I’ve written before about Tony Wagner and the 21st Century Skills movement, here, here, here, and here. My colleague Sandra Stotsky has an excellent review in the current issue of The Weekly Standard of Tony Wagner’s book, The Global Achievement Gap.
Here’s the money quote:
It is disingenuous to imply that the development of analytical thinking and effective oral and written communication (goals of the lyceum in ancient Greece) are new to the 21st century. American education schools and their satellite networks of professional development providers heavily promoted such “21st-century skills” as critical thinking, problem solving, and small group work throughout the 20th century.
If our teaching corps hasn’t yet been able to figure out how to translate these buzzwords into effective classroom lessons, what does this tell us about the teaching skills of our very expensive standing army of teacher-educators, either to prepare teachers properly in the first place or to get them up to snuff after they’ve failed in the field?…
Evidence-free rhetoric in support of reducing academic content in the schools, diluting academic standards for K-12, and eliminating large-scale academic testing, has found a receptive audience across the country among those who don’t want any form of real accountability. Unfortunately, the valuable skills misidentified as 21st-century skills cannot be taught and assessed without a strong emphasis on academic substance, standards, and objective assessments–as academic researchers know.
Wagner is the latest in a long line of educational pied pipers leading an uncritical and growing mass of school administrators and teachers into a curricular wilderness. And this latest book is just the current manifestation of the goal driving most of our education schools and professional development providers–how to reduce the academic content of the curriculum while claiming to enhance it–this time in the name of closing the “gap,” or providing worker bees for this century’s employers.