For centuries, the ways of the world were nearly static but change began to accelerate with the industrial age. By the advent of the 20th century our parents and grandparents faced a world of increasing ability to communicate rapidly, travel great distances in short periods of time, and to rely on mechanical aids to perform work at unprecedented levels. By the end of the century these changes were taking place at blinding speed and visionaries began to question our ability to cope.
For example, a number of futurists have taken a look at the emerging world of work and projected the type of skills workers will need to be successful in the coming economy. The North Central Educational Laboratory developed a list of skills based on eight nationally recognized skill sets as well as literature reviews and input from a wide variety of practitioners. The result is called the enGauge 21st Century Skills and is provided here.
Digital-Age Literacy includes basic, scientific, mathematical, and technological literacies. Visual, information, and cultural literacies are also implied along with global awareness.
Inventive Thinking is the name given to adaptability and the ability to manage complexity. It includes curiosity, creativity, and risk taking as well as higher order thinking and sound reasoning.
Effective Communication includes but goes beyond interactive communication to include teaming, collaboration, and interpersonal skills. Personal and social responsibility are also part of this skill set.
High Productivity refers to the ability to prioritize, plan, and manage for results. It includes the use of real-world tools and the production of relevant, high-quality products.
Keeping these ideas in mind, please take a look at the following two scenarios describing the model classroom of 2012 and an example of a classroom in 1992.
In room 22 the children are busily filling out worksheets and practicing filling in bubbles on an answer sheet. The teacher makes sure each child stays on the same pace and ensures that her lessons follow the syllabus provided by the district. She checks the calendar to make sure she is on the same lesson as other teachers at her grade level throughout the district. Those children who fall behind are kept in at recess and do not participate in art or music while they practice skills needed to pass the next test. Time for science and social studies are diminished to add time for reading and math, which are the only subjects emphasized on the district and state assessments.
Students in room 15 are working on a community problem, encroachment of non-native species into local wheat fields. They read about the invasive species and possible effects on wheat production, calculate acreage, study rate of change, and predict possible outcomes. They read about characteristics of mono-culture of wheat and other crops, exam the pros and cons of various proposed remedies for the invasive weeds, and prepare presentations including art work to make the case for their proposals. Reading and math are integrated with science and social studies in this unit of study that lasts a few weeks.
The students in room 22 will likely do well on the bubble-in tests mandated by the district and state. If the current tests had been given to the students in room 15, the results would not likely be as positive. Given the needs outlined in the enGauge 21st Century Skills study, however, one might question the efficacy of the “reforms” of the last 20 years.
Ask yourself the question: Are my children being well served by the drill and test curriculum now in place across the U.S.? Is it preparing them for life in the new century, or should we listen to the futurists and prepare our children to be problem solvers, able to adapt to a rapidly changing world? Which classroom do you want for your children and grandchildren? What are you going to do about it?