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Educational Changes


A "school" is an industrial age concept. "Institutions" are an industrial age invention. Industrial mass production concepts dictated that schools be factories for educational products. Schools were modeled after factories. Knowledge was assembled the same way cars were assembled, one part at a time. We created a world in which students were to learn "subjects." These subjects were kept separate from each other and only teachers with specialized knowledge about these subjects were allowed to teach them. Education was confined to "classrooms," the educational space of the industrial world. Classes were held for set time periods. There were vacation days and school days. There was one year to pass each grade level, and twelve years to become educated and graduate. Schools of the industrial age were about the mastery of data; the memorization of the facts. Just like industrial jobs, schools were organized into divisions of labor, both administratively and academically (the departments and subject domains).

Testing a student in the industrial age was about sitting at a desk filling in the "correct" words that the teacher required. The new age needs a new kind of student, and a different form of assessment. The electronic everlasting portfolio fits this bill. Students start their portfolios (their web page) in elementary school and carry them forward for as long as they please. My own children have been encouraged to create their own portfolios even though the school system has yet to get the message (ie. that schools are stuck in the past, and probably will be there a good while . . .save your own kids and students first).

Just like the concept of a "job" was invented by the industrial age and made obsolete by the communications age, so were the concepts that defined the school invented by a past age, and in need of restructing today. The time frame is no longer adequate, the spaces are too confining and boring for the new generation, and there can no longer be a concept like graduation when everything we learn is obsolete in just a few years. In the age of linking data, data warehousing and data mining, it makes no sense to artificially work within subject domains. Top down management is dead. Departmentalization is dead. There is a new power structure that spreads responsibility to parents and students, and makes teachers coaches rather than talking heads.

The new work of the communications age will be home based, temporal (projects coming and going), collaborative (forming and dissolving teams as problems are addressed and resolved), and will involve the gathering, analyzing, packaging, presenting, justifying, articulating, and application of information. The new generation of work will be done by people who invent their own livelihood; people who invent their own futures.

Education needs a major overhaul. Current efforts that fail to change the space and time features of education (the 9 month calendar is a hang over from the agricultural age) will not work. We are wallpapering the inside of the box when we should be tearing down the box.

In 1973, 16% of all people in the United States between the ages of 18 and 24 could not get jobs that paid a living wage. These young people were late leaving the nest. In 1994 the number was up to 41% and climbing. More students graduating from high school, could not find jobs. They moved back in with mom and dad. About one third of all community college students already have a degree. They are back for more education because their college diplomas did not provide them with sustainable jobs. The notion that the communications age is destroying the concept of "job" is not idle stargazing, the trends bare witness to the change.

Innovative, bold changes are needed for all students in education. For impaired students, the changes are no less severe. We have a mandate to change the way we educate blind children so that they will be prepared for a future that is strange and frightening to those of us raised in the industrial age.

Orientation and Mobility and the New Schooling

Rapid change means that learning is life long. It means that transitions occur often (in and out of training sessions, new jobs, etc.). It means that the profession of orientation and mobility will have to adapt or perish with the changing times. Old definitions for what a profession is and does will change. Other disciplines are facing the same dilemma. They may decide to be "mobility specialists", if it is in the interest of professional survival. We may find ourselves encroaching on other professions, optometry, psychology, or occupational therapy, and these fields may edge into our domains. Whatever happens, it's a better idea to map out possible scenarios, than to just let the future have it's will.

Mobility training will have to interweave with a host of other training areas that cannot be thought of as the separate domain of other professionals. In the community, we will teach activities of daily living, social skills, attitudes, proper gait, posture and mannerisms. We will teach our students about the laws that will affect their lives, about consumer groups, and about access to resources. These "peripheral" areas are too important to be left partially addressed, or more commonly-in the public schools-not addressed at all. To enable our profession to survive the third wave, we will need to expand our definition of what an orientation and mobility specialist does, and who we serve. Here are some examples of what should stay in the curriculum, and what needs to be added.

What we call basic or precane skills will continue to be important in our training scheme, but they will not play a dominant role in the future, nor will they necessarily come before cane skill training. Basic skills (protective techniques, direction taking and sighted guide) can be taught to a young student in one lesson. That's all the formal training needed. Subsequent concentration on problem solving, orientation to new environments, and community based experiences will provide opportunities to reinforce proper basic skills in relevant settings.

Cane training will remain a dominant theme into the near future. The long stick is cheap, effective, durable, simply maintained, and is an enduring and endearing symbol of independence.

Street crossing skills will continue to be a critical competency. Electric cars will complicate our jobs, but our students will learn new clues to adapt (the hum of the engine, the whine of the tires, etc.).

Orientation will remain the centrally most significant skill that students must learn. Without good orientation skills, there is little hope for independence. No matter what the future, the student with good orientation is more likely to succeed. Global positioning satellites will obviously change how we teach orientation.

Work in the future will require a high level of problem solving ability. Good orientation requires good problem solving skills. Problem solving, having good analytical thinking skills is so important for the future success of our students that it must be elevated to a central position in our lesson plans. Problem solving has to become a significant outcome, as important as cane skills, in our curriculum. Related to this is the skill of information gathering, and information assessment. Students will have to learn about the internet and how to use it. We will have to plug these students into the communications age.

In partnership with communication skills and problem solving, is the area of social skills. They form a triad that must fit smoothly together. The articulate, brilliant blind student who stands two inches from your face, well inside your psychological space, is scoring no social points. The student who talks to the floor or slumps over onto the table at an important meeting is not heading for a promotion (maybe not even a job). Social skills, communication ability and problem solving have not held a traditionally important place in the orientation and mobility curriculum. Blind children, as they interact with the world during mobility lessons do not, as a matter of course, learn these lessons. It is our responsibility as mobility specialists to insist on the development of this triad of skills.

Visual skill development, despite a decade of attention, is still an area where many mobility specialists feel inadequate. It is possible for children with some degree of vision, to greatly increase the degree and accuracy of their visual abilities. New technologies will greatly enhance image size and resolution. The ability to smoothly use these technologies will depend on the degree of training. We need to take a harder, more self critical look at our delivery of visual training, with and without magnification aids. Our students will need these skills as they face the high tech future.

Blind adults will have to have a paradoxical attitude. On the one hand they will strive to blend into the sighted world; to not draw attention to themselves through unusual mannerisms or self-pity, or through excessive disorientation. On the other hand, they should understand leadership, and they should strive to become leaders as they are empowered by the third wave. This is not only important on a local, everyday scale, but on a global level as well. We need strong willed, articulate blind leaders. The international blind community, through the global efforts of the major consumer organizations and blindness agencies, have formed a strong international network. This network will need a continual supply of competent blind individuals with leadership skills. Our students need a global perspective and attitudes that embrace internationalism. We could expand our role, in concert with other care givers, to encourage our students to be more sophisticated.

The third wave is creating a customized, individualized service economy. There will be a proliferation of small scale, niche businesses, a return to the mom and pop family business, to small cottage industries. There will be virtual organizations, run by virtual teams that come together to solve problems, and then dissolve when the work is done. The work can be done in front of workstations in the family den, no need for transportation, no need for mobility. Local production will become competitive again. Instead of bread from far away factories, we will get locally made bread, local film processing, printing. Home town markets will grow. This is good news for the blind consumer. We need to help our students set up the work stations (and work places) that will enable them to compete in the new market place.

The future is not such a concern if a student has the right training. The student of the future must adapt to frequent change, and must be flexible. Rigid thinkers are in trouble. Students will look at problems from several angles and use energetic, creative approaches to problem solving. They will be self teachers. They will understand that self-motivation is critical to their survival, more so than at any other time in history. They will know how to gather, organize, analyze and rapidly react to the ebb and flow of global information as it comes online. Students of the future will be mind workers, with good communication skills.


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