March 8, 2009

21st Century Skills, Not So new

21st Century skills aren't so 21st century. They've been peddled under various names for a long time.



Flawed in 1940; flawed in 2009.

Now with no more research base than they had back then. Yet educators are still "convinced" of their efficacy.

14 comments:

Downes said...

Exactly what sort of "research base" would be appropriate for, say, critical thinking?

Is your contention somehow that logic hasn't been shown to work in the 2,500 years it has been in practice?

And is it your contention that, say, communication skills have not been shown to be useful and effective in a person's life?

There is a great emptiness at the core of the arguments against what are being called '21st century skills', and that is some ground for objection against them, save empty rhetoric regarding putative and undesignated research.

RMD said...

downes,

when educators talk about "critical thinking" skills they aren't referring to training in formal logic . . . or at least I haven't seen it done.

and aren't communication skills a LOT better when students are great decoders, have nice, fluent handwriting, and are fluent in math facts?

Here's my contention: it's a lot better to shore up students basic skills (i.e., reading, writing, arithmetic), then work on polishing them, than to make ambiguous "21st century" skills a centerpiece

Anonymous said...

Interesting clip, Ken.

Yes, we could dust off Rousseau or we could take the "21st Century Skills" back a couple of centuries and they would fit right in with the "literature.

The kids a half-century ago look much like the kids of today (except they were all "white") but teacher's and professor clothing styles today are "informal"--to put it mildly.

Then as now, there was no way of knowing when any of the rhetorical aspects were being achieved.

No corporal punishment in the classroom today, but "intensive interrogation" can still be practiced, and schools have found other ways to be cruel to kids.

Columbia Teachers College profs then as now could espouse diametrically opposed rhetoric and no one bats an eye.

KDeRosa said...

Exactly what sort of "research base" would be appropriate for, say, critical thinking?

In one of the many acceptable formats for education research, students are presented with various tasks that require critical thinking and their performance is measured as to how well they perform the task. Preferably with controls in place for background knowledge.

Is your contention somehow that logic hasn't been shown to work in the 2,500 years it has been in practice?

No. But, logic instruction isn't included in the 21st century skill set, though it should be.

And is it your contention that, say, communication skills have not been shown to be useful and effective in a person's life?

No. These aren't 21st century skills either. Plus they are currently taught. How well is debatable.

dweir said...

"There are ways of making spelling and reading fun," says the narrator as they show a boy misspelling the word theater.
The card he's holding has the word "Theater", but he's painted "Theatr."

Gotta love it.

Tracy W said...

Downes - the point is not "critical thinking" but how to effectively teach critical thinking. The 21st century skills proponents do not mention any reason as to why their programme will be better at teaching critical thinking than any of the previous programmes.
This possibly is because they're not aware that previous programmes ever even existed.

Charlie Barone said...

Classic. Just classic. This is the find of the year (so far), KDR. Thanks.

Mr O said...

I'm looking, and I can't find your suggestions for a 21st century curriculum or skils set. Have I missed it? Does it involve more handwriting because my monkey's getting cramp and he still can't get his point across.

Alan said...

dweir, That boy is not misspelling the word theatre. He just hasn't quite finished correcting the misspelled version on the card.

Brian Rude said...

Very interesting video. I've seen it at least once before. On watching it again however, I am struck by something I didn't think about before. In almost all of the scenes showing children, the children are anything but spontaneous. They are wooden. They are dutifully, even grimly, playing their assigned parts. I have argued before that apparent engagement is not necessarily evidence of worthwhile learning. But here we do not even see much evidence of engagement.

Obviously the makers of this film saw plenty of engagement in the children, or would claim to. This is similar to something I have noticed before now and then. Photographs of children will sometimes show "smiles" that I would describe as a very unattractive grimaces. My impression is that they are told to smile for the camera and that they do their best, but with a very unconvincing result. The fact that parents will sometimes be proud of these photographs indicates to me that they are seeing what they want to see much more than they should. They project their interpretation of the way things ought to be into the picture. Similarly I have sometimes seen advertisements in magazines with a school setting. They show children presumably engaged in some activity. But when I look closely at the picture I will see perhaps one or two children actually engaged in the activity, perhaps at a computer, while another half a dozen are simply looking on. That, to me, is not an attractive picture. But it does seem characteristic of many of the educational fads. Proponents project what they want to see into the situation, not what the picture actually shows.

dweir said...

...I will see perhaps one or two children actually engaged in the activity, perhaps at a computer, while another half a dozen are simply looking on

I'll one up you Brian.

While campaigning for School Committee a few years back, the curriculum director pulled me aside to show me the kids in action.

I entered the school gymnasium to find about 150 fifth graders dressed up in pioneer-like costumes sitting on the floor watching about 50 adults, also dressed in pioneer-like costumes, pretending that they were arriving at Ellis Island.

The dialog went something like this:

Potential immigrant #1 to Ellis Island employee [in bad fake accent of your choosing]: I want to come to your country.

EI employee: Do you have a job?

PI: I'm a carpenter.

EI: Welcome to America!

(cheers)

Potential immigrant #1 to Ellis Island employee [in bad fake accent of your choosing]: I want to (cough) come to your country. (Cough. Cough.)

EI: You are sick! You cannot come in here! Go up there! [point to the stage]

I watched this for about 15 minutes. Parents were attending this little pagent. I think some were participating, too. It was painful!

Eric said...

The video nicely demonstrates set up for the Dewey/Kilpatrick bait and switch: Trust Kilpatrick to deliver Dewey to your child. (As if parents actually wanted true-to-Dewey schools.)

Compare: "Kilpatrick ended by transforming Dewey's ideas into something quite different than Dewey had originally intended."

It's worthwhile to do a Google Books search on Kilpatrick, the Million Dollar Professor.

Anonymous said...

I read great article about the medicine in ancient Egypt at Gates of Egypt

Dick Schutz said...

Ah, Anon. Eureka! (or Bingo! since we're in the 21st Century. or maybe Bingo was 2oth Century. Cool?)

The "higher order" 21st Century Skills are alive and well in the Neo-Elysian Fields:

"the justified soul went upward until it could enter and leave the boat of the sun at pleasure, or become completely identified with, or absorbed in Ra."

The metaphors are a bit different, but it's same ol, same ol.