The Future of Secondary Education CLOUDS AND SUN

The Future of Secondary Education

James L. Morrison
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The last decade has been an extraordinarily turbulent time in Western civilization. This has been a period when fundamental rules, the basic ways we do things, have been dramatically altered. For example, we have witnessed the end of a war in the Gulf, where, although our forces were victorious, there is a question as to whether or not we have "won the peace." We have witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, unification of the two Germanys, and the end of the Cold War; we may see the breakup of the Soviet Union, or a military takeover. In 1992 we may see a strong European Community (EC) tradebloc that incorporates former Warsaw Pact countries. In response, we may see a North American trade-bloc that incorporates Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and a Pacific trade-block that incorporates Japan and Russia. In a brief period of time, our world has become substantially different. In the language of futurists, we have experienced a paradigm shift.

Adam Smith (the pen name of a contemporary Wall Street economist) in Powers of the Mind, defined paradigm as "A shared set of assumptions. . . .the way we perceive the world. . . . [It] explains the world to us and helps us to predict its behavior" (1975, p. 19).

Paradigm shifts signify dramatic collective change that upset people's worlds because the assumptions, the rules they lived by, have changed. When paradigm shifts occur, people have to learn new rules even while suffering from the effects of old rules. The build-up of U.S. Forces in Saudi Arabia, for example, was hampered by inadequate sea and airlift capability, a capability not developed sufficiently because the implications of the old paradigm called for pre-positioning war materials in Europe as opposed to ferrying them across in the event of a war.

To anticipate the future, we must look for signals of impending paradigm shifts. There were signals that the Berlin Wall would come down. It was well known that the sentiment for unification was strong in both West and East Germany. But the strongest signal occurred in August 1989 when Soviet leadership did not support the East German government in its attempt to stem the flow of its citizens to West Germany through Hungary and Czechoslovakia. This population flowing through the "hole in the dike" became a surge, bursting open the hole and causing the dike to collapse. The rest is history.

What are some of the signals that portend a paradigm shift in secondary education? Consider the following:

  • The cost of computer circuit components has been decreasing 25% per year.

  • Today's microcomputers are as powerful as 1985 mainframes.

  • Satellite teaching is increasingly viewed as a solution to productivity problems.

  • In a few years, it will be possible to have a university research library available at home through relatively inexpensive CD ROM technology.

  • Economic global competition is increasing along with a corresponding concern among business leaders that high school and college graduates are not well prepared for the workplace.

  • Violence in the schools is increasing, fueling the drive for vouchers and for home schooling.

  • The magnitude of population shifts in age and ethnic identification is increasing, with a correspondingly increasingly diverse student population.

These signals imply a dramatic shift in the way we plan and deliver schooling in the next decade. It may well be that some 60 to 80% of instructional delivery may be conducted via computer, interactive multimedia, and satellite technologies. But relatively few teachers, who currently rely on classroom lectures, are prepared to design instruction using these technologies. If indeed the rules change to preparing and implementing instruction via these means, most teachers will be "back to zero."

This special issue of The High School Journal focuses on the future of secondary education. Andrew Carvin leads off with a description of the World Wide Web and its use as an educational tool-technology available now that will drive changes in the role of teacher (from sage on the stage to guide on the side), curricular scheduling, and the way we "do" schooling. Richard Smyth illustrates how students use the Web as a publishing house. Robert Bunge follows with an anecdotal article assessing the opportunities and challenges of the Internet for his colleagues at Mount Vernon High School. John VanDeusen, Nancy Aronson, and Thomas Secton describe the use of large-scale conferencing methodologies, including future search, as tools to plan for the high schools of the future.

A series of articles focus on topics related to educational reform. Rod Beaumont discusses the future of tech prep and school-to-work programs, David Marshak describes the inquiry school, Gay Knutson lays out alternative high schools, Catherine Hickman looks at parent involvement programs, John O'Neill highlights the value of inter-school collaboration and Laurence Marcus and Theodore Johnson focus on new possibilities for teaching diverse populations in tomorrow's high school.

The issue concludes with articles envisioning how science, earth literacy, and the arts will look in secondary schools of the 21st century. Bill Baird provides a broad overview of science education in the future; Frans Verhagen focuses on Earth literacy; Paul Horwitz describes in some detail the use of educational technology to help students turn science information into knowledge. Ian Olson persuasively argues for a more prominent role of the arts in thinking skill development for high schools; David Hornfischer focuses on the forces that will impact the development of an essential music education curriculum in the coming decade.

We developed this issue almost entirely using the resources of the Internet. In January 1995 I put out a call for manuscripts on a number of listservs, including Horizon List, requesting people interested in contributing to this issue to e-mail a theme paragraph and an outline of their proposed articles. I inserted these outlines in a section of our Web page (Horizon Home Page at, titled The Future of Secondary Education, in which I described the purpose of the issue and requested browsers to insert their suggestions/critique in the comment box at the end of each author's theme paragraph. I also requested articles from interested browsers.

In March I developed a distribution list of authors in my e-mail directory, and with one posting was able to ask selected authors to submit their drafts to me via e-mail so that I could insert them on Horizon Home Page. In April I posted a request to Horizon List participants to review the papers and to sub it their comments and suggestions in the comment box under the indicated article on Horizon Home Page.

In September, copyedited manuscripts were inserted on Horizon Home Page. I posted a request to the author distribution list in my e-mail address book for authors to review their papers and to respond to my questions and comments in their manuscript (e.g., "need reference here") and/or to send their suggested revisions to me via e-mail. I also posted a request on Horizon List and to the University of North Carolina School of Education Faculty to review the manuscripts and e-mail me with their comments and suggestions for revisions.

The purpose of using the combination of e-mail, listserv, and Web page to develop this issue was first to solicit manuscripts and second to take advantage of obtaining critique from a large number of readers from around the world quickly. We were quite successful in soliciting manuscripts; indeed, we generated more than we could publish in this issue (those not used will be considered for publication later). We did not receive much critique; most came from issue authors offering suggestions to other issue authors. But it would have been considerably more difficult and slow to obtain the critique had we not had e-mail and the Web site (which is probably why journal editors do not send all manuscripts to all authors requesting critique).

We hope that our description of this application in the realm of sharing ideas and critiques will affirm and/or reaffirm confidence in educator's use of the Web. Further, we hope that the resulting articles in this issue of The High School Journal will inspire readers to respond to the impending paradigm shift, and be prepared for the education scene of the 21st century.


Smith, A. (1975). Powers of the mind. New York: Ballantine.

All material within the HORIZON site, unless otherwise noted, may be distributed freely for educational purposes. If you do redistribute any of this material, it must retain this copyright notice and you must use appropriate citation including the URL. Also, we would appreciate your sending James L. Morrison a note as to how you are using it. HTML and design by Noel Fiser, ©2006. Page last modified: 2/25/1999 6:42:25 PM. 22568 visitors since February 2000.