Care-Based Ecosystems Provide Vibrant Social Infrastructure
In this future, education experiences a paradigm shift. It becomes integrated into a broader care-based ecosystem that serves as vital social infrastructure within and across regions. Public institutions work together to align with highly interconnected, place-based communities. The diverse groups and constituents that make up those communities create adaptive, care-based learning ecosystems that focus on dismantling oppressive conditions that harm learners and on investing in systems and structures that uplift each student and foster their sense of societal belonging.
Neighborhood associations, affinity groups and institutions accept the need to invest in the work of open communication in order to build the mutual understanding necessary to thrive in the volatile, climate-driven 2040s. Simply put, they recognize that their future success is tied to that of others. As more neighborhoods and regions find themselves facing extreme heat, flooding, rising sea levels, wildfires and outbreaks of emergent diseases, interdependence is widely valued as a pathway toward resilience, well-being and liberation. This is particularly true for people from historically marginalized yet resilient groups, who have experienced impacts of environmental injustice at disproportionate rates. Most public institutions see themselves as catalysts responsible for sparking dialogue and understanding across diverse groups and organizations. They operate as engaged learning organizations rather than as know-it-all bureaucracies. In addition, they seek continually to improve the ways in which they prioritize radically human dignity and work to become anti-oppressive.
Over the past decade, widespread prioritization of fact-based, research-driven social policy led the way to a reconceptualization of public institutions and their relationships with place-based communities and their diverse constituents. Now, social policy is integrated across health, housing, economic and education agencies to create comprehensive webs of care and concern focused on children and the adults who care for them. Freedom Opportunity Standards (FOS), with a baseline set at the federal level, are agreed upon by community members, local businesses, public institutions and other stakeholders to guide ecosystem goal setting and strategies so that they ensure equitable access to opportunities for living lives of dignity. The FOS have enabled universal access to important forms of infrastructure such as high-speed broadband internet, as well as access to affordable or free public transportation. They have also paved the way for universal guarantees for basic incomes, food, jobs, health care and housing. As a result, FOS have helped reduce the rates of diseases of despair and have created a sense of security that has improved children’s and families’ mental health and their sense of hope for the future.
Opportunities for, and participation in, civic engagement are at all-time highs. Election Day is a holiday. Constituent-driven town hall interactions are facilitated by youth and intergenerational teams. These interactions are conducted both in-person and remotely, with virtual reality and locally controlled social media platforms helping community members and institutions hear diverse perspectives, work across differences and creatively imagine future projects and aspirations.
In most states, the care-based ecosystems support education through healthy partnerships, listening and dialogue circles, and inclusive decision-making bodies involving local school leaders, parents, students and government entities. Informed by the FOS, they collaborate to support the co-creation of learning structures and experiences, measures of success and accountability mechanisms that meet diverse needs and aspirations. Community educational councils collaborate to set agendas and provide oversight. Reflecting broad representation from various neighborhoods, agency stakeholders, educators and students, they make recommendations to guide educational decision-making and design of educational programs. These councils inform curriculum reviews, improvements to assessment methods, the creation of partnerships for youth-led projects and inquiry research on topics such as equitable access to climate preparedness. The councils’ participatory processes are valued as ways of creating inclusion and transparency to help sustain liberatory education and anticipate potential opposition. Governance positions in the councils rotate among community members, including students. People holding them are supported and trained to perform their duties.
Local schools and districts have morphed into diverse structures, networks and models of learning that reflect the broader school community’s cultures, wisdom and knowledge bases. They foster a deep sense of belonging among families, educators and learners. Sometimes conflict about issues related to content, curriculum or priorities emerges among school communities. These disputes are mostly resolved through inclusive processes that are accepted as part of the hard work of cultivating interdependence and sustaining a care-based ecosystem. The outcome is that each learner experiences an environment of care and feels seen, heard and valued. They know that they matter, and they know that the people who care for, coach and mentor them also matter.
With the switch to a care-based education ecosystem, teaching in public schools has broken out of the constraints of its White-dominant, 19th-century origins. Educator roles have expanded to include a wide range of learning partners, mentors and guides who come from elders, adults and student peers alike. Educator training has been overhauled to center around human developmental needs. It also emphasizes anti-oppression, the cultivation of conditions for healthy brain development and relationship-driven strategies as being fundamental to teaching practice. Over the past decade, intentional recruitment of, and support for, diverse educators has grown the ranks of those representing Black, Indigenous, people of color and the LGBTQ+ and disability communities.
Pedagogy is an active area of professional development, with educators reaching into rich legacies to expand models of leadership, community building and teaching. These legacies include Black literary societies, Indigenous knowledge frameworks, inclusive innovation strategies from queer communities and other critical analysis methods that help educators remake teaching and learning by leveraging their own cultural traditions and strategies.
Voices from This Future
These quotes from fictional personas show what it might be like to live in this scenario.
“I’ve lived long enough to know that, if you don’t have reliable and long-term sources of funding, all of what you do can go away when funders move on. I’m excited about how the Freedom Opportunity Standards provide investment guidance for social infrastructure, and I can’t wait to collaborate with philanthropies on ways to make our funding self-sustainable.”
“I call my liberation interaction system ‘Orenda,’ or ‘Spirit Energy,’ where the wisdom of my native Mohawk past meets the emerging wisdom of the present to create even better futures for teens like me by 2100!”
“The tides have turned so much that I don’t recognize education anymore. I’m not sure I know what it means to be an American. Everything that I knew, everything that I learned, has been cast aside. My grandson is my guide to this new reality.”
“I train everyday citizens to take on the recurring leadership roles of the community education council. I notice a shift in the council’s interactions when they realize that their participation on the council is really about sharing responsibility for the well-being of youth and the future of society and not about holding power.”
Key features of “Care-Based Ecosystems Provide Vibrant Social Infrastructure” are listed below.
Status of Liberatory Education
The federal Freedom Opportunity Standards set a baseline for enabling liberatory education. They catalyze visioning and goal setting across organizations, thereby connecting members of care-based ecosystems. Local organizations such as neighborhood associations, schools and districts cooperate with regional and federal agencies and decision-makers to coordinate and reinforce policies and strategies that enable new systems and structures for liberatory education and dismantle oppressive ones.
The prevalence of community- and constituent-based councils, town halls, listening and dialogue circles, and also of partnerships across institutions, creates shared spaces to cultivate inclusion and shared power. Those who have historically been marginalized by previous institutional systems and structures benefit from a more holistic and care-based approach to social policy. Some institutions that had been focused on being profit centers instead of being service-oriented stewards of public resources experience a loss of power and identity.
Potential for Liberatory Education to Spread
Cross-organizational spaces for authentic listening and coordination are critical for identifying shared issues and points of mutual benefit and for helping care-based ecosystems adapt to changing needs. These conditions create a strong foundation for liberatory education to transform public education, creating new systems and structures and eliminating oppressive ones.
Signals of Change
Signals of change are happening now. They help us see possibilities for this scenario, including what liberatory education looks like in it.
HousED Youth Internship
A program of the Partnership for Children and Youth, HousED integrates youth voice and activism when bringing quality learning opportunities into public and affordable housing developments to help bring children out of poverty.
Community Movement Builders is a non-profit that helps Black people create sustainable, self-determined communities — liberated zones — through cooperative economic, social and political activity and collective community organizing.
Neighborhood Planning Unit Initiative in Atlanta
This initiative is studying and reviewing Atlanta’s grassroots, neighborhood planning system that started in 1974 to nurture its power and effectiveness in helping citizens engage with the city and to help the city become more participatory in its decision-making.