Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What skills and knowledge does the child of the 21st Century need?

One of the things that has bothered me these past number of years is the use of the word "reform".  The dictionary states that reform is the "changes in something to improve it."  But one of the things that bothers me is that the word "reform" implies that something is bad or broken.  I have to agree that in many instances the public education has not done its job.  We have minorities, the poor, and recent immigrants not getting a fair shake in education.  But then I think, "many of all our kids in schools are not getting a fair shake."  Schools that need repair and some that are just plain old and need to be replaced.  And many schools do not have enough books, textbooks, supplies, and teacher's desks.  

I know, given our economy today it is very hard for politicians to fund the public schools.  It bothers me.  The rich folk in our society are quietly sending their children to private schools--those schools apparently are doing well.  I have not done any research into the health of private schools but I have not read in the journals and on the web of any private schools having financial troubles.  

But, on the whole, I think a definition of reform ought to include "to get back to normal."  Most uses of the word "reform" tend to suggest ways of saving money when it comes to public education.   Pity.  John Dewey states that one purpose of education of the young is to advance society.  If all  of us old timers die off and we will in time, someone has to carry the burden of knowledge forward and that burden will fall on our children.  It is my opinion that "improving education will improve society."  How come you're not shocked at my statement?  You know me that well, eh?  Dewey thinks so as well.

So we return to the question of what our children should learn.  I've already cautioned that if return to the "traditional" schooling of the past, we will be endangered of throwing out the new of today.  How much of the new technologies should we be teaching?  And how much of it will be outdated before we get to teach it?  Fun stuff.

Here is a conundrum for you.  At my college of education at a regional university my department of Instructional Technology debated how to teach the computer.  OR were we really teaching software?   And in the state that has Microsoft headquarters do we teach Apple software?  I have heard teachers say they have to use Microsoft software because the Superintendent is afraid if they are using Apple software, the district might not be eligible for Microsoft grants.  Which software should we teach?  Both?  Now the problem becomes how much theory as apposed to practical stuff.  I glad to say my department decided to teach all software regardless of who produced it and to point out to our wanna-be teachers what constitutes a good software program.  The theory would have to wait until they the teachers had enough background to formulate their own theories.  

I think one of the biggest problems facing teachers is the use of Facebook, Twitter, e-mails,  Skype and whatever else came out this morning to bedazzle us.  

When e-mail was first developing--it hadn't yet become the necessity as it is today, a local radio show host e-mailed a teacher in one of our local schools and was indigent that the e-mail was not answered that day!  Indeed, it was not answered for several days.  But we heard about that on the radio.  "That's the trouble with schools today--teachers don't answer their e-mails."  I wondered at the time how many e-mails that teacher got each day?  As a high school teacher she might have gotten a number from each class she taught.  If she has classes of twenty students, can we assume eight from each class might ask a question about an assignment or just wanted to "talk" to the teacher?  Let's say, five classes times eight is forty e-mails each day.  But you also have papers to grade and lessons to prepare.  Now let us add to this mix some e-mails from parents and a radio show host.  I am concerned.  How can we handle this in public education?  

I did a radio show for two years.  Half hour on parenting.  Actually it turned out mostly about the education of raising kids.  It was hard work.  I couldn't be late as I might be to a class.  Radio starts on time and HAS to go for the length of time scheduled.  But after the show was over I had time to think, to answer phone calls, to prepare for the next day show.  It wasn't the continued pressure of teaching.  I was upset with the talk show host about e-mails.  But it is a continued problem for teachers.

Mike Rose, who is a professor (by the way, he is one of the more erudite and common sense writers in education.  I like him) at UCLA who is looking into the skills and knowledge necessary for the "Twenty first century" finds that many of our skills are really really old ones restated.  Rose points out that Aristotle promoting "evaluating sources and synthesizing information."  We want that today, don't we.  

We'll continue to look at what our children should learn in future blogs.  It is a complex but fascinating study.

Sort of an after thought here--I see another advantage to having students communicate by digital form.  When we receive the message we don't know if that person is black, white, yellow, pink or blue, do we?  What a thought.....delightful.  

My best to all those teachers who are taking the time to respond to their students by e-mail.  What a hard working bunch of teachers you are.  Thanks.