Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Diane Ravitch on 21st C Skills

On Feb. 24, I was in Washington, D.C. and attended a panel on 21st-century skills, sponsored by the new pro-liberal-arts group Common Core.

Diane Ravitch (NYU historian), E.D. Hirsch Jr. (author of Cultural Literacy), and Daniel Willingham (a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia) delivered prepared presentations, and Ken Kay, president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), replied. The prepared presentation are available here and are well worth reading.

Ravitch has now written a hard-hitting blog post pointing out that the supposedly newfangled 21-century proposals are actually old hat -- "not at all 21st century." She says that calls to teach critical thinking skills, creativity, problem-solving, and cooperative group work have been around for scores of years and are something like "mantras," as she puts it, in America's schools of education. She summarizes the Feb. 24 presentations of Hirsch and Willingham as follows:

E.D. Hirsch and Dan Willingham were brilliant as they argued that skills and knowledge are inseparable. People do not think in the abstract; they need knowledge—ideas, facts, concepts—to think about. Dan Willingham showed in his presentation that the mind does not compartmentalize into skills and knowledge. Problems cannot be solved without having the relevant knowledge to think with.

Ravitch also relates an excellent point made by audience member Diana Senechal, a New York City elementary school teacher:

[Diana Senechal] had gone to the trouble of visiting the P21 Web site, where she reviewed suggested lesson plans in English. One activity was to have students read a story or play, then make a commercial or video with Claymation figures. Diana asked, “Why not discuss the ideas in the story instead of spending hours making Claymation figures?” Which approach is likelier to engage students in thinking critically?

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