January Musings: Habits of Mind for the Future

“Allow for the possibility that the best stuff is still ahead of you, waiting to reveal itself. Prepare the way, bit by bit.” -Lin-Manuel Miranda

The habits of mind common to January is best embodied in the figure of its namesake, Janus, the two-headed figure of classical renown. One gaze is oriented to the past, reflecting on what has come before, and the other is turned toward the future, poised for what is to come. January is reflection and anticipation.

This January 2020 lands us in the midst of the unfolding Fourth Industrial Revolution; and the ecological concerns of our globe, the increasing inequities within our human communities, and the erosion of our democratic norms all weigh heavy upon us. In the face of such threats, pessimism and worry are our sometimes (unhelpful) companions.

In this unsettling time, I find myself buoyed by the promise of possibility, and the way that children embody this hopeful stance. I also find wisdom and comfort from the words of  progressive educators from the last industrial revolution, who radically argued that school was no longer needed to educate for a trade – industry was changing way too quickly for that. Rather, schools were best when they educated children for adaptability, for dynamic and lifelong, rather than static and time-bound learning.

As I think about the habits of mind our children will need in order to thrive, there are key habits that have been normalized during their childhood and education at Baker:

1. The ability to learn, change and adapt throughout the human lifespan – The Fourth Industrial Revolution and its interaction with other demographic forces is drastically accelerating change and disruption in all labor markets. Even the World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs Report concludes their most recent report with the imperative for “agile lifelong learning”.

When a child grows up in a school like Baker, which actively cultivates their love of learning, they, rather than a rote curriculum, are central. When a child’s unique gifts and talents are seen and treasured within a school community, children do not lose this vital part of who they are – their love of learning. When a middle schooler can sit solo in the lunchroom  to finish a book they love, without fear of ill treatment, then they are growing up in a culture that honors a love of learning.

2. The ability to connect with others – In Thomas Friedman’s book, Thank You for Being Late, he forecasts that the highest-paying jobs of the future will be stempathy jobs, jobs that combine science, technology and the ability to empathize with another human being. Emotional intelligence, coined by Daniel Goleman in his book of the same name, can help humans, young and old, navigate the more isolating parts of our tech savvy lives and industries. Additionally, there is a growing body of research which points to the successes of diverse teams that require a team member’s ability to empathize and connect across cultural, racial, and socio-economic divides.

When children’s emotional intelligence is cultivated intentionally, when their teachers actively support their ability to voice their ideas, listen to others, empathize, propose new solutions, compromise, and resolve conflicts, they have a framework that will continue to guide them as they engage in increasingly complex environments.

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3. The ability to think in creative and critical ways – Essential to the changing lists of skills in demand in the Future of Jobs Report (World Economic Forum), these habits of mind are fostered in classrooms where a lot of questions are asked by teacher and student alike, in classrooms where the goal of the work is authentic, rather than a worksheet to be hung on a refrigerator.

I was reading aloud a passage from The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, Dan Egan’s incredible text documenting ecological change in this watershed, to my middle school daughter and her interest – and the interest of those her age – in the issues Egan writes about – gives me great hope. The bright future of this incredible watershed requires a combination of scientific, analytic, and ethical thinking in order to steward this resource in a vulnerable time.

The stakes are high this January. Climate change, democratic reform, and industry-wide disruptions loom large. These issues require a generation of smart, savvy, ethical leaders across industries and governments. There is no greater preparation for this work than a school environment that fosters a child’s love of learning, nurtures their ability to think in creative and critical ways, and supports the development of their emotional and relational lives.