Are 21st century skills a solution to a problem that may not exist?
Of course not all “olden days” teachers were drilling students. . . . When people think about the past, of course we all have had different experiences. Talking about how school used to be is meaningless; it’s too dependent on your personal experience. Unfortunately, we hear this kind of language all the time, whether it’s to point at the “bad old days” or the “good old days” Neither of them exist in reality.
21st century skills . . . is a solution to a problem that may not exist. It may just be a reflection of our vast, yet fundamentally faulty collective memory of things that never were.
To which I say: [see also the reports cited at The hits just keep on coming]
The chief source of the “problem of discipline” in schools is that … a premium is put on physical quietude; on silence, on rigid uniformity of posture and movement; upon a machine-like simulation of the attitudes of intelligent interest. The teachers’ business is to hold the pupils up to these requirements and to punish the inevitable deviations which occur.
– John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916)
What students do in the classroom is what they learn (as Dewey would say) . . . Now, what is it that students do in the classroom? Well, mostly, they sit and listen to the teacher. . . . Mostly, they are required to remember. . . . It is practically unheard of for students to play any role in determining what problems are worth studying or what procedures of inquiry ought to be used. . . . Here is the point: Once you have learned how to ask questions – relevant and appropriate and substantial questions – you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know . . . [However,] what students are restricted to (solely and even vengefully) is the process of memorizing . . . somebody else’s answers to somebody else’s questions. It is staggering to consider the implications of this fact. The most important intellectual ability man has yet developed – the art and science of asking questions – is not taught in school! Moreover, it is not “taught” in the most devastating way possible: by arranging the environment so that significant question asking is not valued. It is doubtful if you can think of many schools that include question-asking, or methods of inquiry, as part of their curriculum.
– Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner, Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969)
The data from our observations in more than 1,000 classrooms support the popular image of a teacher standing or sitting in front of a class imparting knowledge to a group of students. Explaining and lecturing constituted the most frequent teaching activities … And the frequency of these activities increased steadily from the primary to the senior high school years. Teachers also spent a substantial amount of time observing students at work or monitoring their seat-work … Our data show not only an increase in these activities but also a decline in teachers interacting with groups of students within their classes from the primary to the secondary years. . . . Three categories of student activity marked by passivity – written work, listening, and preparing for assignments – dominate … The chances are better than 50–50 that if you were to walk into any of the classrooms of our sample, you would see one of these three activities under way … All three activities are almost exclusively set and monitored by teachers. We saw a contrastingly low incidence of activities invoking active modes of learning.
– John Goodlad, A Place Called School (1984)
Classrooms in which there was evidence of higher-order thinking: 3 percent. Classrooms in which high-yield [instructional] strategies were being used: 0.2 percent. Classrooms in which fewer than one-half of students were paying attention: 85 percent.
– Mike Schmoker, Results Now (2006) [citing a study of 1,500+ classroom observations]
The average fifth grader received five times as much instruction in basic skills as instruction focused on problem solving or reasoning; this ratio was 10:1 in first and third grades.
– Robert C. Pianta, et al., Opportunities to Learn in America’s Elementary Classrooms (2007) [study of 2500+ classrooms in more than 1,000 elementary schools and 400 school districts]
When you code classroom practice for level of cognitive demand . . . 80% of the work is at the factual and procedural level. . . . [Teachers] will do low-level work and call it high-level work.
– Richard Elmore, excerpt from Education Leadership as the Practice of Improvement (2006)
It’s so boring, daddy.
– 7-year-old Tess Richardson, excerpt from Boring Schools, Boring Content (2005)
What do YOU think?