Leonard C. Burrello
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- It is becoming increasingly clear that income inequality is a pervasive and growing issue across the nation.
- This issue, paired with ever-shrinking opportunities (the average college tuition rate is now $524 per credit), is keeping America’s young people dependent upon their parents’ support for longer and longer.
- Legislative efforts to reduce the role of government in policing marketplace excesses began in the 1980s and continue today. Meanwhile, economic growth has slowed to a rate of 2% (or less!) per year.
According to noted economist and Columbia professor Joseph Stiglitz, standards of living increased from the 1800s onwards as a consequence of:
- The advent of science and the subsequent expansion of our understanding of nature and how to increase productivity.
- The development of social organizations that followed the established rule of law, thus allowing for the creation and evolution of democratic institutions with checks and balances.
The key to both science and democracy lies with a society’s ability to both assess and verify truth. In other words, success lies with the establishment of agreed-upon facts; as Daniel Moyihan points out, each of us is entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts.
However, America is becoming increasingly fragmented, and that fragmentation is driven, at least partially, by the regularity with which Americans disagree about basic, previously set-in-stone facts. Moyihan argues that the secure establishment of fact derives from economic stability, from the state successfully managing to make markets serve society—rather than the other way around. The state needs to allow for competition without allowing for abuse and exploitation; it needs to align the goals and incentives of corporations with the workers they employ and the customers they serve. This, in turn, ensures the prosperity of the broader American populace, ensuring that society then benefits from any nation’s true source of wealth: the creativity and innovative designs and skillsets of its people.
As educators, then, our challenge is to teach students to inquire, to search for novel solutions to our nation’s problems. We need to prepare our youngest generations and all future generations for the future; we need to give them the skills and abilities they will need to complete their “new work.” For times change, and the work that society at large needs to accomplish to keep the nation afloat changes, too.
Our work begins with teaching our students to analyze, to reason, and to apply their skills and knowledge to whatever contexts and issues they might face in the classroom, at home, or in the community, nation, or world at large. This process is largely a social one, one that requires our students to engage others in dialogue and debate. Debate then leads to synthesis, to a collaboratively designed solution to the given problem. To give our students the abilities necessary to think and analyze at such a high level, we need a curriculum founded on skepticism, critical thinking, and problematization.
One of the best ways to craft such a curriculum is to center it around a project-based learning model, a model that requires students to think about real community and national issues instead of about abstractions. After all, in order to truly personalize learning, we must first find a way to motivate students to engage with the material—and with the world around them. For learning does not occur in a vacuum. Teachers need to bring challenging issues into the classroom because students can relate to those issues, can attach themselves to these real-life stakes and to the skillsets required to solve them.
We have some examples of these project-based learning models share. Vertigo, our forthcoming book, will also contain information on and strategies for building personalized learning models; stay tuned for updates on the book’s publication date.