Monday, March 09, 2009

What's Driving "21st Century Skills?"

There's fodder for a week's worth of posts in Checker Finn's "Can we get to national standards, considering the pitfalls?" (via CK). Here's an entry point for something I was thinking about all weekend:

Second, speaking of 21st Century skills, the more I learn about this woolly notion, the clearer it becomes that this infatuation is bad for liberal learning; a ploy to sidestep results-based accountability; somewhere between disingenuous and naïve regarding its impact on serious academic content; and both psychologically questionable and pedagogically unsound. (For a terrific exposition of these problems, see here.) Yet I don't think the NEA is the only member of the "common standards" partnership that's smitten.

The whole traditionalist critique of "21st Century Skills" that really burst forth last week seems to mis-understand the source of this "notion." It seems pretty straightforward to me:

  1. High tech businesses realize that standards increasingly drive what kids know and are able to do when they graduate from high school.
  2. Businesses know what they're looking for in applicants coming out of school (college).
  3. Businesses get together, write down what they want applicants to know and be able to do (or, what they think they want them to know and be able to do).
  4. They get together with like-minded education groups and crank out the proper bureaucratic documents.
  5. They (pay someone to) put in the hours sitting in endless, odious committee meetings with such exciting groups as ISTE, AASL, NCTE, and 50 state departments of education.
  6. Given that preparing students to work in the aforementioned high tech businesses is a top education priority of government at every level, they find many receptive audiences, and make considerable headway in seeing their concerns reflected in official standards.

Critiques of pedagogy implied or suggested as a result of these standards are valid, but beside the point. The community, including business, sets the standard. It is the responsibility of schools to figure out ways of meeting them. How else is it supposed to work?

Now, if you want to argue that business should have less influence, fine, I like that argument, but it is a different argument.

1 comment:

Joe Bires said...

Some wise person once said, "We are preparing students for a world which we (ourselves) can barely conceive."

Whether the "We" in question are business leaders or educators.
21st Century Skills are a paradigm through which we can and should rethink teaching and learning. The problem with the 21st Century Skills as they are currently articulated is that they are "baked by the business people...with educators as the people in the front of the store". It needs to be a true partnership, a true give and take, and more about conversation about change than striving for a set of standards.