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FUTURE-PROOFING YOUR STUDENTS. THE FIRST GENERATION OF DIGITAL-NATIVES

Generation Z (born 1995–2010) are very, very different from all previous generations. And are facing a very different future.

According to McKinsey: They are “Communaholics.” They acknowledge and live in multiple realities. They resent being categorized. They feel unique rather than being labelled. They want the truth. They value ethical behavior. They believe in dialog as a way to resolve conflict. They view consumption as access, not possession. They believe consumption is an expression of individual identity. They view consumption as a matter of ethical concern. They are more religious than Millennials. And more liberal politically. The McKinsey report concludes, “They want the truth.”

If we are to be what Jonas Salk called ‘good ancestors’ we must show them how they can they get at the truth; especially now in the face of this tsunami of not just raw, but often intentionally deceitful data?

Along with McKinsey’s profile, one should also add this: all members of this generation now have the opportunity to be creative more than in any other bygone generation. Creativity, for the first time in the history of Homo sapiens, has become democratized.  

Let me illustrate this. Hannah G. and Alex P. belong to the Gen Z cohort. Hannah literally taught herself computer animation on YouTube – not in a classroom – and got a scholarship to the prestigious Ringling College of Art and Design. Alex taught himself to code using the internet. He programmed Socratotle© and Hannah did all the graphic design. That’s her illustration above. All I did was build flowcharts for this serious game; they did the rest.

That may or may not impress you, but I joined IBM in the 1970s and I’ve designed software for a living ever since. Trust me – it’s different now. Very different. I’m impressed. And not just by the technology. This generation has a different mindset. They just don’t know they shouldn’t be able to do that. Fearlessness should be added to this cohort’s litany of new attributes.

And the tools your digital natives are going to be able to deploy – for a pittance – will only get better. A decade or so from now their devices will go Full Quantum – 100 million times faster – making today’s tablet and smart phone look like an abacus. They will also be connected on a Quantum Network that is both unbreakable and literally as fast as it can be. Ubiquitous and pervasive computing in the service of their creativity.   

In 2003, Richard Florida predicted that right-brained – creative – people would rule the world in his book, “The Rise of the Creative Class.” Now updated.

He made this astonishing prediction six or so years after the World Wide Web went mainstream, and well before Facebook, Twitter, Google, Smart Phones and Apps.

He was right of course. The social, economic, political and especially the technological paradigm shifts of the past sixteen years means, amongst other things, that for the first time ever, being creative is more prized, and traditional thinkers are being left behind. As I’m sure you know our schools are still teaching traditional thinking.

Generation Z have families, and they know from relatives about the tech bubble and the real estate and financial crashes, and have revolted against the financiers on Wall Street. They’re now taking jobs that allow for free expression instead of going for the highest paycheck.

Richard Florida now says that one in three Americans, or 40 million workers, belong to the Creative Class. And of course that percentage is growing. In 1980, when computing was just becoming personal, that number was one in five. By the time your students are in college the Creative Class will swell to over 50 million jobs. The other jobs, for which we are training all our students, will remain steady or decline.

How does he define this group? “The Creative Class includes people in science and engineering, architecture and design, marketing, management, education, arts, music and entertainment whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology, and new creative content.”

He writes, “Creativity now powers most of the new industries of our day: from social media and computer graphics to medical research and urban planning. The current business environment means that creativity is the ‘most prized commodity.’” If you are a parent or a teacher of a child born after 1995 all this matters to you, and even more to your students and children. 

Recently the social media site for business professionals, LinkedIn, reported that the word most used by its members to describe themselves was “Creative.”

We are in a strange period of history right now. The old order has collapsed and the new order is not yet born. Florida writes, “The old order has failed; attempts to bail it out, to breathe new life into it or to somehow prop it back up are doomed to history’s dustbin. The key is not to limit or reverse the gains that the Creative Class has made but to extend them across the board, to build a more open, more diverse, more inclusive Creative Society that can more fully harness its members’—all of its members’—capacities.”

What to do? Well, first we should realize that teaching children to memorize facts, and then testing their ability to remember those facts, is basically irrelevant to their future – they’ve had Google all their lives for that. They will forget what they memorized soon after their SAT test. Google is forever. Gen Z has outsourced this skill already. But the law is the law, so schools have no choice. And change is nowhere in sight: how often does education reform feature in any political candidate’s speeches or commercials? This is because there is no appetite for change. The status quo suits the civil servants and elected officials just fine. And those who want change – teachers and parents especially – are at their mercy.

Unless, that is, there is a way to get students to future-proof themselves by learning in a gamified process how to make sense of the two worlds in which they co-exist – digital and physical. That could be the second most creative step they will ever take – besides creating the generation that comes after them. 

And that’s why I designed Socratotle© and had it built by digital natives, for digital natives. Its premise is simple: thinking matters because we are thinking matter; and thinking begins with questions and ends with answers. That’s how all creativity works.

“What if I sharpened that stone into a blade?” A pre-Modern human asked that innovative question 500,000 years ago, answered it, and in doing so radically changed the trajectory of human evolution. If a child is offered the opportunity to ask, “Who am I?” and offered the means to find out the answer – their truth – it will change the trajectory of their lives for the better. And then the child can go on creating their own authentic reality. Isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that also the best way to insulate ourselves against the unknown? What we are doing to children right now is coercively teaching them the ‘knowns’ of their civilization. We desperately need to teach them how to discover their ‘unknowns’ also.

Think of that skill like you think of Algebra; a method which shows us how to use knowns to find unknowns. And look how valuable Algebra has been! Without it, no bridges, no roads, no satellites, no technology.

If you want facts there’s Google. If you want to help your students to intentionally discover their authentic opinion – their voice on-demand – try Socratotle© It helps make sense of it all.

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