Let's look at some of the key components. Many educators point to a list of skills outlined by the Conference Board of Canada over twenty years ago. They include: "good communications skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening); the ability to learn independently; good social skills (ethics, positive attitude, responsibility); teamwork skills such as collaborative learning and networking; the ability to adapt to changing circumstances; thinking skills (problem-solving, critical, logical, numerical skills); knowledge navigation; and, entrepreneurship (taking the initiative, seeing opportunities)" etc. Are you kidding? Do you think that the 21st century just fell off of the turnip truck? Take a child to the ROM, the Royal BC Museum, the MET, Chichen Itza, the Great Wall, or the Parthenon and then tell them how advanced our thinking is in 2013 compared to their forebears!
Let's be real for a minute. The renaissance of the skills listed above has nothing to do with a millennial revelation. It has more to do with a downturn in educational practice during the past fifteen years that saw "teaching to the test" and "high stakes evaluation" become the benchmarks for excellence. We are emerging from a long sleep and are slowing catching up with the past.
My grandfather went to school in the 19th century. He was an articulate, well-read and highly literate individual (good communications skills - check). After serving in France and Belgium in World War I he came home to Canada and mastered the skills to become a high ranking customs official (the ability to learn independently). He was the most ethical, positive and responsible person that I have ever known (good social skills). He was a Sergeant-Major and President of his local Legion (teamwork, collaborative skills). The ability to adapt to changing circumstances? He was born in a world without cars and lived to jet across the Atlantic numerous times to visit family. A former school board Chair, in his 90s he was Vice-
Chair of the local municipal committee of adjustment (they wanted him to be Chair but he said no - "Who would want their property decisions made by an old guy like me?").
Now to be fair, he lived in an era before personal computers, the internet, iPads, Twitter and Facebook. So as far as his digital capabilities go, we will never know what he might have done. Having said that, his daughter, (my mother - now in her nineties), knows how to Skype her great-grandchildren, email her grandchildren, and regularly read her son's blog.
So, before we pat ourselves on the back, let's recognize that what we are asking students to do is not revolutionary but rather is a reflection of what has proven over the past two centuries to be the most solid underpinning of our education system. What passes for new knowledge constantly changes, but the basics of 21st/20th/19th/18th...century learning are, and have remained, the cornerstone of the Enlightenment tradition.
One last observation - today I read a big announcement on Twitter that "inquiry" was now going to be introduced into the teaching of the social sciences. What a breakthrough! Socrates must be turning over in his grave.