Jay Matthews of the Washington Post recently posted an article entitled “The Latest Doomed Pedagogical Fad: 21st Century Skills
.” The good ship "21st Century Skills" has yet to be tested on open waters and already a shot across the bow! Somalia is not the only place with pirate problems.
Most disconcerting is the complete lack of understanding of what these skills are - and that they are not new! The Partnership for 21st Century Skills
outlines these skills as: 1. Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes, 2. Learning and Innovation Skills (Creativity and Innovation Skills, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills, Communication and Collaboration Skills), 3. Information, Media and Technology Skills (Information Literacy, Media Literacy, ICT Literacy), and 4. Life and Career Skills (Flexibility & Adaptability, Initiative & Self-Direction, Social & Cross-Cultural Skills, Productivity & Accountability, Leadership & Responsibility)
. After dusting off my 20th Century second edition of Best Practice
, I reminded myself that this work, despite being more than a decade old, is completely aligned with the Partnership's skill list. The Best Practice Principles - a staid and respected collection - are: Student-Centered, Experiential, Holistic, Authentic, Expressive, Reflective, Social, Collaborative, Democratic, Cognitive, Developmental, Constructivist, Challenging
. When I cross reference these lists, I am astounded at the similarity.
What, then, is the difference? Interesting question, I think. In terms of content, "the what," I would argue that there is no difference. I don't even believe that a valid argument could be made that the "how" has changed - writing for an audience hasn't changed with the proliferation of technology, it's simply a different tool to achieve the same "how." In other words, the "how" and "what" are the same, it's just the "with what" that changes.
Does that then tell us that this "21st Century Skill Stuff" is the same old, same old? Is there truth to Matthew's argument that the 21st Century Skills are a doomed fad? Shiver me timbers. No! It means that there is substance in this Matthews proclaimed fad. It means these ideas weren't created by a gaggle of people bent on bringing social networks and gadgets into the classroom. It means that, while some people weren't watching, tools were created that happen to be perfect to use towards the ends that Zemelman promoted before we knew that we were only working with Web 1.0. It means that the goals of pedagogues do not differ from those of techies.
It means that we need to be prepared to defend the ship, so batten down the hatches.
The good news is that we won't be fighting with fluff.