From time to time I get emails from the MacArthur Foundation, the folks behind the genius grants. I have no idea why, but I’m not going to question them – it’s sort of nice to be asked your opinion by such a reputable place.
The last one I got asked for my input on “an issue coming over the horizon in the intermediate term where a modest investment by the MacArthur Foundation might make a substantial difference in the future…. the object of this exploration is to identify opportunities for philanthropy currently at the margin or edge…even if the optimal path of action is not certain…. focusing on those challenges where an early investment of philanthropic resources could be instrumental in mitigating negative effects or magnifying benefits for society in the future.”
Here’s what I came up with. If you all have modifications, input, criticisms, why, I’ll pass them right along. (They asked for up to six pages, which terrified me, hence the throat clearing in the first graf….)
While I’d love to write pages on the subject, in all honesty I fear my current work schedule would only insure that I failed to respond in anything like a timely matter.
And in any case, there is one simple idea that I bring up over and over again, as the core to what I believe can affect positive change in our culture, and seems severely overlooked. That it relates to my area of expertise is certainly no coincidence.
The idea is this: we suffer – in the US, certainly, and I imagine abroad as well – from a significant lack of what I might call 21st century literacy. By this I do not mean technological literacy, though that is certainly part of it. Instead, what I find seems to be missing, and in fact, is in serious retreat at least in our public schools, is what we often call “critical thinking” – the ability to look at all the available facts and, based on reason and a sense of fairness, determine a best course of action.
Our schools are instead focused on a testing regime which requires that students focus not on solving problems or determining best courses of action, but rather regurgitating answers. But as many wiser than I have noted through the course of history, the most creative act a human can engage in is not repeating an answer, it is forming a good question.
In an age where the knowledge of humankind is increasingly at our fingertips through the services of Internet search, we must teach our children critical thinking. One can never have all the answers, but if prepared, one can always ask the right question, and from that creative act, learn to find his or her own answer.
Instead, we have leaders that believe that questions have one answer, and they already know what it is. Their mission, then, is to evangelize that answer. That, to me, is a dangerous course. Reversing it by teaching our children to learn, rather than to answer, seems to me to be a noble cause.
I then later added:
Developing a framework in our schools for “search literacy” – how to use and think about using a search engine – might be just the kind of thing you could do with a modest investment….