So let's move beyond the conversation about testing, standards, curriculum maps and cut to the chase:
If you owned a business, would you hire your own kid?
If not, why not? What is missing?
Tony Wagner suggests there are seven skills that school should be teaching (with the implication, of course, that schools are not currently teaching all, if any, of them).
1. Critical thinking and problem solving
Critical thinking and problem solving are examples of divergent thinking, a practice that is generally frowned upon in school these days. Instead of getting the one, right answer, students should be encouraged to examine the problem or idea from multiple perspectives. This is teaching HOW to think, not WHAT to think.
2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
Mike Summers, who is Vice President for Global Talent Management at Dell Computers, said that his greatest concern was young people's lack of leadership skills. "Kids just out of school have an amazing lack of preparedness in general leadership skills and collaborative skills," he explained, "They lack the ability to influence versus direct and command."We should be teaching kids to work together as a group instead of blindly competing against one another. Doesn't mean everyone gets a medal, but it does mean that we more fully explore the idea that kids should be learning to collaborate locally in person and globally through webtools.
3. Agility and adaptability
Adapt or die - basic Darwin. The only thing constant is change - basic business speak. If we are raising kids who cannot be flexible and utilize new tools and ideas if they are the new norm, we will have kids who will not be able to keep pace with the speed of innovation in the world. This is not to say abandon all tradition or simply speed up; this means being more agile and less rigid in thinking and skillsets.
4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
Mark Chandler, the Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Cisco was one of the strongest proponents of these traits. "Leadership is the capacity to take initiative and trust yourself to be creative," he told me. "I say to my employees if you try five things and get all five of them right, you may be failing. If you try ten things, and get eight of them right, you're a hero. If you set stretch goals, you'll never be blamed for failing to reach a stretch goal, but you will be blamed for not trying.
Risk-taking: not taught in school because risk = bad. Not so. There is stupid risk (drinking and driving) and calculated risk (think experiments with alternate road materials, like solar panels, to solve the energy crisis). What employer would not want a confident employee who takes initiative?
5. Effective written and oral communication
Schools like to think they do this well, but identifying a noun in a sentence is not "effective written and oral communication." Writing and public speaking are taught less and less in general, and writing and speaking for a purpose even less than that.
6. Accessing and analyzing information
Kids have the world at their fingertips, and in their purses and in their backpockets, in the form of iPads, iPods, tablets, etc. They are inundated with information, but so what? Plagiarism is rampant, so kids are not transforming the information they find, simply copying or parroting it. Do they know how to vet a website, or do they believe what they see because it is written down, and are we teaching this skill? Not so well.
"There is so much information available that it is almost too much, and if people aren't prepared to process the information effectively it almost freezes them in their steps."
7. Curiosity and imagination
Daniel Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind, writes that "Even in our best schools, we are teaching kids to memorize much more than to think. And in the 21st century, mere memorization won't get you very far." This goes back to #1 and is closely tied to divergent thinking. There is more than one answer, but if students only have four to choose from their motivation to go further deteriorates rapidly. To put it in global business terms, China is thrilled with the test focus in the US; conversely, they are developing more programs to teach creative thinking and are banking on the fact that they will move from simply manufacturing American ideas to manufacturing their own, cheaper and more quickly than the US. Best quote from this article? The Chinese professors laughed [and] said, ‘You're racing toward our old model. But we're racing toward your model, as fast as we can.'"
So where does your kid fall? Do they have any of these skills, and, if not, how will you help them?
Would you hire them as they are?