I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Cathy Davidson’s new book Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work and Learn, and I couldn’t put it down during my five-hour flight to Calgary yesterday. I want to cover it more completely when I finish the last 75 pages or so (more flights tomorrow) but I wanted to just pull a quick passage that I think frames the struggle that traditional schooling as well as we as individuals are starting to wake up to right now.
Keep in mind that we had over a hundred years to perfect our institutions of school and work for the industrial age. The chief purpose of those institutions was to make the divisions of labor central to industrialization seem natural to twentieth century workers. We had to be trained to inhabit the twentieth century comfortably and productively. Everything about school and work in the twentieth century was designed to create and reinforce separate subjects, separate cultures, separate grades, separate functions, separate spaces for personal life, work, private life, public life and all the other divisions.
Then the Internet came along. Now work increasingly means the desktop computer. Fifteen years into the digital revolution, one machine has reconnected the very things–personal life, social life, work life, and even sexual life–that we’d spent the last hundred years putting into neatly separated categories, cordoned off in their separate spaces, with as little overlap as possible except maybe the annual company picnic (13).
What I like about her approach to all of this in the book is that she makes it pretty clear that we don’t have a choice as to whether or not we try to make sense of these shifts. We’re not going back to those neatly separate containers of our lives, that if anything, all of this is going to be more intertwined as we move forward. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a different thing, hugely different in some ways, but there is also great opportunity in the change if (IF) we begin to work to understand it more deeply than just a Twitter hashtag and blog post. We literally have to change the way we interact with the world.
And as educators, our struggle is especially acute. We not only have to “train” our kids for the twenty first century, we have to train ourselves.