We can't predict the future
Every so often educators and reformers think, if we’re educating kids for the future, we need to do a better job of adapting our education system to meet the needs of tomorrow. That our education systems needs to, in some sense, “get with the times” so that we can better serve our students today. The latest argument to that effect comes from a book (Now You See It: How the Brain of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn) written by Cathy N. Davidson and a related blog post by Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times. In her piece, Heffernan argues that “fully 65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet…For those two-thirds of grade-school kids, if for no one else, it’s high time we redesigned American education.”And so, because today’s students will be doing things that we can’t imagine, we need to rethink the kinds of work we’re assigning today: including research papers, which Heffernan argues have outlived their usefulness.
Thing is, we’re no better at predicting what today’s elementary students will be doing in twenty years than Hanna-Barbera was at depicting twenty-first century life in the Jetsons. Our job as educators is not to hitch our wagons to the latest education fad in response to changing—and often fleeting—technology, but rather to identify the timeless knowledge and skills that all students must master to succeed in any environment. Writing a witty blog post to be consumed by one’s peers is surely a skill, but one that says nothing about a student’s ability to synthesize complicated information in a persuasive way, grounded in facts, research, and reading. These skills are critical—and their necessity will remain long after that of motherboards and cloud computing.
“Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade,” by Virginia Heffernan, New York Times, August 7, 2011.
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