Before taking off, pilots check all instruments, set their course, and plan a route to their destination. Along the way, pilots may encounter turbulence, storms, high winds, a rough take off, problems with instruments, and other unexpected issues. The most important aspect is to reach the final destination, changing the flight pattern as circumstances may arise. Ultimately, without a destination or purpose, there is no reason for a pilot to fly.
As educators, we need to ask ourselves the same question as pilots. What is education’s destination? We are able to evaluate what we have been doing, but it is necessary to anticipate what we will be doing. Goal setting for the future is a necessity for our students since most jobs for which they will be applying have not even been created yet. For this reason, I believe that a process, such as the Middle States Association Accreditation for Growth, allows schools like ours to set certain objectives for the future. When Clarkstown North engages in a self-evaluation process of goal-setting, we set goals for seven years into the future.
With the speed of technological innovation, it is impossible to predict the future. However, our purpose is not to predict, but anticipate, and there are anticipatory skills that schools need and must teach. I recently attended a conference sponsored by the School Administrators Association of New York State. The main speakers all had one theme in common: the skills needed for 21st century society are more important than the content that we currently teach. All presenters posited that the content should be a tool that is utilized towards the application of skills. One presenter, Bruce Taylor, focused on infusing arts in the curriculum. Consider, for example, Edward Hopper’s painting, Nighthawks.
Students could research the setting of the painting. More so, students could make certain generalizations about this painting and also see that there are a few stories taking place. They could imagine the conversation between the man and the woman or give reasons why the man is sitting by himself. Additionally, students can anticipate what happens after this scene and create their own story. The skills students use in an activity like this one (comprehend, analyze, apply, evaluate, and create) are the skills needed in a 21st century knowledge economy. The delivery of content needs to be tempered with and integrated with necessary 21st century skills. The diagram below provides a good visual description of the relationship between content and skills.
It is not enough today for teachers to “stand and deliver” information. Instead, students must understand information, assess its validity, evaluate positions, formulate their own positions based on sound evidence, and create something new. The careers of the 21st century depend on heuristic knowledge (positions that require creativity and discovery) as opposed to algorithmic knowledge (jobs that require following procedures and formulas). Daniel Pink in a conversation with Professor Yong Zhao discusses the difference between these two different types of knowledge:
Although we cannot predict where education should go in the future, we can at least prepare our students with the necessary anticipatory skills that are required in this new economy.