I often talk about how physically unsuited I would have been for the world 150 years ago, and how lucky I am to live today because of our current medical knowledge. I look at the original Microsoft gang at the left, and really wonder how many periods of history would have so favored and benefited the nerd?
I'm convinced that different periods of time favor different physical, intellectual, emotional, or social characteristics. I've also become increasingly convinced that we are moving into an era which will overwhelmingly favor the proactive learner--the individual who seeks out information, tests theories, develops passions, ask questions, joins groups, becomes a part of larger discussions, and acts. It's hard for me to imagine that the quiet, conforming, waiting-for-instructions student or employee will have the opportunities in the future that were previously rewarded to those character traits when I was growing up. I don't think it's a stretch to say that being quiet, conforming, and waiting-for-instructions really identified the model student and worker in most people's eyes for the last half of the 20th century.
But as I look around at the complexity of our current world, at the sheer volume of both material and opportunity, at the amazing entrepreneurial environment the academic and business worlds will operate in, it becomes increasingly clear to me that the character traits of being proactive learners and contributors are going to be essential to our students. Of course, they will need help turning creativity into craft (thanks to Karen Greenwood Henke for that thought), and coaching in how to use independence to create competence, but above all, they will need to be proactive.
How do we help our students develop these skills? The classic, and profound, rule of all influence: we have to model those skills ourselves.