Where are we now, as humans? As we look at the world around us, we are confronted by new power arrangements (e.g., militant groups) whose content and speed and instincts all seem quite foreign to ‘how we do things’ across the world. By ‘we’ is meant the overwhelming majority of humans who live in traditional power arrangements (democracies, dictatorships, kingdoms, etc). When we look at what we call ‘international schools’ (even if we debate the term itself), where are they located? Within those traditional power arrangements, of course.
However, in a world in which an entity with content, speed, and instincts can gain and exercise power, irrespective of geographical location, whom should we be educating, and for what purpose? For centuries, traditional power arrangements dictated that it made the most sense to educate the nobility. Though we have been moving away from that approach, we ought to ask ourselves whether we’re still educating worldwide for societies with traditional power arrangements, and what kind of progress that might constitute. Are we, for instance, still educating the ‘nobility,’ albeit under a different name/class?
The new power arrangements, which are mastering how to operate in networks, will only grow, as we become more and more connected. It is likely that the traditional power arrangements will begin to emulate the new powers by learning how to harness and master networks. They are behind, currently, but it is likely that they will decide to catch up quickly, though that approach could result in a relatively messy period.
Those who lead — and who will lead — these arrangements are not the only element to decide our (humanity’s) future, however. The more important element, I think (I hope!), is the quality of our citizens, overall. Here is where international education not only has a role to play, it has a moral obligation to lead by educating the future citizenry, one that must be prepared to engage and shape concentrated, connected systems whose hallmarks are rapid velocity, integrated (to varying degrees) with the accelerant of artificial intelligence (see Ramo, below).
Are we educating for this?
We all would say that we are educating global citizens, that such citizenship is a hallmark of international education. Though I am ideologically aligned to that statement, I submit that we are (perhaps dramatically) out of alignment with reality. We are educating citizens for a world dominated by traditional power arrangements, yet those arrangements are being undermined by new, networked approaches to which the traditional arrangements don’t (yet) know how to respond. As Joshua Cooper Ramo writes, “We are all preparing ourselves to be subjugated, in a sense, by these systems and by their masters. Our best defence will not be to wait for wise leaders. They are unlikely to emerge by themselves from a system engineered for an old order […]. Any strategy based on hoping for great leadership is too risky for all of us” (298).
Yet, it would be dangerously myopic to conclude that what we need are more coders. To be sure, citizens will need enhanced technical knowledge, but in and of itself, this knowledge is no panacea. A cogent, balanced approach would include a focus on our humanity as a key element of shaping any new arrangements. We suffer from an obsession of ‘tools’ that are nothing more than engineered software, with a strident focus on the tool’s internal construction rather than on its external design, as Mitch Kapor, a programmer and entrepreneur, has stated. Efficacy of the tool is important, but it could easily result in nefarious mis-application. We need to be educating future citizens toward an end that cultivates an instinct that blends an understanding of networks with a human sensibility that allows us, across the world, to see through any manipulation so that we might act in favour of advancing, not shackling, humanity.
Again, are we educating for this, as an intentional outcome? Can existing curricula be tweaked to result in such an outcome? Will we be bold enough to establish a new status quo, or will we choose to sit on the sidelines and “let it work itself out?”
Will we lead?