Bittersweet Hereafter

With preparations already under way to usher in the next century, many will turn to an onslaught of retrospectives for a remembrance of things past. There's certainly much to remember. After all, the most innovative feats that shaped this millennium have been equally matched by the deepest pitfalls. And changes in education have reflected these often radical shifts. From judicial decrees that sometimes forcefully ensured racial and sexual integration of the classroom to the record numbers now opting for higher education, it seems we've made great strides. But are there grounds for such a belief? And, more importantly, will the reality of our present condition help—or hinder—the drive for progress?

Widely considered integral to success in society, education has historically been mired in politics and controversy. Although many believe the era in which we now live to be enlightened, surges in technological development still result in an uneasy tug-of-war with measures designed to strengthen the moral fiber of students. Perhaps the resurgence of active spirituality can be tied to millennial jitters, but, with sound bites traveling at the speed of T3 connections, dogmas can spread faster and further than ever. The fact that such diametrically opposed schools of thought thrive is testament to the divide.

While some students manage to forsake the hedonistic abandon of college life for more transcendental solace, it is legislators who are fretting about the influences to which collegiates might succumb when they flee the parental nest. Undoubtedly the eruption of high school shooting sprees contributed to their heightened sense of panic as lawmakers and parents began to feel distanced from the institutions responsible for molding coming generations. To regain control of a seemingly unruly situation, localities issued a series of preventative strikes, including patting down kids who may—or may not—start a scene from Platoon in the cafeteria, and possibly posting the Ten Commandments in every classroom to convert young heathens en masse.

A more punitive move, though, lies in the recently passed Higher Education Act. Hillary Chute examines the possible repercussions of an amendment buried in the act that denies financial aid to students convicted of any drug charge. Progressives label the maneuver—in an era when skyrocketing tuition has forced many to rely on federal and state subsidized loans to bridge the gaps—zealously draconian. They also fear that the current zero-tolerance environment will result in damage to other social initiatives.

As if this obstacle wasn't enough for college students to dodge, another frightfully imposing scene is playing out on campuses across the country with the invasion of corporate headhunters intent on extracting the cream of the graduating crop with the promise of prepackaged lifestyles. Michael Zilberman unwraps the lures of a luxurious life couched in hipster guise.

One of the few places in which a strain of resistance to divisive trends has emerged is the art world. Frantiska and Tim Gilman-Sevcik illustrate how an infusion of popular culture at area museums has brought a lively accessibility—and a desire to educate—to the forefront of aesthetic values.

On the technology front, software developers predict that in the coming years electronic testing will radically alter education as we now know it. Despite concerns that disadvantaged students will be left behind, venture capitalists, eager to remain off the sidelines, are pouring millions into the advances. Ginger Otis profiles these leaps into a brave new world.

While it may be easy to succumb to the feverish hopes of these Oz-like ingenuities, there is no guarantee of success. Will students in the next century call Mars their school-year home? No one knows, for such visions are often tinged with Nostradamus-like trappings: highly interpretive and given to outlandish flourishes. Karen Mahabir surveys local science instructors whose predictions are not quite so rosy. It seems that, for now, the promise of the future remains an opaque mirror.

 
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