Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The New Educational Utopia of 21st Century Learning

Today's EdWeek newsletter led me to an article entitled "Backers of '21st-Century Skills' Take Flak." The article identifies 21st century skills as "a push for schools to teach ­­­critical-thinking, analytical, and technology skills, in addition to the “soft skills” of creativity, collaboration, and communication that some experts argue will be in high demand as the world increasingly shifts to a global, entrepreneurial, and service-based workplace." The leading group making this push is the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Another group that also promotes 21st century skills and learning is the Metiri Group with the enGuage 21st Century Skills. There are similarities between what each presents. I have long preferred the enGuage presentation of the skills, but the Partnership group have begun to attract the greater attention. (I believe the Partnership for 21st Century Skills signed an agreement to work with ASCD--the Association for Supervison and Curriculum Development in March of '08--giving that group a real boost in credibility, whether deserved or not.)

What struck me most about the EdWeek article was the opposition to 21st century skills. Could it be that project-based learning, collaboration, and other such "soft skills" are not as essential as we are being led to believe? The article made reference to Diane Ravitch. I had never heard of her but she was speaking out, so I googled her and found her associated with a group called Common Core. She is more importantly an educational historian at New York University. On the Common Core site, Dr. Ravitch has posted a blog that sheds considerable light on the opposition to the touting of 21st century skills as the new way to utopia. She begins with:

In the land of American pedagogy, innovation is frequently confused with progress, and whatever is thought to be new is always embraced more readily than what is known to be true. Thus, pedagogues, policymakers, thought leaders, facilitators, and elected officials are rushing to get aboard the 21st century skills express train, lest they appear to be old-fashioned or traditional, these terms being the worst sort of opprobrium that can be hurled at any educator.

From there, Dr. Ravitch outlines decades of school reform methods that parallel the 21st century skills movement with the conviction that such efforts ultimatel seek to devalue solid academic learning.

So maybe I agree with Dr. Ravitch; maybe I disagree. Either way, what she has to say is important and worth reading, and I hope that if you have taken the time to read my drivel that you will take the time to read her blog. Then, please, come back and post a response.

I'm anxious to hear what you have to say.

1 comment:

  1. The senior academy is perfect because students should really have the prerequisite knowledge taken through the eleventh grade year. During the senior year, the development of "soft skills" and preparation for the future become paramount. Developing the learning in different ways in the last year of high school helps prepare students. They will have the traditional knowledge and the skills to ivestigate their own learning.