About This Book

New Era – New Urgency: The Case for Repurposing Education explores the unprecedented realities and challenges associated with entering a new era, such as catastrophic climate changes, advanced artificial intelligence, massive demographic shifts, and worldwide digital disinformation campaigns. This era calls for a new urgency in thinking about how we will educate present and future generations of young people. 

This book is divided into four parts: 

Part I describes the profound social, technological, and demographic changes that have occurred over four hundred years since the first English settlements in Massachusetts and Virginia. 

Part II describes four shadows that have served to corrupt these purposes of education: extreme wealth inequality, nativism, white supremacy, and anti-intellectualism. 

Part III explores the illusions of educational reform that have over-promised college and career success, created an idolatry of math test scores, conflated memorization of facts with conceptual understanding, and confused multiple layers of policy agendas with progress. 

Part IV depicts F. Joseph Merlino and Deborah Pomeroy’s twelve years of experience in Egypt, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Turkey, and the U.S. in helping to craft new purposes of education for model schools in their countries that reflect their aspirations for a new generation.



Table of Contents


Introduction: New Era - New Purpose

Part I: Change and the Purposes of Education

Chapter 1: The Landing, Early Colonial America - (1620-1700)

Chapter 2: The Colonies Become a Nation - (1700-1790)

Chapter 3: The First Agro-Industrial Revolution – (1790 – 1870)

Chapter 4: The Second Industrial Revolution - (1870-1945)

Chapter 5: The Rise of the American Empire - (1945- Present)

Part II: The Corruption of Purpose

Chapter 6: Wealth, Education and the Cycles of Privilege and Poverty

Chapter 7: White Protestant Nativism and “Otherness”

Chapter 8: The Discovery Doctrine and the Shadow of White Supremacy

Chapter 9: Religionists’ Claims Against Science and Other Deniers

Part III: The Promises and Illusions of Educational Reform

Chapter 10: The Promises and Illusions of “College Career and Success”

Chapter 11: The Math Wars

Chapter 12: The Illusion that Activity Equals Progress

Chapter 13: The Turning Point

Part IV: Repurposing Education for a New Era

Chapter 14: Welcome to the Dream, Reda Abou Serie and Hala El-Serafy

Chapter 15: The Design of the Grand Challenges Curriculum, Reda Abou Serie and Hala El-Serafy

Chapter 16: Higher Education, the Teacher Preparation Cycle, and Grappling with Tradition, Reda Abou Serie and Hala El-Serafy

Chapter 17: Repurposing Education Beyond the Egyptian Experience

Chapter 18: The New Urgency


About the Authors




Education is the key to personal development and the future of societies. It unlocks opportunities and narrows inequalities. It is the bedrock of informed, tolerant societies, and aprimary driver of sustainable development. The COVID- 19 pandemic has led to the largest disruption of education ever. The future of education is here. We have a generational opportunity to reimagine education.

—António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations


Guterres wrote these words in 2020, and in the immediately ensuing years, we see even more disruptions, not only to education but also to global stability and the world order. These disruptions are separate in nature, but together they signal that a new era is surely upon us. Several of the more dramatic signs of this new area include the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol; the February 24, 2022, Russian invasion of Ukraine, the first land war in Europe in more than seventy years; worldwide megadroughts and floods; and the Covid-19 pandemic (2019-2023). These seemingly disconnected events all point to deeper changes that represent this new era. Disparate as they are, they are bound by several important themes: They raise questions of truth and justice; their implications span national boundaries; they are emblematic of a surge in violent anti-democratic forces and organized science denialism; and they feed on and are fed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution that includes stunning advances in artificial intelligence and communications technology. Most importantly, they all have implications for how we raise and educate our children.

This new era has already motivated people to demonstrate brave activism and idealism to counteract its malevolent aspects. Energetic young people around the world are responding.

These youth are our hope. But we must better equip them to deal with both the dangers and opportunities this new era presents. As Guterres implored, the future of education is here: “We have a generational opportunity to reimagine education.”

Success in fundamentally reimagining and recreating education is possible; we have played a part in doing soin Egypt and elsewhere from 2012 to the present. What we helped develop and implement for the Egyptian Ministry of Education was a collaborative process of repurposing high school education around the country’s Grand Challenges, backward designing an integrated, student-centered curriculum that serves this purpose, along with developing a custom suite of multi-assessment measures. Twenty-one national model STEM schools have been established with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) along with U.S. partners. Based on the early success of this project, we were invited to do similar work in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2017 and later work in Turkey for UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education. At the invitation of nonprofit cultural organizations with support from a local foundation, we initiated an education repurposing process for high schools in the Philadelphia area.

In what follows, we make the case for the urgency of repurposing education in the United States for its seventy-five million school-aged children for this new era and how to do it. The purposes arrived at may be different for each local context, but the process of curricular and instructional redesign is similar.

Changes in the United States

The U.S. is undergoing profound changes in its racial/ethnic and social identity. According to the 2020 U.S. census, 40 percent of the U.S. population is comprised of Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American and Pacific Islander people. Already, a majority of school-aged children in the U.S. are people of color. By 2065, immigrants to the U.S. who come from more than 156 countries and their first-generation U.S.-born children are projected to represent more than one-third (36 percent) of the 441 million U.S. population.

Who we were and are as a people and a nation is being reexamined as never before. Pressures for greater inclusivity and equity in all sectors of political, social, and economic life will only continue to mount. The voices of the dispossessed, assaulted, and marginalized shout “I Matter” through Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, March for Our Lives, and other movements supporting the LGBTQ community, women, people of color, sexual victims, people living in poverty, and the health impaired and vulnerable. These pressures also derive from an internal moral force, our conscience, calling us to use our strengths to build a more just and inclusive society. Amidst this heightened sense of our plurality are the countervailing voices of White Christian nationalists who reject others’ equal standing and strive to go back to an era of naked White Supremacy and misogynism. Into the third decade of the twenty-first century, we once again find ourselves confronting the questions of who we are, who we want to beand the kind of society we want to live in.

Amid changes in the U.S. population and its identity, children born in this century are facing many threats to their futures from worldwide changes. One such threat is the far-reaching impact of global climate change. One impact is the projected one-foot rise in sea levels by 2050, and as much as an eight-foot rise within a child’s lifetime. This projected rise potentially threatens the 30 percent of the U.S. population that lives along the coastline. The expected rise in sea levels also threatens global population stability and with it, U.S. security...

Famine can lead to mass migration across international borders due to more frequent “megadroughts.” Seventy-five percent of the Earth’s land mass is estimated to be degraded already, with degradation projected to rise to 90 percent by 2050. By then, scarce land resources are estimated to displace 700 million people, resulting in a huge number of climate-induced refugees. Current migration at the U.S. southern border is already reflecting such pressure, while at the same time, the southwest U.S. has experienced persistent drought conditions for two decades, making it the worst drought in 500 years. Central Chile is also experiencing a thirteen-year “megadrought”—the longest drought in that region in more than a thousand years. The world’s food chain is also at risk from a loss of biodiversity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected billions worldwide, resulting in 1.2 million deaths in the U.S. alone. Researchers estimate there is a 38 percent probability of similar pandemics in this century. Moreover, other researchers have also found that more than half of infectious diseases worldwide have been aggravated by climate change. At the same time, medical advances are pushing the boundaries of ethics and law.

… At the same time, the twenty-first century has brought a new era of previously unimaginable innovations in worldwide information and communications technologies (ICT). Consider how recently the largest social media companies were born. On September 4, 1998, Google was founded, followed in February 2004 by the launch of Facebook. YouTube was introduced on February 14, 2005, and Twitter a year later in March 2006. Four years later, on October 6, 2010, Instagram was made public. In August 2018, TikTok invaded U.S. digital landscape. The number of social media users has grown rapidly. As of 2022, over five billion people use social media,14 providing them with instantaneous real-time audio and video streaming capabilities from anywhere in the world—including remote places in developing countries with little access to distributed electricity or water. The communications and cable outlets are too numerous to list, and along with them have come astounding changes in digital storage capacity, processing power, and cloud-based technologies that have led to the generation of “big data” and artificial intelligence (AI). By 2025 the worldwide production of data is projected to reach 175 zettabytes (equivalent to a trillion gigabytes). By comparison, a two-hour movie uses about six gigabytes of data. The connectivity of devices, dubbed the Internet of Things (IOT), is leading the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0).

There is, however, a steep price to pay for the wonders of this new digital era: the threat posed by bad actors both domestically and internationally who want to overthrow democracies through the spread of disinformation and algorithms that amplify disunity and discord. In the U.S. and elsewhere, people are losing the ability to engage in civil discourse. We hear of radical theologies, extremist rhetoric, and propaganda from every conceivable source and direction. The sheer volume of messages bombarding the public blurs the distinction between fact and fiction, truth and lies. In its most pernicious form, this new era can mobilize millions with Big Lies to stage insurrections against democratic institutions and invasions of other countries where the aggressor is portrayed as the victim. This social vulnerability is exacerbated by insufficient critical thinking skills. For example, in the largest study of its kind on critical thinking, as applied to online content, 3,446 high school students were given six online tasks where they were asked to tell the difference between authentic and fake information. Nearly all struggled.

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