It’s better on the bus than on the road

Photo by Pau Casals on Unsplash

[This post first appeared on the CORE blog, February 2019]

“If you feel overwhelmed and confused by the global predicament, you are on the right track. Global processes have become too complicated for any single person to understand. How then can you know the truth about the world, and avoid falling victim to propaganda and misinformation?”

Yuval Noah Harari, introduction to part IV of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

In response to my indecision about how to face a particular challenge in my career, an old friend of mine once suggested, “it’s better to be on the bus than on the road!” I took that to mean that it is better to be a part of the change than simply allow it to ‘run over’ me and be overwhelmed by it all. An unfortunate consequence of the current state of relentless, exponential change, both locally and globally, means many of us feel we’re ‘on the road’ at times, simply watching everything pass us by and feeling helpless in what to do about it.

Being ‘on the bus’ holds much more appeal for me than being on the road – for a start, from the bus you get a different perspective of the challenges you face. You get to see more of the other things going on – from the various sights you’re passing to a view of the horizon. In addition, you do all of this with others – realising that you’re not alone in facing these challenges and that together, you’re in a better place to both appreciate the good and to find solutions.

In times of accelerating change it’s easy to fall victim to a ‘stable state’ mentality, thinking that if we simply wait a while everything may return to a state of ‘normal’ again. In a world where developments in technology, climate change, threats of war and political uncertainty all contribute to feelings of anxiety and indecision, it is more important than ever before that, as educators, and as responsible citizens of the world, we need to understand a return to ‘the stable state’ isn’t a likely scenario. We need to see ourselves as being ‘on the bus’, engaging our collaborative and critical thinking capabilities to help us make sense of it all, and to find solutions to the challenges we face.

Being ‘on the bus’ doesn’t imply a physical place to be – it’s a mindset. It involves resilience, fore-sight and critical thinking. Resilience because we need strategies that will allow us to cope with the feelings of uncertainty and threats to our personal comfort and security. Fore-sight because we need to be able to see beyond the present and be aware of what is on the horizon, and of the actions that are likely to make these things a reality. And critical thinking because we are living in a ‘post truth’ world, where what we are being exposed to through the media and other channels, requires us to be able to exercise the ability to critically examine and evaluate the factual evidence to form views and change our behaviours based on that.

Fundamental to this is ensuring we are well informed, that we have access to the information required, and that we view it from multiple perspectives. It doesn’t require too much searching in the popular media to find that for every opinion claiming a certain ‘truth’ or certainty, there is an equal and opposite point of view. Our view of foresight shouldn’t be based simply on what the latest guru or ‘influencer’ tells us we should believe. Our response requires us to draw on our ability to delve beneath the headlines and their simplistic message. We must take a critical stance that weighs multiple perspectives and tackles issues of complexity with an appropriate response.

There’s another benefit of being ‘on the bus’ – we are with other people. This is critically important, as our journey into the future must increasingly be regarded as a collaborative one, not something we’re left on our own to contend with. The strength of the collaborative group is that we’re able to debate and discern things as a collective – to challenge the status quo and at the same time, be there for each other as the change impacts us differently. Of course, this will work best if our ‘team’ doesn’t consist solely of like-minded individuals forming a sort of ‘echo chamber’ that reflects simply what we want to hear and what we feel comfortable with. Authentic change will require us to learn to work collaboratively in settings where we feel uncomfortable, and where a part of the solution will lie in being able to resolve differences and work through multiple perspectives.

Engaging with resources such as CORE’s Ten Trends provides a useful way of starting this journey. They have been developed with the intention of providing information about some of the things that are currently challenging educators and the contexts they work in, providing some insights into the things that are driving these changes and offering prompts to begin the process of reflection and action at the local level. Importantly, the trends link back to a central core of five key themes that apply across the whole of society, so that these changes and their impact can be seen in a wider context than simply education.

My challenge to readers of this blog is to use the Ten Trends as a way of ‘getting on the bus’, to understand more of the things that are impacting the work we do, and combine with others to critically engage in forming a response that is appropriate in the contexts in which you work, in particular, a response that will ensure you are preparing the learners you are working with for their future, not just as ‘workers’ but as citizens who themselves will be able to influence and shape what happens in this world we all inhabit.

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