The increasing pace of what French philosopher-paleoanthropologist Teilhard de Chardin characterized as the “complexification of human circumstances” has made the nexus between complexity and education a timely and purposeful subject for examination.

On The Horizon announces a Special Issue on “Complexity and the Future of Education,” and invites authors to submit papers addressing the implications of an increasingly complex, problematic and uncertain future for today’s didactic and determinist educational processes.

CONTACT: Tom P. Abeles, editor

CRITICAL DATES: 15 October 2010 – 1 page proposals due
1 November 2010 – Notice of Acceptance
1 January 2011 – Draft of Papers due
1 February 2011 – Final Paper due

PAPER PARAMETERS: Papers should be in essay style, conforming to basic guidelines under the author section of the publisher, Emerald. Length may be up to 5,000 words, with structured abstracts, key words, and footnotes as appropriate; and it may include links to Websites. Submissions must be sent in MSWord as an e-mail attachment.

THEME: The media today routinely describes BOTH the major problems confronting humankind AND their potential solutions as being “complex.” Some educational boosters have even begun to cite “increasing complexity” as yet another reason why we must produce more graduates in science, math and technology. Critics counter that the modern sciences fail to acknowledge the complexity of the real world, and foster a misleading certainty of expectations that leads people to pursue simple solutions for complex problems, and to discount contrarian ideas and “inconvenient truths.”

Practitioners in many disciplines are sharply divided over the potential role of the current model of formal education in preparing society to live and work in a complex world. Some, in leadership development, for example, believe that only a small fraction of the population possess the natural “cognitive competence” to coherently address complex issues. These people, they argue, should be identified by testing in early childhood and given special schooling that nurtures their rare innate abilities for the good of us all.

On the other hand, some educators believe that “ordinary” people can be taught practical skills for addressing complex issues, and that young people today are already learning to deal with complexity through their experience with computer games and simulations. But scholars of complexity science counter that simply adding analytical skills to traditional curricula would be wholly insufficient to convey a general understanding of complex phenomena. They foresee the need for a complete restructuring of established epistemology.

Meanwhile, technophiles are embracing the “singularity” scenario, in which the complexity of a growing share of important decisions exceeds human reasoning capacity, and where significant problems are delegated to artificial intelligences and “humachine” hybrids. If all our intellectual “heavy lifting” were assigned to smart machines, would education focus on the humanities and creative arts as a means of enriching lives made routine and predictable by intelligent decision-making systems?

Alternatively others argue that spontaneous cyber-collaboration will enable us to mobilize humanity’s collective competencies and sensibilities to master our increasingly complex circumstances without ceding control of our destiny to smart machines. This vision of the future suggests an entirely different mission for educators.

While education is clearly a major influence on how we deal with complexity today, how we eventually arrange to cope with increasing complexity will just as clearly influence the content and delivery of education in the not-too-distant future.

*Papers submitted in response to this Call for Papers will also be considered for inclusion in a 2-day Forum on the Future of Education co-sponsored by On the Horizon and the World Future Society in Vancouver, B.C. in July 2011.

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Tags: complexity, education, future


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