Anybody Here Know COBOL?: On the Nature of Educational Crises

21 min read

Educational crises often occur during times of rapid social transformation—but there are better and worse ways of dealing with them.

Technology is evolving faster than our abilities to teach younger generations about it, creating an acute version of a common historical problem: an educational crisis. Today, educational crises are unfolding in and beyond the schools, in all parts of the world, and they all share a similar deep structure. In this, the first of a series, we explore contemporary examples with the intention of clarifying the general problem. Assuring the successful transfer of necessary skills, ideas, and values to the next generation has never been more complex, and yet we know that major failures of intergenerational transmission can dissolve societies into chaos. Finding solutions requires awareness of broader social trends. Examining important junctures in the history of American schooling may suggest a way forward.

The broadest social functions of education are renewal and regeneration. Education is the process of passing on skills, ideas, and values from one generation to the next. This process involves a great deal more than schooling. Widely shared and effective practices for intergenerational transmission are essential to the success and survival of any kind of society, especially complex technological ones.

During times of rapid societal transformation, the nature of intergenerational transmission is necessarily disrupted and reconfigured.

Intergenerational transmission can be thought of as a societal autopoiesis. Autopoiesis—from the Greek αὐτo- (auto-) 'self', and ποίησις (poiesis) 'creation, production'—is a term coined in biology that refers to a system’s capability for reproducing and maintaining itself by metabolizing energy to create its own parts, and eventually new emergent components. All living systems are autopoietic: they expend energy on the work of self-making. As we define it, education is central to the function by which a society of humans engages in self-creation, self-perpetuation, and self-sustainability. Education is about a generalized renewal, regeneration, and repopulating of the social world. All other social systems—from economics to infrastructure and government—depend upon the success of educational processes, insofar as all social systems depend upon people with requisite skill and motivation to fulfill essential tasks.

Education is a widely distributed social process including a variety of basic social institutions and practices. Schools play a role, of course, but also extended families, media of all kinds, religious and community organizations, military training, and now the digital public sphere. Maintaining and improving the quality of these processes requires work, investment, and attention. Some institutions, such as schools, have been invented and built as a way of making this process explicit and reflective. Contemporary humanity stands in need of educational innovation as transformative as the invention of public schools. Civilization requires a comparably novel and broadly distributed means for enhancing collective learning, adequate to the task of managing exponential technologies and existential risk in the context of an open society.

During times of rapid societal transformation, the nature of intergenerational transmission is necessarily disrupted and reconfigured. Practices of education are forced to change. Legacy forms of societal autopoiesis are put in flux. When a system’s autopoietic processes are disrupted, it means the nature of that system is changing, fundamentally. It could be dying, or it could be metamorphosing; it cannot stay the same. When the foundations of education are shifting it means that society itself is transforming into something new. This is happening now, it has happened before, and it will happen again. Educational crises are a part of human social life. The trick is to manage them well.

Technological innovation and environmental pressures result in demands for new kinds of skills, knowledge, and emotional capacity. In many cases, educational institutions simply cannot keep up. From schools and newspapers to family contexts of early childhood socialization, our basic educational structures have been outpaced repeatedly by innovations in other areas of social life. The result is various educational crises spreading out across the social world, where people have no choice but to innovate new forms of collective learning and intergenerational transmission. Inadequately navigating educational crises can result in societal failures of various kinds. At the extremes, these breakdowns can manifest as existential threats to whole societies and ways of life. We now face either an educational shortfall with potentially catastrophic consequences, or an educational renaissance with potentially world-changing dynamics.[1]

Anatomy of a Crisis

A crisis occurs when a complex system is unable to do the work of continuing to be itself. Perhaps the clearest examples of this concept are extreme medical crises, in which the failure of a single organ puts the entire body in crisis because it can no longer perform basic metabolic processes. Social systems can undergo crises in this strict sense of the term, as is understood in fields like economics, where the term “economic crisis” can be used technically.

Educational crises occur when technological innovations begin to systematically outpace relevant social contexts.

For most of history, educational crises occurred maybe once a generation. Now they happen multiple times a generation, and the rate has been increasing for decades. Consider the skill upgrades needed within a single generation to accommodate personal computers and then smartphones as an aspect of work, school, and home. The structure of an educational crisis is one that reflects a deeper relationship between humans, technologies, and learning. This is sometimes described as the ratcheting effect of cultural evolution, where humans collaborate across generations to evolve their cultures.[2]

Cultures provide contexts in which young people are taught by their elders how to use the tools of their society. As time unfolds, each new generation will adapt and change inherited tools. They then hand on to their children new and improved tools along with the new and improved skills needed to use them. This process repeats over many generations, ratcheting up the technology stack and accompanying educational practices. Over time, the dynamic between tool innovation and education innovation grows more complex. Intergenerational transmission does not mean only the preservation and passing on of culture; it also means evolving culture, by evolving the matrix of technologies and educational resources. This is how education enables the ratcheting up of cumulative social complexity, which is part of the essence of “culture,” understood as a species-specific trait of homo sapiens.[3]

Educational crises occur when technological innovations begin to systematically outpace relevant social contexts. What results is a disruption of intergenerational transmission. Educational demand is not being met by educational supply. The requisite skills, ideas, and values are not being passed on, and existing educational institutions are inadequate to the task. There is a crisis: the social system is unable to do the work of continuing to be itself because of inadequacies in educational supply.

Educational innovation is not only about innovations in schooling.

This failure to meet educational demand can happen for many different reasons. The sheer pace and scope of technological change can leave a whole generation stranded at the edge of history in uncharted territory. This is explored below in the current state of adolescent mental health. There is also the possibility that simple neglect and lack of foresight creates a deficit in educational supply. For instance, some of the world’s most important computer mainframes are built with code that only a dangerously small number of people know how to write, because inadequate attention was paid to the educational demands of the system. This is another example of an educational crisis, even if it remains manageable for now.

What becomes clear is the deep structure for a whole class of problems. Increases in the cognitive and emotional demands of participation in the social system require proportionate increases in the adequacy of educational resources. Social investments in technological innovation only provide sustainable benefits to social systems when there are comparable investments in educational innovation.[4]

Educational innovation is not only about innovations in schooling. School itself—the very idea of the institution and its many variations—was invented in response to educational crises in the past. Indeed, multiple educational crises in the past have been resolved through fundamental inventions at the level of basic social institutions. The massive and historically unprecedented investments of cultural, social, and financial capital that reshaped American public schools during the 20th century offer one such example.

Today, the challenges are different and more complex. Innovations in schooling are not enough. But the scale, speed, and comprehensiveness of successful past efforts in school reform indicate the degree and intensity of change needed now. In the interest of preserving social conditions that allow for the continuation of open societies, we seek to foster the emergence of a sense of shared responsibility for stewarding the educational commons. This requires fostering alignment beyond difference, and earnestly seeking to resolve our collective educational crises with solutions as big as the problem.

Compounding Crises: In and Beyond the Schools

During the pandemic, tens of millions of teachers around the world were forced to learn new ways to teach, almost overnight. Children everywhere had to adapt to new ways of learning, working, and socializing. Schools conducted lessons through online video or with kids and teachers socially distanced and masked. The pressures have been akin to wartime mobilization, with a similar psychological toll. A global public health crisis cascaded into a global educational crisis, which deepened an already profound childhood and adolescent mental health crisis.[5]

Research was undertaken to review the 32 billion private healthcare claims filed regarding people aged 0 to 22 from January to November 2020 and compared them with those filed during the same period in 2019. “The study found that mental health claims for patients aged 13 to 18 skyrocketed 97.0% in March and 103.5% in April 2020. By contrast, [in 2019] medical claims fell 53.3% in March and 53.4% in April. The pattern of increased mental health claims […] held through November 2020, but to a lesser degree. Mental health claims remained at least 19% higher in 2020 than in 2019.”[6]

When educational configurations of such unprecedented size and scope are fundamentally disrupted—as happened with the pandemic—the consequences are hard to predict.

Reflective commentators lament that a whole generation of children has lost precious ground. Learning conditions for students have been suboptimal, even as school systems did their best to accommodate the shock. Some children have been endangered by the loss of school buildings as a place of refuge from abuse. Others have been endangered psychologically by the loss of a place for personal growth and social life beyond the home. While it is true that a small number of economically and culturally well-positioned children received homeschooling experiences better than what they might have had in school, the overall story for teaching and learning in 2020 was one of loss, stress, and inequality.

Due to the intensity of the prevailing disruption, there is reasonable concern about the state of schools going forward. Alongside the economy, education must be listed as one of the domains of society most in need of post-pandemic aid. Teachers are unsustainably overworked and quitting or planning to quit at higher numbers.[7] School systems already underperforming were splintered apart into a digital latticework. Children already disadvantaged were placed at further risk. Inequalities of access and outcomes, already stratified by economic class and race, were further intensified. Political deadlock and polarization mean that no one is exactly sure what comes next for the vast modern school systems lurching into the 21st century.

During the 20th century, large school systems became one of the basic institutions structuring the social, emotional, and cognitive life of entire populations. Although largely taken for granted now, this was historically unprecedented. The scope of the impact is hard to overestimate, as it resulted in the near-total occupation of time during childhood years when key capabilities and identities are formed. Large-scale public schooling rescued children in many ways from child labor, parochial upbringings, and in some cases, hunger. The schools also enabled the centralization of standardized control of behavioral modification systems on a scale never before seen.

Since the pandemic paused schooling as we know it, there is a new sense of urgency about the state of younger generations.

When educational configurations of such unprecedented size and scope are fundamentally disrupted—as happened with the pandemic—the consequences are hard to predict and can take years to play out. It is feasible to see recent disruption to schools as contributing to increases in childhood and adolescent mental health problems, especially depression and anxiety, but increasingly bipolar and psychotic conditions.[8]

For almost a decade the deterioration in adolescent mental health has been on the radar of many concerned psychologists and educators. Explanations for this decline range from alterations in family structure to changes in media and technology. Other factors include worsening diets, increases in childhood medication use, and loss of extended family, church, and civic organizations. Relevant causes may also include changes in schooling itself, where there have been strong correlations between increasing standardized testing practices and diagnoses of childhood mental illness.

The adolescent mental health crisis is some combination across all factors. But note that all these factors could be considered aspects of a deeper multifaceted educational crisis, which impacts young people across most sectors of their lives. Schools are unable, indeed they were not designed, to deal with the transformations of society and culture now underway in the wake of digital technologies and related economic realities, such as transformations in job markets.

Arguments that Generation Zoom or Millennials are somehow better equipped to deal with our world are mostly wishful thinking. The common idea that young people are almost instinctively adapted to technology is not wrong; they “grew up with it” and so are certainly more “digital native” than their parents. But what this really means is that there are no processes of intergenerational transmission for essential skills, emotional dispositions, and ethical values concerning the Internet and its ever-multiplying affordances. Even if your parents had a computer growing up, they did not have today’s Internet. Among the youth there is a combination of a widening generational gap, a mental health crisis, and an absence of necessary skills for the future. Many young people are aware of their precarious, if pioneering, existential situation. This is a difficult mental burden to bear.

Since the pandemic paused schooling as we know it, there is a new sense of urgency about the state of younger generations. What will be the long-term effects of relative isolation, decreased learning, and increased screen time? Who will our children become? What will they be able to accomplish? Can they handle the complexity of the world they will inherit? Deep and complex questions of this kind emerge when a society becomes aware that it is in an educational crisis.

Even the question of the transfer of basic knowledge looms large. Many of the social roles that will need filling in 20, 10, or even 5 years will entail forms of focus, dedication, and motivation that result only from prolonged character formation and intellectual development. When an educational crisis becomes acute, younger generations suffer, and critical social roles cannot be filled.

©Adaptive Cultures

Skills Can Become Scarce Resources and Endangered Species

When the pandemic hit New Jersey and the lockdown set in, tens of thousands of people were unexpectedly seeking unemployment. The state was unable to process claims because the computer system was overloaded and the problems could only be worked out in COBOL, which is one of the oldest and most obscure computer languages in existence. Few people are competent enough in the language to fix major problems. The state began offering to pay very large sums of money to find programmers, complicating an already dangerously fragile fiscal and bureaucratic situation in the region.[9]

New Jersey was not alone. At least 12 states had similar or worse problems.[10] And it is not just state unemployment systems. A recent industry survey revealed that nearly half (43%) of all banking systems and almost all (95%) of ATM transactions involve COBOL.[11] That same report showed that those with skills in the language are aging, and that there are no good systems in place to assure the continuation of these skills. Even if existing computer programmers could undergo rapid training in COBOL in just a few months, that is catastrophically long for systems such as finance and medicine, which are profoundly fragile to temporal disruption.

There are reasons why this technological innovation did not have the requisite educational innovations accompanying it. As experts in the field note, COBOL was invented, designed, and implemented before (and then outside of) academic computer science departments. It has mostly been used in industry, government, and finance. An innovation niche was created that was not related to changes in university training and research. Moreover, the language itself is such that most normally trained computer scientists cannot easily gain mastery based on their current knowledge. Training takes months, and for some it is simply too difficult to master. The result has been that a specific set of essential skills has become a dangerously scarce resource. While a small number of COBOL coders can come to the rescue for the time being, a more general class of problems is emerging in this space.

This specific instance of an education crisis (a disruption of intergenerational transmission, out of step with the needs of technology) demonstrates how necessary skills can become endangered species. At key moments in the design and construction of new technologies, systems and practices can be set in place that do not take account of the requirement for longer-term intergenerational transmission. Education must keep pace with technological innovations, as we have seen, or a crisis ensues due to educational shortfalls. Technological innovations must be designed and rolled out with consideration and support for their very real educational implications; throughout the design process, innovators should plan for the education they require to be integrated holistically into ongoing social life.

When technologies transform ways of life it is also the case that older skills, ideas, and values begin to disappear because they become obsolete. When was the last time you read an actual physical map and worked with a compass? How about the last time you started a fire without matches or a lighter? There are countless cases in which technologies have rendered once essential skills obsolete. This sets up a variant of an educational crisis in which essential skills are lost that should not be lost. Determining what needs to be preserved, and what can be jettisoned, is one of the most important questions a society can ask itself as it evolves.

This is another face of an educational crisis: technology causes the loss of skills that were once essential and may become essential again. Loss of knowledge about local species and ecosystems, for example, can be almost impossible to recover as these ecosystems change. Loss of knowledge about domains in the humanities like law and history often cannot be replaced, and even then can take many years to master. Loss of wisdom has long been a critique of technological development.

Educational innovation must both adapt to address needs for new emergent skills and find ways to preserve essential subsets of old ones. A key effect of social media is that it is increasingly making embodied person-to-person interaction appear obsolete, along with a whole class of related skills, ideas, and values. It is important to remember, however, that not everything technology might make obsolete should be made so. As the educational crisis deepens, it is important to rearticulate what is required on the part of people living in open societies.

The New Educational Demands for Maintaining Open Societies

Open societies promote the free exchange of information and public discourse, as well as governance based on the participation of the people in shared choices about their social futures. As discussed in an adjacent Foundations piece, trends in media, technology, and scientific knowledge have started to endanger the conditions that enable the continuation of open societies.[12] The skills, ideas, and values necessary to maintain open societies are in jeopardy of not being transmitted to younger generations.

Our systems of education have neglected moral, social, and emotional development, along with other types of education that enhance individual experience beyond what is necessary for entrance into the labor market.

Open societies face educational crises because technologies have changed the nature of participation and governance within them. This includes, for example, the technical knowledge needed to redesign and maintain the digital infrastructures that now support basic institutions, such as the media, schools, and markets. As the above discussion of COBOL demonstrates, increasingly complex skills are required simply to keep basic systems running; the services disrupted by an absence of requisite skill were basic social goods guaranteed by the state (unemployment).

While this may seem a trivial or only temporary problem, the cumulative effect of this kind of visible skills deficit is declining public trust in governmental competence. The legitimacy of a government in an open society rests, in part, on its demonstrated ability to execute civic functions and legal mandates in ways that garner the understanding and consent of the people. During educational crises the problem-solving capacities of groups decline, which undermines the perceived value of group membership itself.[13]

It is not just technical skill deficits that are on display. Communications technologies have been fundamentally changing our social skills, ideas, and values.[14] Some older forms of social and emotional capacity are being lost, while at the same time new demands are being placed on us as we consume more information than ever before. Certain ways of being essential for the epistemic commons have become frighteningly rare under these unprecedented conditions, including good-faith argumentation and epistemic humility, explored in related pieces within the Consilience Papers.[15] Over and above the technical skills that might be needed in tomorrow’s societies, there are also equally necessary collaborative capacities such as empathy, reasonableness, and respectful communication.

As predicted by many educational theorists, our tendency to overfocus on modern specialized training as job preparation is starting to backfire. Our systems of education have neglected moral, social, and emotional development, along with other types of education that enhance individual experience beyond what is necessary for entrance into the labor market. For informed public discourse to take place, individuals with specialization must be balanced by those seeking to contrast and synthesize different perspectives and insights from various disciplines. Open societies require citizens who can think together about how all the various forms of knowledge they hold fit together, engaging in collaborative problem-solving, understanding that their society is interacting with other societies in a biosphere with limited resources. Firsthand knowledge of nature, extensive physical education, and rich engagements with the arts are not supplemental or secondary in this context. They provide common experiences to draw upon when the task set before us is fostering knowledge synthesis and communication across differences.

Here we are merely sketching the new hidden curriculum for open societies. This curriculum entails an emerging set of capacities for being a responsible person and citizen in today’s world. The goal is to reimagine the learning of civics, the science of government, the classics and humanities, logic, communication, media literacy, and economics. And all this in a world in which emerging digital technologies (including AI and robotic automation) are rapidly reshaping the landscape of labor, learning, and communication. Educational innovations must become anticipatory, proactively preparing people to develop new types of skills and address challenges to community life, which can be predicted as corollaries of emerging technologies. This work is at the intersection of understanding technologies, humanity, and the dynamic ratcheting effect enabled by the right kinds of educational innovation.

Contemporary societies are being forced to innovate within and around their educational systems to meet the new conditions of a technologically complexifying social world. At the same time, they must also preserve and rediscover those values and skills most essential to sustaining open societies. The scale of the problem today is vast and unprecedented, but some lessons can be learned from prior large-scale mobilizations of public innovation in response to educational crises.

Addressing Educational Crises at Scale

During the 20th century, American public schools transformed to address the accelerating process of industrialization, immigration, and urbanization, as well as epochal changes in media technology with the birth of radio and television. An unprecedented mobilization of attention, resources, and work on schooling in the US began in the 1890s, accelerating through both World Wars, climaxing post-war with the Civil Rights movement, and ending in approximately 1972 with the founding of the Student Loan Corporation and the introduction of market-based models and incentives into school reform.[16] The history is complex and contested, but for a series of important decades schools were the seat of innovations that addressed fundamental educational crises at the heart of American society.

It is hard to imagine the intensity and depth of institutional change in urban school districts like New York and Chicago between 1900 and 1970. Industrialization, electrification, immigration, and then desegregation: the only way the schools could keep pace was by being fundamentally reconceived (several times) and made a consistent focus of concerted national attention and resource allocation.[17] Magnet and specialized schools were one such response. Foundational innovations supported at the level of federal governance served to raise the general level of skill and disposition steadily over the course of several generations. Climaxing during a time when economic inequality was at its lowest in centuries (1940-1972), schools were in a position to address educational crises across several key domains. This work would end up building an infrastructure essential to the continuation of open societies during the Cold War. It was then repurposed after the 1980s as an appendage to the newly triumphant economic models.

Major problems in American schools have always existed, including vast inequalities and entrenched forms of systemic racism.[18] These were left unsolved even as they were earnestly and passionately worked on, which resulted in a long-term decline of the system as a whole. Following the emergence of digital media, post-pandemic schools are now poised for total transformation, for better and for worse. For decades, a vast experiment in public education within the US was a decisive and innovative answer to the educational crises accompanying the emergence of “the free world.”[19]

As inspiring and important (and problematic) as US schools have been, the lesson is not that we need to make bigger and better schools. Schooling as we have known it is not capable of solving today’s educational crises, and yet the scale and significance of the societal efforts needed to resolve the problem is parallel to (if not larger than) the effort and innovation marshaled to build the schools in the first place. We need to make something that is much harder to imagine, and likely more consequential than the school systems built during the 20th century. This may mean transcending but including schools in a more comprehensive educational configuration, such as the “educational hub networks” that are being proposed by thinkers predicting the “end of schools.”[20]

Other measures are necessary as well, which change the contexts in which education takes place. For example, protecting the youth from the attention extraction economy set up by social media companies should be an obvious transpartisan issue of child welfare and educational reform.[21] Our education crisis is not about schooling alone. And it is not about what is often just a disguised conversation about whose kids are winning and losing. If the disruption of intergenerational transmission currently underway is not corrected for, then nobody’s kids win. The loss of the epistemic commons, along with the loss of needed technical skills, would spell the end of open societies as we have known them. Basic skills, ideas, and values that are taken for granted can be lost, including those such as civic discourse, collaborative problem-solving, and ethical behavior.[22]

If we are to meet our current educational crisis, we must mobilize the total resources and attention of the people in our society. Educational crises are everyone’s business. They cannot be met by imagining that some new version of an old institution will work. They require major social innovations. Because they impact the future of our children, educational crises have the power to mobilize good faith in the face of disagreement. Here is a place to begin collaboration across differences in the design of future open societies.

©Adaptive Cultures

Footnotes

  1. For more on dangers of major disruptions to intergenerational transmission understood as educational crises, see: Zachary Stein, “Make Education Not Culture War” in Dispatches from a Time Between Worlds: Metamodernism and Metacrisis, ed., Jonathan Rowson and Layman Pascal (London: Perspectiva Press, 2021[forthcoming]).

  2. For more on cultural evolution, see: Peter J. Richardson and Robert Boyd, Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

  3. This characterization of cultural evolution as a “species-specific trait” is offered by Michael Tomasello. See: Michael Tomasello, The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999) and Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019).

  4. This formulation is close to work done in the tradition of human capital theory; see for example: Lawrence Katz and Claudia Goldin, The Race Between Technology and Education (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).

  5. The issues are obviously very complex, but simple overviews have been offered. See: Joyce Lee, “Mental health effects of school closures during COVID-19” in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health 4:6 (June 2020): e16. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30109-7.

  6. This press release from the American Association for the Advancement of Science provides an overview of the findings, a link to the report, and a description of the non-profit undertaking the research: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/fh-fhr030221.php.

  7. See the survey reported by RAND: “Teachers Are Not Alright: How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Taking a Toll on the Nation's Teachers.” https://www.rand.org/pubs/external_publications/EP68439.html.

  8. There is a great deal of research in this area, with meta-analyses converging on a story about increases in adolescent mental illness over the past decade. For overviews see: Pavica Sheldon, James M. Honeycutt, and Philipp A. Rauschnabel, The Dark Side of Social Media: Psychological, Managerial, and Societal Perspectives (London: Academic Press, 2019). R. Mojtabai and M. Olfson, “National Trends in Mental Health Care for US Adolescents, 2005-2018,” JAMA Psychiatry 77:7 (2020): 703–714. K.M. Keyes, D. Gary, P.M. O’Malley, et al., “Recent increases in depressive symptoms among US adolescents: trends from 1991 to 2018,”Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 54 (2019): 987–996. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-019-01697-8.

  9. Steven Mollman, “Why Covid-19 has resulted in New Jersey desperately needing COBOL programmers,” Quartz (April, 2020). https://qz.com/1832988/covid-19-results-in-new-jersey-desperately-needing-cobol-coders/.

  10. Makena Kelly, “Unemployment Checks Are Being Held Up By A Coding Language Almost Nobody Knows,” The Verge (April 20, 2020): https://www.theverge.com/2020/4/14/21219561/coronavirus-pandemic-unemployment-systems-cobol-legacy-software-infrastructure.

  11. See this simple infographic: “COBOL Blues” in Reuters Graphics: http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/USA-BANKS-COBOL/010040KH18J/index.html.See also: Anna Irrera, “Banks scramble to fix old systems as IT 'cowboys' ride into sunset,” Reuters (April 11, 2017).

  12. The Consilience Project, “Challenges to Making Sense of the 21st Century,” https://consilienceproject.org/challenges-to-making-sense-of-the-21st-century/.

  13. Ibid.

  14. See the work of writers like Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (New York: Norton, 2020 [2011]).

  15. The Consilience Project, “Challenges to Making Sense of the 21st Century,” https://consilienceproject.org/challenges-to-making-sense-of-the-21st-century and “Endgames of Bad-Faith Argumentation.”

  16. This story was retold recently by Diane Ravitch in The Death and Life of the Great American School System (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

  17. This history can be read in various places. It is told in standard historical works of Lawrence Cremin, American Education: The Metropolitan Experience: 1976-1980 (New York: Harper Collins, 1990). And also in critical historiological retellings of the classic works, such as John Taylor Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education.

  18. See the educational writings of bell hooks for rich descriptions of these realities, and the work of Jonathan Kozol (Savage Inequalities, 1991) for a sociological analysis.

  19. See Louis Menand’s The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War (New York: FSG, 2021

  20. Zachary Stein, Education in a Time Between Worlds (San Francisco: Bright Alliance, 2019). See also the work of Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society and work currently underway in India, spearheaded by Manish Jain: https://www.robhopkins.net/2018/01/31/manish-jain-our-work-is-to-recover-wisdom-and-imagination/.

  21. See the work of Tristan Harris at the Center for Humane Technology: https://www.humanetech.com/.

  22. See Jürgen Habermas, The Future of Human Nature (London: Polity Press, 2003).