Harvard’s David Perkins in Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World:
We might consider another gap alongside the achievement gap. Let’s call it the relevance gap. The achievement gap asks, “Are students achieving X?” whereas the relevance gap asks, “Is X going to matter to the lives learners are likely to live?”
If X is good mastery of reading and writing, both questions earn a big yes! Skilled, fluent, and engaged reading and writing marks both a challenging gap and a high-payoff attainment. That knowledge goes somewhere! However, if X is quadratic equations, the answers don’t match. Mastering quadratic equations is challenging, but these equations are not so lifeworthy. Now fill in X with any of the thousands of topics that make up the typical content curriculum. Very often, these topics present significant challenges of achievement but with little return on investment in learners’ lives.
Here’s the problem: the achievement gap is much more concerned with mastering content than with providing lifeworthy content.
So why don’t we see more attention to the relevance gap alongside the achievement gap? Well, attention to the relevance gap upsets the apple cart of conventional practice much more than attention to the achievement gap. The achievement gap is all about doing the same thing better. With the achievement gap as our target, we want to do a better job imparting skills and understandings we already try to teach. But embracing the challenge of the relevance gap asks us to reconsider deeply what schools teach in the first place. Topics and themes that have been part of typical curricula for centuries might get displaced, reduced, or reframed. Textbooks might need rewriting. Teachers would find honored parts of their disciplines under siege and new and tricky content knocking at the door— barbarians at the gate! To borrow from Al Gore, the problem of lifeworthy learning that so pervades typical curricula is an inconvenient truth. As with our planet’s precarious situation, ignoring an inconvenient truth is a dangerous way to deal with it (30-31)!