I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying Roger Schank’s recent book Teaching Minds. (Thanks to Sylvia Martinez for the rec.) I will go so far as to say that it should be required reading for every preservice teacher (TFA folks included) if for no other reason than to fundamentally challenge the traditional thinking about the profession. If you’ve seen Roger speak (and I have twice,) you know that he never holds anything back, and this book is no exception. He had me laughing out loud on the plane this afternoon, and nodding my head in agreement more times than I can count. Here’s an excerpt that captures the message and tone pretty well:
Twenty-first century skills are no different from 1st-century skills. Interestingly, Petronius, a 1st-century Roman author, complained that Roman schools were teaching “young men to grow up to be idiots, because they neither see nor hear one single thing connected with the usual circumstances of everyday life.” In other words, schools have always been about educating the elite in things that don’t matter much to anyone. This is fine as long as the elite don’t have to work.
But today, the elite have extrapolated from what they learned at Harvard and decided that every single schoolchild needs to know the same stuff. So, they whine and complain about math scores going down without once asking why this could possibly matter. Math is not a 21st-century skill any more than it was a 1st-century skill. Algebra is nice for those who need it, and useless for those who don’t. Skill in mathematics is certainly not going to make an industrial nation more competitive with any other, no matter how many times our “experts” assert that it will. One wonders how politicians can even say this junk, but they all do.
My own guess is that, apart from the fact that they took all these subjects in school (and were probably bad at them-you don’t become a politician or a newspaper person because you were great at calculus), there is another issue: They don’t know what else to suggest.
Thinking abut the 1st-century will help us figure out what the real issues are. People then and people now had to learn how to function in the world they inhabit. This means being able to communicate, get along with others, function economically and physically, and in general reason about issues that confront them. It didn’t mean then, and it doesn’t mean now, science and mathematics, at least not for 95% of the population (207).
Really good stuff.