The Future of Secondary Education
James L. Morrison
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The last decade has been an extraordinarily turbulent time in Western
civilization. This has been a period when fundamental rules, the basic
ways we do things, have been dramatically altered. For example, we have
witnessed the end of a war in the Gulf, where, although our forces were
victorious, there is a question as to whether or not we have "won the
peace." We have witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, unification of the
two Germanys, and the end of the Cold War; we may see the breakup of the
Soviet Union, or a military takeover. In 1992 we may see a strong
European Community (EC) tradebloc that incorporates former Warsaw Pact
countries. In response, we may see a North American trade-bloc that
incorporates Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and a Pacific trade-block that
incorporates Japan and Russia. In a brief period of time, our world has
become substantially different. In the language of futurists, we have
experienced a paradigm shift.
Adam Smith (the pen name of a contemporary Wall Street economist) in
Powers of the Mind, defined paradigm as "A shared set of assumptions. . .
.the way we perceive the world. . . . [It] explains the world to us and
helps us to predict its behavior" (1975, p. 19).
Paradigm shifts signify dramatic collective change that upset people's
worlds because the assumptions, the rules they lived by, have changed.
When paradigm shifts occur, people have to learn new rules even while
suffering from the effects of old rules. The build-up of U.S. Forces in
Saudi Arabia, for example, was hampered
by inadequate sea and airlift capability, a capability not developed
sufficiently because the implications of the old paradigm called for
pre-positioning war materials in Europe as opposed to ferrying them
across in the event of a war.
To anticipate the future, we must look for signals of impending paradigm
shifts. There were signals that the Berlin Wall would come down. It was
well known that the sentiment for unification was strong in both West and
East Germany. But the strongest signal occurred in August 1989 when
Soviet leadership did not support the East German government in its
attempt to stem the flow of its citizens to West Germany through Hungary
and Czechoslovakia. This population flowing through the "hole in the
dike" became a surge, bursting open the hole and causing the dike to
collapse. The rest is history.
What are some of the signals that portend a paradigm shift in secondary
education? Consider the following:
- The cost of computer circuit components has been decreasing 25% per year.
- Today's microcomputers are as powerful as 1985 mainframes.
- Satellite teaching is increasingly viewed as a solution to productivity
- In a few years, it will be possible to have a university research library
available at home through relatively inexpensive CD ROM technology.
- Economic global competition is increasing along with a corresponding
concern among business leaders that high school and college graduates are
not well prepared for the workplace.
- Violence in the schools is increasing, fueling the drive for vouchers and
for home schooling.
- The magnitude of population shifts in age and ethnic identification is
increasing, with a correspondingly increasingly diverse student population.
These signals imply a dramatic shift in the way we plan and deliver
schooling in the next decade. It may well be that some 60 to 80% of
instructional delivery may be conducted via computer, interactive
multimedia, and satellite technologies. But relatively few teachers, who
currently rely on classroom lectures, are prepared to design instruction
using these technologies. If indeed the rules change to preparing and
implementing instruction via these means, most teachers will be "back to
This special issue of The High School Journal focuses on the
secondary education. Andrew Carvin leads off with a description of the
World Wide Web and its use as an educational tool-technology available
now that will drive changes in the role of teacher (from sage on the
stage to guide on the side), curricular scheduling, and the way we "do"
schooling. Richard Smyth illustrates how students use the Web as a
publishing house. Robert Bunge follows with an anecdotal article
assessing the opportunities and challenges of the Internet for his
colleagues at Mount Vernon High School. John VanDeusen, Nancy Aronson,
and Thomas Secton describe the use of large-scale conferencing
methodologies, including future search, as tools to plan for the high
schools of the future.
A series of articles focus on topics related to educational reform. Rod
Beaumont discusses the future of tech prep and school-to-work programs,
David Marshak describes the inquiry school, Gay Knutson lays out
alternative high schools, Catherine Hickman looks at parent involvement
programs, John O'Neill highlights the value of inter-school collaboration
and Laurence Marcus and Theodore Johnson focus on new possibilities for
teaching diverse populations in tomorrow's high school.
The issue concludes with articles envisioning how science, earth
literacy, and the arts will look in secondary schools of the 21st
century. Bill Baird provides a broad overview of science education in the
future; Frans Verhagen focuses on Earth literacy; Paul Horwitz describes in
some detail the use of educational
technology to help students turn science information into knowledge. Ian
Olson persuasively argues for a more prominent role of the arts in
thinking skill development for high schools; David Hornfischer focuses on
the forces that will impact the development of an essential music
education curriculum in the coming decade.
We developed this issue almost entirely using the resources of the
Internet. In January 1995 I put out a call for manuscripts on a number
of listservs, including Horizon List, requesting people interested in
contributing to this issue to e-mail a theme paragraph and an outline of
their proposed articles. I inserted these outlines in a section of our
Web page (Horizon Home Page at http://sunsite.unc.edu/horizon),
titled The Future of Secondary Education,
in which I described the purpose of the issue and requested browsers to
insert their suggestions/critique in the comment box at the end of each
author's theme paragraph. I also requested articles from interested browsers.
In March I developed a distribution list of authors in my e-mail
directory, and with one posting was able to ask selected authors to
submit their drafts to me via e-mail so that I could insert them on
Horizon Home Page. In April I posted a request to Horizon List
participants to review the papers and to sub it their comments and
suggestions in the comment box under the indicated article on Horizon
In September, copyedited manuscripts were inserted on Horizon Home Page.
I posted a request to the author distribution list in my e-mail address
book for authors to review their papers and to respond to my questions
and comments in their manuscript (e.g., "need reference here") and/or to
send their suggested revisions to me via e-mail. I also posted a request
on Horizon List and to the University of North Carolina School of
Education Faculty to review the manuscripts and e-mail me with their
comments and suggestions for revisions.
The purpose of using the combination of e-mail, listserv, and Web page to
develop this issue was first to solicit manuscripts and second to take
advantage of obtaining critique from a large number of readers from
around the world quickly. We were quite successful in soliciting
manuscripts; indeed, we generated more than we could publish in this
issue (those not used will be considered for publication later). We did
not receive much critique; most came from issue authors offering
suggestions to other issue authors. But it would have been considerably
more difficult and slow to obtain the critique had we not had e-mail and
the Web site (which is probably why journal editors do not send all
manuscripts to all authors requesting critique).
We hope that our description of this application in the realm of sharing
ideas and critiques will affirm and/or reaffirm confidence in educator's
use of the Web. Further, we hope that the resulting articles in this
issue of The High School Journal will inspire readers to respond to
impending paradigm shift, and be prepared for the education scene of the
Smith, A. (1975). Powers of the mind. New York: Ballantine.