Skip to content

January 16, 2010


Is public education designed to support our economy?

by Chris Lindholm

As a first year teacher, I copied (polite way of admitting I was a thief) the framework a colleague of mine used to teach history to high school students.  This teacher spent a significant amount of time every fall making sure his students understood Alvin Toffler's wave theory before diving into timelines, textbooks, and the details of time. The theory gave students an essential framework through which to connect the dots and to ask, debate, research, and answer "why questions."  I quickly found that the facts of history were largely irrelevant and unimportant to nearly all students unless I could help them recognize how explanations for human behavior in the past largely help us understand our present and our future.  Toffler's work made this "click" for my students and for me. 

Below is a short interview with Economist Richard Florida discussing what he calls "Unleashing the Creative Economic Revolution."  I confess I haven't dug deeply into his work, but the comments in this interview seem to line up closely with the arguments of Daniel Pink, Thomas Friedman, Tony Wagner, and of course, Alvin Toffler.  Because my job is to lead a school effectively so all students can be successful when they leave us, I can't help but struggle – at a very deep level – with the core misalignment between the structure of public education and the economy these scholars describe.  If indeed the "creative economic revolution" is upon us, how can we justify a political arena in which the arts are being cut to increase "drill and kill instruction" to make AYP?  Why aren't our legislators demanding a different structure to public education that empowers students to be creative individuals designing their own educational paths instead of placing them on an assembly line and being told to hold still? 

In an effort to be more optimistic, I recommend that we educators begin preparing plans and laying groundwork for this "revolution" sooner rather than later.  In MN we kept our heads in the sand as the accountibility movement gained momentum and then we cried foul when our legislators slapped a "Basic Skills Test" on the table almost two decades ago.  We didn't own and lead the very enterprise in which we are the experts.  Maybe this time we can be the leaders of change so it gets done right…  Maybe this time, we can bring sound ideas and proposals to the table with strong arguments supporting the purpose.  Maybe we can trust that common Americans understand, at a very common sense level, how misaligned the structure is with the world economy that is unfolding before us.  Maybe Richard Florida's reference to a "creative revolution" can be viewed as a wonderful opportunity to better deliver on that which we are so very passionate about… teaching the leaders of tomorrow… teaching kids.

"Unleashing the Creative Economic Revolution" on big think


Read more from Uncategorized
4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tyler
    Jan 16 2010

    What I don’t understand is how we can expect students to operate very high on Bloom’s Taxonomy without their knowing some of the basic facts. This ‘learning the basics’ takes a significant amount of time in public education, and becomes the springboard for more advanced thinking later in education.
    I guess my question is – would we be throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we did a wholesale replacement of the current structure of education?

  2. Jan 17 2010

    Fair question. Indeed the basics are necessary for advanced work. The problem lies in how we deliver what we deliver. When a group of 30 enter the room for a 49 minute lesson, teachers often target the students who don’t seem to have some of the basic information nailed thus disengaging those who already do. I believe the vast majority of our precious instructional time gets spent on the basics due to our belief that we can’t move on until those are mastered.
    Real life doesn’t function like this. Don’t know how to address the medical issue of a family member? Research, ask questions, find expert opinion, and make real judgements. A lack of basic knowledge doesn’t hold us back from having to make higher level decisions. We have to learn the basic information within the context of the big problem.
    So… if we’re preparing students to think creatively, find answers, communicate in an articulate manner, and demonstrate the ability to navigate difficult things, we need to give them that practice. Memorizing facts, repeating processes, and spewing back basic facts is preparation for industrial society work – not 21st century work. Secondary education must embrace this challenge.
    Love the thoughts Tyler. Thanks for pushing us!

  3. Tyler
    Jan 17 2010

    So, how does that change the structure of public education? What would change if the approach was to better prepare students for 21st century work?
    As someone who hires people to do 21st century work, there are several things that I look for:
    1. Written and verbal communication skills. This is a must. If you can’t write and communicate your ideas to others, you might as well not have ideas.
    2. Analytical skills – the ability to break down a problem and address it piece by piece.
    3. Learning agility – how does the person learn, how do they expect to get new information (spoon fed from others or acquiring on their own) and where do they get new information.
    4. Ability to work on their own or with others.
    5. Technical (computing skills in my team’s case) ability.
    Those are in order of importance. I can badger someone into working well with other people and I can teach a reasonably good technical person how to be a better technician. I can’t, however, take the time to improve someone’s writing skills. That’s something I need right out of the gate.
    I think I’m making your case for me with the other requirements, aren’t I?

  4. Tyler
    Jan 18 2010

    Ok, now I’m obsessing about this. I guess it comes from being raised by educators in a family of educators…
    How does the Perry Preschool Project results factor into a new structure for education?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Note: HTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to comments

%d bloggers like this: