Could Thomas Jefferson still walk into a public school classroom, step to the board and teach as he taught when our nation was born? Until recently, the way teachers taught looked alarmingly similar to what it was like during Jefferson’s lifetime. The teaching methods had remained the same, yet the content had changed. Social responsibility, civic duty, and character education have gone by the wayside as standardized testing has pushed regurgitation of subject-specific facts to drive the curriculum. John Dewey, in 1915, called educators “democracy’s midwives” (Rubin 23), charging them with educating each new generation on the foundations of a democracy.
If education serves a civic purpose, which it does whether intentional or not, then the purpose of public education is to teach our students how to become successful global citizens. School has changed so much over the last twenty-five years. Twenty-five years ago I was in junior high and the chief offense during the school day was passing notes to friends during class. There was no social media, cell phones, or internet (at least none that most of society utilized). To conduct research for a project, we had to go to the library, look up the topic in the card catalog, and then locate books and encyclopedias for information. It could take days, and trips to multiple libraries to find enough facts to write a paper on the topic being researched. Research skills that teachers had to teach them involved the Dewey Decimal System and how to organize your notes on 3”x5” notecards.
The advancement of technology has changed the face of education more than anything else. Students are constantly connected to one another through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, shared documents, and the list continues to grow. It isn’t enough to ban devices, or block specific social media sites. The students will always find a way around those measures. Teachers now have to teach digital citizenship on top of content. They need to teach students how to be socially responsible online – what information is safe to give out, when are appropriate times to be on social media sites, and how to verify the reliability of information found on the internet. Students don’t use Dewey decimals and card catalogs. They have no idea what The World Book means. They certainly don’t hand-write notes on little notecards. Students have changed, resources have changed, so education has to change. It doesn’t matter if teachers want to progress into the digital age – we are already here, and it’s not going away. “It is the responsibility of educators to lay the groundwork, build the skills, and cultivate the dispositions students will need to gather data, interpret information, separate fact from bias, analyze the news they receive, and challenge prevailing thought when they see it as flawed” (Rubin 2009).
A main tenet of education today must be effective collaboration. We can advance the goals of public education by advancing the study and teaching of collaboration. It is too easy for students to isolate themselves through their digital devices. We have to teach them how to collaborate with peers, and with adults. Educators should involve civic leaders, business leaders, parents, other students, and teachers in collaborative discussions and/or projects. The skills of collaborating with a group to determine the greatest issue, determine goals, and brainstorm ways to solve the problem are at their highest level of need in our world today. The world is growing smaller and smaller through the digital world and we need to equip our young people to be successful and responsible participants in life.
Andreas Schleicher said, “If it’s easy to test, it’s easy to digitize.” This isn’t saying that we no longer have a need to assess our students. We still need to test them, just in a different manner. Instead of testing memorization of content knowledge, we need to assess our students’ abilities to think critically and creatively, and to solve problems. These are all 21st century skills that can be taught and fostered by classroom leaders through collaboration. It’s past time for educational leaders (which definitely includes teachers) to acknowledge how schools have changed, embrace the change, and lead their students in the journey toward a successful future.
Rubin, H. ( 2009). Collaborative leadership: Developing effective partnerships for communities and schools. California: Corwin.