Theme 4: A New Relational Contract Between Children and Adults

Industrial-era education systems are founded upon structure, authority and compliance. We need education systems that help adults and children to learn together.

Theme 4: A New Relational Contract Between Children and Adults

The pace of technological, communication and social change, never before seen by cultures that have been historically separated from each other, is happening so quickly that adults need to learn from children as much as children need to learn from adults.

In her 1969 book Culture and Commitment, Margaret Mead presents an anthropological explanation of the changes that will continue to happen to inter-generational culture due to global connnectivity.
Now 50 years old, it is amazing to consider that this book was published prior to the exponential growth in global communication that began at the end of the 20th century.

"Today, nowhere in the world are there elders who know what the children know, no matter how remote and simple the societies are in which the children live." Culture and Commitment, p. 101

"It is because the entire planet is accessible to us that we can know that there are no people anywhere about whom we might know but do not. " p. 18

"The secure belief that those who knew had authority over those who did not has been shaken". p. 19

Our current school systems, built upon structure, authority and compliance, do not align with a rapidly changing world where adults and children need to learn together. As a result, we need education systems that can equalize the relational contract between children and adults.

So what does adult participation look like in a changed world that needs to promote learning between generations? Proponents of self-directed learning often suggest that a minimal degree of involvement from adults is necessary for children to learn. But this concept is based upon micro system thinking.

Adult involvement in the learning process is not an all or nothing proposition. In a rapidly changing world that requires more flexible inter-generational relationships, children still need guidance from adults. Of consideration is what this guidance could look like from a meta-educational system perspective.

"The crux of the problem is that not everyone knows what is good for them (usually because what is good for them is absent, has been occluded, or is misunderstood). The implication of this fact is that at times we have a responsibility to exercise teacherly authority; those with greater knowledge and capacity often ought to act so as to raise others into the fullness of their capacities." Zachary Stein, Education in a Time Between Worlds, p. 36

A micro system view based upon industrial-era schools uses linear system thinking to maintain adult control. A meta system view sees education as a way to promote mutual learning through the development of more balanced relationships between children and adults.