Educators can’t predict 21st-century skills

“Educators make bad prognosticators,”  writes Christopher L. Doyle, who teaches history and contemporary issues, in an Education Week commentary.

. . .  when school “reformers” try to reorder education based on “21st-century skills,” or what some describe as “teaching tomorrow’s skills to today’s students,” they show not only lack of prescience, but also ignorance of the past.

History suggests that public schools don’t know what skills are needed for the future, Doyle writes. A century ago, educators, business leaders, and politicians wanted to reform education.

 They stressed “efficiency” (today called “efficacy”), competition and nationalism (today “competing in a global economy”), and following directions (today “respect” and sometimes “collaboration”).

It was great preparation for World War I.

Doyle’s agenda is to teach history well to “high school students whose intellectual world is increasingly fragmented into sound bites, PowerPoint bullets, text messages, Facebook posts, and ‘tweets,’ and who appear rapidly to be losing the capacity for lengthy reading, synthesis of thought, and critical analysis.”

My agenda also encompasses linking the past to current events such as climate change, economic and debt crises, and wars on terrorism. I aspire additionally to teach empathy and ethics, qualities that I believe the discipline of history is uniquely capable of developing. And I seek to improve my students’ skill at writing while sharpening their capacity for critical thought.

It may not be “21st century,” Doyle writes, but “it appears far more realistic and hopeful to stick to my subject than to chart a suspect course toward a badly drawn image of the future.”

About Joanne


  1. Go Doyle! I wish all these folks on the 21st-century train would realize that what we’re going to need–just like we’ve always needed–are solid reading, writing, and figuring skills, and the ability to think deeply about something for a sustained period, and then produce an analysis of it.

    And that’s why I make my kids do grammar lessons, read lots of history, and all that stuff.

  2. I agree!! I have told people til I was blue inthe face that “21st Century” skills have been around for decades and centuries!! Thank you for posting!

  3. Misleading title, it should have read “Education reformers can’t predict 21st century skills.

  4. Some of us would just be happy if they could get around to teaching those elusive 20th century skills first.