Editor’s Notebook - Prognosticating: An Audacious and Foolhardy Act

May 21, 2010 Gordon Thomas
“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.”
—Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Gordon ThomasIn the fall 2009 editorial of the ATA Magazine, I acknowledged the 90th anniversary of the ATA Magazine and celebrated its crucial and ongoing role in providing teachers with insight into teaching, education and the world of ideas. And while that issue looked back, the summer 2010 issue gazes ahead.

A familiar saying has it that teachers work with the future every day. Recent slogans for the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s public education campaigns declared: “The Future—It’s Why Teachers Teach” and “Public education ... an investment in the future.” Education and the future are inextricably linked.

What’s on the horizon for teachers? Predicting the future is not only an audacious and foolhardy act, it is also, according to the Honourable Dave Hancock, QC, Alberta’s minister of education, “a daunting task.” In his article, “Transformative Change,” Hancock observes that “when we look at what is on the horizon for teachers in the K–12 system, the only thing that we can be absolutely certain of is that the future will involve change and more change.” Phil McRae, in “Forecasting the Future over Three Horizons of Change,” says that “the future will require a curiosity and consciousness of different perspectives, along with a resilient and engaged population that understands that long-term commitments to complex challenges will be necessary if we are to flourish as Albertans.”

The future world of ideas is easier to envision in the short term than in the long run, say 50 years from now. In 2012, teachers will enter a fresh phase of negotiations when the five-year agreement signed with the provincial government expires. Sharon Vogrinetz, ATA coordinator of Teacher Welfare, in her article “What Lies Ahead for Bargaining?” advises ATA locals to kick start plans for bargaining today. To do otherwise, she warns, could be detrimental to the outcome of negotiations because “[for] the first time, all bargaining units will be negotiating at the same time.” What will this look like for teachers and their Association? Vogrinetz describes five scenarios of how bargaining could evolve, but most important, she calls on teachers to get involved. “Whatever bargaining looks like in 2012, each region will need experienced, motivated leaders to bargain locally.”

Authors Jim Parsons and Phil McRae address the technological changes that will likely occur over the next 40 years. While it’s difficult to believe some futurists’ assertion that reading and writing will become unnecessary skills (like cobbling, barrel-making and chimney sweeping are now), Parsons asserts his belief that education’s future lies with creativity, actively engaging students in learning and Star Trek. “Time will tell if Star Trek’s vision of a United Federation of Planets will come to be. All of this shapes education,” he says. McRae is more pragmatic in his approach to crystal ball gazing, breaking down his predictions into manageable time frames: near future, not-too-distant future and the future 10 years from now. Technology figures prominently in his discussion of what the future holds as does the need to keep students’ physical, intellectual and social well-being front and centre.

J-C Couture, a regular contributor to the magazine, ponders the influence that research will have on teachers and education. He asks: “How might we rethink learning? What should we do? What will these changes lead to?” Couture reports that research confirms the need to cultivate fine arts and music in schools. He argues that the benefits of fine arts on students and learning can’t be ignored and states that “teacher leadership strategies, supported by research, will ensure that schools become places of creativity and ingenuity.” Couture envisions a world where learning enhances the professionalism of teachers.

Education is affected by events and by people. Ernest Clintberg, ATA associate executive secretary, introduces readers to eight of Alberta’s previous ministers of education (from Lou Hyndman, 1971, to Dr. Lyle Oberg, 2004) and discusses how they shaped the future of education. “It is almost impossible to predict the changes that lie ahead for teachers and education in Alberta. However, what is clear is that politicians have influenced education,” Clintberg says. He elaborates, “Clearly, Alberta’s education ministers have influenced teaching and education. In years to come, we’ll have an opportunity to reflect on the decisions made by the subsequent ministers of education to see how they shaped Alberta’s educational system.”

It’s foolish to predict the future. No one knows what will happen tomorrow or the next day or next year. As comedian George Burns once remarked, “I look to the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.” One thing is certain, though; in order for the profession of teaching to evolve, teachers must become more flexible, resilient and creative than they already are so they can adapt to rapid changes in technology and the unimaginable ways in which learning will be disseminated.

Teachers are the future. 

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On a final note: This issue marks the last time that Ms Magister will appear as a regular feature in the ATA Magazine. Her creator, Jim Simpson, died March 14, 2010, at the age of 80.

Ms Magister first appeared in the ATA Magazine in 1974 and enjoyed a 36-year run. Simpson taught in Edmonton and was the Edmonton Public School Board’s supervisor of art for 28 years. He served as editor of the ATA’s Fine Arts Council journal, reviewed art exhibitions for the Edmonton Journal in the 1970s and 1980s, and was an accomplished painter in his own right.   

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