Old Ideas Made New Again

I started teaching long ago.  The air was full of new ideas about curriculum and teaching methods.  In the United States and the United Kingdom we had the “New Social Studies,” “New Math,” exciting hands-on science projects, and the like.  It was all about engaging learners in the “methods of the discipline,” in doing inquiry not just memorizing facts.  This was a long time ago. Today we are hearing these old “new” ideas again.

In fact, we have been hearing for some years now that we have to do school differently; that teaching for the 21st century cannot be the same as it was back in the old days (i.e. the 20th century).  The Singapore Teachers’ Growth Model (TGM) recognizes that teachers need to be equipped with the relevant 21st century knowledge and skills so that they are better able to develop students holistically.  Education in the past, we are told, focused, more or less, on memorizing a lot of information – learning and digesting a lot of facts.  Today, we must think of education, the development of young minds more broadly, to include problem solving and creativity.

These changes in focus have come about because of the changing social and economic environment.  Critics of the “old” education point to:

  • A “knowledge explosion” – what you learn now won’t hold for the rest of your life; we must be life-long learners.
  • The idea that today information is at our finger tips – there is no need to simply remember information when it is so easily retrieved.
  • A communication explosion which means we must be able to filter what we read and hear. How do we make sense of it?
  • Related to this is our interconnected world – we hear news about the world far more quickly than we ever did.  And people use that connectivity to make news.  Consider the kidnapped girls in Nigeria. Without Twitter the world might not have been concerned, at least not for very long.
  • Of course there are the demands of the economy – the post industrial age needs workers who are flexible, who are life-long learners, who are problem solvers and creative thinkers.

It’s a new world.  Consider the movie Her. The protagonist falls in love with his operating system. And it isn’t absurd!  Movies aside, young people today must deal with a world unlike the one I started teaching in; very unlike the one that existed when public schooling, schooling for everyone, began to be the norm.  Once, you could get a few years of schooling, go out and get a job, raise a family, lead a good, productive life.  But today, if you do not continue to learn, you lose.

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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