Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Process and Reality

Today I was talking with my sophomore students about our process goals, as I understand them, and placing them in the context of B. F. Skinner's observation that "Education is what’s left over after you’ve forgotten what you’ve learned." I gave them an updated version of the reading response inventory we had brainstormed earlier, and, in the 11:30 class, and encouraged them to think about, monitor, and attempt to expand their conscious repertoire of processing skills as they close out this year and then continue on through high school. I was trying to make explicit what may very well have been implicit (and thus invisible?) to many of them, my hidden agenda. For me as a teacher, it's not so much about content. We could be considering much different content and have much the same kind of a course. This argument will not come as much of a surprise to any educators reading this: it's a familiar argument that processing skills are the key to the future. To cite just one instance of many, Time Magazine's cover story on December 10 was "How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century," and the authors had this to say:

Thinking outside the box. Jobs in the new economy--the ones that won't get outsourced or automated--"put an enormous premium on creative and innovative skills, seeing patterns where other people see only chaos," says Marc Tucker, an author of the skills-commission report and president of the National Center on Education and the Economy. Traditionally that's been an American strength, but schools have become less daring in the back-to-basics climate of NCLB. Kids also must learn to think across disciplines, since that's where most new breakthroughs are made. It's interdisciplinary combinations--design and technology, mathematics and art--"that produce YouTube and Google," says Thomas Friedman, the best-selling author of The World Is Flat.
Our Director of Instruction recently sent along an article from the Winter 2007 Independent Schools by Patrick Bassett entitled "The School of the Future." One of the interesting features of the article was a chart put together by Microsoft called the Education Competency Wheel. The wheel is a graphic representation of "education success factors", of which there are six: strategic skills, operating skills, organizational skills, individual excellence, results, and, surprisingly, courage. Each of the these skill sets is broken down in the outer circle to 37 sub-skills. There is a web site with a downloadable version of the wheel, and narrative explanations of each sub-skill, with accompanying proficiency-level rubrics, "essentials questions," suggestions for self-learning activities, and recommended readings.

Once again, the thing that demands attention is that the skills on the list are predominantly processing skills and not content skills. As Microsoft makes its move to envision (and to build, in Philadelphia) The School of the Future, they are emphasizing exactly the sorts of real world, relationship-based problem-solving skills which are NOT being emphasized in the state competency tests across the nation: dealing with ambiguity, negotiating, time management, strategic agility and innovation management, creativity, building effective teams, and so on.

But just because Time Magazine sees it, or Microsoft sees it, or you see it, or I see it, doesn't mean that the kids see it. So today's lesson was mostly to bring the background assumptions forward. It's getting close to the end of the year. I just wanted to get the cards on the table.

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