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West Virginia Education In the 21st Century—A Prediction

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February 4, 1959

Only a few years ago, prophesy's greatest pitfall was predicting more change that could possibly occur; today, even more hazards are to be found in failing to envision, even conservatively, the great strides which will undoubtedly characterize the last half of the 20th century.

I am optimistic about the future of my State, including its educational program. I am convinced that much change in educational theory and practice lies just over the horizon. Precisely what these changes will be, I do not know. However, we do have a few clues.

My first prediction is that the teachers of the 21st century will be quite different from their counterparts of today, particularly with respect to their outlook on change. They will be "children of change"-the product of a hundred years of accelerated progress without precedent in all of recorded history. Consequently, it seems reasonable to me that these teachers will be convinced that change can be guided.

With the "children if change" in control of the classroom, it follows that the curriculum will be radically different from what we know today. It seems plausible that within the next forty years, education will be forced to abandon its increasingly futile attempt to condense, digest, and present to an oncoming generation the vast increases of human knowledge. We simply cannot write the books fast enough or keep the children in school enough hours, enough days, enough years to prepare them fully for an unknown future. I, therefore, predict that rigid schedules, formal classes, and arbitrary norms and standards of pupil achievement will be much less prominent in the century ahead. If you ask me what the program will look like, I could come no closer than to guess that it will resemble, at least to a degree, the best practices of today in our advanced graduate schools and our modern scientific laboratories. To the extent that this is true, it will be more flexible, the student more important than the subject, the pursuit of truth-not its capture, the goal of the curriculum.

In contemporary educational circles, one hears talk of the community serving as a laboratory for learning. Forty years form now, it is my considered opinion that the world itself will be the child's laboratory for learning, and that week-end trips to foreign lands or extended journeys within our own country may be as commonplace as a visit to the local post office or railroad station.

Moreover, as a result of pitching instruction to the needs of a shrinking world, there should be less open conflict between the world's warring ideologies and their counterparts in educational theory. However, as perceptions overlap in this world-wide search for common denominators, it seems to me that we must, and I predict will, reach the type of agreements which will not only permit but encourage differences. This may well be our clue to world peace and a key to education's contribution to this end.

Obviously, more people will go to school for longer periods of time in the years ahead. Adult education will become increasingly more important as our work week shrinks, our recreational needs increase, and our dedication to the idea that there is no limit to the development of man's mental powers gains wider acceptance. I, therefore, predict that within the next forty years, we will see, in my State and others, the development of ungraded adult education programs of indefinite duration (indeed a lifetime for many) and of infinite variety so as to guarantee maximum development for all, regardless of ability or disability.

Today, we are plagued with barriers to communication-barriers which, in a direct way, affect the educational opportunity of many of our people. It is my opinion, however, that the great strides which are being made in the use of mass media of communication for educational purposes will reduce these barriers to insignificance. As a parallel to these developments, I see a redefining of such familiar concepts as optimum class size, teacher load, and the like. I predict this with a conviction that, in many respects, the learner of the future will be his own teacher. We will place many opportunities before him, but learning itself will remain permissive. It will be so because we will believe that man's drive for self-enhancement is all of the guarantee needed for maintaining a continuing quality in education.

In the development of the educational programs of the type predicted above, many related administrative, legislative, and community-development problems must be faced. Where we are struggling today for educational efficiency in the large county school district, I predict that forty years hence we will be able to operate much stronger programs, serving even larger geographical areas without a loss in efficiency. Stated another way, I am convinced that people throughout our State will redefine the term "community" in such a way as to shrink the distance separating towns, villages and cities, and to level the mountains, which in some sections separate our people. I, therefore, predict that the large school district is here to stay and that the future will attest to its value.

Related to the changing concepts of community life is the problem of maintaining a pattern of citizen participation in government which characterizes a democracy. I, therefore, wish to predict that the 21st century will be characterized by a substantial increase in local initiative in school program planning. This I see as the counter move of a democratic society to a necessary and growing reliance of communities on State and national levels for public service revenue. We will undoubtedly look more and more to remote seats of government for tapping the real wealth of our growing economy and channeling this wealth back into communities on the basis of local need. I, therefore, take issue with those who contend that control must follow the dollar, and predict without hesitation that we will develop ways of keeping the control of policy close to the people even though our complex economic system will largely remove from them powers of direct taxation.

This will call for, I believe, the development of new systems of distribution for State and Federal revenue to schools, in which the equalization theory of today is supplemented by a reward type of incentive for excellence in educational programming on the community level. The greatest incentive to be built into this plan will, in my opinion, be a simple belief that man can experience no greater incentive for self-help than freedom to work in self-selected directions and to use his resources to these ends.

The very structure of the state government itself will be altered somewhat within the next forty years as we struggle to hold onto those values which are peculiarly democratic. I predict that our Legislature will move more and more toward a policy-making role and gradually, but surely, away from highly specific and isolated legislative measures which require the earmarking of educational funds on the State level. The administrative branch of the government, I further predict, will move in the direction of an expanded service role and steadily away from contradictory functions of regulation and control. Similarly, I feel that local leadership will move steadfastly toward the acceptable of new responsibility, corresponding to a new-found freedom, to plan and develop total programs of education.

The end result of my prediction should be a program of education based on the assumption that man's education never ceases; that it is his opportunity and responsibility to plan for his own development, and society's obligation to make this development possible. The schools of the 21st century will, therefore, be characterized by greater diversity, higher quality, more freedom, better teachers, and a clearer concept of the great and influential role which the future holds for the institution which society has created for its perpetual self- improvement.

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Correction: 
A prediction by West Virginia Gov. Cecil H. Underwood incorrectly appeared as a direct quotation in a Dec. 15 story about the National Education Association's 1959 time capsule. The statement that "the student of tomorrow will be his own teacher" paraphrased what the governor had written.

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