Week Two: 21st Century Skills vs Core Knowledge

September 5, 2013

When I read the very first article, What to Learn: ‘Core Knowledge’ or ‘21st Century Skills’, I got the feeling that core knowledge and 21st century skills were actually opposing ideas. Toppo (2009) suggests that 21st century skills could be taking away from core knowledge, “But a small group of outspoken education scholars is challenging that assumption, saying the push for 21st-century skills is taking a dangerous bite out of precious classroom time that could be better spent learning deep, essential content.” However when I read the other websites, both The Core Knowledge Foundation and Partnerships for 21st Century Skills, comment on the others’ ideals. Perhaps, since the Toppo article was written in 2009 both sides have realized that they actually do need both core knowledge and 21st century skills to work efficiently in the world.

In the What to Learn: ‘Core Knowledge’ or ‘21st Century Skills’ article the information presented says the Core Knowledge founder E.D. Hirsch Jr. believes that 21st century skills are a waste of time, “It’s an ineffectual use of school time,” says E.D. Hirsch Jr., founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation and author of a series of books on what students should learn year-by-year in school. He calls the P21 movement “a fragmented approach with uncertain cognitive goals” that could most profoundly hurt disadvantaged children: At home, he says, they don’t get as much background as middle-class students in history, science, literature and the like. (Toppo, 2009). The article goes onto include co-founder of Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), Ken Kay mentioning that both skills are needed, “Kay calls criticisms by Hirsch and others “a sideshow that distracts people from the issue at hand: that our kids need world-class skills and world-class content.” (Toppo, 2009).

I feel as though you can’t exclude one idea from the other. While it is important to learn 21st century skills it is also important to learn core knowledge. According to the Core Knowledge Foundation, “The idea that we have to choose between knowledge and thinking skills is a false choice. Kids need both. “The richer the knowledge base, the more smoothly and effectively cognitive processes — the very ones that teachers target — operate,” notes University of Virginia cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham. “So, the more knowledge students accumulate the smarter they become” (The Core Knowledge Foundation, 2013). While Toppo presents the points of view as opposing Partnership for 21st Century folks also agree that core knowledge and 21st century skills should go hand and hand, “within the context of core knowledge instruction, students must also learn the essential skills for success in today’s world, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration” (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2013).

Perhaps since 2009, The Core Knowledge Foundation has changed their point of view about skills needed to proceed in the 21st century because they clearly state that both ideas are important on their website. Either way, I believe that both need to be presented in the classroom. I believe that to be successful in the future, we must consider both sides that actually don’t seem to be so different after all since both express the need for the other.  As a future special education teacher, I see that language arts are explicitly mentioned throughout the articles. One must have the basic knowledge to communicate their ideas but also learn to think creatively, “In addition to these subjects, we believe schools must move to include not only a focus on mastery of core subjects, but also promote understanding of academic content at much higher levels by weaving 21st century interdisciplinary themes into core subjects.” (Partnership for 21st Century, 2013). I believe that what we’ve learned in class so far about thinking creatively is backed up by the websites so I don’t believe that either organization’s website changes my point of view about including both into my classroom. The Toppo article did make me question if there is room in the classroom for both and I basically concluded that you couldn’t have one without the other. Sure, students can learn core knowledge but if they can’t preform in the 21st arena then their knowledge would be locked up in a tower. Likewise, if you have the skills to think creatively and innovatively, you would theoretically be able to find any information but what would you do with that information if you didn’t have the basic knowledge to use it? I believe that these are coexisting ideas.

Educational Origami. (2013). 21st Century pedagogy. Retrieved from http://edorigami.wikispaces.com/21st+Century+Pedagogy

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2013). Framework for 21st Century Learning.  Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/1.__p21_framework_2pager.pdf

The Core Knowledge Foundation (2013). About the curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.coreknowledge.org/about-the-curriculum

Toppo, G. (2009). What to learn: ‘core knowledge’ or ‘21st-century skills’?. USA Today. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-03-04-coreknowledge_N.htm

Categories: INDT 501.

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