JASON OHLER’S BIG IDEAS FOR OUR FUTURE
(Adapted from ICG executive director Peter Gow’s column from the ICG’s January Independent Educator newsletter.)
This year I’ve been called out of retirement, as it were, to be college counselor for a handful of seniors, a refreshing reminder, in a life otherwise dominated by screens and phones, of the real-life concerns of students. Although the college admission scene is complex and stressful, the search-apply-choose process still manages to spark real moments of student reflection, self-awareness, growth, and grace. As “the adult here” I try to hold onto some of that grace, at least, as well as a bit of the optimism students generally display even in the face of what they insist on calling “rejection.”
But if you are looking for an object lesson in optimism, seek no further than the collected works of Jason Ohler, professor, digital humanist, futurist, ed-tech guru, and author whose work is too little known in our community.
Full disclosure: I’ve known Jason since he was a little kid. His older brother was my classmate in middle and high school and his late father was my inspirational seventh-grade English teacher, of whom I have written elsewhere. Jason left our little burg to become an early proponent and practitioner of “distance” education—we say “online” now—in Alaska; a past student of Marshall McLuhan at Toronto, Jason was thinking about educating kids via computers when the rest of us were still making “fold, bend, or mutilate” jokes about punch cards. In a long and distinguished career he has written myriad books and articles and presented just about everywhere but in the independent school world.
A couple of months ago Jason invited me to be a pre-reader (along with a humbling cast of all-stars like the Couros brothers, Ian Jukes, and Nicholas Provenzano) for his soon-to-be-published 4Four Big Ideas for the Future. More on the book’s content in a minute, but the backstory of its creation involves a fatal disease, a double lung transplant, and recovery. Jason’s best idea for the future was that he would have one, and every reader will be very glad this has come to pass. Talk about optimism rewarded!
4Four Big Ideas for the Future (with an introduction by Yong Zhao, no less) consists of extended presentation-essays on four topics: the future of text (or “techxt”), digital citizenship, our future with technology, and the persistence of story as the prime expression of the human spirit. A passionate believer in creativity (including “the arts”) as central to educational programming and a true believer in kids, Jason has, as I wrote in a blurb for the book, an awe-inspiring ability to cut to the chase, to find the inarguable common-sense core of every issue—like, if we have to have rules for social media use in schools, why not ask students to frame them?
I haven’t read an “education” book in a long time that has had me saying, “Oh, yeah, of course! How could I have not seen that?” as often as 4Four Big Ideas for the Future. Nor have I lately read another book about things like new media literacy and the accelerating evolution of technology that comes without either an suffocating deluge of triumphalist bombast or a swingeing dose of fear-mongering. Jason just makes point after point that you wish someone (or maybe you, on your own) had made a long time ago.
It won’t come as a surprise that we plan to make Jason a part of ICG content in the future; I’m looking for ways to exploit our old acquaintance and his casually mind-blowing wisdom on behalf of the Independent Curriculum Group.
You will be glad that you did, and you will appreciate Jason’s optimism and grace every bit as much as you will his big ideas for our future.