The Next Generation’s Freedom

This time each year my sister-in-law hosts a Passover Seder. In her family’s version of the Haggadah – the Seder ceremony — there are several passages that hold great meaning to me:

In every age, some new freedom is won and established, adding to the advancement of human happiness and security.

Each generation is duty-bound to contribute to this growth.

While discussing this passage with my beautiful niece – an elite soccer player-turned model/writer — we reflected on the progressive freedoms that have come into our society in the last 50 years: hard-won freedoms gained from the civil rights, feminist, and gay rights movements that we could not imagine in earlier eras. I vividly remember as an eight year old (54 years ago!) asking my mother why there were two water fountains in the Houston grocery stores– one labeled C for “colored” one marked W for “white.” Even to an eight year old her explanation sounded unreasonable. When I was fifteen, my best friend’s father killed himself because he could not deal with being a gay physician in a world that could not grant him the freedom to be himself.

So I asked my niece, “What will be your generation’s freedom to pass on to the next generation?” She replied, without hesitation, “Education – the ability to receive an education any time, any place, any pace.” Her husband did not finish college – in the formal sense. Yet he spends much of his free time accessing education material through Khan Academy, MOOCs, Ted Talks, and other online modules coupled with some face-to-face week long seminars on various topics. He is learning what he wants to learn when he wants to learn it . . . getting his own version of a college education. Ten years from now a student could receive certificates from 32 personally selected MOOC courses taught by professors from the most elite universities for less than $15,000. Compare that to today’s $250,000 college degree at the elite schools.

I grew up with the factory model of schooling – tight rows of desks lined up in front of a teacher who delivered all the instruction using textbooks and work books. Education was time, age, and content bound, fully prescribed with no discretionary choices except for a library book I checked out once a week. Fast forward to 2015. Although the factory model still exists in many schools in the U.S. and around the world, innovative schools that blend online work with face-to-face instruction are gaining a foothold in the mainstream. The concept of personalized, mastery-based education – any time, any place, any pace — is gaining momentum, and the technology tools that enable this to become a reality are being developed by such tech giants as Google and Facebook.

I agree with my niece.   A new kind of education will be the next generation’s freedom. What will your contribution be to this new freedom??

Marina Ballantyne Walne

April 6, 2015