by Diane Ravitch
I for one have heard quite enough about the 21st century skills that are sweeping the nation. Now, for the first time, children will be taught to think critically (never heard a word about that in the 20th century, did you?), to work in groups (I remember getting a grade on that very skill when I was in third grade a century ago), to solve problems (a brand new idea in education), and so on.
Let me suggest that it is time to have done with this unnecessary conflict about 21st century skills. Let us agree that we need all those forenamed skills, plus lots others, in addition to a deep understanding of history, literature, the arts, geography, civics, the sciences, and foreign languages.
But allow me also to propose a new entity that will advance a different set of skills and understandings that are just as important as what are now called 21st century skills. I propose a Partnership for 19th Century Skills.
This partnership will advocate for such skills, values, and understandings as:
- The love of learning
- The pursuit of knowledge
- The ability to think for oneself (individualism)
- The ability to stand alone against the crowd (courage)
- The ability to work persistently at a difficult task until it is finished (industriousness, self-discipline)
- The ability to think through the consequences of one’s actions on others (respect for others)
- The ability to consider the consequences of one’s actions on one’s well-being (self-respect)
- The recognition of higher ends than self-interest (honor)
- The ability to comport oneself appropriately in all situations (dignity)
- The recognition that civilized society requires certain kinds of behavior by individuals and groups (good manners, civility)
- The willingness to ask questions when puzzled (curiosity)
- The readiness to dream about other worlds, other ways of doing things (imagination)
- The ability to believe that one can improve one’s life and the lives of others (optimism)
- The ability to believe in principles larger than one’s own self-interest (idealism)
- The ability to speak well and write grammatically, using standard English
I invite readers to submit other 19th century skills that we should cultivate assiduously among the rising generation, on the belief that doing so will lead to happier lives and a better world.
(Ed’s Note: Diane Ravitch wrote the above for the blog of Common Core, which advocates for comprehensive education in the liberal arts and sciences. She is the organization’s co-chair. It is published here as well, with her permission.)