The sophomores in my Cultural Interfaces class have just received an assignment that asks them each to contribute one post to this blog that engages with a source related to their research topic. I’m asking them to blog according to the model that educational Will Richardson calls “Connective Blogging” – one that asks students to use blogposts as a way of developing connections between their own research argument and a larger scholarly conversation on the topic.
My own ongoing scholarly interest has to do with the effective use of technology in the classroom. One article that I recently came across that touches on this issue is Claudia Wallis and Sonja Steptoe’s “How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century”.
The article was generated out of the conversation arising from the 2006 release of the report from the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, which found that U.S. students needed to be bettered prepared “to thrive in the global economy.”
When I came across this Time article, the title immediately caught my eye – I was really struck by the way that it played on the clichéd phrase “into the X Century” by turning it around. By changing it into “bring[ing] … schools out of the 20th century” (emphasis mine) the authors suggest a negative connotation – instead of focusing on the positive of the 21st Century, they emphasize the negative of the 20th century.
The article itself pretty much follows suit, detailing ways in which contemporary American schools fall short of providing students with the technological savvy and open-minded, abstract thinking skills that will make them effective members of the global community. It doesn’t focus exclusively on the technological aspects, but it still provides an interesting overview of the need for educational innovation. The article basically is rooted in this central question:
“Can our public schools, originally designed to educate workers for agrarian life and industrial-age factories, make the necessary shifts?”
This is a key, foundational question which I found really thought-provoking: it points to the need for an institutional shift based upon a shift in both the target population for and the purpose of American education.
Wallis and Steptoe seem optimistic and offer some great examples of innovative education: a Seattle elementary school that conducts classes in Japanese and Spanish for the student body as a whole; the rising number of schools that have integrated the rigorous, globally-minded European IB Curriculum; a NY middle school that uses innovative media to move students away from textbook learning into the realm of information literacy; a shared curricular space called Curriki.org that collects online courses designed to supplement traditional public school curricula.
Although this article focuses principally on K-12 education, I feel that our work here at Stanford as part of the Cross-Cultural Rhetoric project addresses many of the philosophical concerns about education that it raises. As we move forward with our work, perhaps we can think about ways to apply some of the lessons that we have learned in our Stanford classroom to K-12 environments as well.