On February 24, Common Core held a panel discussion to critique the idea of 21st century skills. Discussants included Diane Ravitch, E.D. Hirsch Jr., Daniel Willingham, and Ken Kay. Remarks from panelists can found be here.
We knew that this topic is a contentious one that would pique lots of interest. It did: with more than 100 people in attendance, there was not an empty spot in the room (many attendees found semi-comfortable spots on the floor).
Ravitch, Hirsch, and Willingham all challenged Kay’s belief that learning skills is more important than understanding the content that allows skills to be used.
Hirsch argued that “the error at the heart of P21 [the Partnership for 21st Century Skills] is the idea that skills are all-purpose muscles that, once developed, can be applied to new and unforeseen domains of experience.” More quotes from panelists on Flypaper.
Which is the point that many critics of the 21st century skills movement have made: knowledge is the foundation for learning.
Kay asserted that he believes P21 is driving the content and skills movement. If that were actually the case then that’s what he would’ve called it: the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and Content. Ravitch challenged him to rebrand.
But it’s important to remember that P21 is focused more on business interests than on student learning interests. Yes, all kids need to learn how to be good critical thinkers, communicators, and collaborators. They need to be tech savvy, globally aware, and financially intelligent, too. But do these skills need to be assessed by schools? Should they become a part of state standards? Ken Kay’s make the case for their inclusion.
Robert Pondiscio over at the Core Knowledge Blog says:
A broad, solid knowledge-based curriculum is square one for developing “21st Century Skills.” Inspired, creative teaching–not wish fulfillment codified by squishy, ill-defined standards–gets us the rest of the way. That might not fit on a bumper sticker, but it might work.
Common Core agrees. More event commentary to come. Also keep an eye out for the event video; it will be posted soon.