Mar 23, 2017

Placing the Current Political Environment Into Context for Schools and Colleges

When you travel and visit a lot of good schools and colleges, you learn a lot.  Over the past three months, I have learned that leaders are frustrated.  Heads of private schools and college presidents have shared their frustration with me over how to manage on campus the natural political tensions and divides facing our nation.  In an industry known for public discourse, rigorous dialogue and debate, and openness to new ideas, it seems our nation’s best learning institutions are struggling with the same issues as the American public.  

As I’ve said many times, we are at a pivot point.  This one is a geopolitical one.  We are on track for one, based upon recent history.  Think about the recent major shifts and their impact.

  1. The Terrorism Shift – Just over 15 years ago, America experienced its first significant terrorist attack on our soil.  The implications of 9/11 to the school and college sector were monumental, causing us to hunker down on safety, security, and a new normal of community building.
  2. The Technological Shift – Apple launched the iPhone in June 2007 and, from my vantage point, that was the game changer in technological access.  It introduced an integrated, personal, and mobile platform as, as a result, opened a new world of possibilities for communication. For anyone living in a first world nation and for many in developing countries, things have never been the same. 
  3. The Campus Shooting Shift – Over the past 10 years, America has seen an increase in campus shootings, further driving the need for safe campuses and insulated environments. The psychological impact of each the Terrorism Shift and the Campus Shooting Shift cannot be minimized as they have helped create a new normal in the perception of safety among of our young people.
  4. The Global Economic Meltdown Shift – Our global economic crisis in 2008 changed the sustainability model for private schools and colleges, causing the industry to rethink and recalibrate their own financial model.  Things have never really returned to normal since then.
  5. The Geopolitical Shift – Today, we are experiencing the fifth major shift in our culture since 2001.  I will call it The Geopolitical Shift, and it is marked by a movement of nationalism, populism, and potential isolation from global networks, alliances, and trade partners.  America is not alone.  There was Brexit this past summer.  France is experiencing the same geopolitical issues.  My guess is that others will follow. We are in a new normal and it may be with us for awhile.

Five major cultural shifts in just over 15 years is a lot of change to navigate for an industry that is somewhat resistant to change.  It is true that we are dealing in new times and a new normal.  So, while we debate about which is the best way to teach students, what the new classroom should look like, and which educational philosophy is best, let’s remember that our students come to us with a world of change that has defined their young lives.  And, our schools and colleges are constantly being called upon to adapt to new models and new norms.  Context is everything in helping the learner.

So, if rapid cultural change is part of our new context for learning, what are the implications and how can we navigate it?  Next week I will share some thoughts on this question and the implications of it. 

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