Practices regarding education in America have changed from one generation to the next. Our perceptions about child development and learning styles change as new studies and findings present evidence to confirm or modify one theory or another. Evolution is natural and ongoing as research and empirical studies continue.
In addition, social changes, political forces, economic pressures, plus beliefs and values continue to develop in our country. These are bound to influence educational practices. Futurists study signals and societal trends and make sobering pronouncements about what will come about in future decades and generations. As writers of this text, we resist any urge to speculate on how new movements will fit into this overview of historical patterns of philosophical outlooks. As observers of current practices and new developments, however, we conclude that the following topics will likely have a significant impact on future school objectives.
The rapidly expanding mix of culture and ethnicity in America will continue, and the changing demographics will affect U.S. education. Although some legislation and judicial decisions that affect amounts of immigration, employment practices, and educational opportunity in the United States exist, these guidelines will be revisited in the years ahead. American culture has changed rapidly since civil rights legislation was passed in the 1960s, and most agree that minorities, recent English-language learners, and foreign-born residents meet greater acceptance in the majority culture and find more positive responses than before.
Ethnocentrism is less prominent than in previous generations, and most Americans are confident and positive about the “tossed salad” quality of American communities in the 21st century. Multicultural curricula and pointed attempts to foster antibias programs have made a positive impact on American schools and neighborhoods (Derman-Sparks, 1989; Edwards, Derman-Sparks, & Ramsey, 2006). Emphasis will continue, and partnerships formed by families, schools, and communities are the best possible ways to promote the advantages of diversity and demographic change.
Interest and concerns about global issues will affect our country’s schools and our attitudes toward education for years to come. In a space of two decades, much of American cultural life has been influenced through connections to worldwide products, information on different values and beliefs, and shifting job markets.
Americans have been forced to shed their traditional insular stance and to focus on events taking place on all continents. We rarely think now of a self-sufficient “fortress America” that peers inward for inspiration and services. Each year, new electronic developments tie our U.S. economy and lifestyle to other parts of the world. The end of the Cold War and the beginning of new conflicts brought about a dramatic change in American influence and interest in other regions. A new feeling of “what happens in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America” engages Americans as never before and is bound to affect all education. Major educational associations in the United States now have an international department, and the increase in international conferences highlights this trend. The achievements of American students have been compared to those of foreign students for more than 50years, but in the last decade, the intensity has increased and comparisons are now made yearly. All this comes from the question, “Will Americans be able to compete in the global marketplace?”
New comparative education procedures are helpful in using global perspectives on education, and this practice provides a logical extension for our need to extend educational partnerships to another level. Already, many schools have established connections with “sister schools” in foreign lands to enhance the notions of worldwide common interests and concerns (Swiniarski & Breitborde, 2003). The Internet and other electronic communication devices make the thousands of miles distance a trivial variable in worldwide communications.
Technological advances have always been viewed as support and enhancement for schools and other educational projects. During the 20th century, these advances were viewed much like new appliances that would make the home more efficient. Today, however, new technological developments (starting with networked personal computers) influence curriculum decisions, modes of instruction, and communication with families and communities.
Audio–visual devices to enhance curriculum grew rapidly during the last half of the 20th century. In the last decade, however, an explosion of technological equipment to enhance communication, entertainment, and retrieval of information has pushed young children’s education and interests in very different directions (Wartella & Gray, 2004).
Media, especially electronic media, has become a preferred vehicle for receiving information and entertainment. This has huge implications for the projects we plan in schools, the nature of the curriculum, the models we use to evaluate our successes, and the equipment used in future classrooms.
The emphasis on ability to use a keyboard at an early age, the skill in flipping from one TV screen or browser window to another, and the location of information in vast databases scattered over the planet all show that education outside a classroom will only increase. Linear paths, chronologies of events, and local schedules have far less importance in a high-tech-mediated environment. The new overarching frame of reference affects our work with children and all that we do with families and communities.
Religious and Spiritual Variables
America, as well as other nations, is witnessing greater interest in spiritual concerns and the expansion of religious practices in local communities and abroad. Most teachers realize that studying about different religious practices can be a beneficial and stimulating project that will enhance a multicultural classroom. In elementary schools, religious dogma must remain outside any curriculum. The science curriculum in American secondary schools, however, has been affected in recent years on the issue of evolution vs. creationism and intelligent design. Statutes in several states and judicial decisions have come about as pressures from special interest groups contested the secular orientation typical in American public schools. As different religious groups become more visible and expand their influence in public education, questions about religious beliefs and principles are likely to receive more study and adjudication.
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