In the days when the automobile was still young, a town’s streets were for mainly for pedestrians (and horses). Every so often a horse-drawn buggy would rattle past, and, rarer still, a banging, spluttering car – often preceded by a man waving a flag. But then the commotion was over and public streets went back to their primary purpose as pedestrian thoroughfares.
Now when we think about roads we think about cars. How did this shift happen? And why is this an important metaphor for the much-needed revolutions in economics, social welfare and education starting around the globe?
It all involved a series of very clever and subtle marketing tactics by car manufacturers: At first, cars were marketed as being an environmentally friendly option for cities. Believe it or not, the use of cars was hailed as a solution to the piles of horse excrement which pervaded most large settlements. As interesting and hard to believe as this is, it is not the main reason roads were given over to cars. The real reason was one that created a sudden mind shift, and it was this: Automobile manufacturers began a campaign in the name of public safety. They began urging citizens to look both ways before crossing the street and to keep to the side to allow cars to pass. In just a few years, right of way was assigned to cars, and pedestrians got sidewalks. Hence, in the minds of the populace, a shift in mindset occurred in what roads were for: cars, not people.
The key elements of this shift were these:
- A new technology to enhance lifestyles was created.
- A clever manipulation of mindsets as to where this technology belonged occurred.
- A prolonged campaign began telling people how best to relate to this technology.
- The technology spread and the world changed.
I call it the Triple R Strategy (or RRR) for Reimagining, Reorienting, and Reinforcing. Radio, television, the personal computer, GPS, the internet and tablet devices were all inserted into our lives in a similar way. What if we used the technique of reimagining, reorienting and reinforcing to change the world in more important ways?
We already have the technologies, but for the large part, they are not being used to bring about social change and environmental sustainability.
What if we turned things upside-down and used the Triple R Strategy to… Create education systems which preference personal growth and deep learning (versus creating test-writing automatons)? Use our existing technology to bring free Internet to impoverished schools and communities? Get medicines and food to those in need? Preference altruism and kindness over competition, selfishness and greed?
And so on…
I will not pretend that I know how to use RRR in all of the instances mentioned above. And I am an unrepentant idealist. But let me put forward just one example of how I think it might work in education: It all revolves around the Internet. And we are most of the way there already. So how about this as a strategy:
1) We introduce a global campaign to reimagine what the internet is for: collaborating, sharing, learning and uplifting. The internet is for groups and communities and should be used to connect and share openly. The figure of a lone soul bent over their keyboard downloading, trolling and Facebooking is replaced by groups of people learning and sharing.
2) Mobile Internet-capable devices become low-cost essentials, instead of high-end ‘lifestyle enhancers’. They belong in schools, at family get-togethers, on building sites, at community meetings and social events. These devices do not sit at home on a desk, they live in our pockets, bags, on our school desks and under our arms.
3) A culture of sharing, collaboration, helping and learning grows and the world changes.
Hopelessly idealistic? Maybe. But just as cognitive dissonance prevents us from ever seeing that roads could have been for something else other than cars, perhaps one day we will look back and find it impossible to believe that schools were ever for anything else besides discovering and nurturing the potential in each child… People should not be confined to narrow strips of concrete so that gas-guzzling machines can move more freely any more than they should lead narrow, cruelly confined existences so that profiteers can add numbers to their bank balances.
And perhaps one day we will also battle to understand that once the planet and its inhabitants were mercilessly exploited, abused and disregarded in the name of profits.
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