How to Bring Schools into 21st Century

Unattributed, Publisher's own license, Dec 12, 2006
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Time magazine has caught the attention of a number of writers (and this article in CNN) with a cover story on how to "build" a student for the 21st century - language that indicates the divide between one generation of thinking about learning, and another, which asserts that learning - and learners - are grown, not built. The article (which you need to pay for, or watch an advertisement, to view) is focused relentlessly on the American perspective, but the questions (if not the answers) are international in scope. people need to think internationally, they need to learn to recognize patterns and perceive more intuitively, they need to acquire new information from new sources, and they need to interact and communicate.

That's the challenge, but of course the answers we have seen from administrators thus far - standardized testing, charter schools, vouchers, and the like - appear to be more politically than educationally motivated. Can there be a discussion that moves beyond ideas about the privatization of learning, and toward talking about the needs oflearning itself? I have my doubts.

More discussion, from Christian Long ("May we elect, instead, to 'unleash' the student, to engage their deeper passions, to stop seeing it as an assembly line metaphor or a tabla rasa or a bucket to be filled?"), Dave Warlick ("I'm still a bit afraid that the wrong people will be empowered to affect change"), Steve Olsen - read this one for sure! - Michael van der Galien ("it seems not, umh, very smart to me, close one's borders for information and knowledge from other countries"), Tim Stahmer ("if we could just get our politicians to improve their reading skills and understand this commissio's report"), Alexander Russo ("I flunked out of Mandarin spring of my freshman year."), Rex Lam ("One thing I didn't see addressed here is arts which is woefully lacking in public school these days"), Kevin Carey ("Not that I think studying language is a waste of time. I just would have been better off spending that time studying this language"), Dean Shareski ("Wally Cleaver obviously didn't contribute to the latest article in Time on school reform."), Tom Hoffman ("it is about trying to pick up the mainstream, centrist conversation about school reform that existed six years ago prior to being rudely interrupted by NCLB.")...
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