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.”

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