21st Century Skills Election Mumbo Jumbo

(Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be critical of the democratic party nominee per se… only critical of empty rhetoric)

There have been a number of critics (here, here, here) who have critiqued the commonly used term, “21st century skills” to represent a new skillset that students and workers must possess in this global and highly digital society and economy.

But from this article, it is pretty clear that Obama does not have a clue what 21st century skills really entails. In ths Eschoolnews article, he is quoted as saying (my thoughts in red):

“Without a workforce trained in math, science and technology, and the other skills of the 21st century (so now math and science are skills of the 21st century?), our companies will innovate less, our economy will grow less, and our nation will be less competitive. If we want to out-compete the world tomorrow, we must out-educate (test?) the world today,” Obama said. He added: “While technology has transformed just about every aspect of our lives–from the way we travel, to the way we communicate, to the way we look after our health–one of the places where we’ve failed to seize its full potential is in the classroom. (This is quite true. I have no problem with this statement.)

“Imagine a future where our children are more motivated because they aren’t just learning on blackboards, but on new whiteboards with digital touch screens (So, simply replacing chalkboards…(they aren’t all black these days, senator) with digital whiteboards will revolutionize education. Huh.); where every student in a classroom has a laptop at [his or her] desk; where [students] don’t just do book reports but design PowerPoint presentations (Great! Let’s spend all of that money on technology infrastructure, software, and hardware so students can do PowerPoint book report presentations from their laptops. There’s innovation for you!) ; where they don’t just write papers, but they build web sites (with text copied and pasted from the Internet and from textbooks?); where research isn’t done just by taking a book out of the library, but by eMailing experts in the field (Okay…that’s actually a great idea.); and where teachers are less a source of knowledge than a coach for how best to use it and obtain knowledge(Again, a great idea, but not new in the 21st century either.). By fostering innovation (But what’s the innovation in all of this?), we can help make sure every school in America is a school of the future.

“And that’s what we’re going to do when I’m president. We will help schools integrate technology into their curriculum, so we can make sure public school students are fluent in the digital language of the 21st-century economy. We’ll teach our students not only math and science, but teamwork and critical thinking and communication skills (I hate to be a party pooper here, but these are not new in the 21st century.), because that’s how we’ll make sure they’re prepared for today’s workplace.”

So, what are we left with here? A plug for digital whiteboards, laptops, authoring websites, PowerPoint ad nauseum, and a little constructivist philosophy thrown in the mix. Oh yes, math and science is important. This is not the stuff that great speeches are made of. This is not the rhetoric of an informed politician. And the biggest slap is the subheading to the article: “GOP largely silent on 21st-century skills”. I guess they need to throw some of these terms around as well to make us all happy. Well, I certainly am not happy about what I read. I hope you are not, either. We have been struggling with these learning issues for decades now. Throwing technology into the mix is not the silver bullet. We know that. And funny, but there is no mention of any (with the exception of math and science and the hint of technology-based standardized testing) of this on his webpage regarding educational policy.

So, Mr. Obama (you should read through this), what really needs to happen to see teaching and learning innovation in our nation’s schools? Unless you have that figured out, all of the money you allocate to your “plan for change” will just be more of the same. At least we can use a digital white board to project PowerPoint presentations, right?

7 thoughts on “21st Century Skills Election Mumbo Jumbo

  1. None on your blogroll are likely to admit how right you are about all of this, from your criticism of rhetoric to your overall view toward technology in education. Excellent post – thanks.

  2. Unfortunately, few politicians have a clue about education, whether as a profession or about education principles or about how humans learn. And in the current crisis focus on economics and war, there will likely be little specifics from either candidate. It’s too bad we usually have to wait until someone is elected to see who he will pick for his cabinet. Who could we lobby for as secretary of education on either side? I’d say that the comments you cite suffer from the kind of crap we usually see in the PowerPoints he mentions. I’d like to see follow-ups to such comments ask candidates to define their terms. What do you mean by critical thinking? What’s wrong with writing an essay? Have you ever created a PowerPoint? What do you mean by communication–cell phone, email, text messaging? How will critical thinking help us compete in the world? Is competition the primary goal of education?

  3. Barb, you are right about that. But you’d think that one would consult with some folks who do have a clue about education when forming one’s political agenda and putting it on a webpage for all to see and critique? The additional questions you post are all great ones and hopefully would need to be addressed publicly, but there are so many distractions to seemingly insignificant issues of education right now, as you note. Too bad these current crises are coming so close to election. They will certainly take away from other critical issues that might have been debated and presented.

  4. For some time now, I have felt that politicians do not have a good handle on how to reform education. Maybe this is related to my personal feelings about “innovative” programs such as NCLB, or that most high level politicians were educated far before the digital era. Regardless, neither candidate has proposed come up with any radical reformation plans for education. Teaching in an urban district, with a large percentage of students from before the poeverty line, I would like to see more technology available for students to use, and try to keep these children on pace with this rapidly changing digital world. Politicians need to figure out a way to reform our education system to keep pace with this ever changing digital world that do not involve catch phrases, buzz words and advertisements for microsoft programs.

  5. Geoff, like all politics, there is always an agenda, hidden or otherwise. There is a great deal of talk, legislation, and initiatives put into play, but situations are so unique. It is very difficult to enact change that impacts all constituents in the same way. But you are correct – more work needs to be done to bring some equity within school systems. Forget computer technologies… some teachers are having to buy the most basic of school supplies for their students, feed them at school (since they are not getting properly fed at home), advocate for them outside of school (since there is very little parental advocacy), and find ways just to get them to walk through the school doors in the morning. Poor or less affluent families should not also have to endure poor schools and poor (ineffective) teachers. Bringing about such sweeping change is complex and messy. Thank goodness for teachers who don’t give up hope and try to effect change within their own classrooms.

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