A new vision of 21st century education

Rethinking education for the 21st century means challenging the corporatist values and practices that are increasingly dominating schooling, especially the elitist schools that boast of being among the finest educational institutions in the world. These schools typically focus on desired student learning outcomes that emphasize skills and commitments to work effectively and efficiently, collaborate meaningfully and supportively on teams, develop the necessary technical skills and strategies to solve problems (without ever addressing problems that might challenge the status quo, of course) and produce exemplary work, act responsibly and in a supportive manner, etc. all to create students who can compete successfully in a corporatized culture. At first appearance, and if treated unproblematically, who could argue with these skills and commitments?

The problem lies more with the Toyota-production style of schooling that views itself as a high performing, team-oriented learning organization run by progressive experts and new collar leaders touting the latest ‘innovations’ in education (usually conveniently and attractively packaged by major tech and textbook corporations or leading educational entrepreneurs who have been able to corner the market). In turn, the corporate-administrative interests work together to prepare students for roles and responsibilities in corporate and bureaucratic structures through the necessary administrative ordering, rational design, and the extensive and continual prescriptions (reforms) they call for. These are efforts by corporate, state, and administrative ‘experts’ to implement best practices and technocratic solutions in the interests of those below (whether they are teachers, students, or local communities).

These approaches create a hidden curriculum that standardizes in the name of high standards and accountability, allows or encourages corporate influence (“We’re a Google school!”), creates a climate of fear by pruning teachers that don’t ‘fit,’ sweeps aside opposing or alternative views that might challenge those above or frustrate prevailing prescriptions, values the work and knowledge of ‘experts’ over those closest to the work, continues to sort students for the workforce, and lets everyone know they are being inspected and assessed at every turn.

Anyway, I’ve railed at these developments in prior posts so let’s set up alternatives that might move us toward considering a new vision for 21st century education:

The Old 21st      Century Education The New 21st   Century Education
Standards &   accountability -Set by states, distant   organizations (politicians, business community, academics, etc.)

-Standardization (‘everybody on same page at same time’)

-Inspection, monitoring,   surveillance to ensure compliance & accountability

-Set by those closest to the work(communities, teachers, students) through  deliberation

-Variation, diversity,   experimentation encouraged

-Local accountability; voluntary   controls enforced through ongoing deliberation among stakeholders

School climate -Fear (high-stakes,   surveillance)

-Closed; Centralized, Hierarchical, Top-down

-High/intense   competition; ‘winners & losers’; particular capacities valued &   developed

-Corporatist,   administrative

-Exclusive, pruning, sorting   according to narrow range of values

-Trust & respect; community

-Open;  Relational; Decision-making   distributed widely

-Mutuality; all treated as having equal worth; focus on developing wide   range of capacities

-Communal, local,   democratic

-Inclusive, pluralist;   multiple capacities, interests, values

Knowledge -Technocratic-Outside expertise’ &   ‘universal’ standards valued-Best practice &   interventions set by those at top or ‘experts’ -Practical-Logic of daily practice, knowledge of contexts valued-Creativity, initiative,   experimentation, innovation from below valued/supported

I could go on, but this ‘new’ view of 21st century education values and enacts variation over standardization, greater local teacher control, respect for the practical knowledge of teachers over that of educational experts, and on-the ground initiatives and innovations rather than the interventions and prescriptions called for from above. As James Scott notes, this requires a new form of “planning that encourages novel initiatives and contingencies, foreclosing as few options as possible, and that fosters the circulation and contact out of which such initiatives arise.” It restores teacher autonomy, values the judgment of teachers over administrators, and gives responsibility back to individuals and communities to determine the kinds of educational futures they need in the 21st century.

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