30 August 2010

What century is it?

This would have been a good sign in 1996
Sometimes you just need to look at the calendar. No, not the day and date, but that big number near the top, you know... the year.

This is 2010, the first year of the second decade of the 21st Century, and the school district in the photo above has decided that it is time to prepare for ten years ago. With a message like that, what student wouldn't be excited?

Fourteen years ago the campaign slogan for the winning American Presidential candidate was "Building a bridge to the Twenty-First Century." Twelve years ago the U.S. became obsessed with the arrival of the millennium. Hell, 46 years ago the New York World's Fair imagined the possibilities. Or, 48 years ago in Seattle...

1962 (before you were probably born)
"Now, for the third time, a new century is upon us, and another time to choose. We began the 19th century with a choice, to spread our nation from coast to coast. We began the 20th century with a choice, to harness the Industrial Revolution to our values of free enterprise, conservation, and human decency. Those choices made all the difference. At the dawn of the 21st century a free people must now choose to shape the forces of the Information Age and the global society, to unleash the limitless potential of all our people, and, yes, to form a more perfect union.

"The knowledge and power of the Information Age will be within reach not just of the few, but of every classroom, every library, every child.

"Yes, let us build our bridge. A bridge wide enough and strong enough for every American to cross over to a blessed land of new promise." - Bill Clinton, Second Inaugural

Anyway, if you did not know this was coming, you really have no business leading a school. It means that you have not been an aggressive learner yourself. It means that you have been wandering around with your eyes closed. And that is no way to be a role model for your students.

1986 (24 years ago - before all "traditional age" university students of today were born)

A few weeks ago a school superintendent told me about a "consultant" visiting one of her schools and asking the students about "twenty-first century learning." The students were baffled. What other century's learning would they be interested in? Even the high school seniors were just 8-year-olds at the end of the last century. This may be "new" to you, but it is as much a part of the world - or a bigger part of the world - than film and telegraphs and telephones and phonographs and photos in newspapers were in 1910.

1910 (100 years ago, way before grandpa was born) one Edison communications technology explains another

So please, let's stop pretending the present is the future. Let us re-imagine our schools so that the present begins to look like the future instead.

"not of dreams, but of realities"

- Ira Socol


Unknown said...


I would love to say "well-timed" and mean it in the sense that this was written ten years ago, but I can't. Instead, I'll say it's well-timed for me personally as I begin this year in a new district.

The term is so bothersome, and it's good to see you call it out for what it is, as well as provide some outstanding visual mockings to the premise.

I'll be referencing this as I introduce myself to my new staff and colleagues. Thanks!

Flem said...

I love almost every word you have ever written and your current blog post on KIPP/TFA is brilliant! I do have to question the criticism on this one, however, because there is this problem that schools have in that they don't know what to call the skillset they are trying to develop. P21 has done some great work in identifying the need to develop thinking and collaboration, higher order thinking stuff, etc. so many refer to that under the umbrella "21st century skills" for lack of a better term. I think people shy away from "soft skills" or "business skills" because both of those seem too weak to define what is now absolutely required... so I would love it if you could come up with a term for developing those questioning the system and coming up with creative solution type skills.

Perhaps districts that use this terminology feel that they have not quite prepared kids for the current century and, well, better late than never.