Long Life Changes Everything

For nearly 10 years now I’ve been telling parents something that I know many of them struggled to get their heads around. Mostly, I’ve saved this message for parents of children in Kindergarten and Primary classes. My argument is a simple one. If your child is going to live more than 100 years on this planet, what should be changing in our thinking about how we prepare children for such a life?

One of the reasons parenting is such a challenge for so many is that the temptation is to see our children’s lives as an extension and a progression on the experiences of our own lives. However, in a world that’s changing as fast as ours, that generally is a big mistake. So, I understand that the first reason so many glaze over when I talk about children living to 100 is that when adults look at their own lives and those of their parents, it doesn’t seem possible. However, this article from the Telegraph shows that, quite frankly, I might be being too conservative with an age expectation of 100 – maybe we already need to be getting our heads around the idea of 110 or even 120!

Telegraph – World’s First Anti-Ageing Drug Could See Humans Live to 120

Inevitably (just think who reads the Telegraph!), the article focuses on the more immediate life change implications of this drug for people who are already in their middle ages or older. However, as an educator, my mind immediately turns to the implications further out in time for the young people who are now undergoing education and how we need to change our perspectives and approaches to education.

Since the start of the Twentieth Century education has been almost entirely a process that stats around age 3-6 and ends in the early twenties or earlier for the vast majority of people. Most countries use the law to force parents and children to stay in the process until age 16 or in some cases age 18. What a strange state of affairs that is – legal coercion is necessary to make people do something that’s supposed to be essential to prepare the individual to lead a successful and productive life. All of this may well have (sort of) worked in the time of a life span of three score years and ten (70).

If you were going to live at least 50% longer, how much would that change? Where would be the tearing hurry to start hot-housing children so early? Wouldn’t it make more sense to allow them to play, to learn at their own pace and naturally develop the neural networks that will support their future learning? Shouldn’t we all be going the Scandinavian way and delaying the start of formal education until age 6 or even 7?

Even after that, when you have so much time available, learning deep rather than broad makes more sense. Also, greater emphasis on developing the skills of independent learning – being a lifelong learner become critical. There’s time for so much more focus on the development of ‘soft skills’ and skills for life that are of use across a whole variety of professions or life areas.

How soon does it make sense to start narrowing down and specialising? Right now, children as young as 14 are pressured to make decisions that will narrow their future choices by deciding what subjects they will study. Wouldn’t we better allowing personal motivation and interest to define what is learned and for how long?

When you consider how much has changed in the world in the last 110 years, how much change would a person see who is going to live through the next 110? How much flexibility would they require? How much resilience?

Most have seen education as a preparation for an economically productive life. How long will that economically productive period last? Plainly the idea of stopping working at 60 years will be a nonsense. Also, if the drugs available mean that people are that much healthier at older ages, then there would be no sense in withdrawing ones contribution from the world at such a young age. Quite frankly, I already believe that doesn’t make sense today.

In recent months I’ve seen a number of studies from different countries regarding people’s attitudes to work, professional life and the role of what they do to be economically productive in their lives. All indicate, give or take a few percentage points, levels of disengagement in the workplace exceeding 70%. I have a separate article that I’m in the process of putting together on the subject of work and how we perceive it, so won’t go in to a lot of detail here. Fr the purposes of this article though, I suggest that if our ‘productive’ stage of life is more likely to be 60 years than 35, shouldn’t we be bringing children up with healthier attitudes and feelings towards work, expending effort – in short a complete change of mindset towards the meaning of work? That starts with favouring the pursuit of goals and visions that are meaningful to the individual – that people do work that matters to them. It also requires a massive raising of the bar on the way people in workplaces are lead. Leadership skills need to go to a whole new level.

In short, if trained and permitted to follow their dreams, people can really learn to love work and find it an engaging and exciting part of their lives.

My final thought on this – longer life span becomes a strong case to stop the process of schooling being a massive filtering mechanism from which people are sifted in to future life streams according to arbitrary factors related to passing examinations. Instead, education has to focus on every pupil, as an individual, being set on a path to live and fulfill their potential and make their best contribution to the world around them in all respects.

In the face of such massive changes in human lives, the changes in education can’t just be about incremental tinkering around the edges. That’s just like rearranging the deckchairs as the Titanic sinks below the waves. We need to be fundamentally questioning, challenging and inventing anew if we are to meet the needs of people leading a new kind of life.

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2 Responses

  1. Never thought of longer life span in this context. Great to get new insights!

  2. […] Let Them Play Younger Children and Play Sad State of American Kindergarten Long Life Changes Everything […]

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