Out of the Trenches and into the Future…Let’s Interpret Education to Society and Society to Education

Gary Marx, APR
Gary Marx, APR

Ever wonder why educators get so much heat? The answer is crystal clear: What we do is deeply important to our future. If it weren’t, no one would care.

So why is education so important? Because what educators do or don’t do has an impact on virtually everything. A short-list would have to include an outsized influence on civil society, the economy, energy, our environment, technology, international relationships, learning, leadership and personal well-being.

When I moved into my first executive position in education communication, we had an understanding. I would interpret the education system to society; at the same time, I was interpreting the needs and demands of society to the organization. Consider it a complete circle of communication that never stops spinning. The work is always critical to survival and success, but it is never done. Context and perspective are leadership essentials.

An Interesting Thing Happened — the World Changed!

We’ve all known people who think they can freeze the system, consider any need for change as nothing more than an attack, and focus like a laser on maintaining the status quo. You know what happens. They dig their trenches even deeper to defend themselves against encroaching society. One day, their subterranean enclaves have reached such depths that they are, for all practical purposes, entrenched. No one pays much attention to them anymore, since everyone else has moved on.

21 Trends for the 21st Century: Out of the Trenches and into the Future, By Gary Marx
21 Trends for the 21st Century: Out of the Trenches and into the Future, By Gary Marx
None of us can afford to be left behind. 21 Trends for the 21st Century gets to the root of the most important trends reshaping society today and offers a deeper understanding of these dynamics to prepare tomorrow’s leaders for what comes next. This book contains insights on topics ranging from education and learning in the 21st century, energy and environmental challenges, demographic shifts, technology trends, public and personal leadership, economic pressures, work-life balance, and international realities.
Order now!

Staying in touch with the needs and wants of society is not just a nice thing to do. In fact, it’s basic to our existence as a legitimate institution committed to serving others. It’s essential to our success and will determine, at some point, whether an organization is actually sustainable. Think of it this way — if we understand trends and issues, people will likely say we’re in touch; if we don’t understand trends and issues, they’ll say we’re out of touch.

How Is the World Speaking to Us?

Let’s highlight just a few examples of issues you should be ready to address:

  • Get ready for a reset. Following every macro-economic event, society has gone through a reset. In essence, our lifestyles and technologies have outgrown our physical and social infrastructure. It’s like putting a size 12 foot in a size 8 shoe.

    Stepping into the firestorm to explain what was happening to virtually every institution as we entered the Great Recession, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt declared, “The economic crisis doesn’t represent a cycle. It’s an emotional, social and economic reset.”

    Housing, transportation, energy, technology, the economy, manufacturing, government and education, to name a few, are all facing a reset, not just a gentle transition. No one gets a free pass. Expecting the challenge to go away may mean that the institution goes away with it, supplanted by something that better fits people’s needs or expectations.
  • Plan for demographic realities. By 2043, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, non-Hispanic Whites are expected to fall below 50 percent of the total population; for those 18 and under, by 2018; for those five and under, 2014. Majorities are becoming minorities.

    Beginning in 2011, Baby Boomers (born 1946-64) began hitting 65 at a rate of about 10,000 a day. That’s the handwriting on the wall, and the cycle will continue for about 30 years.

    By some demographic magic, in the very next year, 2012, members of the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) started turning 30. They will be assuming leadership that will be no less than revolutionary for society and every one of our institutions. Expect a new generation of parents, citizens and employees who will be less impressed with traditional authority but insist on quality, style, collaborative leadership, service and results from business, government and schools.
  • Expect a demand for personalization, depth, breadth and purpose in education. We face this reality: Lifelong education is fast becoming available anywhere, anytime, any pace and any way. While school curriculum will continue to be aligned with goals, pressure will grow for goals to be more aligned with individual students’ strengths and the needs of society. Thinking, reasoning, problem-solving and creative skills will be basic.
  • Stay on top of technology. Big data and the cloud, coupled with super- and quantum-computers, will lead to revolutions in everything from education to health care and raise even greater concerns about identity and privacy. Computer speed, capacity, interactivity and mobility will increase exponentially. Personal technologies will become more wearable and invisible. As silicon chips reach their practical limit, look for qubits, which will likely be at the heart of quantum computers.
  • Align with energy and environmental needs. The 2000 world population of six billion is projected to grow 50 percent, to more than nine billion by 2050. Demand for clean energy will be off-the-charts. Scientific instruments, beginning in 2013, detected carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere that reached 400 parts per million, a level not seen on earth for three million years. An archaic power grid leaks electricity like a sieve. Look for a revolution in energy generation, distribution, storage and efficiency. Renewable energy harvesters will become more commonplace. Electro-chemists and superconducting technologists will help us increase battery capacity and develop a more efficient and dependable smart grid.
  • Connect to the International Dimension. Globalization is not just a political theory. It’s a reality. With growing brain circulation, people pursue opportunities wherever they are. Should our students be thinking about the characteristics of any country that is capable of being a good member of a family of nations? Are they developing diplomatic skills? Do they understand a panoply of languages and cultures? Their futures and the futures of their communities and countries may lie in the balance.
  • Consider the role of leadership. If we hope to be up to the massive challenges we face, then everyone needs to be a leader. Each might play a different role, but we all need to be in the game. Leadership itself will become increasingly horizontal with an emphasis on listening, engagement, collaboration, making sense and developing a unifying sense of direction. Of course, polarization is eating our lunch. For educators who sense the challenge, our students will need to develop the ability to gather and consider credible evidence and many points of view, not just one. Ethical behavior and work-life balance should be a capstone.
  • What now? That’s a brief glimpse of forces affecting the whole of society, including our education system. Our schools and colleges, after all, are of this world, not separate from it. Consider holding community conversations or developing futures councils to study all of the trends covered in the new book, 21 Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future. Then consider their implications for how we run our education system and for what our students will need to know and be able to do to be prepared for the future.

The Future Won’t Wait

Our ongoing journey is one we need to take, and the trip should start right away. The future simply won’t wait.

Gary Marx, APR, is president of the Center for Public Outreach in Vienna, Va., an NSPRA Presidents Award recipient and popular seminar presenter, and author of 21 Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future, published by Education Week Press. The book is available in NSPRA’s Online Store. His website is www.GaryMarxCPO.com. Contact him at gmarxcpo@aol.com.