An Education for the 21st Century Without 21st Century Skills?
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An Education for the 21st Century Without 21st Century Skills?

An Education for the 21st Century Without 21st Century Skills?

What’s the problem with P21?

Ken Kay, Amie Ciluffo Larson, Kathy Welling, and Dr. Harvey Dean make for nice window dressing, concept wise. Their Framework makes for a compelling model, but the criticism (here and here) stands to stall its momentum.


For some reason the skills P21espouses come across as empty calories. People like the ideas, but feel somehow unsatisfied by them. Do they come across as too theoretical, non-applicable, un-integratable? Perhaps.

But something smells funny to me. The skills set (collaboration, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, and literacy, among others) are not outliers when we talk about quality education outcomes. These words matter when creating learning environments where students feel engaged and connected to each other, the teacher, and the material. So why all the fuss about 21st Century Skills?

I don’t understand why there is this dichotomy? Is anyone suggesting we abandon content in replacement of skills? Is it a fall out of the high stakes test atmosphere? Aren’t these skills best taught through engaging and investigating content? Has Ken been a jerk to the wrong person?

In some ways the debate reminds me of the tired, old phonics vs. whole language debate.  It was finally settled after years of research finally concluded that both options work best when they are applied together.  Imagine that?

Many of the things I’ve been learning about here at the ASCD Annual Conference point to frameworks that lead to meaningful learning. Professional Learning Communities, Differentiated Instruction, and Web 2.0 would seem to support all of these skills in some form or another.  They also support content based instruction.

Has integration become a bad word? Have the arts fallen so out of favor that creativity and collaboration are now no-no’s as goals?  Has P21 forgotten to befriend educators like Howard Gardner, Dr. Kagan, Carol Ann Thomlinson, and Yvette Jackson?

Can we still talk about an education system for the 21st century without putting on our muck boots?  Its a bit early in this century for 21st century to already be a tired phrase.  We still got 91 laps around the sun to go!


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