The Future of Education


This brief paper introduces the Moral Modalities Framework (MMF) and applies it to the field of education.

The Moral Modalities Framework

The MMF embodies knowledge which has been uncovered across diverse fields, and attempts to encapsulate it in a simple framework which can be applied to understanding how to address practical issues across a wide range of fields, including the future of the global financial system, management of organisations and education.

In this brief paper, I will concentrate on what it tells us about our current educational systems, and how these need to evolve to address future needs, particularly in areas which have been poorly served by current methods.

The following diagram presents the MMF in terms of five Moral Modalities (shown in columns) and three levels of recursion (shown as rows), which apply to life in a modern "Developed Society".

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The model could be applied with differently labelled levels of recursion, but the ones shown are intended to illustrate the principles with reference to life as lived by the readers of this paper. I contend that a prosperous life is one which enables us to participate consciously in all the cells in the MMF diagram.

I will now briefly describe each of the five Moral Modalities:

Unconditional Care – the foundation of being human

The Unconditional Care Modality underpins everything else in human life. Its archetypal symbol is a mother breast-feeding a baby.

In this modality, we recognise something that needs to be done and act without consideration for whether we will be rewarded or punished for it. We can see that it needs to be done, so we do it.

At the personal level this expresses itself in caring for those we love. We do not do so for what we can get out of it, but because that is what it means to be human. Traditionally this modality is associated in private life with motherhood even though, as a function, there is no reason why it should be associated with any specific gender.

In the world of work, this expresses itself as creativity. Most creativity takes place inside individual minds, but there is a form of social organisation that can scale this up without losing the creative spark. We call this Skunkworks, an expression used to describe small teams with no fixed social hierarchy, very precisely delineated in the books of William L Livingston, an inventor whose career was spent working in such teams.

In the public sphere, this expresses itself in emergency services, social care and health services.

Guardianship – deciding who we are

This modality is about establishing the boundaries around the social group. Who is inside and who is outside? The archetype of this is the stern father, who disciplines the members of the group and ensures that they live up to the values that make the group who they are. As is the case with motherhood in the Unconditional Care modality, the traditional association with a gender need not apply, but the function itself is necessary.

At the level of work in a typical Western-style environment this is the job of the Chairman and Non- Executive Directors, or the founding entrepreneur.

At the level of public life, this guarding of identity is in the hands of priesthoods, monarchs or presidents and the defenders of the realm.

Conditioned Hierarchy – keep on keeping on

In Conditioned Hierarchy Modality, we are going about ordinary life, mostly without reflecting on what is happening. We get up when the alarm goes off, walk the dog, commute to work, do what we need to do, come home to the family, get the kids to do their homework, watch the TV, and check in on Facebook.

We are following our training, operating almost on auto-pilot.

Conditioned Hierarchies have fixed value systems. If we stray from the path, we feel guilt or shame. There are leaders and followers. There is a hierarchy of prestige, with reassuring authority figures who will guide us and keep us safe. There are accepted assumptions that must not be challenged.

There is also competition. If we work for General Motors, we know that Ford is the enemy. If we follow Manchester United we know that Liverpool is the traditional foe. We get immense pleasure out of belonging to our side and the competition with the “enemy” is a great source of emotional stimulus for all participants.

At the level of personal life, this modality is associated with authoritarian parenting. Children subjected to this resort to playing complex “games” to get their real needs met, as described in Eric Berne’s classic book “Games People Play”.

In the field of commerce, the dark arts of marketing are used to make sure we keep buying the right brand. After all, Coca-Cola is “The Real Thing”, is it not? When marketing works, buying the product is a “no-brainer”.

Conditioned Hierarchies are a powerful way to “deliver the goods”, as long as the environment does not change. But when it does, they can become dangerous. When the environment changes, it is likely that nobody in the Conditioned Hierarchy will realise this. When things start to go wrong, they will assume that this is because people are not working hard enough. The authority figures will “crack the whip” and demand more obedience, often continuing to do so until the organisation collapses.

Exchange – let’s do a deal

In the Exchange Modality, A has something that B wants, B has something that A wants, and they figure out a deal to exchange one for the other. This is the world of “free market economics”, although free markets are less common than most of us imagine.

The modern world since the eighteenth century has grown out of an emphasis on the combination of Conditioned Hierarchies and Exchange. Adam Smith, who is credited with being the founder of free market economics, described a pin factory, which increases productivity by division of labour (a classic Conditioned Hierarchy), and producers competing in a free market (Exchange), as examples of how a free market economy creates increasing wealth.

Learning Network – the organ of evolution

The Learning Network Modality is subtle, but important. In this modality, people learn from each other without any assumptions of higher or lower prestige. Authority flows according to who at any moment knows more than anybody else. Those who wish to learn have to be prepared to subordinate themselves to whoever is teaching them, but success in the interchange abolishes the authority hierarchy, because the participants become peers in that particular aspect of knowledge.

Learning Networks enable new knowledge to be developed and distributed throughout a social group, enabling them to evolve and adapt to changing circumstances.

Historically these are vitally important, but they are also poorly documented and hard to see because they tend to dissolve once a new level of learning has been reached and get replaced with a Conditioned Hierarchy which then takes the credit for what happened.

In the personal sphere, the Learning Network modality is represented by nurturing of children by parents and people learning from each other.

In the workplace, this is associated with good management, mentoring and apprentices learning by working to absorb the atmosphere around mastery of a domain, rather than being lectured and tested on formal knowledge.

In the public sphere, this modality ought to be associated with education and political participation, but most educational systems appear to be stuck in a pattern of inducting people into Conditioned Hierarchies, and political participation seems to be at a very low ebb.

Changes in Technological Infrastructure, and Their impact on Society

Pre-modern societies, since about 5,000 years ago, were dominated by aristocrats and priesthoods. In the fourteenth century CE, Ibn Khaldun, in his Muqaddimah, the prolegomena to his Universal History, identified the pattern of the rise and fall of dynasties, and how this related to the rise and fall of city states and empires.

In MMF terms, his analysis showed that new dynasties are founded by charismatic leaders, generally from a nomadic background, who take over settled states. Their ability to take over comes from their toughness, because nomadic life is much harder than sedentary life, which tends to make people soft and dependent upon the ease of city living. These founders of dynasties are culture heroes, exemplifying the Guardian Modality. But, once they settle down, their descendants become unjust and impose their authority by force, becoming dependent upon the Conditioned Hierarchy Modality to maintain order. Typically dynasties collapsed after three generations, and were replaced by a new wave of incoming nomadic warriors.

This traditional cycle became subverted by the rise of expensive, technically sophisticated weaponry, which made warfare very expensive. Princes began to depend upon bankers from a trading background to finance their wars, leading to the rise of the middle classes and the decline of the power of aristocrats and priesthoods. With the rise of science and industry, the old pattern was replaced by competition between commercial tycoons, and the replacement of the rural peasantry with an industrial workforce. This required a shift to mass literacy and the invention of educational institutions which could teach the necessary skills. The pioneers of this shift were the British, in the period from the 1760s to about 1850. Their invention of factory production, fuelled by power from coal, also led them to seek out sources of raw materials and markets for their produce, which, allied to their maritime power, made them a global power. The educational institutions they designed still influence the modern world, despite being designed to sustain a Victorian Empire, which declined after reaching its peak in the 1920s.

Roughly speaking, the educational framework was structured as follows:

• Education from age five to ten years, suitable to train factory workers, extended to secondary level as factory work became more complex, requiring more skills.

• Education for an administrative elite - clerical workers and colonial civil servants.

• Education for academia, modelled on the medieval Western European universities, with the addition of modern scientific and engineering disciplines.

The key difference between a “developing society” and a “developed society” is the extent to which the population has been successfully trained to participate in Conditioned Hierarchies, where obedience was originally to military discipline in conscript armies and factories, but has shifted to obedience enforced by the promise of monetary reward to enable participation in material prosperity. A key element of this is compliance with clock time, a concept alien to pre-literate, rural societies, but fundamental to life in a modern city, as illustrated by the rush hours when people commute to and from work.

To be somewhat blunt, training human beings to comply with Conditioned Hierarchies has been a long, hard process of getting them to comply with fixed rules, which could be considered to be making them act in a “robotic” manner.

The invention of the computer in the 1940s is probably the most important event in the history of technology since the invention of writing about five thousand years ago. We are still digesting the consequences of this, as globally connected computers become ubiquitous in the form of smart phones. In essence, computers are tireless, fast, reliable, rule-following idiots. As they become increasingly embedded in everyday life, and increasingly easy to program, the requirement for human beings to be trained at vast expense to comply with Conditioned Hierarchies becomes increasingly irrelevant. Training people to remember “facts” on which they can be tested in examinations is simply training them to compete against future versions of Google and Wikipedia.

The instant global connectivity which the internet brings to the computers in our pockets also represents a huge cultural challenge, unprecedented since the invention of printing by movable type in the fifteenth century CE. The combination of instant connectivity and inexpensive computing power opens up the possibility that all of humanity could participate in the world’s first truly global civilisation. A key part of the infrastructure needed to fulfil such a vision will be an educational system that prepares us to participate in it.

Wealth creation in our industrial society has mostly required people to “keep on keeping on”, which is best done using the Conditioned Hierarchy Modality, with a relatively small community of people using the Learning Network Modality to inject new knowledge into the system. There has therefore been no need to explicitly teach people how to function consciously in the Learning Network Modality. But, as wealth creation shifts to more emphasis on innovation, with the roll-out of services increasingly being done by programming computers and robots, we need to teach everybody how to form and participate in Learning Networks without the constraints of geography and cultural parochialism. This will require re-thinking the role of teachers and educational curricula.

Currently, teachers are mostly dedicated to delivering subject content, defined by a curriculum, to their pupils, who are then tested on their grasp of that content and graded on this. In the future, the key skill required by pupils will be to “learn how to learn”, so that they can continue to do so throughout their lives. Because content can be delivered instantly to the computers in our pockets, the key skill we all require is knowing how to find reliable information from which we can learn what we need, when we need it, so that we can apply that information in the context of our daily lives.

This means that teaching needs to shift to the role of facilitating learning experiences, and the curriculum needs to consist not of fixed content to be mastered, but a set of validated sources of learning, some of which will be delivered electronically and some face-to-face. Participating in Learning Networks is not a process of mastering fixed content, but a process of learning and inventing, more like the experience we all go through of mastering our native language as a child than sitting in a classroom being lectured to by a teacher.

The challenge of designing this new educational system is as great as the Victorian British faced in designing a system to turn a rural workforce into an industrial workforce, but the requirements for success a lot more subtle. Training people into Conditioned Hierarchies is a well-understood, mechanistic process, whereas teaching people to participate in Learning Networks in not.

Key Infrastructure for the Emerging Educational System

A key element required in this new system will be a Personal Learning Portfolio. This will be an electronic resource, cryptographically encrypted and connected to the identity of the student, which records their work, tracks their progress, and allows the student to seek out resources to increase their knowledge. Personal Educational Portfolios will become the key to co-ordinating the provision of life-long education. It will be vital that they cannot be lost, are highly secure and access is entirely controlled by the student.

The Emerging Educational System

We all need to be capable of being citizens of a global civilisation, without abandoning our own sense of identify and belonging. It should not be necessary to surrender our local identity in order to participate in global culture. We all belong somewhere and have a right to enjoy our participation in belonging to a family and a range of communities, as well as engaging with self-confidence in the wider world.

Education needs to equip us to be able to do so.

There is no place in this vision for peddling propaganda that portrays certain cultures as superior to others, with enemies that must be destroyed in the interests of the future. Any community which can only bolster its sense of worth by demonising others is not thriving, and is in need of assistance to ameliorate the situation.