Benjamin Jowett’s Victorian-era translation of Plato’s “Republic” added the flowery language popular at the time to give us, “The true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.” This, of course, became the popular proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” A more literal translation of Plato is rendered, “Our need will be the real creator.”
As the world currently experiences the tectonic shifts in almost every aspect of life due to the global Covid-19 pandemic response, I think Plato’s original language distills the great hope that can come from these trying times. Will our need be the creator of vast innovation and societal change for the better?
The world of institutional education has certainly been upended. School systems worldwide have closed their physical buildings and had to find ways to provide education to students who are quarantined in their homes. Technology tools designed to help facilitate this new normal have experienced exponential growth. Zoom, a video conferencing platform, went from an average of 10 million users a day in December of 2019 to over 200 million users a day by March of 2020. Educators utilizing Google Classroom as a digital platform for courses doubled from March to April 2020. University systems have transitioned entire faculties to use Canvas, Blackboard, and other online Learning Management Systems to facilitate classes through an online, distance-learning format.
Perhaps it has taken something like a world-wide pandemic to force into being changes that declining student achievement could not. I have had multiple conversations with colleagues in education around the world over the past year as teachers and administrators have been forced to question at a deep level what content and skills typically included in courses are most important. Folks are being forced to let go of some “non-essential” curricular content that has been previously canonized by the education establishment. Educators around the globe are having discussions around stripping down course content and instructional activities to focus on the most important learning goals and are genuinely thinking about designing learning activities that will be more engaging and meaningful to students and making sure we are attending to our students’ social-emotional well-being.
Harvard’s Todd Rose argues, “The hardest part of learning something new is not embracing new ideas, but letting go of old ones.” The institutional education system has historically splashed around the edges of innovation, tweaking curriculum and content standards, adopting various flashy technology tools, or occasionally implementing the latest pedagogical fad. By-in-large, school campuses and the activities dutifully undertaken daily by teachers and students have not changed much in 100 years. The world, in contrast, looks little like it did 100 years ago. This doesn’t adequately serve kids, nor prepare them to be the future leaders we need them to be 20 years from now.
Dare we imagine our current struggles being leveraged into a pandemic of positive change around the globe? I’m not sure I have the answers, or if anyone does, but I’m encouraged to see more and more educators at least asking the questions. It shouldn’t have taken a global pandemic to force us to rethink education and how it can be designed with the student in mind, but perhaps “our need will be the real creator,” and just maybe, we can see some dynamic, lasting change in education because of this.
What are some of the positive changes you see as we navigate our current situation?