Experts say our future voters need three things:
The ability to cope with massive amounts of information, effectiveness at global communications, and self-direction of their own learning and organization. Yup, issues and information are evolving at exponential rates. Which makes the job of citizenship and voting pretty important—because we’re all candidates for change.
by Todd R. Nelson
Regular to the Gazette
October 1, 2008
Whoever wins the election in November will be the incumbent president when the members of my Adams School Class of 2009 vote in their first presidential election: the year 2012. For my entering 8th graders, this is an auspicious election, though it may not yet be clear to them how auspicious. Proto-voters can’t always discern what future value their democratic rights and responsibilities will have.
Who will they be voting for? More importantly, What will they be voting for? They’ll be watching closely—but not necessarily through the customary media outlets.
This is the YouTube/Google generation, after all… and even the candidates of another generation have MySpace pages. My students can rapidly collect standings, issue statements, spin and news, and the text of candidate speeches and news conferences. But do they want to? Not when politics seems so old school.
There is a subtext to election issues. Yes, the war in Iraq, the economy, illegal immigration, global warming, and health care are all hot button topics. But students who are starting to think about voting for president in four years must also have their eye on how the world will have changed in four years. In some respects, this is like preparing the Mindset list for the college class of 2016: What will our 8th grade, college freshmen-to-be know, and not know, when they commence their post-secondary lives? When they vote for a president for the first time?
There’s an overlap between present and future concerns. Most students echo this thought: “The Iraq war is definitely important to my future—also, if we decide to have a war in Iran,” says one. Even the candidacy of a woman and an African American does not seem terribly remarkable to them, as it does to my generation.
In social studies class during last year’s primaries we looked at some startling statistics and wondered which of the presidential candidates is thinking about them? Which of the current hot button issues will be affected or replaced by these even hotter numbers and trends? Do any of them show up in the debates or political polling as areas of concern? Are they on the pundit radar? Do candidates of change consider the exponential nature of the changes predicted? Against the recent Olympic games, and the saturation of China coverage, some of these are startling.
In 2006 there were 1.3 million college graduates in the U.S., 3.1 million in India (all of whom speak English), and 3.3 million in China. How many will there be in 2012? In 2016? In 2016, the number one English speaking country will be China. How about their 17 million blogs—35% of all their Internet users? “If you’re one in a million in China, there are 1,300 people just like you!” A teacher in Beijing makes $454 a month, a nurse $260. They have more honors students than we have students, and more cell phones than we have people: 301 million. The U.S. is seventh in global network readiness. Denmark is better “wired” than we are.
Here’s some more future shock: According to the US Department of Labor, 1 in 4 workers have been with their current employer for less than one year; 1 in 2 less than five years. Today’s learners will have 10-14 jobs by their 38th birthday. Many of the college majors for these workers didn’t exist 10 years ago. In 10 years, when the class of 2016 is entering the work force, what will they be working on? According to former Secretary of Education Richard Riley, the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004—i.e. we’re preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, with technologies yet to be invented, to solve problems that aren’t yet problems. In 2010 accessible online data is expected to approach a Yottabyte, or 1 trillion terabytes.
One day’s New York Times contains more information than a person in the 18th century would encounter in a lifetime. Each day, 1,400 books are published. New technical information doubles every two years—by 2010, every 72 hours. YouTube serves 100 million videos per day. Last year it served 2.5 billion videos to nearly 20 million unique visitors. Do you know what YouTube is? Were you a unique visitor?
Seventy percent of U.S. four-year-olds have used a computer. It took radio 38 years to reach a market audience of 50 million; television: 13 years; computers: 4 years. What’s next? The number of Internet devices in 1984 was 1,000; in 1992 it was 1,000,000; in 2006: 600, 000,000. The first text message as sent in 1991; today, the number exceeds the population of the planet—daily. One out of eight couples married in the US in 2005 met on the internet.*
What should my social studies curriculum be in this new school/election year? Experts say our future voters need three things: The ability to cope with massive amounts of information, effectiveness at global communications, and self-direction of their own learning and organization. Yup, issues and information are evolving at exponential rates. Which makes the job of citizenship and voting pretty important—because we’re all candidates for change.
Todd R. Nelson has been a public and private school English teacher and administrator for 29 years, in schools in Cambridge, San Francisco, Chicago and Maine. He is principal at the Adams School in Castine, Maine, a 54 student K-8 school on the town common in a little town on the coast, where he gets to play four-square at recess, play his bagpipes, and write musicals for the all-school play.