Well it’s the first warm day of March, and most people here are outside, climbing trees and rolling in the mud, building sandcastles and playing street hockey. I just played a game a student created called, “Sharktooth.” I lost. I was also, for a time, the overburdened father of two very demanding young girls, busily making dinners to order (why do I let them get away with that?!) while attempting to regulate their screen-time (the “screen” was a slab of bluestone) and mediate their conflicts (you’d have to be a saint to do this well, I assured myself). I had to quit that game after less than an hour. People sometimes complain about “kids these days” preferring the virtual world to the outdoors, but I don’t think it’s true; when all the obstacles - obstacles that adults have created - are removed, they go outside. A lot, and really in all weather, not only when it’s nice. But the spirit today is more celebratory than usual.
So what else do “kids these days” do when the typical yoke of post-industrial childhood is lifted? Well, it’s always different - freedom tends to variety - but I’ll tell you some of what I’ve seen today. This morning in the office a student came bursting in explain to anyone who would listen that she had, unexpectedly, been moved to undertake the writing of a memoir; her friends had encouraged her, expressing fascination with her life. She said she was surprised, because all of a sudden, filed with purpose, she felt she was a writer, and what’s more, she was getting some clarity about certain elements of her life. There was another student in the office sharing the news of the impending birth of her brother, talking excitedly about her hopes. Later, in the kitchen, there was a group of girls making and sharing lunch. I was on tapping away on my screen (work-related, ok?) and they told me to put it away and “go outside,” so I did, deciding that was probably a good idea. On my way out the front door I passed a teenager leading a crying six-year-old with a barely-scraped knee to the nurse’s office. “He doesn’t need medical attention,” I said with the cold, calculating logic of a robot. The older student rolled his eyes and whispered, “It’ll make him feel better, Matthew.” Right. I went outside and walked over to the stage. There was a group of 8-11 year-old boys crowded around a tire swing, taking turns winding it up as far as they could and riding out the spin. It was going crazy fast. But some guys didn’t want it wound too far so they wouldn’t go too fast, and at first there were mutterings about “backing out,” that sort of thing, until the most adventurous guy out there, yelled, “Hey! Everyone responds to G-Forces differently! No one should be pressured to experience more “G’s” than they want!” and that fixed ‘em. Meanwhile, there was one student sort of prowling around looking for people to mess with. Everywhere he went he was leaving howling kids in his wake, “leave us alone!!!” I was about to talk to the guy to see what was up when one of our oldest students came striding out of the building and right up to him and said, “what’s up?” I’ll have lunch, I thought.
So, our students are taking care of each other, putting their ideas into practice, getting into and out of quarrels, and having fun together, but what’s the point - what are they preparing for (assuming a school is at least on one level a place of preparation)? They’re preparing for the new economy of the Creative Age.
As Thomas Friedman points out inthis pithy piece in the New York Times,
Software has started writing poetry, sports stories and business news. IBM’s Watson is co-writing pop hits. Uber has begun deploying self-driving taxis on real city streets and, last month, Amazon delivered its first package by drone to a customer in rural England.
The robots are here, folks. Already, not only manual labor is being mechanized, but mental labor as well. Even AI Dr's which have all the medical knowledge ever created at their fingertips (“buttontips?”) may not be too far off. Friedman goes on:
In short: If machines can compete with people in thinking, what makes us humans unique? And what will enable us to continue to create social and economic value? The answer, said Seidman [author of the book How: Why How we do Anything Means Everything] is the one thing machines will never have:“a heart.”
Therefore, Seidman added, our highest self-conception needs to be redefined from “I think, therefore I am” to “I care, therefore I am; I hope, therefore I am; I imagine, therefore I am. I am ethical, therefore I am. I have a purpose, therefore I am. I pause and reflect, therefore I am.”
Our economy has moved from “jobs of the hands” to “jobs of the head,” and we’re on our way to “jobs of the heart.” Our students are free to study or engage whatever sets of knowledge and skills they want to, and the school does not privilege or value any one above the any other, but whatever choices they make, they’re learning their own hearts. They may roll in real mud and climb real trees - or maybe not - but everyone here ends up rolling in the mud of life, and climbing the trees of emotion. They learn to navigate the forest. It can be messy, like birth and death and family and culture and- well, you get the point. But our students learn to make a life, and, in the rapidly advancing future, that means a living, too.