a larger context) that check off standards and prep them for math and reading tests. There is little inquiry into science and social studies (so how humans understand their world) and instead education is merely practice at decoding information (math and reading) but not pursuing the larger purpose of understanding what that information means and why it relevant.
This will not foster lifelong learning and intellectual curiosity and creativity—it will crush it under mind-numbing rote learning and practice. Most teachers know this and fight against it, but work in a system continually limiting curriculum fostering and providing opportunity for developing skills of inquiry which ignites passion for learning for the sake of learning and creating new ideas. In our new era of unprecedented times of the new normal that is exactly the skillset we need among our citizenry.
That brings me to the idea of constitutional originalism. This concept is ludicrous and an indictment of the American education system and academia. The constitution was written by creative visionaries but is often interpreted and enforced by individuals who possess so little vision and creativity that they cannot see the remarkable foundation of the constitution as allowing a society to grow, evolve, and remake itself as the world changes—to form a more perfect union—meaning it must continue to evolve. To do so requires “…people [to have] the curiosity and passion to be lifelong learners who feel ownership over their education.”
Erwin Chermerinsky, dean of the Berkeley law school, writes “under the original public meaning of the constitution, it would be unconstitutional to elect a woman as president or vice president until the constitution is amended. Article 11 refers to them with the pronoun ‘he,’ and there is no doubt that original understanding was that only men could hold these offices.”
A failure of imagination, deep thinking, and individuals possessing intellectual simplicity leads to originalism. These same failures result in stagnant societies and social systems embedded in an always evolving ecosystem, meaning those social systems eventually become ill-equipped to confront a changing world in which they reside. Cases in point, Covid-19 and climate change. How are we doing with those? Not so good, because we simply cannot be bothered with it.
And that brings me to health care and retirement funding. The lack of portability of these two social institutions traps individuals in the box of a specific job or employer, when we might be better served for those individuals to be untethered from that job or organization so they could creatively invent new ways of doing things and innovations in thinking and perception. We lack the political and intellectual creativity and grit to think ourselves out of that box so how much intellectual and creative potential that could benefit us all is stuck in the wrong box?
Therefore, many, many individuals are trapped slogging through “work” when they could be doing work! It’s an old way of thinking that is stuck in a feudal-society paradigm, with a select ruling class requiring the mass to struggle for survival, reliant on barely adequate wages mooring them to their only employment option and live off of the ruling class’s handouts and “generosity.” This creates a highly rigid, unresponsive, and also highly inequitable society, which ultimately will crumble and require remaking when a significant perturbation to the systems occurs, such as the entire year of 2020.
The unprecedented times of the new normal might be our existence for a generation until the systems reach a new equilibrium and stabilize. How many will have the skills of innovation to thrive in such a world? How many will be relegated to hanging on by their fingernails and merely surviving while a few who were fortunate to have an education fostering lifelong learning skills create that new normal? And how many will then benefit from that new normal and how many will simply be subject to it? Nothing is as frightening having no control and autonomy over one’s very existence and survival. When enough experience that new normal violent revolutions happen.
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