Moving beyond “school => work”

It is not a surprise that school is seen as a means of getting work. People are naturally utilitarian that way. “If I take this MBA, what will my salary be?” And it is okay to be pragmatic that way.

Nevertheless, while this might have been fine in an age where industries were better defined and careers lasted ten or twenty years, this is much less the case today. We need a breed of broader-looking citizens that are able to adapt to and act on changing economic, social, political, and environmental conditions. We need architects that build solutions, not just trained workers.

John Abbott said it better:

Life is more than work. If we give
children the idea that they need high-
level skills only for work, we have
got it all wrong. They are going to
need even higher-level skills to
perform in a democratic society. We
have got to get this absolutely right:
the issue is not technology, but what
it means to be human, what kind of
future we want for the human race.

John Abbott, Why Good Schools
Alone Will Never Be Enough

Ten Tips for Education

IDEO created ten tips for creating a 21st C classroom experience. Here are three I’m glad they highlighted:

1. Pull, don’t push.
Create an environment that raises a lot of questions from each of your students, and help them translate that into insight and understanding. Educa­tion is too often seen as the transmission of knowledge. Real learning happens when the student feels the need to reconcile a question he or she is facing—and can’t help but seek out an answer.

[Chris – And how will students determine what kind of questions are worth facing? I would even broaden out this out to wondering how adults are choosing what kind of questions to reconcile in their life. I’m glad the list contains #9]

3. Stop calling them “soft” skills.
Talents such as creativity, collaboration, communication, empathy, and adaptability are not just nice to have; they’re the core capabilities of a 21st-century global economy facing complex challenges.

[Chris – I remember making this exact same point to a group of young entrepreneurs from Junior Achievement. Soft skills are not only hard but necessary. However, I would add that what is lacking in this world is not the concrete pieces of technology, nor even the traditional “soft” skills (although they should be emphasized more), but it’s our conduct and caring to apply our skills wisely that is needed.]

9. Incubate the future.
What if our K–12 schools took on the big challenges that we’re facing today? Allow children to see their role in creating this world by studying and creating for topics like global warming, transportation, waste management, health care, poverty, and even education. It’s not about finding the right answer. It’s about being in a place where we learn ambition, involvement, responsibility, not to mention science, math, and literature.

[Chris – Yes, yes, yes! It amazes me that I could have gotten through elementary, junior high, and high school and not once visited the local water treatment centre or come face to face with the marginalized in the community. I had to rely on volunteering during the summer months for that.]

[Chris – And here is one tip that I think is misleading.]

8. Be an anthropologist, not an archaeologist.
An archaeologist seeks to understand the past by investigating its relics and digging for the truth of what was. An anthropologist studies people to understand their values, needs, and desires. If you want to design new solutions for the future, you have to understand what people care about and design for that. Don’t dig for the answer—connect.

[Chris – I get the spirit of this statement in designing for the living, breathing culture of today, but it misses the importance of the past. Social systems are more complex than technological systems. Humanity can’t be understood without having a strong grounding in how they came to be. For instance, look at what we have unearthed and uncovered on Easter Island, and the lessons we can learn there about how people deal with environmental crises. We in fact need to be both an anthropologist AND and archaeologist.]

[Chris – Do you have any other tips for the 21st century classroom?]