An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Bernie Noe, head of school

Over the holiday break I read a book a friend recommended, "Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow." The author, Yuval Noah Harari, also wrote the bestseller "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind." His new book is about the world that the class of 2017, and future classes, will encounter as they develop their personal and professional lives. Harari writes about the decline of existing institutions and ideologies and the impact of big data and artificial intelligence on everyday life, and what these changes will mean for the workplace of the future. It is a wild book at times but, I think, a significant one.

I checked out some of his conclusions with friends in the tech world and they tell me he is, by and large, on the right track.

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what the future holds for Lakeside graduates so we can do our best to prepare them for what they will find when they leave Lakeside. While Harari is not the first to draw some of the conclusions he reaches, he does a nice job of synthesizing existing trends in an effort to discern a societal direction.

He speculates, for example, that in highly developed countries it will not be long before all of our biomedical information will, if we so desire, be gathered by the device we are wearing on our wrists. The device will note stress levels throughout the day, the biological conditions that exist when we make our best decisions, the impact of certain foods on our body, and more. When this data is fed into a computer that stores all of our genetic information, our parents' genetic information, and our medical histories, early detection of disease and other problems will be much easier — and presumably we will live a healthier lifestyle. He concludes that soon the computers that store and analyze all this information will make much better medical decisions for us than the most highly trained and dedicated physicians can make now.

In the legal world, he believes that the combination of artificial intelligence and big data will soon dominate legal research. Computers will store state, federal, and international legal codes along with all case law, and thus easily access and analyze necessary precedents in even the most complicated cases.

At the personal level, he believes many of us will carry devices that scan our email and web searches, learning our preferences, our friends' names, what we like to read, movies we enjoy, and so on. Not only will those devices make recommendations to us about gifts to buy, articles to read, and movies to watch, they will remind us of friends' birthdays, what they might like, what we gave them last year, and even whether they liked it!

OK, at this point I know some of you are thinking Bernie has lost his mind and is being overly influenced by an out-there book. Maybe! But please read on.

If all of this is true, or even partially true, what skills will our students need to thrive in this new world?

First, they will need to develop a high emotional quotient (EQ) to know how to interact with other people, read body language, and be empathic. Great, right?! We all want this for our children, regardless of what the future holds. But I have to say, I see this ability to relate to others as more imperiled than ever. Currently too many of our students are on their phones instead of being fully present to their friends or family in their moments of communication. There is a decline in empathy: We see an increasing number of cases where students, accustomed to the world of texting, Snapchat, and Twitter, have a declining understanding of the impact of their words on others. We need to emphasize human interaction, not technological interaction, to better prepare our students for the future. So, our students need to be off their phones much more often, interacting with their peers and adults. We might all want to model this behavior for our students by doing the same ourselves.

Second, and this one I think we have somewhat covered, our students will need to be accomplished critical thinkers who, rather than reciting complex facts, know how to reason with them and use them in solving problems. The faculty is highly aware of this and designs their courses around developing these capacities. We have almost no didactic teaching taking place at school, but rather collaborative, analytical teaching. Although this kind of teaching can be hard on students who are more concrete in their thinking, it will serve them well in the long run.

Finally, and I think we do a good job with this, students will need to develop an enhanced sense of curiosity and an understanding that we all are required to be lifelong learners. So, developing and maintaining joy in learning is now — and will be even more in the future — a critical life skill.

In the world of 2028, when today's fifth graders graduate from college, the future will belong to emotionally intelligent critical thinkers with a passion for learning. We are doing all that we can now to prepare our students for that world.

Thanks for reading, everyone, and enjoy the beautiful winter in Seattle. See you all at games and events.

Bernie

Bernie Noe is head of school at Lakeside. Reach him at bernie.noe@lakesideschool.org.