Not new, just 21st century

“Has the P21 movement succeeded?” asks National Journal. Many experts weigh in.

According to Ken Kay and Paige Johnson, P21 never claimed “21st century skills” were new. (Then why, I wonder, do P21 publications abound with phrases such as “21st century skills,” “21st century learning,” “21st century context,” “21st century tools,” and “21st century assessments”? If P21 is not claiming these skills are new, why the insistent repetition of the epithet?)

Such obfuscation does not fool everyone. Jay Mathews writes that “the marketing of the concept has not been entirely honest or wise.” He further points to P21’s insistence that we adopt this agenda immediately and in full; this he calls an “all-at-once syndrome, a common failing of reform movements.”

I see a connection between the “21st century” epithet and the insistence on immediate, all-at-once adoption of the platform. It is easier to market something when presenting it as novel, belonging to the moment, essential to our times.

Here are some brief quotes from NJO—but go read them in full.

Andrew Rotherham: “When one scratches below the surface of the debate you quickly find non-trivial debates about content, knowledge, pedagogy, and the nature of teaching itself.”

Diane Ravitch: “Our children are not deficient in skills or in computer literacy; they know better than their parents how to use computers to access information. Unfortunately what they lack is the knowledge with which to evaluate the information they so easily access.”

Phil Cuon: “Today’s young people enter our schools as “digital natives”—students who embrace technology and can do so much more with it than we would ever think possible. I am convinced that the physiology behind their learning is much different than what my learning was due to the tactile, audio, and visual media that young people are exposed to from birth.”

Paige Johnson: “If others truly believe that this work is not important or that the issue is not a significant one – I ask that they please direct me to evidence that proves all of our students are critical thinkers, able to solve complex issues, financially literate, understand and respect diversity, and manage themselves and others while working in team situations. Show me the statistics that prove that any student can step forward and be a future leader.”

Lynne Munson: “We and other critics of P21 agree, and have stated repeatedly, that the skills P21 promotes are important. What we take issue with is P21’s unserious treatment of subject matter content.”