Keri Facer and the future-building school

Facer bookIn her brilliant book Learning Futures – Education, technology and social change (2011) Professor Keri Facer suggests that we should be creating what she calls future-building schools rather than future-proof schools based on equipping young people to compete in the global economy.

Keri Facer argues that we need schools which can:

  • teach us how to create and marshal collective knowledge,
  • nurture our capacity for democracy and debate and build solidarity,
  • act as midwives for sustainable economic practices that can strengthen our communities,
  • help us work out what intelligence and wisdom mean and how to deal with new and dangerous knowledge

Simply preparing our students for an uncertain future by helping them to be flexible and adaptable is not an adequate response to the social change we are experiencing. We need a vision of a better alternative future and schools, as universal public services, can be ‘prefigurative spaces’ where people can model today how they might want to live tomorrow.

The characteristics of such a school would include being a public space at the heart of its community, being committed to interdependence and seeing itself as a laboratory for building social futures. It sees itself as part of a much wider network of people and institutions and draws on them in its work. It is

“a platform for creating a conversation about the future…a resource which harnesses and amplifies the potential of a community to educate its young people…a powerful engine for social change…”

The future-building school takes seriously its responsibility to equip its students for the future by contributing to a debate about the futures that are in development and those we might want and allowing people to rethink their assumptions about what is possible.

Keri Facer devotes a whole chapter to an account of a visit to a possible future-building school in 2035. I always enjoy such fleshed-out practical descriptions of the future – they have something in common with utopian, and dystopian, fiction. They are thought experiments which shouldn’t be treated as detailed blueprints or prescriptions although they do require their creators to nail some human colours to their theoretical framework. They remind us that history has not ended and that the basis of our current way of doing things is not permanent; things do change, things can be different and maybe even better.

Keri Facer describes this chapter (chapter 8) as a utopian vision and offers it as a resource and a tool for opening up the possibilities of the future-building school. What might it feel like? How might it be arranged? What sort of teaching and learning might be going on? What difficulties might it face? This is a ‘plausible utopia’ built from ‘educated optimism’ about how we could respond to the socio-technical developments, environmental challenges and economic disruptions of the near future. It is well worth reading the whole book but if you only have time for 15 pages, chapter 8 cannot fail to inspire and you can read it for yourself here (from p.109).

At a time when austerity threatens our imagination as well as our public services, we need a broad and expansive social vision of education more than ever. It serves as a useful starting point for further discussion and debate about the better future we could build.

I plan to review Learning Futures properly in a future post and also to start anthologising different visions of the future of education in this blog.

See also:

My own future scenarios, describing 2 possible future education systems for England in 2020 is in: Market madness: condition critical (June 2015)

No austerity of the imagination (July 2015)

For a pragmatic idealism (June 2015)

Roberto Unger on school as the ‘voice of the future’ (April 2015)

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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