From a professional development day inspired by an ASCD presentation by Dr. Jan Jones called Building Millennial Minds: Preparing Today's Students for Tomorrow's World I learned that:
Change is exponential. Gates says technology capacity doubles every nine months. Photonics leads to unimaginable data transmission rates. Semantic Web will be our new global brain.
The world is changing four times faster than schools (Dr. Willard Daggett).* Actually, the doctor is a bit fuzzy with the number. The exact number is 4.2651.
[The vision I have is of a globe spinning so rapidly that it'll throw everyone into space, including educationists].
Kids are immersed in fancy new technology (digital natives).
People will not earn a living, they'll learn a living.
21th century skills redefine core skills. What are those new core skills? Deep conceptual knowledge, critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving, innovation, imagination.
[I am afraid the mindless repetition of the critical thinking mantra will dull the senses and stop all thinking in its track. What's needed is critical thinking about "critical thinking."]
What are the implications for teaching of all this? I quote: "Learning can no longer be full, frontal lecturing or recall of data/facts, content."
[This is a spectacular non sequitur. Doubling technology capacity (whatever that is), faster data transmission rates and kids running around with iPods have no bearing on what content should be learned and how it should be taught. If it isn't dizzying technological change but the call for "deep conceptual knowledge" that necessitates the abandonment of content recall, then there is trouble, too. How is one supposed to have "deep conceptual knowledge" without engagement with content, i.e. assimilating or learning the content? Recall is another way of saying that content has been learned. A conceptualization is an abstraction from facts, a way to bring order to otherwise disparate facts. Conceptual knowledge, deep or otherwise, is impossible without that basis. So once again, educationists are blowing smoke, apparently enamored of the high-falutin' sound of these phrases without applying some critical thinking.]
What takes its place:
21th century learnings [note the plural]
Focusing instruction on relevance (don't fixate on minutiae, high-stakes testing)
Digital age literacies, e.g. health & wellness literacy, visual/performing arts literacy, information literacy, multicultural literacy... [Another example of educationist corruption of a good word that is now rendered meaningless].
So just go ahead, do the critical thinking and creating. No need to know anything.
*The sound of "change" makes educationists delirious. It's as intoxicating as a bottle of vodka. The change that whips them into a frenzy is mostly of a superficial nature, like faster data transmission rates and higher flash card storage capacity, kids adept at playing with new electronic gadgets and so on. From this they draw illogical conclusions about what and how things should be taught.
To calm them down from this frenzy and to rehearse critical thinking skills, I recommend that educationists be required to write a rigorous, lenghty and critical essay before Ed. D.'s are handed out. This essay could be called Change and Continuity. The objective of this essay is to examine what changes are occurring, whether these changes are profound or superficial and what, if any, effect they should have on the academic curriculum.
Educationists should then compare and contrast these changes to what stays the same in the various subject areas, 21th century or not. Educationists could ask themselves a long list of questions pertaining to the various disciplines. For example, do faster data transmission rates and high-capacity flash cards alter the laws of gravity and motion, planetary orbits and atom bonding, or the electromagnetic spectrum and Fraunhofer lines? Do these technological changes impinge on photosynthesis and animal cell structure? Or refraction and the Doppler effect? Do they make 2 + 2 = 4 untrue? Is pi no longer the ratio of circumference to diameter because of dizzying 21th century changes and yet-unheard of electronic gadgets? Did Caesar suddenly not cross the Rubicon because Gates predicts a doubling of technological capacity every nine months?
Requiring educationists to pose and answer these questions could have a sobering effect. But I wouldn't count on it.