Tether your ideas or history will ignore you too

Chris made a comment the other day to the effect that buzzwords are more than buzzwords in the hands and minds of people who can play with big ideas. It was a statement that had been buzzing around in my brain for quite some time.

Here’s the exception – 21st Century Learner/Teacher/Skills/Anything. Imagine if teachers had said at the outset of the 20th Century, “Let’s develop a skillset we believe important for all students in the country to master, and then build schools around those skills.”

Wait a minute! That’s exactly what happened, and we’ve been fighting against it since the start of the panini effect that Friedman guy’s been yammering on about.

I understand how calling there things 21st Century _________ makes for some sexy packaging, but two things happen:

  1. We risk looking more stupid than we need to a hundred years from now.
  2. We create the false illusion that the things we need to be doing in education now are somehow different from the things we’ve needed to be doing in education forever.

New Zealand’s Interface Magazine has the ridiculously named “Eight habits of highly effective 21st century teachers.” Andrew Churches lists the habits as:

  • Adapting
  • Being Visionary
  • Collaborating
  • Taking Risks
  • Learning
  • Communicating
  • Modeling Behavior
  • Leading

You think naming them “Eight habits of highly effective teachers” would be misleading?

Churches opens with:

What are the characteristics we would expect to see in a successful 21st century educator? Well, we know they are student-centric, holistic, and they’re teaching about how to learn as much as teaching about the subject area. We know, too, that they must be 21st century learners as well. But highly effective teachers in today’s classrooms are more than this – much more.

Now, that’s just silliness. Yesterday’s teachers needed those skills as much as today’s teachers need those skills as much as tomorrow’s teachers will need those skills. Again, I get the temptation to package these things in something a little more attractive that lends itself to highfaluting rhetoric where we talk about the loftiest of ideas.

Problem is, when teachers leave these discussions and return to their students, they need tangible examples to get them where they want to go. Finding out you’ve been sold nothing more than a big idea can lead to abandoning the idea for its lack of curricular tether. Man, I love a good tether.

Photo Credit: Jeff Monroe http://flickr.com/photos/43856553@N00/340408585/

One thought on “Tether your ideas or history will ignore you too

  1. Same thoughts regarding 21st Century _____. My running internal dialogue has a lot of “how long until ’21st C’ term is dated?” questions.

    I do believe, however, that titles are useful, even if they only are going to die at some point. It gives us a handle that might catch some ears that would otherwise not be caught. Media loves handles.

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