It’s 2047. The Dow Jones is over the 115,000 mark. Full employment has been the new normal for a decade. Those whose jobs have been automated are being paid an adequate stipend, to re-train in new skills. The air is clean due to the near-universal adoption of renewable energy, since the mastery of nuclear fusion in 2035. The president is in her second term, with approval ratings almost as high as those for both houses of congress, the military and the Supreme Court. Civil discourse is everywhere.
Mrs. Smith, a veteran teacher nearing retirement, is guiding her fifth grade history class at Public School 99 in the 51st American state – the former District of Columbia.
She smiles and looks around and the students know it is time to begin the class. They can’t wait. Mrs. Smith always challenges the class to ask a really important question. Soon one of her best student asks, “Why is the USA so rich and powerful, and why are people treated so fairly here?”
“Now, Billy you know I’m not allowed to answer questions like that. You’re supposed to find out. It’s your responsibility. Your job is to become a life-long learner like me. The only hint you’re going to get is the one I always give you: If we don’t look at history and take our cues from its lessons, our future might not always be as bright as it seems today.”
“Oh please,” the twelve year old boy insisted, “Just a hint.” His classmates chimed in, pleading.
“Oh well just a hint.” She looked jovially over her glasses at their eager faces and paused before adding, “Take a look around you.”
Billy and the class paused thoughtfully and did what Mrs. Smith suggested. Billy looked back at her after a minute and said, “You mean it’s our schools?”
“Well let’s just say it wasn’t always like this.” Mrs. Smith gestured at the airy, bright room in which the conversation is taking place. It has six round tables with five chairs at each, and in the middle of the room there is a swivel chair with an armrest, on which there is a cradle for her Personal Electronic Teaching Assistant. Students in her fifth grade class are clearly engaged and confident they have ownership of their learning, and feel free to question – within the constraints of the learning contract they and their parents all signed that is.
Each table has a slightly raised and inclined LED panel with the word “HISTORY” currently illuminated and scrolling around. No keyboards anywhere. The walls are covered with more electronic displays, each with a voice activated control, tailored to each student’s unique voiceprint, and with full knowledge of each student’s learning level, and all the knowledge of the world searchable at the speed of light by IBM’s WATSON CUBED: the latest generation of quantum computing, which has replaced the old-fashioned silicon-based computers beginning in 2031.
“What was it like when you first started teaching school, Mrs. Smith?” Another student named Emma asked; her hand raised politely.
“Well,” Mrs. Smith paused, “why don’t you see for yourselves?” That was all Mrs. Smith would say for the next thirty minutes; her job done for the moment.
Emma took the rotating leader spot, her job was to make sure the project was conducted in a systematic, rigorous and optimal manner. Emma and Billy, with three others, sat at their round table and began to interrogate WATSON via the Ultranet: Version 2045 using voice commands to ask their probing questions. In moments they are virtually inside a classroom dating from the early 21st century. Mrs. Smith voice-activates the Terego Learning Method© (TLM©) they will use to probe for answers. She will also use it to allow her to guide, monitor, video-capture and edit the team’s project in real-time, and then share it instantly with all the other teachers who are members of Mrs. Smith’s various on-line affinity groups.
The students switch their regular glasses to Virtual Reality Mode on spoken command, and they begin their discovery. What they see amazes them. Soon all the other students join Billy and Emma, inside the 4D rendition of a NYC classroom circa 2017.
“Why are they all sitting in rows with the teacher up front, and she’s the only one talking?” whispers one girl to a friend, who replies, “I know, how awful, and look at all those old-fashioned books. They look heavy and expensive!” The friend adds, “How up to date do you think they were?”
As the team of students interrogates WATSON, the 4D model speeds them through time on their virtual reality journey through a 2017 school year during which Emma offhandedly mentions to the others that the teacher seems to emphasize and stress the upcoming test schedules way too often. One student uses her voice control to ask more details about testing. Soon all the students are aghast. “They only taught facts and nothing else back then Mrs. Smith?”
The greying teacher nodded with a look of resignation and more than a little envy. The gifts of freedom from artificial curriculum constraints and access to friendly artificially intelligent technology, which her students adroitly used and took for granted, were not available to her during her days as a student and teacher before the 2025 Education Act of Congress, which the press famously dubbed the School Disruption Act. It had been passed by both houses of congress, in the wake of the calamitous performance of US school students on international tests in 2024, now ranking them below Angola, Syria and Mozambique. Finland won for a record forty sixth time.
The Supreme Court, in a unanimous vote, overturned the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act and its notorious successors.The author of the decision was Justice Antonin Scalia III. He branded the school system as a clear and present danger to the USA, and soon a coalition of parents, teachers and students had taken to the streets demanding change and chanting: “Keep Government Out Of Our Classrooms!” One year later in 2026 local authorities, with help from Education Foundations across the USA, had taken charge of their schools, begun paying teachers what they deserved, made the curriculum the responsibility of the local school, and focused heavily on student-centered learning; like Finland had been doing for almost half a century. America’s schools finances broke-even twenty years later as the benefits of partnering with Foundations, local and national businesses and universities became evident. Their slogan? “A Silicon Valley in EVERY Valley.”
After the virtual tour, which Mrs. Smith had been monitoring with her personal teaching assistant running the TLM© app, she suggested that her students now begin a team research project on the innovations in education that had taken place in the past eight decades. She counselled them to take great care to tease out the causes and effects. “Interrogate the subject matter; again and again until you find the root causes,” she paused for emphasis before adding, “As usual you will be presenting your findings at the end to all the other teams. Now, you know the drill, elect a team leader, chose a project name and,” she leaned forward, cupping her ear in anticipation, and the students responded in unison, shouting “Think-Through-Questioning.” There were no more instructions. They opened TLM© and collectively immersed themselves in the project. From now on the familiar human/electronic blurring of lines that they and their parents had grown up with began.
They knew what to do. Simply imitate Socrates from almost 2400 years before. Ask a question. Answer the question. Always question the answer. Repeat until satisfied. Agree and communicate their opinion.
Billy and Emma’s team, Team Athens, and the other five teams got down to work after their leader’s cue, “Engage!” There was of course the usual banter, one student observing after a few moments, “Did they really just take multiple choice tests from memory in 2017?”
“Looks like it, according to WATSON,” replied his team mate.
“Did you check out those ancient machines from the 1960s that graded their scores?” Added another member.
“You mean that Optical Character Recognition machine that was originally meant to tally voters?”
“Yeah! That thing. Historians said that was one monumental screw up. Hey, but some called it progress”
“Sure was progress,” said his team member, “For the kids! It gave students a one third chance of getting it right just by guessing,” said the first student in disbelief, as this reality sunk in before adding, “And they called that learning.”
His companion chuckled and responded, “That’s like those quiz shows my grandma told me about. The shows just wanted to give money to those who could recall facts. Not really a skill that needs rewarding.” She smiled at the thought, adding, “Grandma used to watch them from across the room on big boxes with wires everywhere and huge screens sitting on top of a chest of drawers.”
They giggled, as many a generation has done before, at their grandparent’s seeming lack of sophistication. Money for facts when facts are instantly accessible via artificial intelligence which seems to know what you need before you do! What’s that all about? It seemed so out of touch.
Each of the groups collaborated to analyze and think critically about the topic. The digital archives had no trouble in responding to their questions. In an hour they were ready to present their findings.
Each team presented in turn to all the other teams and Mrs. Smith. The class had voted and Team Athens won with their presentation, garnering 12 of the available 31 points. Team Manchester was a close second with nine.
Billy confidently read from his screen illustrating his talk with images and sound to emphasize points the team had deemed most necessary.
“150 years ago a system of education was designed by ten captains of American industry. It was a regimented approach based on Prussian models of conformity. The school day was segmented into periods when certain subjects were to be studied and memorized and tested. The idea was to produce a uniform work force that could handle the new industrialized jobs such as mass production of new inventions like cars that needed drivers, trains and machinery, or working in what used to be called department stores.” Billy looked at his script adding, “This approach to learning became known as the “sage-on the-stage.” Despite tinkering it worked less and less well from the late 1800s until a new age dawned, called by historians the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution.’ It was based on knowledge. It is thought to have begun in the 1960s. Students needed new skills for this new age. And several companies who had once made a fortune selling both the test-prep, the test and the homework were bankrupted in the shift away from test-prep education. Stress amongst students and teachers had increased, and cortisol levels had risen in inverse proportion to the calamitous decline in test scores, and among teenagers prescription medications consumption had skyrocketed.” Billy paused to let all this sink in, “However, it took until 2021 before the government realized this mismatch between what employers needed and what schools were providing was harming the US economy, like global warming and terrorism once did. In that year a new Education Committee was formed. It was comprised of experts from all walks of life and, with the assistance of Human and Artificial Intelligence and of course Machine Learning,” Billy paused and grinned, and added, “What used to be called books.” He waited for the a giggle that swept the room to subside, before resuming, “It was decided that the most suitable skills for the new age of knowledge were not test-taking, but thinking in self-directed groups focused on problem-solving, creativity and communications. From that time on the USA has risen to the top of international scoring and once again experienced a Golden Age fueled by a boom in patent filings.” Billy, who was smart beyond his years, beamed as he finished with a flourish, beginning with the Mrs. Smith’s four mandatory words, “In our considered opinion, we in 2047 have put questions back on the pedestal. As we see it the mistake in the past was to emphasize known facts not questioning.” Billy looked up and spoke directly to the students and their teacher with the closing words he had memorized. “Valuing only answers sounds like that TV show that’s still around called Jeopardy. We made the change from only valuing facts to stressing thinking-through-questioning, and that’s why we are a wealthy and kind nation again. It’s the way we were taught.” He paused and added “And it’s fun!
All Team Athens members took a bow. Mrs. Smith smiled though her tears as she commanded her personal teaching assistant to enable another TLM© function to share what she had just seen with all the other teachers in the world for them to use. She was an adept user of the new crowd teaching model – all teachers teaching all students regardless of location.
This was her last day before retiring from a thrilling career being a guide-on-the-side, and she knew she and her school had prepared these children well to be messengers to the future. She wished she had been better prepared as a messenger to her future.
This does not have to remain just another thought-experiment. This kind of classroom experience can become the norm in a very short time period. The technology is in place to create TLM©: an educational methodology and interface to share best practice teaching-learning methods to help students understand, exploit and experience the joy of student-centered learning, and begin to own their own education. Teachers, with help from Educational Foundations, must lead the way. All others have failed our children.
Let students learn from their own mistakes, not the mistakes of previous governments.
TEACH THE FUTURE See How Students Already Use The Methodology.
Alex Terego, Creative & Critical Thinker/Inventor
“I’m passionate that our nation give every child the best possible education. One that equips them with a lifelong love of learning, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication skills. Our and their futures depends on it!”