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Toffler On Educational Values

November 8, 2012

Excerpted from Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler:

Adaptation involves the making of successive choices. Presented with numerous alternatives, an individual chooses the one most compatible with his values. As overchoice deepens, the person who lacks a clear grasp of his own values (whatever these may be) is progressively crippled. Yet the more crucial the question of values becomes, the less willing our present schools are to grapple with it. It is no wonder that millions of young people trace erratic pathways into the future, ricocheting this way and that like unguided missiles.

In pre-industrial societies, where values are relatively stable, there is little question about the right of the older generation to impose its values on the young. Education concerns itself as much with the inculcation of moral values as with the transmission of skills. Even during early industrialism, Herbert Spencer maintained that “Education has for its object the formation of character”, which, freely translated, means the seduction or terrorization of the young into the value systems of the old.

As the shock waves of the industrial revolution rattled the ancient architecture of values and new conditions demanded new values, educators backed off. As a reaction against clerical education, teaching facts and “letting the student make up his own mind” came to be regarded as a progressive virtue. Cultural relativism and an appearance of scientific neutrality displaced the insistence on traditional values. Education clung to the rhetoric of character formation, but educators fled from the very idea of value inculcation, deluding themselves into believing that they were not in the value business at all.

Today it embarrasses many teachers to be reminded that all sorts of values are transmitted to students, if not by their textboooks then by the informal curriculum – seating arrangements, the school bell, age segregation, social class distinctions, the authority of the teacher, the very fact that students are in a school instead of the community itself. All such arrangements send unspoken messages to the student, shaping his attitudes and outlook. Yet the formal curriculum continues to be presented as though it were value-free. Ideas, events, and phenomena are stripped of all value implications, disembodied from moral reality.

Worse yet, students are seldom encouraged to analyze their own values and those of their teachers and peers. Millions pass through the education system without once having been forced to search out the contradictions in their own value systems, to probe their own life goals deeply, or even to discuss these matters candidly with adults and peers. Students hurry from class to class. Teachers and professors are harried and grow increasingly remote. Even the “bull session” – informal, extra-curricular discussions about sex, politics, or religion that help participants identify and clarify their values – grow less frequent and less intimate as transience rises.

Nothing could be better calculated to produce people uncertain of their goals, people incapable of effective decision making under conditions of overchoice. Super-industrial educators must not attempt to impose a rigid set of values on the student; but they must systematically organize formal and informal activities that help the student define, explicate, and test his values, whatever they are. Our schools will continue to turn out industrial [people] until we teach young people the skills necessary to identify and clarify, if not reconcile, conflicts in their own value systems.

The curriculum of tomorrow must thus include not only an extremely wide range of data-oriented courses, but a strong emphasis on future-relevant behavioral skills. It must combine variety of factual content with universal training in what might be termed “life know-how”. It must find ways to do both at the same time, transmitting one in circumstances or environments that produce the other.

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From → Books, Education, Excerpts

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