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PIVOT: Empowering Students Today to Succeed in an Unpredictable Tomorrow
What people are saying about Pivot ix
1. Predictably Unpredictable 1 (read now for free)
2. World Peace is Possible ... If We Make it Profitable 11
3. Life is Like a Game of Cards 29
4. Don't Chase Success; Pursue Excellence 45
5. The Harvard Business School of Rock & Roll 57
6. What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger 71
7. When Privilege & Poverty Unite 91
8. Becoming a Global Citizen 113
9. Uniting the World Through Music 125
10. Owning One's Education 137
Appendix A: Selected Quotes from Text 149
Appendix B: Additional Resources 153
About the Author 157
Published Works by Ravi Hutheesing 159
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Chapter 1: Predictably Unpredictable
When I began thinking about this book, the world was relatively calm, with strong economies and no major conflicts. With technology rapidly evolving and impacting the future of jobs, the education industry was deeply engaged in debates about how to best prepare students for an unpredictable future. As a keynote speaker who has delivered speeches to thousands of education leaders at conferences, including the International Baccalaureate Global Conference and AASA’s National Conference on Education, answering this question has been a cornerstone of my message. Creating cultural competence and equity in education (fairness, regardless of differing values and beliefs), and implementing technology and personalized learning, are common themes because while the future may be unpredictable, educators help shape the future by how they prepare students.
Then the unthinkable happened. The Coronavirus Disease of 2019-2020 (COVID-19) shattered global economies, flipped education upside-down, and caused all of humanity to make the most significant pivot in a lifetime. For much of 2020, ninety percent of the global population lived in countries with some degree of travel restriction, 1.7 billion people were ordered to stay at home, and the rest either found their everyday lives severely curtailed given the mandated closures of non-essential businesses or were encouraged to self-quarantine while working and learning from home.
Classrooms and conference rooms pivoted immediately from physical to virtual. Wedding receptions, birthday celebrations, and funerals soon followed. The global shutdown accelerated the implementation of technology into education, the workforce, and social interactions practically overnight.
The absence of traditional schooling for at least one semester was probably the most significant disruption for most families. Ninety percent of the world’s students found schools closed or were sent home from colleges and universities, sometimes without even the time to pack their belongings. Educators went into a panic as they attempted to bridge a gap that turned into a chasm. School systems everywhere involuntarily accelerated the adaptation to online learning with varying degrees of success. While digital learning had already been increasing in classrooms, it quickly became apparent how much disparity it creates without structure and guaranteed access to computers and highspeed internet. Moreover, since many families depend on free school lunches, creating a system to distribute box lunches often took precedence over solving the challenges of delivering education to the home.
Just as the world was beginning to find its rhythm, a second event stopped us in our tracks. George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, suspected of committing a minor offense by using a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill, was killed by the excessive force of the arresting white police officer. While the virus had, in some ways, united the globe in the effort to contain a common enemy, people were also reaching psychological breaking points from being kept in figurative cages. Riots quickly erupted in cities across the United States, often evolving from peaceful protests into violent clashes with police. Then, like the Coronavirus, the protests transcended borders, spreading to Europe and beyond as the world’s attention pivoted from overcoming a health crisis to demanding social justice.
The time had come for me to complete this book, which is for all educators, including school administrators, teachers, counselors, parents, and students. I believe education is the solution to all the world's problems, but to educate the “whole child” and create “lifelong learners,” it must begin as a partnership between parents and teachers and then pivot to one between students and mentors. While it need not always be an active collaboration, each must take ownership of his or her role because education is much more than just going to school. By giving all students the skills to pivot in the face of constant changes, we empower them to succeed in an unpredictable future.
My pivots—from a family of politicians and bankers to the guitarist of a world-famous band to a “flying musician” in the aviation industry to a cultural diplomat for the US Department of State to an arts and education advocate as a keynote speaker—have created an exciting and fulfilling journey made possible by owning my education. The following stories provide examples of how striking the right balance between traditional schooling and real-world education can create successful and socially responsible global citizens, and how they will then create a socially just future.
My goal has always been to push the education industry to pivot toward a hybrid of traditional and real-world schooling. As a concept, “change” can be daunting, and it can lead to procrastination. If one makes a pivot instead—a shift in direction while maintaining the fundamental principles and strengths on which one operates—the distance between thought and action is reduced considerably. Whether it is an individual or an entire industry, the ability to pivot is the difference between staying relevant and becoming redundant.
In education, the call for reform is nothing new. It is part of every political platform worldwide. For over four decades in the USA, politicians have campaigned that education must get “Back to Basics” because we are “A Nation at Risk,” and there must be “No Child Left Behind.” More recently, parents have been taking matters into their own hands by getting vouchers to use public money to enroll their children in charter schools (some of which are for-profit), giving them “School Choice.”
Yet, a significant change has been slow to come, possibly because, despite this negative narrative, statistics tell a different story. In the United States, the number of high school graduates, college enrollments, and employees (other than in recession years) have consistently risen. While the latest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) scores indicate that American students are average compared to other countries, once you dissect these scores further and isolate schools with fewer than 25% of students receiving FRLP (Free and Reduced Lunch Program)—those eligible for Title 1 funding—the USA is close to the top of the list. In this regard, one can argue that there is not a public education problem as much as there is a poverty problem, and much like everywhere in the world, the disparity can often be linked to socioeconomic and racial divides.
While disparity has been accentuated during the pandemic due to the lack of equal access to technology, which would likely perpetuate classism and racism, young people around the world are now taking a firm stance on social justice issues. Even during the months before COVID-19 and George Floyd, millennials have started marching on the streets to fight for equality, from Hong Kong to Chile to France to Lebanon. While previous generations have done the same, it is the multicultural nature of millennials and their successors, Gen Z, that could produce a change unlike anything we have seen before.
Moreover, nature appeared to heal, even if only temporarily. While humans were quarantined, wild animals were found grazing in cities for the first time in most of our lifetimes, with dolphins swimming closer to Italy’s southern shores in the less polluted waters, and pumas descending from the Andes onto the unusually quiet streets of Santiago de Chile. Air pollution vanished over Beijing and New Delhi, and while household energy consumption increased worldwide, it was being offset by the reduction in businesses' use.
Many found that working from home increased their productivity while companies saw office expenses disappear from their bottom lines. Given the need for social distancing, the recent surge in collective workspaces reversed, but the rise in home delivery benefitted shipping companies and online retailers. Some hotels that depend on tourists found new business as places for travelers to quarantine for the fourteen days most governments required. Just about every industry has been forced to pivot in one way or another.
Are these events and reactions all connected, and if so, how? What are the cause and effects? Who are the winners and losers? Questions like these are ones that students should be asking and answering. If educators (parents, teachers, and students) do not perpetually capitalize on current events as the basis for curriculum, it would be a great detriment to lifelong learning.
To prepare students for an unpredictable future, the most important thing they need to master is how to learn. The world will always have more to teach than the classroom; therefore, the primary focus of education must be to create lifelong learners. COVID-19 and George Floyd’s death are excellent examples of world events that yield lifelong lessons, and both history and the future will provide a plethora of others.
The task for all educators is simple to understand but perhaps more complicated to implement. It comes down to four concentrations: inspire curiosity, recognize and nurture talent, provoke critical thinking, and foster communication. If educators focus on these four, we need not reimagine education. Instead, we can redefine schooling to make education impervious to however unpredictable the future may be. In other words, the classroom must empower every student to perpetually absorb and act upon the lessons of an ever-changing world.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers reports that nearly 40% of jobs will be automated in the next decade. No matter when you read this, the rate of change is a startling reference. Those who argue that jobs will return are speculating at best. There is no telling whether there will be new jobs created or if our jobs will cease to be the primary focus of our lives. The “ice-breaker” question of the future may no longer be “what do you do?” but rather, “how do you feel about…?”
Outsourcing of labor is nothing new, and less expensive options will always be sought. However, jobs that used to be outsourced to humans in third-world countries will now go to first-world technology. The benefit to companies that employ robots over people will become increasingly apparent—no need for payroll, healthcare provisions, pensions, workman’s compensation, etc. Moreover, artificial intelligence will likely evolve faster than job creation, and at some point, predominantly create jobs for other robots.
We are seamlessly incorporating Amazon’s Alexa, iRobot vacuums, Thermomix kitchen assistants, smart TVs, and other automated devices into our homes. Most of us already have more power in our pockets than NASA had in the Apollo spaceships 50 years ago, and the next device you buy will offer more power for less cost. Technological deflation—the diminishing price of technology—will have a significant impact on future economies and job markets, and if that is combined with the ability to provide equal access to highspeed broadband internet, the impact on humanity should ultimately be positive. Nevertheless, to stay relevant, one must be able to pivot.
With the rising cost of traditional university combined with the array of higher education options now online, even the future role of traditional higher education is unclear. University students worldwide have now completed at least one semester of studies online due to COVID-19, and they may be reluctant to return to classes as usual. Professors who initially found adapting their classrooms to online formats challenging are also discovering the ease with which they can now have a visiting lecturer from the other side of the world (or visit students on a different continent without leaving their homes).
Either way, if we may no longer be defined by jobs and careers in the future, why is making sure that students are “college and career ready” still the most relevant objective? As I often say to my audiences, we must prepare students—not for our future but theirs—and I believe there is now more than ever a higher purpose for education.
Suggested Pivots from Chapter 1
- Understand your educational role. To educate the “whole child” and create “lifelong learners,” education should begin as a partnership between parents and teachers and then pivot to one between students and mentors.
- Pivot instead of change. As a concept, “change” can be daunting, and it can lead to procrastination. If one makes a pivot instead—a shift in direction while maintaining the fundamental principles and strengths on which one operates—the distance between thought and action is reduced considerably.
- Emphasize learning over achievement. To prepare students for an unpredictable future, the most important thing they need to master is how to learn. If educators (parents, teachers, and students) can capitalize on current events as the basis for curriculum, students will be able to continue learning independently of formal education long after they leave school.
- Concentrate on four pivotal areas. These are to inspire curiosity, recognize and nurture talent, provoke critical thinking, and foster communication. By doing so, schooling will make education impervious to an unpredictable future.
- Think ahead. Prepare students—not for our future but their