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Teaching Ethics…Earning Trust

By Gary Marx

Expedient:  What’s easiest?  Pragmatic:  Whatever works.   

Ethical:  What’s the right thing to do?

We hear about a breach of ethical behavior.  We’re appalled.  Many of us follow the story for weeks–even years.  We ask:  “Who would ever do anything like that?”  “Who do they think they are?”  “Look at the people they’ve hurt with their selfishness.”  Lives and organizations are damaged or destroyed.  Trust, often meticulously earned over a lifetime, is lost in an instant.

What do we mean by “ethics?”  Webster’s calls it “the discipline of dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.”  It can involve “principles of conduct governing an individual or group, such as a profession.”  In fact, the marks of any profession generally include:  a body of knowledge, a language or lingo, and a code of ethics.

If ethical behavior is so important, why are we reluctant to talk and teach about it?  Do we fear that we might have our own skeletons in the closet?  Do we harbor a secret admiration for those who have reached their version of success by taking advantage of others?  Are we concerned that someone might think we see ourselves as “holier than thou?”

Whatever the reason, we simply need to get over it.  Let’s face it.  We can turn out students who develop reputations as the best educators, politicians, business people, mathematicians, scientists, technologists, or physicians in the world.  However, if they breach a code of ethics, all bets are off.  Forget the positive news that’s been filling the air.  A violation of ethics will suck all the air out of the room.

How can we teach about ethics?  Generally, through precept and example.  Build an understanding of ethical principles.  Then, reinforce them with real-life stories, case studies,  role-playing, and current events.  The news is brimming with possibilities that can enliven class discussions.

Consider Precepts.  In Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century, I suggest we check our ethical behavior in comparison to four key markers—integrity (Are we who we say we are?), fairness (How do we treat other people?), trust (Are we honest and dependable?), and character (What motivates us?).  Add them up and they help define our reputation, our good name.

I often ask people to consider an Empathy ↔ Arrogance Continuum.  If we are empathetic, we care very much about how our decisions, pronouncements, or actions affect others.  If we are arrogant, we really don’t care.  As a test, we should constantly ask where we are on that continuum.

Michael Josephson, who founded Character Counts, focuses on the “Six Pillars of Character:  trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.”

Philosopher Albert Schweitzer said, “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”

Charles Kearns, associate professor of applied behavioral science at Pepperdine University warns, “Leaders who are motivated by self-interest and the exercise of personal power have restricted effectiveness and authenticity.”

    Discussion Starters:  Get the ethics discussion going with a few case studies, such as:

  • An elected official signs a private pledge to support a certain type of legislation in return for a promise of campaign contributions. Should this be considered a conflict of interest, a violation of trust, an ethical issue, or all three?
  • A person cleared for access to classified information and sworn to uphold confidentiality releases that information to the media. Is it whistle blowing or espionage?
  • A classmate tells you confidentially that he is bringing a gun to school tomorrow. He tells you, “Don’t be a snitch.”  What will you do?  When?

Why do people and organizations use bad judgment?  Often, it’s because they build a culture on something less than a firm ethical foundation.  Examples:  a belief that power equates to personal privilege, deliberate misinterpretation of information, attempts to hide information from the media and the public, blaming others for problems we’ve caused, overconfidence, stereotyping, and a superiority complex.  Add to the list, keeping in mind that some things may be legal but still not be appropriate, even ethical.

Mahatma Ghandi put it all into perspective:  “Power is given to you by others.  It is not yours; it is in trust with you and it is a great responsibility.  Power is to be used for the benefit of those whose trustee you are.”

In education, ethical problems raise their heads in hiring and other personnel decisions, teacher and student placement, financial concerns, discipline, fairness, class, multicultural sensitivity, handling of disasters and accusations, management of personal information, attempts to discredit others, privacy vs. access, hacking, testing and assessment, and student or staff cheating.

Today’s students will face hundreds of far-reaching issues that will demand a firm grasp of ethics.  Among them:  stewardship of the environment; access to fresh, clean water for everyone; the use of intellectual and physical enhancements, such as pharmaceuticals; government gridlock and unwillingness to compromise; crime and corruption at many levels; and even the introduction of life forms on other planets.

Rushworth Kidder, founder and president of the Institute for Global Ethics, reminded us that, “Without moral courage, our brightest virtues rust from lack of use.  With it, we build piece by piece a more ethical world.”

Read More:

To read more about Ethics, check out Chapter 17 of Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future by Gary Marx.  The full book and Guide versions are available for single- and multiple-copy purchase to help us build an understanding of these and other trends.  Order from the publisher, Education Week Press, (print and electronic); from Amazon at  (print and Kindle); or from Barnes & Noble (Nook).


June 30, 2015


Polarization or a More Civil Society? That is the question.

By Gary Marx

Assignment #1:  How well are we preparing young people to become interested, engaged, and contributing members of a truly civil society?  As you think about it, consider these questions:  Do our students know how to gather, consider, and present evidence?  Do they understand the importance of reasoned discussion?  Do they have a commitment to comprehending, not necessarily accepting, a variety of points of view?  OK, what’s your score?  For schools?  For your community?  For your nation?

Use a scale of 1 to 10 (10 high). 

Whatever our scores, we are fairly certain about one thing:  We aren’t there yet.  In fact, polarization is eating our lunch.  Shouting matches have too often replaced civil discourse.  While social media theoretically open the door to a world of information, growing numbers of people program their dashboards for apps and web sites that do nothing more than justify single, narrow, pre-determined conclusions.

In street language, here’s how polarization blares at us from newspapers, radio and television, and our choice of web sites or social media, even at the coffee shop:  “It’s us versus them.”  “This room isn’t big enough for both of us.”  “Are you from a blue state or a red state?”  “Forget about principle.  All that matters is whether we win.”

What’s going on here?  On the one hand, we intone the absolute necessity of developing good citizens of our families, schools, colleges, communities, nations, and the world.  On the other, we shamelessly short-change civic education and the social sciences.

If we have any hope for a sustainable future, polarization and narrowness will need to bend toward reasoned discussion, evidence, and consideration of varying points of view.  Yet, too often, we end up self-righteously fractionated, constantly in conflict, paralyzed by unresolved disagreements, and verbally attacked by people who haven’t been heard because someone hasn’t been listening.

New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman warns that we’ve become so partisan that the best we can hope for is “suboptimal responses” to our biggest problems, only reflecting “the sum of all interest groups.”  Still, let’s remember what former U.S. President James Madison had to say.  Writing in the Federalist Papers, Madison observed, “As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.”  Of course, as often as possible, we should resolve those differences in a way that serves the common good.

    Civic Education, Social Sciences, and the Civic Mission of Schools.  Educators who believe in the civic mission of schools are generally appalled by political gridlock that slows or blocks their efforts to give all students, across all diversities, a shot at a better tomorrow.  Many are caught in the classic tug between those who have a great deal and want more…and those who have very little and just want some.

What are the implications of this exploding dilemma for education?  How can our education system bring greater civility to fractured and warring communities—whole societies, for that matter?

Let’s start by thinking about the skills, attitudes, and behaviors each of us needs to be declared “civil.”  Among them are: empathy; ethical behavior; respect for others despite their differences; the ability to think, reason, and solve problems; the know-how to resolve conflict peacefully and democratically; and a commitment to engage people in discussion and listen to their ideas.

Add a willingness to collaborate and reasonably compromise, do research, network, consider multiple points of view, and build a case.  Among basics are the need for media literacy, consensus building, and negotiating skills.  Of course, another essential is getting a grip on the dynamic flow of trends and issues in a fast-changing world.  All of the above should be coupled with creativity, imagination, and breakthrough thinking that can put us on the road to solving problems, seizing opportunities, and creating a more hopeful tomorrow.

Any civic educator will tell us that our students need to understand and have hands-on experience with public engagement and policymaking.  Most would encourage them to take initiative in improving their communities.  All of us, including our students, should be familiar with how government at every level is intended to work and how laws are made and changed.  Top this preparation for enlightened citizenship with a working knowledge of concepts such as authority, privacy, responsibility, and justice.

Rebecca Mieliwocki, 2012 National Teacher of the Year and a member of Futures Council 21 for development of our book, Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century, puts it this way.  As teachers, “our work knits the fabric of society together like nothing else.”

The Center for Civic Education urges all of us to aim for a civic temperament.  That might just be the answer to what has too often become a polarized, gridlocked society.

    Assignment #2:  Identify ten things we should start doing now to make sure our students are ready to become active and contributing members of a truly civil society.

Read More:

To read more about Polarization and the need for civic education, check out Chapter 15 of Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future by Gary Marx.  The full book and Guide versions are available for single- and multiple-copy purchases to help us build an understanding of these and other trends.  Order from the publisher, Education Week Press, (print and electronic); from Amazon at  (print and Kindle); or from Barnes & Noble (Nook).


Poverty: Getting Past the Cost of Neglect

By Gary Marx

Definitions of poverty seem too clinical, and its consequences can hardly be measured by percentages on a well-designed chart.  We’re talking about real people who, for one reason or another, are living with resources so slim that even their access to food, clothing, and shelter are severely limited.  The U.S. Census Bureau reports that “individuals are considered poor if the resources they share with others in the household are not enough to meet basic needs.”

The official 2013 U.S. poverty rate for children under 18 was 19.9 percent.  An estimated 45.3 million people overall lived in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  Meanwhile, in the fall of 2014, UNICEF reported that 32.2 percent of children in the U.S. lived in homes where household income was below 60 percent of the 2008 national median income (measured toward the beginning of the Great Recession).

For the record, the 2015 U.S. poverty threshold was set at $24,250 for a family of four.  The low income threshold for that same size family is generally considered to be twice the prevailing poverty level, although it can vary for specific programs.  Using a similar measure and looking back to 2013, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) noted that 51 percent of students across the nation’s public schools were low-income.  In 21 states, a majority of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.  The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book consistently shows that the percentages of children living in poverty vary widely across racial and ethnic groups.

We could recite numbers until we’re breathless.  The driving question simply must be, “What are we going to do about it?”  Children’s Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman declares, “Shameful child poverty levels call for urgent and persistent action.  It’s way past time to eliminate epidemic child poverty and the child suffering, stress, homelessness, and miseducation it spawns.”

Persistent problems demand dogged persistence in solving them.  During the Great Depression, jobs programs created opportunities for people to find work.  In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty.  The effort was strengthened by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Head Start programs for disadvantaged preschool children beginning in 1965-66, and the historic National School Lunch Program.  The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) aimed to lift all students, including those from low income circumstances, to within reach of the Golden Ring, as members of civil society and the economy.

The battle was sparked, in part, by unequal opportunities and injustices that prevailed for decades.  That led to Brown vs. Board of Education, a bold statement that our future depends on providing equal educational opportunity for all.  Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Lincoln Memorial “I Have a Dream” address during the 1963 Poor People’s March on Washington continues to echo across the nation and world.

What have we learned?  Where do we go from here?  If we hope for a brighter future, we need to get even more serious about finding answers and moving forward.  The sense of urgency is flaming.  The time is now.

Health, nutrition, affordable and acceptable housing, high quality education for all, safe communities, support for families of young children, decent jobs, help with child care and transportation as well as some other work-related costs, wrapped in a sense of dignity and respect, are an investment, not an expense.  Pre-kindergarten programs and high expectations for all students seem essential.  Peter Edelman of the Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy, has called for “launch of a full-scale attack on poverty.”

In an article for ASCD’s Educational Leadership, Richard Rothstein, research associate for the Economic Policy Institute, wrote, “Closing or substantially narrowing achievement gaps requires combining school improvement with reforms that narrow the vast socio-economic inequalities in the United States.”  Rothstein goes on to say, “Without such a combination, demands that schools fully close achievement gaps not only will remain unfulfilled, but also will cause us to foolishly and unfairly condemn our schools and teachers.”  The Iceberg Report, released in 2015 by the Horace Mann League and National Superintendents Roundtable, emphasizes the need for sound education policy that can only have a chance if it is supported by sound social and economic policy.

As we make clear in Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century, education and society should be determined to help those caught in poverty to get out of it and those who aren’t to avoid it.

The cost of neglect is another elephant in the room.  When we neglect children and education, we all pay for it, one lifetime after another.  Morally and economically, that cost is greater than the up-front investment.  Public neglect shows up in compromised student achievement, dropouts or push-outs, and a likelihood that too many young people will give up on pursuing or sticking with postsecondary education.  Add to that a whole lot of personal frustration, maybe fuller jails, doused dreams, and diminished hope.  Homelessness, poor health, and hunger have consequences, both for those who suffer them and for the whole of society.

Will we ever know the diseases we could have conquered, the ideas and inventions that might have  lifted our economy and our civil society, the peace we might have won, and the justice that might have prevailed, if we had just made sure that all of us put our minds and hearts to overcoming poverty?

Keep this in mind:  If even one person is poor, in one way or another we are all poorer because of it.

Read More:

To read more about Poverty, check out Chapter 19 of Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future by Gary Marx.  The full book and Guide versions are available for single- and multiple-copy purchases to help us build an understanding of these and other trends.  Order from the publisher, Education Week Press, (print and electronic); from Amazon at  (print and Kindle); or from Barnes & Noble (Nook).


International Global


An Interconnected World: Are Students and Schools Ready to Go?

By Gary Marx

What’s happening in our world is stunning.  Consider these startling facts:

  • Of 100 people on the planet, only 5 live in Northern America; 60 live in Asia.
  • By 2025, our world will host 37 megacities; 3 will be in the U.S.; 21 are expected to be in Asia. A megacity is a metro area of more than 10 million people.
  • The world population will increase from 6 billion in 2000 to about 9.3 billion in 2050, a 50 percent increase in 50 years. Of that accumulated growth, 4.3 percent is expected in the more developed world and 60 percent in the less developed or developing world.
  • During the first half of the 21st century, only one continent, Europe, is expecting a population decline, an anticipated drop of 3.2 percent. On the other hand, Africa’s population will grow an estimated 122 percent, the Near East 132 percent, Latin America and the Caribbean 49 percent, and North America about 47 percent.

Perspective is essential.  Context is critical.  The concept of a fast-changing world is not a cliché and it isn’t fantasy.  It’s a stark reality.  Since we are of this world, not separate from it, we face a growing sense of urgency.

If it hasn’t already, international learning needs to become basic.  Science, technology, engineering, math, and the arts (STEAM+) will always be important.  However, if we hope to have a viable future, we’d better pay attention to the importance of international relationships, cultural understanding, languages, and diplomatic skills.

Of course, we can embrace the accelerating need for international/global education or deny it, but it isn’t going away.  We have a choice.  As a nation, community, or education system, if we don’t stay ahead of the curve, we will surely be left behind.

Are we really that connected?  Consider this.  If Greece gets an economic cold, people in countries around the world start to sneeze.  If a nuclear reactor goes off kilter an ocean away, we start testing for radiation.  On this relatively small planet, we are interconnected.

A genetic researcher from Beijing, working at an institute in Rome, had just finished an international conference in Galveston.  I caught up with her on a shuttle ride to the Houston airport.  A South Dakota farmer monitors weather conditions and crop yields in China and Argentina to get an idea about the price he’ll get for his soybeans.  These stories are becoming less and less remarkable.  It’s how the world works.

Columnist Tom Friedman grabbed our attention with his classic book, The World is Flat.  Every day, exponentially increasing computer power and telecommunication bring us together.  In essence, people end up working side-by-side, even though they may physically be half a world away.  Convergence is in.  Isolation is out.  Raise any questions for you?  Friedman wonders whether the world has gotten so flat so fast that our political systems can no longer keep up with it.

The word, globalization, often becomes a political football rather than simply a definition of what is happening before our very eyes.  A Harvard Future of Learning Institute defined globalization this way:  “The accelerating traffic of people, capital, and cultural products around the world.  It embodies opportunities and risks for individuals and societies worldwide.”

Here’s the driving question for schools, school systems, colleges, and universities:  What are the implications for education?

Should we add global knowledge as a graduation requirement?  Should world languages be a regular part of the curriculum?  Should educators be better prepared to teach about the world and encouraged to become even more curious about people, places, and cultures beyond their own chosen horizons?  Do all of us need a basic grounding in economics, history, law, political science, government, civic responsibility, human rights, and social skills?  Should we emphasize diplomatic skills, such as: open minds, natural curiosity, patience, courtesy and good manners, a sense of tolerance, and the ability to empathize with others—to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes?

Should our students, all of us for that matter, become even more familiar with the importance of government, business, personal, and educational and scientific relationships among people and nations.  Are we capable of thinking globally and acting locally?  Do we understand the need to balance competition with collaboration to get important things done?

On this small planet, drifting through the vastness of space, we fight over territory, power, authority, religion, economic advantage, traditional energy resources, water, the environment, and a host of other massive issues.  Will we be able to address these issues peacefully and thoughtfully?  Part of the answer is education that gets today’s students ready for the future in a global knowledge/information age.  Are we up to the challenge?

Idea:  As a discussion starter, ask students to brainstorm answers to this question: “What are the characteristics of any country capable of being a good member of a family of nations?”

Read More:

To read more about Global/International trends, check out Chapter 11 of Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future by Gary Marx.  Both the full book and Guide versions are available for single- and multiple-copy purchases to help us build an understanding of these and other trends far-and-wide.  Order from the publisher, Education Week Press, (print and electronic); from Amazon at   

Century-Trenches/dp/1939864046 (print and Kindle); or from Barnes & Noble (Nook).




Ubiquitous Technology Drives the Pace of Change

By Gary Marx

Ubiquitous, interactive technology is shaping how we live, how we learn, how we work, how we see ourselves, and how we relate to the world.  Technologies have a way of bursting onto the scene, leaving a trail of opportunity and disruption.  It’s happened before…and it’s happening again.  The big difference?  The pace of change.

What we’ve gained is an avalanche of new technologies, each with a set of life-changing benefits and possible consequences.  What we’ve lost is what the “ancients of a previous decade” called “the between” or “between time.”  For the consumer, the time between anticipation and gratification continues to shrink.

In our book, Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century, a chapter is devoted to technology.  In this brief essay, we’ll take snapshots of nine realities, possibilities, and concerns, all driven by our tech-accelerated move from an Industrial Age into a Global Knowledge/Information Age, even an Age of Knowledge Creation and Breakthrough Thinking.

Expect many technologies to become even more mobile, wearable, and invisible.  We’ll put them on when we get dressed and hardly give it a second thought.  Iowa City Community Schools Superintendent Stephen Murley observes, “Technology immigrants think about technology.  For digital natives, children and young adults, it just is.”

Technology is more than a device with a keyboard.  Nanotechnology, at the molecular level, is allowing us to move atoms around within a molecule to produce a revolution in materials science.  Biotechnology, robotics, and development of higher-capacity batteries are exploding fields, along with data analytics.  Expect billions of devices to be connected to the Internet of Things.

A fixed physical workplace will become less significant.  With widely distributed computing power, networks, and portability, many of us will be able to do our jobs nearly anywhere.  Think of cottage industries, consultants, free-lancers, and employees of large and small firms who spend a lion’s share of their time working from a variety of locations.

Equal opportunity for bandwidth will become part of the level playing field.  It might even be seen as a civil right.

The power of social media will continue to increase.  By whatever future names they are given, interactive social media will rally people to sing anthems at shopping centers, protest or support public issues, and send suggestions directly to classroom teachers. 

Increasing numbers of people will be blindsided by their own dashboards.  A word of warning to those who program their dashboards to give them only one side of a story: You just might lose touch with the broader world.

Discovery, enabled in part by immersive technologies, will bring greater life to education.  We all know that the thrill of discovery teaches us lessons we never forget.

Tools of the learning trade will grow by the minute.  We’re surrounded by new tools for teaching and learning, and they are multiplying.  Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality are among them.  Students are reporting on their research (learning through inquiry) using writing, speaking, thinking, reasoning, problem solving, creativity, collaboration, and interdisciplinary skills.  Their tools often include videos they produce, PowerPoint presentations, and lessons for their classes.  Learning technology veteran Gary Rowe of Rowe, Inc. sees the evolution of 3D visual media making virtual travel a possibility.  He suggests virtual field trips to “Bunker Hill, Bell Labs, and the Great Barrier Reef.”

Getting and keeping attention will become exponentially more challenging.  Whether we’re speaking to staff, constituents, a community group, or students, we know up front that nearly all of us have access to the same information.  While using communication technologies can help us stay in touch and up to date, it can also give us graphic, animated tools to help us make learning more exciting and novel.  In Talk Like TED, author Carmine Gallo quotes Northwestern University Adjunct Professor Martha Burns, who observes, “Our goal as teachers is to get our students addicted to learning.”

A Few Suggested Ground Rules for Technology.

  • The same device that can connect us to the world can also isolate us from personal face-to-face communication. We may need remedial units or courses on how to talk with each other.
  • Each technology can be used constructively or destructively. An aircraft that can take us to exotic places can also bring down an office building.
  • Not everything on the Internet is factual. Thinking, reasoning, problem solving, research, and other skills are essential in separating wheat from chaff, truth from fiction.
  • Consequences for ourselves and others should be clear if we ignore the rules of netiquette.
  • Finally, students should know that we are depending on them to invent or develop entirely new or next generations of existing technologies that will help us shape our future. Today’s entrepreneurial students will be the ones who conceive of new industries and job opportunities that may be beyond our imaginations.

The silicon chip may not be able to give us the exponential increases we’ve come to expect in computer speed and capacity.  Already, quantum computers are in various stages of invention.  Each will likely be built around a qubit.  All of us will be jolted by the quantum impact these dazzling devices have on an already dizzying pace of change.

Just for perspective.  Remember five or ten years ago when we declared we would never be able to use some of the new technologies?  Today, we can’t do without them.

Read More:

To read more about Technology, check out Chapter 4 of Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future by Gary Marx.  The full book and Guide versions are available for single- and multiple-copy purchase to help us build an understanding of these and other trends.  Order from the publisher, Education Week Press, (print and electronic); from Amazon at  (print and Kindle); or from Barnes & Noble (Nook).


Ingenuity, Creativity, and Imagination:  Where Tomorrow Begins

By Gary Marx

What is one of the greatest sources of energy on the planet?  Easy.  It’s human ingenuity.

With that settled, maybe we can just get back to what we were doing in the first place.   Besides, creative ideas can be disruptive, and our day is already planned.

Not so fast.  Releasing ingenuity and stimulating creativity are becoming bedrock responsibilities for education and society.  We wake up each day to a stark reality:  The challenges we face are not yielding to business as usual.

Granted, having knowledge and experience coupled with a reasonable plan is essential.  However, it isn’t a substitute for creativity, imagination, inventiveness, mindfulness, and an entrepreneurial spirit.

What do we mean by ingenuity?  It’s an aptitude for discovering, a tendency for originality, a skill in combining ideas to create something new.  Creativity, on the other hand, helps us transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, and relationships to create new ideas, forms, methods, or interpretations.  Imagination is often described as our ability to form a mental image of something that isn’t present or hasn’t ever been seen in reality.  Innovation takes it a next step, actually introducing a new idea, method, or device, possibly something novel.  Our thanks to Webster’s Dictionary.

It’s no secret.  We’re drawn to movies, books, and social media that pique our imaginations.  We are transfixed by stories about people who have broken new ground.  Deep inside each of us is a pioneering spirit, just waiting to see the light of day.

It’s up to everyone, certainly every educator, to spot, encourage, and help develop the ingenuity that is all around us.

Where do we go from here?

  • Cultivate curiosity. Show me a person who is curious and persistent and I’ll show you a person who will be pretty well educated for the rest of her or his life.
  • Declare thinking, reasoning, and problem solving basic skills. Make them a part of everything we teach.  The demand for those skills is growing exponentially among employers and across civil society.  Amazing how much we can learn and the creativity we can generate by simply asking who, what, where, when, how, and especially why.
  • Make discovery an essential part of learning. Active learning, learning through inquiry, and learning across disciplines can encourage us to seek and find.
  • Connect the need for creative solutions to real-life issues. For example, imagine how some communities can survive as the climate changes and water supplies run low.
  • “Create an environment where imagination can flourish.” That’s a suggestion from John Seely Brown, a former chief scientist for Xerox and longtime director of its PARC research center, which turned out inventions such as laser printing, computer generated graphics, pull down menus, and the mouse.
  • Pay attention to Howard Gardner’s advice in his classic book, Five Minds for the Future. Cultivate the creative mind, the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind.
  • Stand firm in supporting the arts and arts education. Accept the fact that music, dance, musical theater, the visual arts, design, creative writing, and many other art forms can stimulate our thinking and ignite our imaginations.  The arts help us see and think in new ways, across all boundaries and disciplines.
  • Clear roadblocks, uncircle the wagons, and stop digging trenches. As we’ve suggested in our book, Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century, let’s not get entrenched in a fast-changing world.  Avoid the temptation to stomp on ideas.  Instead of the raised eyebrow or cold shoulder, consider a response such as, “Interesting idea!  What would you see as next steps?  Let’s get that idea on our list.  Keep thinking.  That’s what’s going to keep us on the leading edge.”
  • Encourage Reasonable Risk. Ellen Winner of the Arts and Minds Lab at Boston University observes that taking reasonable risks can be “endorphin-loading and high-energy, so it is part of what keeps kids engaged in creativity.”  Oklahoma State University’s Robert Sternberg, notes that schools and colleges too often discourage the very risk that it takes to be creative.  “Genius,” he says, “is talent set on fire by courage.”  Sir Kenneth Robinson, a spirited authority on creativity, warns that we may even be “educating people out of their creativity.”

If we hope to unleash genius, then let’s try to encourage people to become intellectual entrepreneurs, always seeking and always considering new ideas.  Noted social analyst Richard Florida challenges us to put the pieces together to create new knowledge, sometimes called breakthrough thinking.  To make that possible, we’ll need to not only tolerate but embrace paradox, controversy, and complexity as part of a new normal.

It’s up to everyone, certainly every educator, to be a talent scout, and to spot, encourage, and help develop the ingenuity that is in each of us and all around us.

Read More:

To read more about Ingenuity: Flashes of Insight, check out Chapter 13 of Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future by Gary Marx.  The full book and Guide versions are available for single- and multiple-copy purchases to help us build an understanding of these and other trends.  Order from the publisher, Education Week Press, (print and electronic); from Amazon at  (print and Kindle); or from Barnes & Noble (Nook).

Depth, Breadth, and Purposes of Education

Educating for a Purpose: What we all need to know and be able to do to be prepared for the future

By Gary Marx

Here’s the assignment:  Describe an educated person.  Include the academic knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes or dispositions that would, for you, clearly define any person as well educated.  Now, let’s figure out how to make sure we all fit that description.  All of us, not just a chosen few.  How will we get it done?  Maybe the very discussion will help us clarify our sense of purpose.

Instead of constantly striving to redefine and reset in light of new knowledge and exponentially expanding demands of a fast-changing world, we have, perhaps too often, spent our time and energy engaging in philosophical fisticuffs.

Visualize this:  Two psychologists climb into a ring.  It’s the age of progressive education.  They put on their gloves and start punching.  One is Edward Thorndike.  The other is John Dewey.  In a philosophical boxing match, Thorndike declares that schools should be “structured around the methods of industrial management.”  To him, they are just a delivery vehicle.  Teach it and then evaluate whether the students have learned it.  Dewey, on the other hand, counters that schools should cultivate a lifelong love of learning and develop the qualities of democratic citizenship.  Who won the fight?  Who should have won?  Are the fists still flying?

Somehow, the system and a plethora of politicians have staked their sacred honor on a debate that helped shape schools for an Industrial Age.  How much more mileage can we get from either-or when the answer is likely some reasonable version of this-and?

The upshot?  We have growing numbers of thoughtful educators, determined to get students ready for the future, constrained by a mentality, a schedule, and an infrastructure of another time.

Employers and civil society are demanding people who can think, reason, and problem solve.  Yet, as a society, as institutions, as politicians, we all but refuse to apply those skills to solving our own multiplying problems.  Purpose and substance get lost in a game of win and lose.

Of course, many of our students are moving on.  They’re already linked to a world of information and ideas, using interactive technologies and forming a new system of learning–any time, any place, any pace, and any way.  Some ask, “How will what I’m being asked to learn in school be helpful to me in my life, today and tomorrow?”  If we can’t answer that question, we’d better rethink the why, what, and how of education.

We’re well into the 21st century.  Isn’t it time we led a spirited community or national  conversation that zeroes in on the purposes of education?  Granted, science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math (STEAM) are important, but aren’t they means rather than ends in themselves?

What are the purposes of education?  That should be a question we’re still trying to answer as the earth makes its final turn.  For the sake of discussion, let me suggest a few:  citizenship (of a family, school, community, country, world); employability (not just training for a job but the multitude of things we need to know and be able to do to be employable and to be good citizens); the opportunity to live interesting lives (the more we know, the more interesting life becomes); releasing ingenuity that is already there (which means we’ll be expected to discover and develop the interests, skills, talents, and abilities of our students); and stimulating imagination, creativity, and inventiveness.

In writing Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century, I developed a list of twenty things we all need to know and be able to do to be prepared for the future.  It’s based on a review of what people and institutions have historically proclaimed to be essential.  In this case, I went back to Plato’s Academy, the Trivium and Quadrivium, the Seven Cardinal Principles, Multiple Intelligences, the Whole Child Initiative, 21st century knowledge and skills, even STEM and the Common Core.  I folded in the ideas of Horace Mann, John Dewey, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Mort Adler, to name a few.

I urge you to review these 20 broad categories.  They include:  communication; science; technology; math; engineering and architecture; thinking and reasoning; imagination, creativity, and innovation; knowledge creation and breakthrough thinking; the arts; judgment, ethics, and character; civil discourse and the ability to overcome narrowness and polarization; employability skills; leadership and management; economics and personal finance; social and behavioral sciences; civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions; global/international knowledge and skills; environmental and planetary security; health, well-being, life skills, and work-life balance; and futures processes and forecasting.  In chapter 14 of Twenty-One Trends, you can discover what we’ve placed in each category.  This review is an attempt to take a big picture look at what we will all need to know and be able to do, if we hope to be well educated.  It is not intended to be the final word but to stimulate a never-ending discussion.

A few years ago, after speaking about trends and the future to a large community gathering at the city hall in Intendente Alvear, La Pampa, Argentina, the host said, “Our students have a gift for you.”  One of those students, Florencia Fernandez, embraced her guitar and sang “To Begin Again.”

Let’s take Florencia’s advice and start a fresh conversation about education that will get our students ready for life in a Global Knowledge/Information Age, even an Age of Knowledge Creation and Breakthrough Thinking.  It could be among the most exhilarating, memorable, and influential things we ever do.  In a world of exponential change, time’s wasting.

Read More:

To read more about Depth, Breadth, and Purposes of Education, check out Chapter 14 of Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future by Gary Marx.  The full book and Guide versions are available for single- and multiple-copy purchases to help us build an understanding of these and other trends.  Order from the publisher, Education Week Press, (print and electronic); from Amazon at  (print and Kindle); or from Barnes & Noble (Nook).



Fast-Changing World

Getting Students Ready for a Fast-Changing World

By Gary Marx

Looking for a way to capture and hold students’ attention?  Try the future.  That’s where they will all be living.

Even those of us who try to live in the moment simply can’t avoid anticipating what might come next.  We’re immersed in a world of complexity and constant change, and it’s not going away soon.  What can we do about it?  We can embrace it.

In Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future, published by Education Week Press, we can learn about an array of political, economic, social, technological, demographic, and environmental forces that will have a profound impact on each of our lives.  Keep a printed copy on your desk and another on your Kindle or Nook.  It’s available from  As educators, we can use that exciting information and a host of futures tools to enliven our schools and classrooms, think ever more deeply about what we teach and how we teach it, contribute to student achievement, and help us shape the future of education.

At your fingertips, you’ll find tons of data that would take most of us years to collect.  You’ll discover ideas generated by legions of experts.  That includes the thinking and experience of a distinguished international Futures Council 21.  Members of the Council were part of a Delphi study devoted just to providing information, ideas, and experiences for Twenty-One Trends.

In this book, you’ll discover tips on how to use those futures tools, such as trend analysis, issue analysis, flexibility/innovation analysis, historical/defining moments analysis, and gap analysis.  Talented educators can adapt those processes, regularly used by insightful planners, to fire the imaginations of students as they investigate the facts, develop ideas, and team up to discover why what they are learning is so important to their future.  Using the compelling information and invigorating processes, they will develop deeper knowledge, form an expanded array of interests, and enjoy the thrill of intellectual curiosity and persistence.  All will pay off for them during the rest of their lives, as engaged citizens who are employable and capable of living even more interesting lives,

Most of us want to personalize education at the same time we’re promoting teamwork and turning out socially responsible, well-adjusted, contributing members of society.  For many of us, active learning, project-based education, real-world education, and learning through inquiry are already alive and well.  We’re focusing on developing thinking, reasoning, and problem solving skills.  On top of that, we’re provoking imagination and creativity.  We’re on a constant search for ingenuity and looking for clues for how to build on it and make our schools even more exciting learning environments.

Here are some of the trends addressed in Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century.  A chapter is devoted to each, and they are clustered into spheres.  Here’s the idea:

Demographic Sphere:  Generations, Diversity, Aging.

Technology Sphere:  Technology, Identity and Privacy.

Economic Sphere:  The Economy, Jobs and Careers.

Energy and Environmental Sphere:  Energy, Environmental and Planetary Security, Sustainability.

International/Global Sphere:  Trends addressing International/Global Concerns and Opportunities.

Education and Learning Sphere:  Personalization, Ingenuity, and the Depth, Breadth, and Purposes of Education.

Public and Personal Leadership Sphere:  Polarization, Authority, Ethics, Continuous Improvement.

Well-Being Sphere:  Poverty, Scarcity vs. Abundance, Personal Well-Being and Work-Life Balance.

As educators, many of us are faced with teaching an ever-expanding body of knowledge, skills, and behaviors in basically the same amount of time we’ve had for years.  Twenty-One Trends, which has been years in the making, offers some helpful tips.  This future-focused book is not designed to provide the final answers but to stimulate thinking about how we can connect what we teach and how we teach it to what our students may need to know and be able to do today and tomorrow.

Whether we are educators or involved in any other aspect of human endeavor, we can put this book to use for us.  Twenty-One Trends is often used as a text for education, leadership, planning, strategy, and futures courses.  Many of us depend on it as a base for community conversations, as a compelling environmental scan, and as a foundation as we plan for the future.

Read More:

Read more in Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future by Gary Marx.  The full book and Guide versions are available for single- and multiple-copy purchase to help us build an understanding of these and other trends.  Order from the publisher, Education Week Press, (print and electronic); from Amazon at  (print and Kindle); or from Barnes & Noble (Nook).


Personalization: When Square Pegs Meet Round Holes

By Gary Marx


“In a world of diverse talents and aspirations, we will increasingly discover and accept that one size does not fit all.”

Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century

    Tailors are busy people.  It’s personal thing.  We all want our clothes to fit.

Once upon a time, when we ordered a cup of coffee, our options included cream, sugar, both, or black.  Now, we expect our favorite roast to blend with a mélange of specific flavors that match our particular taste.  A lot of us like to have it served in a place that has a certain style.  That in itself is worth an extra buck or two.  Sure, there are tons of people who never touch the stuff, but even many of them like the aroma, and, let’s face it, the coffee shop is a good place to take care of email.

Now, consider this.  A parent walks into a classroom, sits down with the teacher, fires up the family laptop, and announces, “Our neuropsychologist just did an fMRI scan of our daughter.  I want to share the results with you.  As you know, she’s a good student, but the report is pretty specific about how you can further motivate her to learn.”  Wow, the epitome of personalization.  As a teacher, what do you do with that counsel?  You probably worry about a level playing field.  What about the kids whose parents can’t afford it?  Should we require that they all have an fMRI?  If so, who will pay for it?  What about those parents who don’t want their child to have an fMRI?

It’s not so wild a dream.  In fact, a new profession is emerging, Mind-Brain and Education (MBE).  This relatively new field encompasses neuroscience, philosophy, linguistics, pedagogy, and developmental psychology.  What we know about how the brain grows and develops can help us in our ongoing quest to personalize.

We all know that technology can be a valuable tool, especially if it helps us build on a foundation of sound teacher and student relationships.  Computer programs can chart a student’s day-to-day progress in discrete areas of the curriculum, provide instant feedback and reinforcement, and give a thoughtful teacher a set of sensors that pinpoint where help might be needed.  While being data-driven makes sense, so does being sensor-driven, constantly in touch with opportunities to personally help a student succeed and discover the thrill of learning.

Of course, there are other ways.  One is to simply get to know our students even better.  The best educators have always paid attention to learning styles, interests, talents, hopes, and dreams.  Understanding differences helps us personalize.  Rallying around common goals that we reach in a diversity of ways strengthens our sense of community.

The more we know the better our chances of tailoring education for each student.  All together now, let’s sing “Getting to Know You…”

On the other hand, forces in society are pushing our education system toward standardization.  If we teach everybody the same thing at the same pace, then test them, we get a score, a rating, or a ranking.  We compare those numbers, and that makes the news.  The whole process makes it easier to ignore social, economic, and cultural factors that can make a big difference in achievement.  We are left with an impression that we can get our education scores the same way we get box scores for football, basketball, baseball, hockey, and soccer.  We know it isn’t that easy.  Simply put, we don’t all fit in the same box.

Growing numbers of educators are getting concerned that their goals are becoming numbers in a news story rather than fully educated people.  Constructive restlessness is simmering among parents, communities, and nations who know that our future depends on discovering and developing unique talents and abilities.  Unfortunately, one way to increase those numbers is to narrow the curriculum to a few things that are more easily tested.  Interests, motivations, and aspirations of students fall victim to the numbers game.  Sometimes students lose interest.  Too often, we lose them.

Standards can be helpful if they are flexible enough to meet the needs of a fast-changing world.  Testing and assessment are essential but, at their best, they give us clues about how we can improve education for each individual student.  If we hope to personalize, we need to focus on those clues rather than seeing a few numbers and rushing to conclusions.

Schools are often among the largest organizations in a community.  Yet, they are expected to deliver one of the most personal services.  That’s why educators and communities should pay particular attention to individual needs and interests, along with the imperative of producing good members of a civil society.

Laurie Barron is superintendent of the Evergreen School District in Kalispell, Montana.  She served as a member of an international Futures Council 21, which generously provided counsel as we developed our book, Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century.  This noted educator reminds us that, “One size does not fit all.  There should be one goal: high achievement, and there should be multiple paths to meet that goal: personalization.”

Read More:

To read more about Personalization, take a look at Let’s Get Personal, Chapter 12 of Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future by Gary Marx.  The full book and Guide versions are available for single- and multiple-copy purchase to help us build an understanding of these and other trends.  Order from the publisher, Education Week Press, (print and electronic); from Amazon at  (print and Kindle); or from Barnes & Noble (Nook).




Diversity: Demographics and Our Future: Divide or Exclude? Enrich or Divide?

 By Gary Marx

The handwriting is on the wall.  By 2043, fewer than half of all people living in the United States will be non-Hispanic white.  That’s been a reality for children through age 1 since 2011.  This tipping point was expected to stretch through age 5 by 2014 and through age 18 by 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

There’s more.  In August of 2014, Education Week reported that “Latino, African-American, and Asian students in public K-12 classrooms were expected to surpass the number of non-Hispanic whites.”  Source of that information?  The U.S. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

One thing is crystal clear, the traditional majority/minority society is fast becoming a minority/minority society.  No single racial or ethnic group will make up more than 50 percent of the population.  Nothing new for states and equivalents such as Hawaii, the District of Columbia, California, New Mexico, and Texas as well as many cities and communities across the nation which tipped during the past several years.

How does a country get so diverse?  The short answer is immigration and birth rates.  In the 1920s, immigrants came to the U.S. largely from northern and southern Europe as well as from Canada and Mexico.  In 2010, top immigrant-sending countries were:  Mexico, China/Hong Kong/Taiwan, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, El Salvador, Cuba, Korea, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Immigrants are often younger and more likely than the general population to be in their child-bearing years.  The face of the nation continues to change.  However, our motto remains the same, E Pluribus Unum (Of the Many…One).

During what can easily be called another age of mass migration, people are moving in droves from one part of the world to another, generally seeking opportunity.  That means receiving countries, wherever they are, face education challenges ranging from working with a diversity of languages and cultures to improving achievement for all students, whatever their backgrounds.

Social cohesion depends on maintaining an inclusive country or community.  To form that glue that holds us all together, we need to start with a basic premise or belief:  If we manage our diversity well, it will enrich us. If we don’t manage our diversity well, it will divide us.  Every diverse nation or community, to secure its future, simply must be flexible and inclusive enough to constantly reframe its identity in a fast-changing world.  Of course, that raises a basic question:  “Are we inclusive or exclusive?”

Let’s remember that the whole idea of diversity is constantly being redefined.  It’s no longer simply black and white.  In fact, the definition keeps growing and now includes:   social and economic factors, race, ethnicity, national origin, color, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disabilities, political and religious affiliation, language and linguistics, physical and cognitive abilities and qualities, political beliefs, educational background, geographical location, marital status, parental status, and life experiences.  Considering learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, and emotional and behavioral concerns, we can add neurodiversity.[i]  Feel free to expand on this list.

Implications of diversity?  There are hundreds.  A constant challenge is maintaining that critical balance between what divides us and what unites us.  Depending on whether people feel their voices have been heard, they will very likely conclude that they are either in power or out of power.  We should never stop searching for our common denominators.  Of course, effective communication is bottom line, at the very heart of understanding.

Our steadfast pursuit of equal opportunity should be aimed at lifting all boats.  Educators should insist on high expectations for all students across all diversities.  A fast-changing, interconnected world demands an understanding of languages and cultures and a commitment to celebrating our differences.

The world is rife with conflict, often built on a firm foundation of misunderstandings.  How can we build bridges and find common ground?  How can we get future generations ready for life in a highly diverse world?  Those are questions we need to answer, not just once but every day across all political boundaries and in every family, school, and community.  Think of it this way:  Our children, our need for education and learning, and our future as viable communities and as a planet are among things we all have in common.

“Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without.”

William Sloane Coffin, Jr.

 Read More:

To read more about Diversity, check out Chapter 2 of Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century…Out of the Trenches and into the Future by Gary Marx.  The book is available for single- and multiple-copy purchases to help us build an understanding of these and other trends far-and-wide.  Order from the publisher, Education Week Press, (print and electronic); from Amazon at  (print and Kindle); or from Barnes & Noble (Nook).

[i] Armstrong, Thomas, Neurodiversity in the Classroom, ASCD, Alexandria, VA., 2012.