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Education for the 21st century.

LITERACY HAS TRADITIONALLY been thought of in terms of "reading and writing." Illiteracy in that context remains a problem in the world today.

But, literacy also is taking on a broader meaning, as technology and other factors necessitate expansion of our learning methods and approaches. This expanded literacy was explored last November in a conference, Education for the 21st Century--What Will Tomorrow's Literacy Require?

The Institute of General Semantics sponsored the conference held in the Alumni Auditorium in the Shapiro Center for Engineering and Physical Science Research on Columbia University's campus in New York.

Entertainer Steve Allen, who presented the annual Korzybski Memorial Lecture the prior evening, hosted the morning session of the conference. Benno Schmidt, former president of Yale University and chief executive officer of the Edison Project, served as the keynote speaker.

The Edison Project is an effort to demonstrate that a world-class education for a cross-section of students can be provided at reasonable costs on a system-wide basis, according to Schmidt. It is a project of Whittle Communications, which among many publishing and media projects produces Channel One, a news program for students that appears in schools throughout the nation.

As part of the project, experimental for-profit schools are planned nationwide by the mid-1990s. The profit idea has created controversy in the educational community.

Schmidt said the premise of The Edison Project is that a radically different approach has to be taken towards education.

"We need a complete redesign of the way we teach our children," Schmidt told the audience. "This means we cannot begin with the system we now have. American education needs a fundamental breakthrough, a new dynamic that will light the way to a transformed educational system."

The Edison Project's redesign includes high tech classrooms, with innovative teaching techniques that are relevant to students' needs of today, Schmidt emphasized. "We are trying to research what is being done well and what is being done poorly in the current system and come up with a new approach," he said.

A brochure for The Edison Project quotes Chris Whittle, chairman of Whittle Communications, as saying: "It was clear to me that the people of education, and particularly those who go to work every day in classrooms and schools, are not the cause of our educational problems."

"The system, the whole construct of education, is our problem. That construct is based on a set of assumptions, accumulated over literally hundreds of years, that are in general no longer valid.

"We need to disassemble the structure we currently have, and then -- combining old parts, many of which work quite well, and new parts -- we need to put it back together in some fundamentally different way that functions more effectively."

Kenneth Johnson, a member of a panel of general semanticists, stressed that the "most sophisticated technology" of the human nervous system must be seriously considered when exploring new educational approaches.

In an article written for a special edition of the Institute Newsletter, Johnson said, "The exponential explosion of communication devices -- products of time-binding -- has created challenges and opportunities for educators |which~ few of us understand. How shall we use television, cable, computers, computer networks, interactive systems, laser disks, satellites and the multitude of permutations they offer?

"To use the humanizing potential of these products requires an understanding of them as media of human communication -- including the assumptions built into them or assumed about them. We must understand our tools if we are to use them most effectively. We need knowledge on how to transmit knowledge.

"We need knowledge on how to encourage students to create knowledge from symbols, images, patterns, etc. they abstract from the classroom, from the media and from their immediate experiences. We need knowledge on how to encourage students to cooperate to share their learnings and their ways of learning.

"We need knowledge about how to discard knowledge that is no longer appropriate to changed conditions. We must not only transmit knowledge of the past, but focus on the students before us right now, realizing that there is no knowledge until someone has learned.

"And let us hope, as beneficiaries of generations of time-binders, we will feel a personal responsibility to create new knowledge."

From the audience, Milton Dawes of Montreal said we must emphasize "understanding of how we understand" in educational reform. Dawes said general semantics offers guidelines on developing that type of understanding.

In the afternoon, I hosted a panel that included Hugh Osborne, director of the New Media Group for Channel 13/WNET, Steve Ehrmann, program officer for interactive technology for the Annenberg Corporation for Public Broadcasting Project, and Karen Webster, director of the New Hampshire Media Education Project of New Hampshire Public Television.

The panelists discussed some of the new technologies available for classroom use and some of the early research on the impact of those technologies.

Midwest Society for General Semantics

The Midwest Society for General Semantics (MSGS) has gotten off to a fast start since it was officially approved as the first affiliate of the Institute of General Semantics in November, 1992.

MSGS co-sponsored a conference, Putting the Me in the Media, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) in January. The conference, co-sponsored by the UWM Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists, drew a larger than expected audience of 82. (A report on the conference will appear in an upcoming issue of Et cetera.)

The group also plans a summer retreat at the property of Gregg and Pauline Hoffmann in Wisconsin in June. MSGS has been holding regular meetings every other month and also has formed a smaller reading group.

Serving on the MSGS board are Gregg Hoffmann, Gail Lamberty, Karen Rozga, Lynn Schuldt, and Lori George. Those seeking information about MSGS can contact the Institute of General Semantics or Hoffmann at M&T Communications, 4842 N. Shoreland Ave., Whitefish Bay, WI 53217.

Personal Note:

Those who read the Winter issue of Et cetera might recognize the name Oleg Pocheptsov. Oleg authored the article, "Mind Your Mind: Or Some Ways of Distorting Facts While Telling the Truth." Shortly after that article appeared, Oleg was diagnosed as having an inoperable brain tumor. As of this writing, he was receiving treatment in Philadelphia.

A brilliant linguist and semanticist, Oleg was head of the Communication Department at Kiev University and was a visiting scholar at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Oleg and I became friends through our mutual interest in general semantics and media. He taught a course on propaganda last summer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I also teach, and lived with my wife and myself.

Now, Oleg needs our help. As a visiting scholar, his medical benefits are limited. As a native of the former Soviet Union, his personal finances also are limited. Oleg has a wife, Dubrova, and a baby boy, George, who was born in Philadelphia. I have organized a fund drive to help this fellow semanticist and his family. Anyone wishing to donate can contact me at M&T Communications, 4842 N. Shoreland Ave., Whitefish Bay, WI 53217 (Ph: 414-961-7744). Any amount will be appreciated.

Gregg Hoffmann, a journalist, lectures at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
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Title Annotation:Conference Report; Institute of General Semantics conference in Columbia University, New York, New York
Author:Hoffmann, Gregg
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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