One of the book reviews I most looked forward to reading in last week's New York Times book review was Lisa Miller's review of “Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era,” by Harvard’s Innovation Lab's Expert-in-Residence Tony Wagner and venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith. In Miller's words, the book:
argues that the only way to ensure any kind of future security for our children is to totally upend the education system and rethink what school is for.First come the shocking revelations about what K12 education is like in America:
Public education in America is based on antiquated late-19th-century priorities, on the need “to educate large numbers of immigrants and refugees from farms for basic citizenship and for jobs in a growing industrial economy.” Most of the stuff children are forced to know, and on which our culture’s sense of achievement is based, is unnecessary in the age of Google. But tests and test-makers still run the show, and kids are required to “jump through hoops” and drill and drill to assimilate reams of facts (“content”) instead of learning the skills that will keep them employed and employable for years to come…Gosh, I can't imagine where I've ever heard that before. Thank goodness Wagner and Dintersmith are getting the word out.
Equally astounding are Wagner and Dintersmith's notions of the revolutionary ways that things might change:
After the revolution Wagner and Dintersmith imagine, college will no longer be a scandalously expensive universal requirement but an option for only the most academically minded. They propose an overhaul of the SAT scoring system in which adolescents would be sorted into categories of collegiate preparedness: “In Good Shape,” “It Won’t Be Easy” and “Think Different.” Those in the last two categories might be satisfied, and indeed better served, in free or low-cost apprenticeships or by taking vocational courses.A time when college wasn't expensive; a time when only the most academically minded attended it; a three-level grading scale (good/fair/poor; A/B/C; "meets expectations"/"needs assistance"/"struggles")--when have we ever seen these things before?
The authors also suggest "an interdisciplinary approach; hands-on, project-based learning; student-directed curriculums." How disruptive! How revolutionary!
It's interesting that all these upending ideas have already been tried out--either in previous centuries, right now, or all along. The only thing that might possibly qualify as novel is Wagner and Dintersmith's idea that all students should be molded into entrepreneurs. But that just adds one more layer of implausibility and impracticality to an idea that's already long been popular: the idea that all students should be molded into leaders.
Far more revolutionary than all of this is a proposal by Alfred North Whitehead:
When you are criticizing the philosophy of an epoch, do not chiefly direct your attention to those intellectual positions which its exponents feel it necessary explicitly to defend. There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the variant systems within the epoch unconsciously presuppose. Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them.
(Science and the Modern World, 1926).For an introduction to this epoch's underlying assumptions, Wagner & Dintersmith is a great place to start.