Koala dads, creative kids

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World  by Harvard’s Tony Wagner is written for “Waldorf parents, Montessori moms and Koala dads,” according to Education Gadfly.

The premise is that America needs to foster more innovation and grow more entrepreneurs—both the STEM and social varieties—to remain globally competitive. Drawing on 150 interviews (and ten case studies of young innovators), Wagner argues that play, passion, and purpose must dominate one’s growth (through childhood and into college). . . . He exalts disruptive innovation, calls for abolishing “publish or perish” tenure determinations for professors, concedes that content cannot be drowned in an effort to boost process skills, and posits an interesting charter-like reboot of college education.

Living in Silicon Valley, I meet lots of entrepreneurs who are both very well-educated in technical fields and creative risk takers. Many are immigrants drawn to the U.S. by the entrepreneurial culture — or they’re the children of supportive, engaged, educated parents.

Teens have formed an entrepreneurs’ clubat Palo Alto High, my daughter’s alma mater, reports the New York Times.

Like many young entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Matthew Slipper knows that success does not come easy. His first startup, an online education venture, flopped. His second, a video-sharing app for the iPhone, has sold only 20 copies.

But Slipper is optimistic. He should be. He’s just 18, a founding member of the Paly Entrepreneurs Club, an extracurricular group at the local high school that sprang into existence last September — the brainchild of about a dozen students committed to inventing the future.

. . . Founding a company in high school is “a great opportunity,” said Vincent Gurle, 18. Later in life, “if you fail at business you might have to go live with your parents,” he said. “But we’re already doing that.”

It helps to have parents and neighbors who have started or financed high-tech companies.

Teaching unmeasurable skills

The Content vs. Skills War rages on:  Sandra Stotsky, a University of Arkansas professor, takes a shot at Harvard Professor Tony Wagner’s call for students to learn “21st century skills” for “survival” in the global economy.

Wagner does not seem to care if students can read and write grammatically, do math or know something about science and history – real subjects that schools can teach and policy-makers can measure.

Unfortunately, Wagner dismisses measurable academic content while embracing buzzwords like “adaptability” and “curiosity,” which no one could possibly be against, but also which no one could possibly measure. Do we really care if our students are curious and adaptable if they cannot read and write their own names?

Wagner also knocks the time spent on testing. But the research doesn’t support the claim that testing crowds out learning, Stotsky writes.

. . . my colleague Gary Ritter finds that here in Arkansas public schools the most tested students — those in grades five and seven — spend only 1 percent of total instructional time being tested, probably less time than spent in class parties or on field trips.

If our kids learned 20th century skills really well, wouldn’t 21st century skills be easy to pick up?  I’ve always used my content knowledge to question, communicate, explore, etc.  And I don’t see excess knowledge as a big problem for today’s students. There are kids who don’t know what to do with the facts they’ve crammed, but there are more who don’t know enough to think intelligently or usefully.

Update: Jay Greene piles on here and here, arguing that Wagner “shows no evidence that higher levels of critical thinking can be found in places or at times when there was less content and less testing.”