Nothing New About 21st Century Skills

I keep reading articles about "21st Century Skills" and I have written about that topic myself a few times (see end of post). I read a post by Doug Johnson recently that comes close to my own current feelings on these new skills. They are not really new. In fact, the whole move to teach “21st Century skills” sounds a lot like earlier movements in education from the 20th century.

Movements that were called “outcome-based education” (OBE) and “SCANS skills” in the last thirty years were similar. OBE was a movement that was tough to pin down. It also called standards-based education reform, mastery education, and performance-based education. Under whatever label, it was a student-centered learning approach. Student performance - the outcomes - was measured empirically. More traditional approaches generally focus on the resources (inputs) available to the student. 

From these movements, we got reform mathematics, block scheduling, project-based learning and whole language reading. Not that the movement prescribed any particular style of teaching. What it did require was that students demonstrate that they have learned the required skills and content. Still, it did promote some curricula and assessment changes that favored constructivist methods rather than direct instruction of facts.

21st century skills, no matter how they are described, sound like critical thinking skills, creativity, problem-solving, and cooperative group skills. That's what I was told to do in my 20th century classroom.

Like Johnson, I wonder if a graduate capable of critical thinking, creativity and the ability to think "outside the box" is even desirable to the next level of education or employer. Like Johnson, I'm all for "a modest list of well-defined and achievable skills written in a language the general education community and public can understand."

There are other critics that warn that the 21st-century skills movement in general is too focused on skills and not focused on the connection of knowledge to thought.

Related Posts Jobs of the Future, New Literacies and NCTE, Literacy? Which one?, Back to the Future


Trackback specific URI for this entry


Display comments as Linear | Threaded

No comments

Add Comment

Enclosing asterisks marks text as bold (*word*), underscore are made via _word_.
Standard emoticons like :-) and ;-) are converted to images.
BBCode format allowed
E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.
To leave a comment you must approve it via e-mail, which will be sent to your address after submission.

To prevent automated Bots from commentspamming, please enter the string you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.