Gazing into the Future

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"We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future." Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke those words more than 50 years ago. It was a time when students took classes called "shop," and those students were almost exclusively boys. Home economics classes, on the other hand, were filled with girls learning cooking and sewing. Business classes often meant typing and shorthand for girls, while mostly boys learned about farming in the classes devoted to agriculture education. Extracurricular activities meant clubs such as 4-H, Future Farmers of America and Future Homemakers of America. All of these activities provided students with the skills they needed for the world in which they lived, but that world has changed, and so has the education they receive. Change was necessary so that we could continue, as Roosevelt encouraged, building our youth for the future.

Today, "vocational education" is "career and technical education," and students are learning about engineering, computers, information technology, health sciences, business and marketing, and a number of trades and industries. Future Farmers of America is now the National FFA Organization, and Future Homemakers of America has become Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America. Neither the Career and Technical Student Organizations nor the classes are as sharply divided along gender lines as they were 50 years ago. The changes in the career and technical education (CTE) classroom have been dramatic, but what will that classroom look like 50 years from now?

Each year since 1985, the editors of The Futurist, which is published by the World Future Society, have selected for their "Outlook" report what they call the most thought-provoking ideas and forecasts that appeared in the magazine during the year. Number four on the Futurist's Outlook 2009 list is, "Careers, and the college majors for preparing for them, are becoming more specialized." Students are beginning to explore what the magazine calls "niche majors," such as sustainable business, strategic intelligence, entrepreneurship, neuroscience and nanotechnology, computer and digital forensics, and comic book art.

At number six on the list is another education-related item. "Professional knowledge will become obsolete almost as quickly as it's acquired." Rapid changes such as new technologies will mean continuous education and retraining and lead to a substantial portion of the labor force being in job retraining programs at any given time. If that prediction holds true--and it certainly seems logical--then career and technical educators are going to be very busy in the future, both teaching and learning.

Preparing for the Future Now

James Canton, author of such books as The Extreme Future: The Top Trends That Will Reshape the World in the 21st Century and Technofutures: How Leading-Edge Innovations Will Transform Business in the 21st Century, is known as a global futurist. In fact, he is the CEO and chairman of a think tank known as the Institute for Global Futures. Canton says there are things we should be doing now to be prepared for the future. One of those is rethinking education, including educating for the high-tech jobs of tomorrow, and teaching about diverse cultures and entrepreneurship, as well as building understanding about globalization and trade. "... and bringing down education costs is a good beginning," adds Canton.

Canton also believes that health care needs some 21st century transformation, and notes, "Eliminating the waste, using IT to make health care efficient and preparing for the post-genomic and personalized health care era is a good start."

Canton has a list of "The Top 10 Trends of the Extreme Future," and these include a future of energy alternatives such as hydrogen; medicine that is radically altered by nanotech, neurotech and genomics; security from threats such as terrorists and hackers; and dealing with an environment that includes global warming, pollution . …