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Monday, March 10, 2008

URGENT: 21st Century Skills for Educators (and Others) First
Don’t get me wrong, the ThirteenCelebration conference was a great event. Just getting the chance to hear Jane Goodall and Jean-Michel Cousteau speak about the amazing natural world and their sustained hope that we can undo much of the damage we’ve done to it was in and of itself worth it. That and being able to listen to the passion of Diane Ravitch and Deb Meier as they discussed the ills of education gave me more than enough to think about.

But here’s the thing that’s giving me the most angst. (Hey, I haven’t been too angsty in a while, have I?) For all of the experts and scholars and pundits who were staking out a part of the conversation about educational reform, I couldn’t help leaving there wondering how many of them really have a sense of the changes that are afoot here. I looked up a whole bunch of the names of the presenters and I could only find a handful that have any real Read/Write Web footprint that would allow me to consider them to be a part of my network. And worse, it was painfully obvious by their death by PowerPoint presentation styles that their own adoption of technology as a communication tool not to mention a networked learning tool left a great deal to be desired. The governors, the state superintendents, the consultants…from none of them did I get the sense that they could give a great response to a request to model their uses of technology to teach and learn effectively, especially in the context of networks.

All of which raise a number of questions:
First, am I a snob? Out to lunch? I mean it. I feel like it sometimes when I go to an education conference with 6,000 attendees and virtually no Internet access where almost no one who is presenting is modeling anything close to great pedagogy with technology. (That doesn’t mean, btw, that they are not great teachers or thinkers.) Where just about the only technologies represented on the vendor floor deal with assessment or classroom displays. I mean, I know I’m a one-trick pony in terms of what my frame of reference is (so no need to remind me again), but shouldn’t I be at least getting some sense that the people who are making the decisions understand on some level what we here are jammering about every day, the transformation that’s occurring, the amazing potentials of this? I feel like I have to be missing something here, that it must be me.

Which leads to the second question which is how in god’s name can we talk seriously about 21st Century skills for kids if we’re not talking 21st Century skills for educators first? The more I listened, the less I heard in terms of how we make the teaching profession as a whole even capable of teaching these “skills” to kids. Sure, there were mentions of upgrading teacher preparation programs and giving teachers additional time in the school day to collaborate, etc. But the URGENCY was all around the kids. Shouldn’t the URGENCY be all about the teachers right now?

Finally, I was struck by how difficult it felt to accept much of what I was hearing because, and this is something that is really concerning me (seriously), few if any of these folks had the network creds to be “trusted.” Now I know this is an admission that is going to get me in trouble, and it likely should. But it is also a consequence of being rooted so deeply in this network. It’s not that I distrust their “traditional” creds out of hand, but it’s almost like for me, these days, if you’re not doing at least a little bit of social, networked learning and publishing that I can tap into and track and engage with, I’m just not as inclined to buy in when you’re talking about reforming education with or without technology.

Which leads to the following conclusions. First, (and this really has little to do with the larger point of this post but is stuck in my head) if you want to do one thing to save the world, become a vegetarian, today. Right now. As Cousteau said, any time you eat a steak or a chicken, you are cutting down a tree in the Amazon. Beef cattle graze, use up the land, then they plant soybeans to feed the chickens being farmed all over the world. Rainforests gone. Our carnivorousness is killing the planet. That means no pot roast nachos either. End of sermon.

And, second, if you want your ideas to resonate with me and to be taken seriously, don’t just talk. Engage. Publish. Converse. Add your voice to the network of people who are living these ideas every day. I’ll use Mr. Stager as an example here, since I know he’ll most likely have something to say on the topic. I’d heard of Gary before he started blogging, but the fact that he’s now willing to put his ideas out here and invest in the network, whether I agree with him or not, garners my respect and makes me more open to his ideas. I can think of a number of folks in this arena who I can’t say that about.

Rant over. Be gentle…

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