As indicated in my previous newsletter, I have lung cancer. During the past two weeks I have been thinking about what I want to be doing now. This has led to an improved understanding of my personal and writing goals. My current and future newsletters will focus on my insights into how we can and should be making major changes to our precollege educational systems. Typically these newsletters will be divided into two parts. The first part will be a brief message to my friends, relatives, former students, and other well-wishers providing an update on my medical/health progress. The second will be my usual “scholarly academic” insights into and recommendations about computers in education. There, my focus is on helping to improve education, especially at the preK-12 levels, throughout the word, but especially in the United States.
This section is meant to be both educational and to share information with those people who are particularly concerned about my health. I have stage 4 lung cancer. “Stage 4” means the original cancer has spread to other sites. Currently, lung cancer is incurable, although progress is being made. In brief summary:
- If I receive no treatment, life expectancy is three to five months. I have rejected this approach.
- If I receive treatment consisting of an appropriate combination of radiation, chemo therapy, immuno theraphy, and other medical procedures, my life expectancy will be in the range of 13 to 15 months. I have selected this approach. There are a variety of downsides to this that will contribute to a decreased quality of life. I am concerned about these downsides and paying careful attention to them. Oregon has a Right to Die law that is somewhat reassuring.
- The above numbers are estimates based on historical data. The following are all likely to help extend both my lifetime and the quality of my life:
- Mindfulness. Being actively engaged in doing things I want to do, including setting goals and working to achieve those goals . (I am good at that.)
- Having loving and supportive friends, relatives, colleagues, and so on. (I am blessed to have these.)
- Having a belief system that draws on the collective insights and wisdom of the human race. (While I am not religious, in the sense of believing in or belonging to any particular religion, I believe in humankind and in the idea that every person on earth has an inalienable right to having a decent quality of life. This current newsletter and a number of future newsletters will focus on the inalienable rights that contribute to achieving a decent quality of life.)
Over the years I have amassed a large collection of quotations that resonate with my insights into education and improving education (Moursund, 2021). Here are two of my Albert Einstein favorites:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” (Albert Einstein; German-born theoretical physicist and 1921 Nobel Prize winner; 1879-1955.)
“It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man’s blessings. Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors, concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods–in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind.” (Albert Einstein; German-born theoretical physicist and 1921 Nobel Prize winner; 1879-1955.)
As educators, we face the problem that progress in computer technology and other changes going on in our world affect what we could and should be helping our students to learn during their informal and formal education and schooling. Such progress also affects teaching and learning methodologies.
The first quote from Einstein captures the key challenge we face. We need to understand and accept the problem. Of course, Einstein’s statement about then being able to solve the problem quickly sounds ridiculous to me. We educators face an ongoing challenge that will continue for many years, and likely indefinitely into the future, as technology and other changes continue to occur. This current newsletter contains some of my efforts to define and understand the problem we face.
I very strongly believe that every person on earth has inalienable rights to a decent quality of life. This is an easy thing to say, but quite difficult to clearly define and to work toward worldwide implementation. I provided some of my thoughts about quality of life in three previous newsletters (Moursund, 2/12/2016; Moursund, 12/24/2014; Moursund 5/1/2014).
The quality of life that a person is experiencing includes many different factors. The particular factors and the degree of their relative importance varies from person to person. Also, quality of life is perceived from the point of view of living in a particular setting, country, era, and so. Thus, a hunter gatherer living in Africa 100,000 years ago had a different set of measures for a decent quality of life than that of a current person living today in a large modern city.
One’s ability to learn and the amount and nature of one’s learning has a strong effect on one’s quality of life. People vary immensely in their ability to learn and to make use of that learning. Since we first started to have schools to teach reading and writing about 5,500 years ago, we have found that even people who have the cognitive abilities to learn to effectively communicate in an oral language vary widely in their abilities to become literate and to make use of this literacy as a major aid to additional learning and achieving success in various types of occupations.
This is an ongoing challenge to our schools. How can we deal effectively with individual differences? The ability to learn to read and write, and then to learn through the use of reading and writing, is but part of this challenges. Students vary considerably in their upbringing, home environments, psychological makeup and interests, and so on.
When I say that I believe every person has an inalienable right to a decent quality of life, I do not attempt to define decent. In a country like the United States, we tend to believe that a certain level of income is an essential component of this. It is obvious that a wage of $15 per hour with little or no medical or retirement benefits is inadequate to maintaining a lifelong decent quality of life. What happens if you are a single mom and get pregnant? Or just think about not being able to afford medical care. Or worrying about what happens if you get laid off of your job, perhaps just because the company you are working for decides it can hire a replacement worker at a lower wage. These are examples of aspects of quality of life that are not being adequately addressed in the United States. Some countries are doing much better at addressing these issues.
Education is a lifelong endeavor. We all know that the environment you grow up in makes a huge difference. At this point in this newsletter, I switch to addressing only one’s schooling. In the United States, starting at age five or six, schooling is not only available free, but includes free lunch for students who quality (or both breakfast and lunch if a student or the student’s school qualifies). Thus, the U.S. has decided that free schooling for all and free meals for some children who need the meals is an inalienable right of all children.
But, how good should this schooling be? We know that, with a good individual human tutor, an average student earning C’s in a course often can earn an A in the course. So, should our schools provide every child, or perhaps every student earning a C or less, with an individual tutor?
Currently, we have decided that what we can afford is to have students taught in classes of 20 to 35 students or more per teacher, and to provide various types of help to some of the students. Does this mean that we are providing our students with a decent quality of schooling?
Two currently important issues relate to that question. First, what curriculum content should we be teaching and who decides on this content? Second, because our world is changing rapidly as computers become more artificially intelligent, and as connectivity becomes increasingly available, to what extent should students have an education that makes effective use of these computer capabilities while also helping them learn to function well in this new type of world?
These are hard questions. All educators and parents should be involved in understanding and addressing these issues. Very specifically, every teacher should have the knowledge and skills to address these issues as they teach students who have routine access to modern computers both at home and school. It is essential that our schools have the teachers, curriculum, and assessment required to best prepare students who will have routine access to these modern computers throughout their lives.
David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology (now published by ISTE as Empowered Learner). He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles.