Of Monkeys, Moving Castles, Wasabi, and Water Deities

A Submission to the Correspondence Round Table on May 25, 2020, for the Institute for Strategy of Education Development of the Russian Academy of Education, and in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Boris Vulfson, a Russian scientist and a founding scholar of the field of Comparative Education.

The Minedani Bridge, Okutama Lake, Tokyo

To learn, we must begin with observation, then a response—a question, or a greeting, or perhaps even a compliment. To learn we must begin from the outside and work our way in. Attuned. Absorbed. With curiosity and open minds. If we do so, we discover that wonder exists exactly where we tend not look, in the millions of spaces between what we see, every second of every day, in every part of the space around us, within our grasp, or light years away. That is where we begin. Discovery, understanding, meaning, and purpose, follow.

Learning takes courage and holds the potential to upend social consensus and the comfort of all who hold fast to it. It breaks from the common sense, the community, the security of belonging, and the peace of mind provided by shared values and perceptions. Education, decontextualized, is the learner’s path of least resistance. It provides formulaic definition to the world, and creates perceptions of safety, belonging, and inclusion. It is, to Ulysses, the Lotus and the demise of Men. To Dostoyevsky’s Kolya Krassotkin, it leads to casuistry and prescribed truth, erroneous and inaccurate. It is a derivative of reality tuned entirely by assumptions and presumptions: “I like to watch such realistic scenes, Smurov,” said Kolya suddenly. “Have you noticed how dogs sniff at one another when they meet? It seems to be a law of their nature.” “Yes; it’s a funny habit.” “No, it’s not funny; you are wrong there. There’s nothing funny in nature, however funny it may seem to man with his prejudices.

Learning should begin with the authentic. In kind, observation should begin at the source; and, penetrating more deeply, it should seek to understand the mechanics, physics, history, grammar, syntax, and order of what is observed. All are critical to formulating reliable determinations of truth and reality. Who, or perhaps what, is best positioned to determine truth? The agents of discovery? The precedents set by those before them? And what indeed is the truth sought? And to add to these challenges, neither objective nor subjective analyses alone are enough to uncover truth. It is a combination of both that provides us with the soundest understandings, since what is ultimately true in human terms is a factor of both environmental and socio-cultural influences intertwined.

Seeking truth takes courage. It indeed can be perceived as a threat since it suggests potential undermining of pillars supporting status quo. In kind, finding it requires the courage to break from the common sense, to venture into darkness, to attempt to bring light to the raw and untamed unknown. To understand, truly, requires qualities that are loudly heralded but that are also, more than not, bridled within  our systems of Education—perseverance, courage, independence, dedication, creativity, insight, entrepreneurial spirit, critical thought.

What we consider to be reality is more than often based on gaps and inaccuracies in what we contend to understand. Hamlet laments this: “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Most of us live out our lives within worlds largely construed by and built upon the experiences of others. What we each claim to know is, to (perhaps very) limited degrees, authentic. What we believe to be true is, for the most part, an imperfect amalgam of things fed to us by ubiquitous media forms that impinge upon us at every waking moment, erroneous, uprooted, incomplete, biased, convenient, politically expedient, and decontextualized. Our understanding of the world is largely a reflection of things we are told and shown by external sources, and most assimilate that knowledge wholeheartedly, often without question or critique.

Our youth is spent in schools learning from spaces and from resources critically deficient in their capacities to provide us with authenticity of experience. There was likely never a time when this was not the case. However, modern education systems have seemingly diminished the importance of one entirely practical component of education that had survived centuries, if not millennia, when learning was tied more intrinsically to doing—to learn to farm one would farm, to become a builder one would build, to become a master meant to begin as an apprentice.

Indeed, it is precisely within all that surrounds us, and often within what we contend to know, that we find the unknown. That’s where the adventure of learning begins.

On a recent drive through Tokyo, we traveled west along ultra modern expressways and onto a smaller route that wound its way up, higher and higher, through a vast and lush verdant forest filled with cedar, maple, birch, wisteria, bamboo, and many other species of wild (perhaps once domesticated) trees, bushes, and plants. It rained, and the foliage gleamed with rainwater that coursed down leaves, stems, branches, the ground beneath, in rivulets, down hills, along roads, in gutters, into rising stream beds, into rivers, ponds, and lakes, and finally, presumably, to the ocean. The road twisted and turned higher and higher up the green hillsides, through tight valleys, along the narrow ridges, passing occasional solitary homes with roofs of red tiles or meter deep straw thatch. Surrounding these homes and nestled into these steep valley slopes were terraces of tea and rice plantations that hinted at the livelihoods of the inhabitants. The road continued along this magical path, higher and higher, to a narrow mountain pass an altitude that exceeded 1100 meters where alongside the road a family of a dozen or more monkeys casually groomed one another and paid us little attention as we passed.

Continuing our adventure through Tokyo, we dropped into an adjacent valley surrounded all the way by the same pattern of weather, geography, greenery, and habitation. We descended into a series of tight mountain gorges and the Okutama Lake system that fills them. The road winds along the banks of the multipronged lake, across the striking Mita, Miyama, and Minedani bridges, a series of silver, grey, and red arched and trestled structures, and provided us spectacular views of the surrounding hills and forests. In the center of the lake, perched on the highest point of a small peninsula, the Ogouchi Shrine overlooks the entire natural panorama. Enshrined within it is the guardian deity of capital water who watches over the massive reservoir critical to the lives of the unknowing millions only a few tens of kilometers away. Upon reaching the end of the lake, the road descends, past the Ogouchi Reservoir Dam, and into a valley where the Tama River flows eastward through forested and rocky gorges towards the Tokyo Bay. We passed by a mysterious grey tin-paneled ramshackle factory, the Okutama Industrial Hikawa Limestone Plant, surrounded by lush greenery rising from the river and up the side of the valley and reminiscent of an industrial age passed and purportedly the inspiration of the castle featured in the story of Hauru no Ugoku Shiro, a fantastical tale by Miyazaki Hayao.

Shortly thereafter, we veered sharply to the left up a much narrower old, unknown, untraveled, steep mountain road that soon became an overgrown dirt track. From there we began the hike up a narrowing mountain ravine, following its stream upwards. A few hundred meters further, the gravelly bed of the steep creek suddenly widened into a series of small diversions and manicured terraces walled in by larger boulders lining either side. At the topmost terrace we met David tending to his Wasabi plantation.

On this Tokyo experience, we learned from David that the Wasabi industry in the region is in a process of rejuvenation after decades of inactivity. Throughout the Edo Period to the few years following World War II it had thrived, but afterwards slowly declined. Many if not most of the region’s Wasabi plantations were abandoned, deteriorated, and, but for a few, died. Their revival in recent years was stimulated by a corresponding rebirth of local pride and passion to bring back to life what was once a defining characteristic of the region. Having chosen to call this mountainous region home, David became part of the fabric of the community, and within himself discovered the passion and aptitude for this horticultural cum cultural challenge. We continued our journey, with questions, with preconceptions, after having experienced a part of Tokyo we had no idea existed, nor likely would ever have, had we not, ourselves, for whatever reasons, been drawn to explore. Authentic learning had just begun, and it is against this backdrop precisely that the aforementioned and particular deficiency in Education can and must be assessed.

Understanding begins in experience, since through experience we confront things to which we could never otherwise be exposed. And through that discovery, and the grounded inspiration it provides, our attention is captured, we desire to understand, and as a consequence, we ask questions that, rising from context, are pertinent and grounded. As a result, we experience learning in its purest form.  We would never have been aware that Tokyo was not simply anything other than one of the world’s most densely populated ultra urban centers. We would never have known of the diversity of life, flora, and fauna that exists within its boundaries. We would never have been aware that wild monkeys are not only prolific in Tokyo, but beyond that live free in vast unpopulated and densely forested mountains. We would never have learned that the Wasabi industry had once thrived here, satisfying Tokyo’s own massive market need for that very product. We would never have learned that this industry died in part due to reforestation, in part due to the introduction of an alien and invasive species of tree that altered the natural conditions that originally allowed the industry to thrive, in part due to the emergence of massive commercial enterprise elsewhere. We would never have learned there is so much more to learn.

Traditional formal education is rarely contextualized. We learn through the study of academic subjects in their purest forms, we learn by studying theory, and we learn through stories about others told by others. We learn through detached (and inherently incomplete) simulations. We isolate elements of understanding believing that, independent from one another, they retain their validity. We learn math as math, writing as a mechanical and rule-based skill, chemistry in isolation, and biology as an independent stream of thought.  We learn computing as a language of code that enables the efficient manipulation of data. We learn how to draw birds and trees and faces and the human form. However, we are rarely provided the opportunity or the encouragement to learn these in the combinations that they naturally occur. In formal education we observe nature in isolated units extracted from their natural interconnectedness, and as a result are provided with what are perhaps an inaccurate, or entirely unlikely, portrayals of reality. We should all be as steadfast in our passion to seek truth as Kolya himself: “Learning impractical and disconnected skills [is] not ultimately meaningful. However, should you learn them, learn them well. And if you learn them, learn also their utility… or at least strive to find it…. In the first place I am capable of thinking for myself without being taught.”

Greg Culos
May 22, 2020

お花見🌸🌸🌸

Cherry blossom season brings with it one of Japan’s most cherished cultural and social activities called 花見, spoken as “hanami.”

花 “hana” means “flower” and 見 means “see,” or “look.” The combination is simply, “See (or look at) flowers.”

What this means to people in Japan is truly tied to their sense of being. It is a cultural activity as impactful as, perhaps, the celebration of Easter in Christian culture.

What happens during Hanami? Well, this year may not present the best climate for its most typical social manifestations.

Of the two most common defining activities of 花見 (and yes, you’ve just managed to read a bit of Japanese!), one involves shoulder to shoulder crowds wading through streets and along riverside paths looking up at clouds of blossoms above them, snapping pictures and selfies and nibbling on traditional festival foods.

The second and just as common activity involves groups of families, friends, or colleagues (or combinations of all three), sitting in small and large groups, tarp to tarp, drinking sodas, beer, and sake, laughing, joking, getting tipsy, and perhaps even singing karaoke in parks under spectacularly beautiful trees in full bloom.

2020 is sadly quiet in these respects for reasons we all know too well. But it is important to know that the defining feature of the season surrounds us all, even in the quietest corners.

This year, 花見 has taken on a very personal, private, and peaceful tone. Perhaps this is important too. After all, beauty is something we should sometimes, perhaps, pause to appreciate, quietly & reflectively.

At least, that’s what my dog Choco seems to tell me on our long walks through our strangely silent neighborhoods.

The Butterfly Effect

We are heartbroken by the impact of the Corona virus and it’s unbelievably sad and difficult consequences impacting all of us, at all levels, all around the world.

Meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, once reflected: “One flap of a sea gull’s wings [is] enough to alter the course of the weather forever.”

One of his colleagues took off on that and asked: “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”

It seems so, and maybe more clearly than ever before for most of us.

Each of us plays a critical role in the challenge we all face. What each of us chooses to do will impact the future for everyone everywhere.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Be sea gulls (…or butterflys) in ways that matter.

Design Thinking & The Monster in our Closets

We are in the midst of an event of historical proportion and precedent. We are caught in a moment where our collective belief in a nascent right to determine our own wants, needs, futures, and fates is colliding with a force of unknown magnitude threatening that belief to its core.

There is a monster in our closets, a demon under our beds, and we are frozen in the paralysis of unreasonable fear that it will strip us of all we hold dear.

Now, more than ever, we must do exactly those things we as a species contend we do so well: think, analyze, reason, and behave in ways that are consistent with what we do know and are able to surmise as a result. 

Design Thinking

The solutions to our problems should come from clear and grounded understandings of ourselves, our social interdependencies, our environments, and the particular characteristics of the challenges we face. Reacting solely to symptoms and consequences may be instinctive, and perhaps even temporarily effective. However, that kind of reactivity is, superficial and reflexive. It is often colored by fear and the desire to escape. It does not deepen our understanding of the nature of the challenges themselves.

“Some years ago…a truck driver tried to pass under a low bridge. But he failed, and the truck was lodged firmly under the bridge…..

…it caused massive traffic problems…emergency personnel, engineers, firefighters and truck drivers gather[ed] to devise and negotiate various solutions….

A boy…said…, “Why not just let the air out of the tires?”

When the solution was tested, the truck was able to drive free with ease…. The story symbolizes the struggles we face where oftentimes the most obvious solutions are the ones hardest to come by because of the self-imposed constraints we work within.”

Source:

https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/what-is-design-thinking-and-why-is-it-so-popular

#designthinking #innovativethinking #innovativeideas

Olympic Minds Change the World || オリンピック・スピリッツが世界を変える

English follows…

2019年Crossサマーアカデミーのテーマは「オープンマインドが世界を変える」でした。

私たちは全員で力を合わせ、とても大切な1つの目標を達成しました。どこ出身であろうと、出会いに感謝し同じ時間を全力で楽しむことで全員が成長できることを示したのです。そして一人では決して成し遂げられないことを達成することができました。私たちは人類という1つの観点から見れば、この世界に国境はないことを示しました。

昨年のアカデミーでは、アポロ月面着陸50周年記念、テクノロジーアートとデザインの創造的可能性、わさび栽培への情熱、カルスト地理の探求など、オープンマインドな好奇心を養いました。

2020年は少しテーマを変え、世界でも最大のコミュニティの1つであるオリンピックに関わる内容となります。ずばり今年のテーマは「オリンピック・スピリッツが世界を変える」です。スポーツ、エンジニアリング、芸術、探検などにおける、誰もが秘めるオリンピックの可能性を引き出すことがの今年のテーマとなっています。

昨年のCrossサマーアカデミーの参加者は、モロッコ、フランス、ジョージア、アメリカ、スリランカ、カナダ、フィリピン、ロシア、台湾、イギリス、ドイツ、アイルランド、日本、中国、韓国など世界中から集まりました。

2020年Crossサマーアカデミーは、さらに多様な体験になることを約束します。自分たちの手でで作り上げたこの世界を一緒に創造することを楽しみにしています!

もっと詳しく知る

*********************

In 2019, the theme of the Cross Summer Academy was “Open Minds Change the World.”

Together, we accomplished one very important goal: we demonstrated that no matter where we are from, when we come together to celebrate life, we all grow. We accomplish things that would otherwise be impossible. We demonstrated that, in human terms, our world is borderless.

Throughout the Academy we celebrated the openness of discovery: the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing, the creative potential in technology art and design, the passion of Wasabi cultivation, the exploration of Karst geography, and much more.

In 2020 our theme shifts slightly to recognize one of the worlds most symbolic gestures of community: the Olympics. Our theme, as a consequence, is “Olympic Minds Change the World.” We recognize this by recognizing the Olympic potential in all of us, in sport, engineering, art, exploration, and more.

In 2019 the Cross Summer Academy welcomed people from all parts of the world: Morocco, France, Georgia, the USA, Sri Lanka, Canada, the Philippines, Russia, Taiwan, England, Germany, Ireland, Japan, China, and Korea.

The 2020 Cross Summer Academy is going to be an even more diverse experience. Together, we look forward to defining the kind of world we choose to live in.

Learn more…

お子様のインターナショナルな環境へ。

お子様の英語習得のため海外留学をお考えですか?インターナショナルスクールの教育をお考えですか?日本にちょうど帰国してお子様の英語力を保ちインターナショナルな環境に身を置いてほしいとお考えですか?これらのどれか一つでも当てはまる方、まさにCrossサマーアカデミーがぴったりです!

お子様を英語漬けのインターナショナルな環境におきましょう。お子様が英語を学び、世界中の子どもたちと一緒にワクワクするような学習目標を達成すること、そしてインターナショナルコミュニティに加わるための自信をつけるサポートをしてあげましょう!

詳細はこちらをクリック…

Put your child in a total English and International environment.

Are you considering sending your child overseas to learn English? Are you thinking about International School Education? Are you just returning to Japan and hope to maintain your children’s English and International exposure? If you respond “Yes!” To any one of these, then the Cross Summer Academy is for you! 

Put your child in a total English and International environment. Let them work in English, to accomplish exciting learning objectives with kids and teens from around the world. Help them gain the confidence to become part of the international community!

Click here to learn more…

A Question for Robert Frost

If life is ultimately dependent on the choices we make, then Education should focus on the skills we require and understandings we need in order to make them wisely.  In his poem, “The Road not Taken,” Robert Frost offers suggestions, and I have questions…

Dear Mr. Frost, I know all about your choice of the road less travelled, the grassier one. The one that wanted wear. But I wonder. In our lives, while we tend look ahead at impending decisions, we seldom arrive at those junctures with comfort or certainty or the emotional security of knowing or understanding the consequences of the choices we must make. To do so would require a modicum of prescience. 

When the road splits, we choose one. What I dearly want to understand is not just the merit of a road less travelled, but how to even recognize the fact that it is! Whether I move in one or the other direction, how can I not be left ultimately with a “What if?” and with that, unrequited experience.

You see, those forks in the road, past, present, and future, have all at some point been in the future. To understand which are travelled less than others, to know which make more sense than the alternatives, to determine which are better, is, at any pending juncture, intimidating. Though the actions best taken may well be suggested by the paths that lead to forks, the implications and inexorable consequences of the choices to be made remain, for the most part, unknowable. Consequentially, the propositions are daunting.

I know! Some say, “Of course, everything suggests you turn right.” Others arrive at the completely opposite conclusion. Ultimately, Interpretation is the nearest thing we have to prescience. The interpretations that ultimately guide us to one path over another present us with perhaps the most unsettling of human experiences. Risk, the fear of loss, the unknown.

Carpe Diem! they say. We are told to celebrate risk. Challenge ourselves. Carve our own paths through life. Go where no (hu)man has gone before. These are all noble. Admirable. And yet, every decision we make leads us in a direction rife with unknowables. Each time we decide, new consequences emerge, not only for ourselves, but also for those who have been parts of our journeys to each point of divergence. 

And then there are those things that are born of events and relationships during our travels along the paths we’ve already chosen. As a simple consequence of being, haven’t they also their own rights to exist. What of them? If each decision we make marks the demise of things that may have otherwise been, then each decision we make also becomes an act of sacrifice. 

So how should we proceed? How do we move ahead? They say life is full of compromise. Every choice we make leads us in one direction over all possible others, the sum total of which become entire lifetimes unrealized. Roads less travelled? I would venture a parallel characterization: lifetimes lost.

The choices we make carry with them the weight and responsibility of sacrifices made and possibilities abandoned. As a consequence, each choice, every road, every sacrifice comes with it a promise and a responsibility to ensure it was the right one. “Life is like pain dipped in honey.” This is a line from another poem I did not fully grasp in my youth. Now, Mr. Frost, framed by the roads I have taken and sacrifices I have made, I think I do. 

What if? 

Indeed.

The most comfort in conclusion I can reach is one, driven by compromise, and perhaps, importantly, the respect owed to the sacrifices I have myself made: maybe those sacrifices are, in reflection, our best guides, to help us learn, to teach us how to make the best of the choices we do make. We owe them our dedication, effort, open minds, passion, love, and inspiration. 

Perhaps, with that, our paths will lead us to new achievements and greater satisfaction. We may also discover ways to resume, in our journeys through life, paths we considered lost forever. 

Greg Culos

Cross Education Opens Okutama Region to International Education for Japanese Youth and Students from Around the World!

For one special week, from August 12th to August 16th, Cross Education will move the base of its Summer Academy operation to the OKUTAMA+Old Furusato Junior High School facility at 594 Kawai town site. There, for one entire week, the Summer Academy will engage in the Cross-Okutama International Obon Outdoor Camp experience. In an effort to bring sustainable international education opportunities to the residents of Okutama. Cross Education intends to grow this program annually, inviting more participants each year from Japan and countries from around the world. This year the Academy is hosting kids from Japan, Russia, Canada, the US, Finland, Australia, Morocco, France, Georgia, Taiwan, and beyond, and we look forward to sharing the experience with the kids and teens of the Okutama region. Cross programs tie in local, regional, and globally relevant applied learning opportunities that highlight culture, society, arts, technology, environment, and internationalism. We look forward to those using the things that are important to the people of the Okutama region in order to help kids and teens to learn more about each other, and the wider world around them. We believe this, in partnership with the community residents, businesses, schools, and municipal authorities, can grow into a local highlight and a strong example of regional internationalism.

Cross Education was established in 2018 to build international education in Japan in a new and exciting way, and to bring an exciting new learning opportunities to Japan for bot local and inbound international students. The President of Cross Education, Greg Culos, spent the majority of his career in Canada bringing students to Canada to participate in globally relevant education opportunities. When he returned to Japan in 2012, he discovered that international education in Japan was almost entirely dedicated to international families who already lived in Japan. He discovered, to his amazement, that Japan had almost no culture of inbound youth student mobility for programs of international relevance.

So, the mission of Cross Education is to be the vehicle to accomplish that goal.

The directors of Cross education, through their efforts to reach out to international student sources from around the world, have discovered there is a massive amount of interest in this regard. Students from all corners of the planet see Japan as an exciting destination for international studies, and a unique option from the traditional centers around the world. And Cross has set out to do what few to none have made efforts to accomplish: to create the systems required for students to access not only programs of relevance, but also the services they require to come to Japan as students. In its first year, Cross Education has established means for students to select programs of interest, provide accommodations and services, and begin growing, internationally, a culture of inbound students coming to this country to participate in applied learning opportunities, in English, in the arts, sciences, technology, engineering, fine arts, outdoors, language, culture and more. What is an entirely unique approach to international programs in other parts of the world, Cross programs are equally relevant to inbound international students, resident international students, and local Japanese students.

Cross programs are a where the youth of the world can truly meet to learn things that are relevant anywhere.

Cross has the full and collaborative support and partnership of Showa Women’s University, the municipal government of Mine City in Yamaguchi Prefecture, the UNESCO Chair on Global Education, and Okutama+ Community Building and Tech Incubation Center in the Okutama region of Tokyo. Cross Education is not only proceeding along its path towards its goal, but also achieving one further of its objectives: to open the regional centers of Japan to participate in the growth of its brand of international education opportunities. In this way, Cross Education is in fact pursuing the goal of helping revitalize regional Japan with an exciting proposition to both local inhabitants and the international community as a whole.

The Cross Education International Summer Academy, in particular, based mostly from the Showa Women’s University campus, has dedicated two of its seven Academy weeks to two regional locations.

The 1st Annual Akiyoshidai Youth Summit

From August 26th to 30th, the entire Academy will be relocated to Mine City in Yamaguchi Prefecture where they will include the local community in their activities, and execute what will be the 1st Annual Akiyoshidai Youth Summit. This is intended to be the first year of an event that will grow across the upcoming years, becoming a signature locus of International education for the region that hopefully will act as a catalyst for further international education industry growth in the region. This project, where youth from around the world will gather to work together on globally relevant issues, is fully supported by the City of Mine, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and the UNESCO Chair on Global Education.

Obon Week Okutama Outdoor Camp

In the same spirit of regional revitalization and the determination to grow inbound youth international education opportunities, Cross Education, with the collaborative support of Okutama+ Community Building and Tech Incubation Center, Cross Education will transport its the entire Academy population to the community of Okutama, in the foothills of the Japanese Alps, to experience a week of international education and learning inspired by all of the social cultural assets that the region offers. The goal is, as in Akiyoshidai, to open up new opportunities for people from around the world, and locally within the communities of the surrounding region. Among the activities planned for this week is an International Summer Festival where the local community can participate with the international participants in a festival celebrating both local and international cultures.

For more information, call us, or contact us at basecamp@cross.education.

Waves, Particles, Cats, and Captain Kirk: the Quantum Impact on Social Thought in Education

An interesting phenomenon occurs when you examine the behavior of light at the microscopic level. Depending on the kind of test you use to observe its behavior as light passes from point A to point B, it is, at the same time, both waveform and particle form. Without getting into what exactly that means, since you can, I suppose, simply Google it, this “wave-particle duality” is central to the field (notion?) of quantum mechanics. I would also venture it is central to, at least correlated with, and perhaps even somehow responsible for the world’s current socio-digital zeitgeist, especially when it comes to the sanctity (or lack thereof) of notions of sequence, order, and predictability in time and space.

Source

Culos, Greg, Waves, Particles, Cats, and Captain Kirk: The Quantum Impact on Social Thought in Education, Values and Meanings, Scientific Foreign Countries (НАУЧНОЕ ЗАРУБЕЖЬЕ, Ценности и смыслы), 2019, No 3 (61), pp. 138~155.

This essay is an expression of thoughts and concerns towards current trends in education. It expands upon a particular correlation between current scientific theory, advances in technology, and how their combination has, in recent decades affected both social thought and education theory and practice.

Statement on the Future of Education

For the UNESCO Chair on Global Education at the Institute for Strategy of Education Development of the Russian Academy of Education

I’ve come to a realization. Effective education is simply, and exactly, this:

To encourage and inspire people to communicate well; and through this process, enable them to develop their inner selves and their potential as it relates to both their success and that of their communities.

What we learn is not inconsequential, but to presume we can teach someone, anyone, to be good at anything in particular, is, I believe, misguided. People take themselves on those journeys and end up in places that are entirely of their own discovery, making, and determination. We can guide, suggest. Put coals on fire, and stoke it; but the direction the flames take, should there even be any, has nothing at all to do with us. We can stand by, watch, and, perhaps, become inspired ourselves by witnessing the potential people have within themselves. Our role, as teachers, is quite straightforward: to stoke the inspiration that will take people on journeys of their own determination.

This realization rests at the core of this, my little exploration into the future of education. It’s a simple idea, not reliant on technologies or trends or modes of pedagogical thought that are, on many occasions, flavours of the day. Indeed, it’s an idea that I believe has never changed. While the tools, science, social systems, modes of thought, and resources that surround us today most certainly have evolved, we are ultimately the same vulnerable, sentient beings that have existed for millennia. We share the same capacities, strengths, limitations, needs, desires, hopes, and dreams as our distant ancestors who learned to control fire itself (something, incidentally, we’ve yet to perfect). We learn what is relevant and necessary for survival determined by the environments within which we live. Beyond that, we learn best those things that catch our interest and inspire us to delve more deeply. We learn best in an effort to define who we are, to ourselves, to others, in ways we hope to be perceived, and in ways we yearn to be able to interact within our communities.

The future of education, I believe, is no different than the past of education. While trends in education will continue to come and go, trends are derivatives of a whole; they tend to be particular aspects, qualities, approaches, activities, and philosophies elevated to lofty cultish heights. The truth is, when separated and formalized into “new approaches to learning,” they lose both essence and effectiveness. Without delving too much into current trends and directions in educational thought, theory, and application, safe it to say that much emphasis is currently placed on the notion that our level of technological prowess enables approaches to learning that are somehow superior to “traditional approaches.” Here, and pointedly, I disagree. First, the notion of a traditional approach to education is a vague one that tends to fall apart with closer inspection. And second, while our current state of technological prowess enables us so much further than humans have ever been enabled in the past, those technologies are not capable in themselves to improve how and why we learn.

So, what, in my mind, is the future of education. This is where I return to my opening words. The future of effective education lies in what effective education has always been: “To encourage and inspire people to communicate well; and through this process, enable them to develop their inner selves and their potential as it relates to both their success and that of their communities.

How do we proceed? We forge communities of learning, something that has always been core to effective learning. We create reasons for people to be together that hinge on shared challenges. While our social and environmental surroundings define basic levels of understanding that we share and require to participate and survive within them, we then and together discover how each of us carries some particular solution to the larger questions we face as a whole. There is a place for learning skills we apply in unison. And there is a place for our individual strengths to benefit those communal needs. While society requires us to work in teams, in synchrony, according to requirements that apply equally to each of us, it also gains from individual understandings and approaches that can and do improve the ability of the community to improve how it behaves as a whole.

We all must learn to read, write, sing, count, and strategize. Beyond that, we all should be enabled by and engaged in the breadth and depth of the tools and capabilities now available to us: incredible technologies, fantastic mobility, and seemingly instantaneous access to information, anywhere, and anytime. Human society has changed dramatically in the preceding three decades. We live in a world that I believe is experiencing a schism of a magnitude never before seen. On one side we have the political orders, isolated communities corralled by power structures and defined by invisible and arbitrary boundaries determined (more than we’d like to admit) through oppression within and beyond those boundaries. On the other side we have an entire world of people all sharing the same needs, hopes, desires, and goals: to live, love, succeed, survive, and to feel included in community.

As a direct consequence of our incredible technologies, fantastic mobility, and seemingly instantaneous access to information, traditional borders are rendered meaningless. Power structures of the past should remain there. I have spent my professional career in education, and in particular international education. And through my three decades in this field, I have concluded this: technology has brought together people from around the world in different locations for different purposes and to accomplish goals that are relevant to all of us. Each of us today belongs to social circles where colleagues, mentors, friends, teachers, mothers, fathers, relatives, brothers and sisters were, only a half century ago, bifurcated as allies or enemies. For the most part, we were led to believe that “they” were not “us.” The fact is, what we have discovered in recent decades, is, indeed, exactly the opposite. The past 30 years has provided all of us an emancipation of thought and being that changes everything… except for how we learn. That remains the same, and rests at the core of our future together.

Our incredible technologies, fantastic mobility, and seemingly instantaneous access to information will only improve, and dramatically so. As a global society we will continue to use those tools and technologies to bring us closer together in greater diversity to face challenges of survival and social improvement that will benefit all of us. We will continue to require education in fundamental skills and awareness. At the same time, the opportunities available to each of us as a consequence of our own unique talents and dispositions will increase exponentially as well, and as a direct result of the exponential increase in the kinds of communities we are now capable of creating.

Greg Culos,

Tokyo, June 7, 2019