What is a 21st century education?

So on facebook this week, the White House asked, “What does a 21st education mean to you?” They are going to post some of the responses on the White House blog. I responded,

A 21st Century education means that we look forward and create new ideas using new technologies rather than teaching the same way we have been teaching for the last 100 years. It means more than replacing the chalkboard with an interactive white board; it will take an entire shift of focus away from the 3 R's of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic and put that focus on a more holistic approach that educates the whole child and also makes sense in light of our global economy and world.

I really do think that the education system needs to be completely revamped in order to help students be successful in the 21st century, particularly at the high school level. Instead of focusing on the “3 R’s” of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, we need to reassess our focus in light of our current world. First of all, I think the English curriculum in high school needs to change. At least 80% (probably more) of the curriculum revolves around fiction texts, and 20% (or less) focuses on nonfiction. In the real world, a student is going to be faced with nonfiction text on a daily basis and will probably only read fiction texts as pleasure reading. Students must be reading blogs (the nonfiction text of the 21st century), newspapers, and political speeches in order to be a successful citizen of the 21st century.

I still believe that we need to foster a student’s love of reading, but I’m not sure that is done through a forced reading of classic literature. As an English teacher, that is hard for me to admit, but it is true. Reading of classic literature must be tied to something that is meaningful in current events. For example, a reading of Animal Farm teaches students about political propaganda, communism, and the history of the Russian Revolution. This text should be read in its historical context of the Russian Revolution, McCarthyism, and current communist dictatorships. Night by Elie Wiesel should be taught in order to inform students about the Holocaust, but also as a foundation for researching and understanding modern-day genocide around the world.

We need to put laptops into the hands of high school students. We as educators often assume that students have access to technology at home, but that isn’t always true. And even if it is true, WE must be responsible for teaching them how to effectively use that technology – including “new” technologies such as blogs, vlogs, wikis, etc. Educators can’t be scared of social networking and cell phones – we must harness these resources to prepare our students for the 21st century.

Our students will be voting (or at least be eligible to vote) as soon as they leave high school (some are eligible before they graduate). We must prepare them to be informed voters. They need to understand the issues facing their county, state, and country and be able to research the issues so that their knowledge goes beyond the political advertisement and campaign speech. Their study of American history should be a means to help them understand modern issues rather than simply a memorization of dates and places.

Finally, students do not need Advanced Trigonometry in the real world, but they do need money management skills. A money management class should be required of all high school students. Students leave high school and embark on the “real world” with no idea of how to navigate financial situations such as buying insurance, renting an apartment, buying a house, using credit cards wisely, and managing a checking account. These are skills that EVERY student needs, and we are doing them a huge disservice by not educating them in this area.


courtneyricole said…
I made the White House Blog!!!

KKSorrell said…
Wow!!! I can tell you have used your analytical powers to really hit the nail on the head in terms of education! I think you are right in so many ways - especially the nonfiction texts! I am so proud of you for making the White House blog, too!

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