Home' Teacher : May 2011 Contents 74 TEACHER MAY 2011
hedgehogs know one thing and know it
well: they have one big idea and they pur-
sue it with certainty. Futurist foxes, on the
other hand, know a bit about many things,
draw their knowledge from many different
domains and combine these to understand
the present and predict the future. They're
also very tentative about their conclusions,
hence the 'ifs' and 'buts.' It's the foxes, not
the hedgehogs, that hedge their bets.
Predicting how things will be can slide
over into advocating how they should be.
In this regard, education is particularly at
risk of the advocacy of hedgehogs, those
who know the one thing that will make
education not just better but the best, and
who promote their Big Idea with certainty.
The activities of these ideas hedgehogs
partly explain why education is prone to
fads and fashions, which come and go with
sometimes alarming speed. Their attention-
grabbing ideas are easy to package and pal-
atable to those looking for simple solutions.
The arrival -- and unremarked-on disap-
pearance -- of the Big Idea that will fix edu-
cation becomes, as a result, a semi-regular
event. The complexity of the classroom, the
importance of context, the many nuanced
decisions that go to make up successful
teaching are all ignored by those promot-
ing the current Big Idea. We've all seen the
ICT Big Idea wax and wane as the solution
to what ails schools, but there have been
many other Big Ideas from the hedgehog
camp, the current one being personalised
There's a lot to be said for ignoring the
hedgehogs and going instead with the foxes,
those who make carefully qualified sugges-
tions for modest changes. While it might be
uplifting to be inspired by the next Big Idea
beloved of hedgehogs, it pays to remember
that when it comes to success in predicting
what comes next the more modest proposals
of the foxes have a better track record. T
Catherine Scott is a Se nior Research
Fellow in the Teaching, Learning and
Leadership Division of the Australian
Council for Educational Research.
Predicting the future is a human preoccu-
pation. We'd all like to know what comes
next, so that we can adequately prepare.
There's even a living to be made from it.
Besides fortune tellers and astrologers, and
science fiction, which has always been in
part a form of speculating about the future,
we have professional futurists who make a
career of predicting what comes next on a
national or international level.
The main difficulty for the field of futur-
ism is that as a whole its predictions are
generally incorrect. A case in point is the
prediction made with great confidence in
the 1970s that rapid advances in technol-
ogy would shrink the working week to only
a few days. Instead, the advent of mobile
phones and the internet has shrunk our lei-
sure time, with many of us always on call.
Consider how many of your students,
or their parents, expect you to check and
respond to their email -- out of hours, on the
weekend, even on annual leave.
In education, a constant theme has been
the supposedly transformative potential of
information and communication technol-
ogy (ICT). For the past 40 years ICT has
been going to 'transform education,' and
we're still waiting patiently for the tech-
nological miracle to happen. Meanwhile,
teachers are routinely criticised for their --
supposed -- failure to facilitate the dawning
of the new electronic age.
Not all attempts to predict what will
happen next are unsuccessful, however.
Research into which predictions actually
come true has revealed that futurists come
in two varieties. The first type make grand
predictions, which rarely turn out to be
correct while the second type make more
modest prognostications, accompanied by
a raft of 'ifs' and 'maybes,' but which are
more accurate. That's all very well, but it's
the grand pronouncements that are likely to
grab the headlines -- to be quietly forgotten
when they turn out to be wrong.
Researchers have dubbed the first type
of futurist 'hedgehogs,' and the second type
'foxes' -- a reference to an aphorism attrib-
uted to the ancient Greek poet Archilochus:
'The fox knows many little things, but the
hedgehog knows one big thing.' Futurist
The last word
WHEN IT COMES TO PREDICTING THE FUTURE IN EDUCATION, IT'S
WORTH GOING WITH THE FOXES RATHER THAN THE HEDGEHOGS,
AS CATHERINE SCOTT EXPLAINS.
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