What Elroy Jetson needs to learn

We can’t predict the future, but we can teach “timeless knowledge and skills that all students must master to succeed in any environment,” writes Kathleen Porter-Magee on Flypaper. She doesn’t think much of Virginia Heffernan’s call for a “digital-age upgrade” to education in the New York Times’ Opinionator blog.

“…fully 65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet…For those two-thirds of grade-school kids, if for no one else, it’s high time we redesigned American education.”

For example, teachers and professors should stop asking students to write research papers, Heffernan argues, citing Duke English Professor Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It. Davidson’s students write “witty and incisive” blog posts and terrible term papers. She blames the term papers.

What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school — the term paper — and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?” She adds: “What if ‘research paper’ is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?”

Old fogies shouldn’t insist that students write if they’d rather make a video, Heffernan believes. It’s the 21st century!

Heffernan misses her own point, responds Porter-Magee. We can’t predict what today’s elementary students will be doing in 20 years. Therefore, “our job as educators is not hitch our wagons to the latest education fad in response to changing—and often fleeting—technology.”

After all, that students can produce “witty and incisive” blog posts for their peers on topics of their choosing says nothing about their ability to write and speak to multiple audiences or about a variety of topics. (Most multimedia products are necessarily limited and we need to ask more of our students.) And the ability to synthesize complicated information in a persuasive way—grounded in facts, research and reading—is critical and timeless.

Students need to learn to write about more than their personal feelings, Porter-Magee writes.

Amen.

Research papers went out of fashion long ago in high schools, points out Robert Pondiscio, who quotes Will Fitzhugh of the Concord Review. He also links to a thoughtful post on All Things Education by Cedar Riener, a college psychology professor, who assigns both long research papers and short responses.

Hanna Barbera thought that Elroy Jetson, age six, would study space history, astrophysics, star geometry and math at the Little Dipper School. No reading or writing in the future?

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Comments

  1. “Students need to learn to write about more than their personal feelings, Porter-Magee writes.

    “Amen.”

    Amen, indeed. It’s about time somebody spoke up and told these edu-emperors that they are parading around butt nekkid. Everyone else is certainly able to see it.

  2. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Many of us are still teaching the research paper. I’d say the instructional emphasis has shifted a little more toward analysis of the reliability and bias of sources — a much needed 21st century skill.

    I suspect one reason there are few submissions to The Concord Review is the $30 submission fee. I had several papers last year that would have been good candidates, but the kids thought the fee was nuts.

  3. “65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet…For those two-thirds of grade-school kids, if for no one else, it’s high time we redesigned American education”

    Programming the algorithms for GPS receivers at Garmin and elsewhere was “work that hadn’t been invented yet” when many of the programmers went to high school and college. Yet the trigonometry they learned certainly was very useful to them in this task.

  4. J. Remarque says:

    “Davidson’s students write ‘witty and incisive’ blog posts and terrible term papers. She blames the term papers.”

    So we should have them write in forms and genres they already know?

    “What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school — the term paper — and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?”

    If I’m to employ these kids, I’ll need them to write in formal, sometimes stultifying, formats and genres. Their “natural writing style or thought process” won’t have much bearing.

    Old fogies shouldn’t insist that students write if they’d rather make a video, Heffernan believes. It’s the 21st century!

    Most kids can whip up an iMovie video in 15 minutes, with little new thought required. But because the current generation of educrats can’t, they think it’s a skill! How about we teach kids to do something they doesn’t come pre-loaded on an iMac?

  5. I work at a job that wasn’t around when I was in grade school. School doesn’t exist to teach you everything there is to know, it teaches you how to learn.

    Remarkable that an educator wouldn’t know that.