The one good result for this morning is this: It. Is. Over.
We know better (though not completely) what we face. The shock will wear off. The disequilibrium will subside.
For me, it’s not anger. I understand why this happened.
For me, it’s fear. Usually, that’s a reaction to uncertainty. This morning, it’s the opposite. I am so very certain that the longer term prospects for both our nation and our world are worse today than they were yesterday. And I’m also certain that the causes of last night’s result are impossible to ameliorate in the short time frame in which they need to be addressed. Progress on the issues that so urgently confront us has been set back decades.
As it happens, in the wee hours this morning, bleary-eyed and unable to sleep, I came across this interesting snip from a book titled Education and the Making of a Democratic People. It’s a collection of essays released in 2008, edited by John Goodland and others. This excerpt comes from Alan Wood’s essay “What is Renewal? Why Now?” Eight years later, it speaks volumes about last night:
The rise of the United States to global preeminence began in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. The Industrial Revolution, with had propelled Europe to world dominance between the 1830s and 1890s, crossed the Atlantic and transformed the American economy from an agricultural powerhouse into an industrial one. That same Industrial Revolution has now crossed the Pacific to China and India. The canter of the world economy and global power is shifting back to Asia, where it in fact resided for most of human history (even as recently as 1830, China produced one-third of the world’s total Gross Domestic Product). The playing field, in effect, is being re-leveled for the first time in almost two hundred years. The consequences of the economic rebirth of Asia will be profound. No longer will America dominate the world like a colossus. Not longer will it be able to act unilaterally on the international stage.
America also faces two additional challenges, one internal and the other external. Internally, the disparity between the wealthy and the poor in American society has increased to a degree not seen since the Gilded Age in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. For reasons that remain unclear, we seem to have lost the commitment to equality—a fundamental basis for any common standard of equity and justice— that for so long was one of the defining characteristics of American society. Over time, these inequalities will corrode the connective links that hold American society together. Externally, we have embarked on a series of military campaigns–from Vietnam to Iraq—that have dissipated our power, drained our resources, multiplied our enemies, and alienated the world. The impact of the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, which might have stimulated the United States to open up to the outside world, appears to have had the opposite effect, making us more defensive, more insular, and more inclined to use violence to protect ourselves than ever before. The unintended consequences are notable for their ironic quality. In the name of fighting terrorism, we seem to have abetted it; in theme of building democracy, we seem to have undermined it.
The worldwide change we confront is even more fundamental. Humankind now faces a challenge unique to its entire existence on this planet. For the first time the lethality of our weapons and the degradation of our environment endanger not just individual societies but the world as a whole. The very survival of Homo sapiens hangs in the balance. Meanwhile, the central ideology of our time—nationalism—and the central institution of our time—the nation state—are inadequate to the task at hand. Both grew out of a highly competitive, bloody stage in European history that is long since past. We face the twenty-first century, in effect, with eighteenth-century tools. [Emphasis mine.]
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been doing some intense work with a number of schools trying to help them frame a learning response to the challenge of this modern, connected, distracted, moment we now find ourselves in. I still believe in its opportunities. But what last night teaches is that the challenges are indeed significant when it comes to the work of schools to more effectively prepare our children to embrace and overcome the significant trials that collectively confront us. We in education are, in fact, facing the twenty-first century with eighteenth century systems, structures, and mindsets. They are deeply rooted realities and narratives that will take years if not decades to change, if they can be changed at all.
Time to reflect, refresh and, hopefully, reboot.