The other day I noted that an expert panel had decided, according to Education Week, that “the skills considered necessary for the 21st-century workplace” were “critical thinking and analytic reasoning,” “teamwork and complex communications,” and “resiliency and conscientiousness.” I was skeptical, not because those aren’t important skills, but because they didn’t have much to do with the twenty-first century.
Who better to speak to contemporary American youth than one of the nation's most prolific inventors and entrepreneurs?
Photo by Andrew Malone.
Then along came an email from Dee Selvaggi, a former member of a New Jersey school board and a contributor to The BEV Challenge, recommending “a very interesting book,” Benjamin Franklin on Education (edited by John Hardin Best, Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1962). Wrote Dee, Franklin’s “concern [was] about the content presented to youth so they could function well in the new contemporary America.”
Who better to speak to contemporary American youth than one of the nation’s most prolific inventors and entrepreneurs? According to Franklin,
The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Commonwealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it
I wince every time I read something like this:
The committee found the skills considered necessary for the 21st-century workplace generally fall into three categories: cognitive, such as critical thinking and analytic reasoning to learn “deeply”; interpersonal, such as teamwork and complex communications; and intrapersonal, such as resiliency and conscientiousness.
The “political life,” as Thucydides described it, was the way out of poverty.
That’s from a recent Education Week story titled, “Panel Parses Out Skills Needed for 21st-Century Workplace.” I realize I’m not the only one to notice, but the problem—didn’t one need cognitive, personal, and intrapersonal abilities in the twentieth-century workplace? Or the nineteenth? Or the second?—was brought home not long ago when I saw that Earl Shorris had died. Shorris, a writer and social critic, as the headline on the New York Times obituary had it: “Fought Poverty With Knowledge.” And it was not the knowledge that proponents of twenty-first century skills are pushing; it was “rigorous readings and explications of Aristotle on logic, Plato on justice and Kant’s theory of morality.”
Shorris came to this insight about poverty while working on a book in the early 1990s, when he met Viniece Walker, a female inmate in a New York State prison, a “graduate of crackhouses,” as he would later write in a masterful 1997 piece for Harper’s. By that time he had concluded that
numerous forces—hunger, isolation, illness, landlords, police, abuse, neighbors, drugs, criminals, and racism,
A teacher friend of mine showed me the new issue of the American Educator, the American Federation of Teachers publication that bills itself as “a quarterly journal of education research and ideas.” He wanted me to read the cover story, called “Lead the Way: the Case for Fully Guided Instruction.” The research, by Richard Clark, Paul Kirschner, and John Sweller, has been around for a while, but that’s the astounding thing: not only has their research been around, but they argue, quite persuasively, that “[d]ecades of research clearly demonstrate that for novices (comprising virtually all students), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and more efficient than partial guidance.”
As a school board member I confess to deep and continuous agita over the the system’s inability to do the right thing.
I will not pretend to be an expert on teaching, but as a school board member I confess to deep and continuous agita over the system’s inability to do the right thing; rather, its amazing ability to deny reality, which is the prime directive for institutional entropy. (It is not just the reality of good research that is ignored, it’s the reality of crumbling schools and generations of untaught children.) I had a veteran teacher pull me aside one day and almost shout, “They keep giving new names to the same tired and unworkable ideas. Why don’t they just let me teach!”
Since reading E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy, celebrating its 25th year in
Reading Thomas Friedman in this morning’s New York Times, I couldn’t help but think of the Shel Silverstein classic, “Clarence Lee from Tennessee,” a 1993 poem suggesting that kids could trade in their parents for new ones.
Clarence Lee from Tennessee
Loved the commercials he saw on TV.
He watched with wide believing eyes
And bought everything they advertised
I used to read this to the kids whom I tutored in reading and also brought it with me to classrooms, to share with whole groups of students. The poem introduced these youngsters to narrative rhyme — and the ubiquity and charms of advertising:
Powder for his doggie’s fleas,
Toothpaste for his cavities,
Stylish jeans that fit much tighter.
Bleach to make his white things whiter
Spray to make his hair look wetter
Cream to make his skin feel better
It was a set-up, of course, to the punchline: parents were just like toothpaste: trade ‘em in for better ones. And, of course, it was funny because the kids Silverstein addressed actually loved their parents, despite the fact that they made them do things they didn’t want to do, such as go to school, read, do homework, take the garbage out.
But I eventually stopped reading the poem in my school, as I realized that its punch line — that the kids could trade their parents in for “’A brand-new Maw, a better Paw!” — didn’t work for kids who really did have
- Stretching the School Dollar
- Common Core Watch
- Ohio Gadfly Daily
- Board's Eye View
- Choice Words
About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
Sign Up for updates from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
- Daniel Willingham: Science and Education Blog
- National School Board Association’s School Board News Today
- National Governors Association Center for Best Practices
- Texas Association of School Boards
- New York State School Board Association
- Florida School Boards Association
- California School Boards Association
- Program on Education Policy and Governance
- The Center for Research on Education Outcomes