That changes in the election, when reinventing education becomes a central campaign issue. A strong school system is understood to be as as vital to the national interest as the military once was. The resulting popular mandate shifts some of the billions once earmarked for defense toward revitalizing education.
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The renaissance of education in the early part of the century comes not from a task force of luminaries setting national standards in Washington, DC—the solutions flow from the hundreds of thousands of people throwing themselves at the problems across the country. The s and s see the emergence of small, innovative private schools that proliferate in urban areas where the public schools are most abysmal. Many focus on specific learning philosophies and experiment with new teaching techniques—including the use of new computer technologies.
Beginning around , the widespread use of vouchers triggers a rapid expansion in these types of schools and spurs an entrepreneurial market for education reminiscent of the can-do ethos of Silicon Valley. Many of the brightest young minds coming out of college are drawn to the wide-open possibilities in the field—starting new schools, creating new curricula, devising new teaching methods.
They're inspired by the idea that they're building the 21st-century paradigm for learning. The excitement spreads far beyond private schools, which by are teaching about a quarter of all students. Public schools reluctantly face up to the new competitive environment and begin reinventing themselves.
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In fact, private and public schools maintain a symbiotic relationship, with private schools doing much of the initial innovating, and public schools concentrating on making sure the new educational models reach all children in society. Higher education, though slightly less in need of an overhaul, catches the spirit of radical reform—again driven largely by economics. The cost of four-year colleges and universities becomes absurd—in part because antiquated teaching methods based on lectures are so labor intensive.
The vigorous adoption of networking technologies benefits undergraduate and graduate students even more than K kids.
In , Project Gutenberg completes its task of putting 10, books online. Many of the world's leading universities begin carving off areas of expertise and assuming responsibility for the digitalization of all the literature in that field. Around , all new books come out in electronic form.
By , relatively complete virtual libraries are up and running. Despite earlier rhetoric, the key factor in making education work comes not from new technology, but from enshrining the value of learning. A dramatic reduction in the number of unskilled jobs makes clear that good education is a matter of survival.
Indeed, nearly every organization in society puts learning at the core of its strategy for adapting to a fast-changing world. So begins the virtuous circle of the learning society. The booming economy provides the resources to overhaul education. The products of that revamped educational system enter the economy and improve its productivity.
Eventually, education both sows and reaps the benefits of the long boom. In the first decade of the century, Washington finally begins to really reinvent government. It's much the same process as the reengineering of corporations in the s. The hierarchical bureaucracies of the 20th century are flattened and networked through the widespread adoption of new technologies. Some, like the IRS, experience spectacular failures, but eventually make the transition.
In a more important sense, the entire approach to government is fundamentally reconsidered. The welfare and education systems are the first down that path. Driven by the imminent arrival of the first of many retiring baby boomers in , Medicare and Social Security are next. Other governmental sectors soon follow. The second decade of the century marks a more ambitious but amorphous project: making a multicultural society really work.
Though the United States has the mechanics—such as the legal framework—of an integrated society in place, Americans need to learn how to accept social integration on a deeper level. The underpinnings of a booming economy make efforts to ease the tensions among various ethnic and interest groups much easier than before: people are more tolerant of others when their own livelihoods are not threatened. But people also come around to seeing diversity as a way to spark a creative edge.
They realize that part of the key for success in the future is to remain open to differences, to stay exposed to alternative ways of thinking. And they recognize the rationality of building a society that draws on the strengths and creativity of all people. Women spearhead many of the changes that help make the multicultural society work. As half the population, they are an exceptional "minority" that helps pave the way for the racial and ethnic minorities with fewer numbers. In the last global boom of the s, the women's movement gained traction and helped promote the rise in the status of women.
Through the s and s, women push against traditional barriers and work their way into business and government. By the s, women have permeated the entire fabric of the economy and society.
The needs, desires, and values of women increasingly begin to drive the political and business worlds—largely for the better. By the early part of the century, it becomes clear that the very skills most needed to make the networked society really hum are those that women have long practiced.
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Long before it became fashionable, women were developing the subtle abilities of maintaining networks, of remaining inclusive, of negotiating. These skills prove to be crucial to solving the very different challenges of this new world. The effort to build a truly inclusive society does not just impact Americans. At the turn of the century, the United States is the closest thing the world has to a workable multicultural society.
Almost all the cultures of the world have some representation, several in significant proportions. As the century moves on, it becomes clear to most people on the planet that all cultures must coexist in relative harmony on a global scale. On a meta level, it seems that the world is heading toward a future that's prefaced by what's happening in the United States. In , humans arrive on Mars.
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It's an extraordinary event by any measure, coming a half century after people first set foot on the Moon. The four astronauts touch down and beam their images back to the 11 billion people sharing in the moment. The expedition is a joint effort supported by virtually all nations on the planet, the culmination of a decade and a half of intense focus on a common goal. A remarkable enough technical achievement, the Mars landing is even more important for what it symbolizes. As the global viewing audience stares at the image of a distant Earth, seen from a neighboring planet 35 million miles away, the point is made as never before: We are one world.
All organisms crammed on the globe are intricately interdependent. Plants, animals, humans need to find a way to live together on that tiny little place. By , most people are acting on that belief. The population has largely stabilized. The spreading prosperity nudged a large enough block of people into middle-class lifestyles to curtail high birth rates. In some pockets of the world large families are still highly valued, but most people strive only to replicate themselves, and no more.
Just as important, the world economy has evolved to a point roughly in balance with nature. To be sure, the ecosystem is not in perfect equilibrium. More pollution enters the world than many would like. But the rates of contamination have been greatly reduced, and the trajectory of these trends looks promising. The regeneration of the global environment is in sight.
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The images from Mars drive home another point: We're one global society, one human race. The divisions we impose on ourselves look ludicrous from afar. The concept of a planet of warring nations, a state of affairs that defined the previous century, makes no sense. Far better to channel the aspirations of the world's people into collectively pushing outward to the stars.
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Far better to turn our technologies not against one another but toward a joint effort that benefits all. And the artificial divisions we perpetuate between races and genders look strange as well. All humans stand on equal footing. They're not the same, but they're treated as equals and given equal opportunities to excel. In , this point, only recently an empty platitude, is accepted by almost all. We're forming a new civilization, a global civilization, distinct from those that arose on the planet before. It's not just Western civilization writ large—one hegemonic culture forcing itself on others.
It's not a resurgent Chinese civilization struggling to reassert itself after years of being thwarted. It's a strange blend of both—and the others. It's something different, something as yet being born. In , information technologies have spread to every corner of the planet. Real-time language translation is reliable.
The great cross-fertilization of ideas, the ongoing, never-ending planetary conversation has begun. From this, the new crossroads of all civilizations, the new civilization will emerge. In many ways, it's a civilization of civilizations, to use a phrase coined by Samuel Huntington. We're building a framework where all the world's civilizations can exist side by side and thrive.