Monday, December 18, 2006

Crossing the Chasm Between the 20th and 21st Centuries

Walk into almost any school in the United States and you will feel at home no matter your age. Why? Most classrooms look a lot like they way they did when you were in school. Actually, most classrooms look a lot like they did when your parents and grand parents were in school. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? If you’re afraid of change, then I suppose that it’s a very good thing. However, if you are looking for ways to move beyond the 20th century mentality of teaching, then you need to start looking for ways to move beyond traditional teaching methods. I’m not saying that traditional teaching is a bad thing. I’m saying that as educators we can and must do more to cross the chasm between the 20th and 21st centuries. The most logical way to make this crossing is through the technology that Web 2.0. has to offer.

If we continue to refuse to change for whatever reason, how many children are going to get "left behind"? What will happen if an entire generation fails to make the grade in the global economy of the 21st century because they can't solve abstract problems, work with others, perform basic research, or speak a language other than English? Can we afford to wait and see?

The United States currently resembles a third world nation when it comes to foreign language instruction. Too many of our policy makers have not had the foresight or fortitude to require foreign language P-12 and now we are facing a dilemma (i.e. individuals speaking Arabic languages). The same thing said about language may one day be said about technology, not because of the politicians this time, but because most teachers continue to refuse to implement technology efficiently in their classrooms.

Right now, as a result of NCLB, we're focused on testing and scores, but there is so much more. What about communication skills and technology? Aren’t both of these entities currently as important as ever? The current and future global economy will not allow tradition and complacency in our classrooms. The global economy now requires so much more. It requires not only competence in the traditional academia, but also competence in functional 21st century Web 2.0 skills. If students aren’t taught these skills in our schools, then where are they going to learn them?

The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, a high-powered, bipartisan assembly of education secretaries, business leaders, and a former governor recognizes the dilemma. It just released a report for rethinking American education P-12 and beyond. The report includes a remarkable consensus among educators, policy makers and business leaders on one key point: we need to refocus how we teach and what we teach to help students cross the chasm between the 20th and the 21st centuries.

Now, I’m not going to pretend for one minute to be an expert on Web 2.0 technologies or skills, but I do see their potential. As such, I am not willing to sit back and continue to teach the way I was taught. Therefore, I am reading and embracing technology at every turn. My ultimate goal is to create a nexus of learning for students that promotes creativity. Moreover, I want students to cross the chasm between the 20th and 21st centuries. I want students to recognize geography, customs, and culture, acquire and use communication skills in other languages, understand and utilize technology, and ultimately think outside the box. Wish me luck!

William Bishop (Bill)

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