“What if we focused on developing kids who are ‘learners’ instead of trying to make sure they’ve ‘learned’?” asked Will Richardson, an author and educator, in Educational Leadership. “What if, instead of delivering the same common education to every student, we focused on developing the skills and dispositions necessary for them to learn whatever they need to learn whenever they need to learn it? That means rethinking our classrooms to focus on individual passions, inquiry, creation, sharing, patient problem solving, and innovation.” More important than the sheer tonnage of new “knowledge” is the way that increasingly easy access to that knowledge is speeding up the learning curve and with it the methods and processes that used to be far more stable. While factories, science labs, and hospitals may have used the same machine for 50 years in the past century, the technology workers must master in the 21st century is updated every year or two. To master the jobs of the future, students will need to adapt to a world where thinking and approaches change at an alarmingly fast rate.
Common Core represents a real shift in standards toward skills over content, inquiry and analysis over memorization. But to make this work it’s going to require more fundamental change and a system that looks different. We can’t graduate students from one grade to the next based on completion of content alone; we can’t assume all students in a grade level need the same thing; and we also can’t continue to teach as though all students have the same career or life goals (especially the goals we may impose on them). Teachers must guide learning instead of just impart it and build learners who can make choices for themselves.
Scott Goldstein is a social studies and ESL teacher at a D.C. public charter school. He can be reached at scottaudc(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter (at)ScottGoldstein.