Posted by: Bill | January 7, 2009

21st Century Skills

D-Ed Reckoning has a post on 21st Century Skills (as do many other bloggers) that discusses a recent Jay Matthews editorial on the same. Mr. DeRosa does not post often, but I look forward to each of them because of his devotion to letting data gleaned from strong research guide his thinking and his devotion to Direct Instruction.

As an aside, I wanted to add that Jay Matthews is one of the reasons I have not condemned the Washington Post to my special wrath-inducing category that is right now occupied only by the New York Times, the Dallas Cowboys and often the Baltimore Ravens.

This excerpt says enough:

The 21st Century skills movement is nothing more than an excuse for continuing not to teach content under the mistaken belief that if you teach students how to think (i.e., how to learn how to learn), content becomes irrelevant internet access.

Unfortunately that’s not the way it works. Critical thinking skills are domain specific. If you want to think critically about the American Civil War you unfortunately need to know a lot of stuff about American history, European History, military history, the American Civil Wat itself, and lots of other bring stuff like that.

Aside #2: The link in the quote above is to an article by Daniel Willingham, a Psychology professor at UVA. I have thoroughly enjoyed everything I have read by him and highly recommend you visit his web site if topics such as these interest you.

I am currently reading (actually listening) to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. He would, I think, agree with those statements above. The book spends many minutes informing the reader that “practice makes perfect” in regards to mastering an art or skill. I would argue that gaining knowledge of a subject in order to think critically about it is the same thing.

I tend to write about education policy, the NFL and multisport because I spend several hours every week learning/thinking about/studying them. Guess what though? I still don’t really have any idea what I’m talking about. It’s been 7 years of education policy, a lifetime watching the NFL and about 7 years of endurance sports. Remember that, as you read future posts about any of these topics, especially if you choose to place a wager on anything I say about the NFL.

Education fads are the same way. It won’t be long before 21st Century skills fades away with all the others or perhaps is repackaged with a new catchy name. I could easily argue that 21st century skills is just the repackaging of previous fads that avoid actual content instruction.



  1. […] I believe, Amen By Bill I’ve written about 21st Century Skills and my skepticism therein before. Please call me old-fashioned. I will consider it a compliment. I […]

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