Some folks in education, the “hipsters” of theory are constantly looking for new buzzwords, or deriding the ones already in place as cliche. There have been many attempts to try to solidify the new educational model: 21st century education, millennial education, unlearning, education reform, disruptive education, and so many more. I think the one that sticks the most it 21st century education. The critics and snarcatics out there will be quick to quip that it’s an outdated term, since we are well over a decade into this century, and dismiss it, looking for a better, flashier word. Whatever the term, there is a movement in education, based in positive research and philosophical thinking, that criticizes the educational system and suggests obvious changes. Some of these are:
- Ending age-based graduation, and focusing on skill-based graduation.
- Open and constant use of technology
- Student-centered learning
- Experiential learning
- Dissolving classrooms and building learning communities.
- Leveraging the arts and creativity as key components in learning and life.
- Eliminating standardized testing and building individual education plans
- Blended learning
- True collaborative learning
I’m a 21st century digital boy
I don’t know how to read but I’ve got a lot of toys
The reason it is still appropriate to refer to 21st century education is because most schools have not yet left the 20th century, and a few are still locked in the 19th century. Countless education researchers, experts, and advocates have outlined the specific changes needed for the school, and while there is little disagreement that massive changes need to happen, it isn’t happening. Think it’s happening in charters and magnets? Nope. At least, not to the extent necessary. We need to rethink classes, grades, evaluations, facilities, technology, teachers, and so much more. It’s a systemic problem so large, that nothing more than a complete societal change can aid it. Some problems that consistently hamper any real progress:
- We can still not fully reconcile the fact that school serves the purpose of caring for children when parents work. How can serious discussions about school schedules or locations happen without this change?
- Elementary schools cannot fundamentally change because secondary schools would need to change, and secondary schools cannot fundamentally change without higher education changing, and so on. The Pre-K through Grad school change is too broad to realistically institute.
- The decisions being made in education are still overwhelmingly dominated by politics and politicians. Until parents and educators gain the momentum to cause revolution in education, little will change.
The fact remains that while the need, desire, and anxiety seen in education is not just about fear of change, but frustration that even when there is the concerted effort to change how schools educate children, there is no reasonable means to do so. Sir Ken Robinson, a leading education critic can describe the failings of the educational system in America and the western world all day, be fully correct, and still not articulate a real path toward the necessary changes.
The challenge, then, remains for educators to make positive changes in education while still operating in an outmoded and obsolete system with very little hope of bringing changes that transform education. It’s a very frustrating time to care about education. But I do spy a bit of hope. Education needs a catalyst, or as some have described it, a Sputnik moment. Perhaps an uprising. What if parents across the country dissented against standardized tests? Kept kids home en masse on testing days? Sent the message that they do not believe that testing is education? What if teachers refused to use textbooks and prepackaged materials in such large numbers that textbook companies had to acknowledge the loss of business? What if major corporations offered flexible work hours for their employees, with the specific message that employees were to make themselves available at home to help children with blended learning and experiential educational tasks?
I don’t know how many parents, teachers, or citizens it would take to spark such a revolution. What I do know is that despite an increasing wealth of understanding on the need for school change, we don’t yet have enough people speaking loudly. As a teacher, I can push boundaries, but I am still forced to operate within them. My classroom is still surrounded by bricks and mortar, my classes still meet less than a hour per day, I am still required to log letter grades for school work. But I can build within those constraints a better learning experience, in the hope that those students who will someday be parents, voters, and interested members of society may look back and see the spark that needs to fuel the revolution.