Time’s cover story on 21st-century education complains that schools aren’t changing with the times.
Kids spend much of the day as their great-grandparents once did: sitting in rows, listening to teachers lecture, scribbling notes by hand, reading from textbooks that are out of date by the time they are printed.
This doesn’t ring true to me. In most schools, teachers don’t lecture all day to passive, note-taking students; they assign “hands-on” group projects. There’s lots of technology, though usually not enough training to help teachers figure out how to use it effectively. Schools are handing out laptops to students — with little or no academic payoff.
But let’s go on to the global economy:
(This generation could) fail to make the grade in the global economy because they can’t think their way through abstract problems, work in teams, distinguish good information from bad or speak a language other than English.
While the Internet makes it more important that students learn to analyze the quality of information, the challenge of getting students to think predates the 21st century. As for working in teams, that’s been the norm for the last 20 years, maybe more. That leaves speaking a foreign language. Only half of high school students study another language.
Not a high priority, argues Kevin Carey on The Quick and the Ed. Like me, he took French and found it “useful only when traveling in French-speaking countries, of which they aren’t very many.”
Not that I think studying language is a waste of time. I just would have been better off spending that time studying this language, doubling up on English literature, writing, rhetoric, etc. I know that students in other countries around the world are generally much more likely to study multiple languages. But that’s partially a function of geography — places like Europe are much more multi-lingual. And it’s partially because they’re not here. If there was a huge country somewhere else that dominated the world’s economy, culture, and commerce, I’d want to learn their language. But I live in that country, so I don’t have to.
He nods to Spanish as a useful language for Americans, but it’s hardly essential. Perhaps studying the history and culture of other countries is more important than learning to speak their language badly.
What do you think, loyal readers?