“We, the last of the 20th Century”
……….is the first part of a story I’m writing to try and make sense of a world where parents and teachers don’t listen to and trust the people who will shape the next generation. Their actions will cause millions of young people born between 1988 and 2005 to fall into the lower end of the M-society first proposed by Japanese business strategist and writer Kenichi Ohmae in 2006.
We are the last generation of teachers and parents of the 20th century. Most of us were born between 1955 and 1975 here in Asia. During that time Asia was still reeling from the shackles of their colonial masters and the domain at the heart of our economy was agriculture. We were born right after World War II and never quite understood how history happened; we just knew we were living in a world where everyone was racing to build, build and build and there was this hunger to acquire things, more things, improve our status in life.
Most of your grandparents were not educated – they were small traders, small estate owners, or laborers. And because they weren’t educated, they weren’t very forward looking either. I bet none of them read Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock” which was published in 1970, right about when we were just born or were teenagers. If they had and understood how the future we would grow up in would’ve been so dramatically affected by what was happening since the 1950s, they would’ve helped us prepare differently.
Well, one thing they would have done differently was to make us effectively bilingual. Between 1955 and 1970 there were still many native English-speakers in our country and trade and transactions were primarily in English. The dominance of Bahasa Malaysia came later, around the early 80s. Imagine the world of knowledge and information that would’ve opened up to us if we could have gone to university or could read well-enough in English to be able to be part of the Information Revolution that took off with the commercial use of the internet in 1989. Well, we missed that boat.
Some of us had to give up learning our Mother Tongue because we went to English-medium schools and we regretted that sense of loss of our cultural heritage. Fortunately, that loss was made up for by the time we became young adults (in the 80s and 90s). Malaysia was going through challenging times that left many of us feeling we had only 2 choices: live in a country not of our making (but our parents’) or migrate to places for a second chance. Many of our best brains left and most never returned.
By 1989, again 2 very significant things happened. The Internet Revolution effectively took off. At around the same time, China made an official stand that learning the modern business and information language, English, was their key to an accelerated rising from thousands of years behind closed doors. The first of your generation was being born at this time. By 1989, the shift from blue-collar to white-collar work that began in 1955 was commonplace, only to be accelerated by the advent of the Internet.
With this acceleration, white-collar workers, or “Knowledge workers” were categorized into “Basic literacy” and “high literacy”. Around this time, concepts such as Lateral Thinking and Multiple Intelligences and new information on how to learn second languages surfaced.
But instead of trying to understand what higher literacy means or better ways of acquiring second languages, we were embroiled in war of the egos among our politicians. In a way we are doing to you what our parents did to us; they missed out on the knowledge of the need for High Literacy, Science and Math, computer knowledge and being bilingual during the 60s and 70s. This caused us to feel a sense of failure to launch, to end up living unhappy lives, lives which we feel are incomplete because we didn’t have the knowledge to have the sort of freedom and happiness we thought we were working so hard for.
We are unhappy and we are disillusioned. And so we try to live our lives again through you. We wished our parents had the foresight to know what higher literacy meant. We wished we understood how second languages were acquired. We wished we knew what lateral thinking was. But how can we know what we have never experienced?
We don’t know many things but we know one thing : how to push ourselves to do what we don’t want to do because we don’t know how else to live. That was how we had to live in our lives when we were in our 20s because we missed the boat. We just worked harder and harder doing what we weren’t really good at and being unhappy at the same time. We don’t even understand technology and we’re drowning in all this change. We try to act like we know more than you because that was how our parents and teachers acted to us and so we’re going to push you the way we pushed ourselves because that’s the only way we know how.
We’re drowning in this sea of change and we’re holding on to you for dear life. We feel that life is unfair because we worked hard but we feel neither accomplishment nor happiness. We won’t admit that to you, that we know nothing, and probably know less than you. Why? Because our parents and our teachers were figures of authority who behaved to us like they knew more than we did and so that’s the only way we know how to be.
By holding on to you while we feel like we’re losing our identities and self-esteem in this Future Shock, we will make you miss out on The Third Wave – the New Economy. But no, we won’t let you go. No, we won’t trust you to learn how to swim. No, we don’t care if you feel like we’re dragging you down and drowning you with us. We’re not going to trust you – because we’re lost. The only thing left that remains real to us are our children. This Future Shock has caused us to lose our sense of self and identity. Only our children can affirm that we exist, that we matter. That we are not irrelevant.
If only our parents had told us what other people already knew in 1970, that there were going to be technologies which would make life so abundant (mass economy), that the pace of life was going to speed up, that global travel and working in different places was going to be commonplace, that our health and success in life was going to be affected by environmental conditions, that our finances were going to be affected when the U.S. took its dollar off the gold standard in the 70s – we would’ve prepared ourselves, in the 60s and 70s, for our life in the 80s and 90s.
Life would’ve been very, very different, don’t you think? But we lived in an illusion that life was going to be good if we were willing to work hard and save money. That was true for our parents’ and grandparents’ time because rice would grow if you toil the land. It just never occurred to us that we had moved away from a land-based economy to an Industrial economy since the late 19th century.
For those who lived in industrialized countries, some were aware that the decade after World War 2 was going to see a phenomenal rise in Science and Math and Technology. These were the “white-collar” workers who already had conditions in place for their children to inherit. These were the parents of the Bill Gates and the Larry Page and Sergey Brin of our time.
People who study history and society and – well, those people who really know what they’re talking about and have happy successful lives; they tell us that science and math will catalyze innovations in technology which will then enable other technologies to emerge in a shorter period of time. Even though we heard the co-founder of INTEL tell us during the 60s that the pace of technology was going to double every year, we ignored him. Even if we are INTEL employees, and thousands of us here in Asia are, we ignore what it means. You may think we teachers and parents are stupid because stupid is as stupid does. But unlike stupid, Ignorance is a highly personal choice.
What we could’ve extracted from Moore’s Law in combination with daily trends in the past decade informs us that when enough of these technologies are in place, a revolutionary technology will leapfrog societies into a new future. When societies reform in a very short period of time, it’s called a Revolution and this can only happen when the technologies are already in place. We are still debating whether it was too much schooling or a lack of schooling on our part that has caused us to be blind-sided. Perhaps it’s Human Nature. And if it is Human Nature, the dire straits of our Ecological balance calls for an urgent re-thinking of what Human Nature ought to be. But no, you don’t have to be the one doing the thinking and the changing. Let someone else do it but not the person you see in the mirror. Wait for the government, wait for the tide to rise like a wall above us, wait for anyone else, wait for certain death even, but don’t swim out to meet the wave. Only surfers do that. Only those who swim out to meet the wave ride it. But no, we’re not surfer material. We’re classier than that.
Well, anyway, when a revolution happens, everything that we understood how it works will be transformed. The disruption will come when enough people already accept the technology. No SMS without cellphones, no internet romances without internet, no online banking fraud, no communities forming to empower, seed, encourage and share with each other. No blogging, no youtube, no Facebook. It will disrupt traditions, economies, social life, beliefs, families – everything. It will disrupt everything in life as we know it but it’s not going to disrupt schooling. Schools have been built in such a way to keep you isolated from the world. The world around you can fly into chaos, newspaper business will suffer billion dollar fallouts, the environment can go to hell. Nothing, I repeat nothing, could’ve caused us to reconsider bridging the gap between schoolingl and the needs to restore the Ecology of Earth and Humanity. Everything will fallout in this disruption, in this impending Revolution. School was intended to prepare children for economic and social roles. What happens when economic and social roles become uprooted in this Revolution?
After this chaos a new, higher-order society will arise. We know that we are in the middle of such a disruption. One thing is for sure, we are at a tipping point in so many aspects and all it takes is one more apple to tip the whole cart. By 2020, the world will be divided into a new kind of Have and Have-nots. The Haves are those who saw this coming and prepared their children who will go on to prepare their grandchildren. The Have-Nots are the rest, regardless of their financial and social situation right now, they will be wiped socially and economically.
If you are now in primary school, you would just have completed school by then. If you have completed university, you would find yourself with small children to feed. Either way, your education would not have provided you with the competencies and creativity and resilience to adapt to this new world.
Everything that we have pushed you to be would become irrelevant. We tried to make you good at everything WE wanted in retrospect instead of paying attention to what YOU need for the future. We used our knowledge from our past to frame your future. We refuse to admit that the pace of change has accelerated. We don’t know how to apply theories we’ve learned in Math and Science to real life so we are blind to patterns emerging. We don’t even bother to learn from those who have the expertise and experience to see the patterns on the horizon. We don’t value books and knowledge because we didn’t grow up with them. We find them wasteful and expensive and we only talk to people who will confirm us and agree with us, so we can build a false sense of security that we are right, we are in control and we are still powerful. We do not read things that tell us what we don’t know. Why should we? Admitting there are things we don’t know is like admitting we are losers in life. We value being right at all costs even if we are damn wrong.
We have squandered your childhood and your youth in vain because you will be incapable of making sense of the new order of life. You could’ve played and learned creativity and resilience and problem-solving but we made you memorize facts for exams which Google can produce in the blink of an eye.We’re not going to admit we’re wrong because it would feel like death to the idea we have held on of ourselves. The only people who dare to be wrong, who dare to make mistakes are people who are confident and secure about themselves. Can’t you tell, we’re insecure? We get our power not from what we know but by putting you down when we make you feel you don’t know anything.
We destroyed that critical period in your learning, between ages of 3 and 25, a part of your brain’s development that you can never get back again. Even if they discovered techniques of neuroplasticity to change the abilities of the brain, the technology would be expensive and they would rather use it to enhance people who already have the aptitude for acceleration. Most importantly, we destroyed your ability to trust yourself, we destroyed your faith, confidence and hope. We broke the compass of resilience that Nature put in children to help them adapt as adults. How does an adult go on when they can’t trust themselves, when they don’t have the confidence to adapt, when they feel hopeless? We don’t know. We’re starting to feel that way too, trapped and unable to achieve greater heights.
We ignore what books and experts are telling us because, hey, what makes you think we read? Furthermore, to get knowledge would make us admit that we really don’t know anything. Why would we, as parents and teachers, sacrifice our face to let you know that we don’t know anything?
We are the parents and teachers of the 20th century. We cannot admit we are wrong because we can’t forgive ourselves for this unhappy and unfulfilling life we find ourselves living. We cannot trust you because we don’t trust ourselves – how can we trust ourselves? Every day of our lives we act like we know more than everyone else when we don’t even know what we don’t know except that it’s scary to find out.
To admit we don’t know is to admit we’re not a figure of authority, a parent a teacher. You may think a parent’s job is to love and trust you, but we think it’s to be an authority. You may think a teacher’s job is to teach you, but we think it’s about making you comply and hoping you never realize we don’t really know that much.
As we are re-reading this before putting it out we can see ourselves clearly in this. We can identify a burning anger arising. We hate to look at ourselves honestly in the mirror so anything that reminds us of our insecurity will set us off. The problem really is with us because we couldn’t forgive our parents and our teachers for not preparing us for the future. We cannot give ourselves the gift of forgiveness and unravel the drama we are caught in. We are trapped in our own undoing. We are all trapped.
[Background music : taken from various parts of the OST of SECRET (starring Jay Chou) about a student who goes back in time and discovers the story of his father as a young teacher, the history of his school and a talented girl who died because school was a horrible place for a sensitive soul. Please watch in Full Screen.]
I made this powerpoint as I was strongly inspired after writing this blog. Hope you enjoy it. Do leave a rating and comment. Thank you so much.