On September 23, public television stations in Kansas will air “Reading, Writing, and a Worthwhile Education.” This forum will bring together panels representing parents, businessmen, and educators. The media are promoting citizens from across Kansas to form “Watch and Talk Parties.” Whether this becomes a polyanna promotion of electronic toys and online learning for every student, or promotes solid Kansas schooling may depend on your participation.
The forum is sponsored by KTWU in conjunction with the Kansas Learning First Alliance (KLFA). Citizens can register for the “Watch and Talk” parties online and are linked to background materials such as the “21st Century Skills” movement.
That is where the worry begins. When “21st Century Skills” were presented to the State Board of Education last year, the movement made its goals clear: “We are no longer interested in what units of knowledge students possess. We now focus on what students can do with information.” Some of these “visionary” documents completely abandon learning any content on the grounds that in this techno-age, “you can just look it up online.” No textbooks. No libraries. Some even predict no schools—that is why is it is called “21st Century Skills” rather than “21st Century Schools.”
Kansas is better than that. On a per-capita basis, Kansas rates near the top in nearly any academic indicator you can measure: low dropout rate, high ACT scores, college-going, etc. You can’t drive far without passing through a town that is birthplace to an astronaut or even a Nobel Laureate. Count the number of scientists who are in the Who’s Who in Science by the state where they received their education, divide by state population, and guess who is at the top?
The pied pipers of “21st Century Skills” want to minimize basic education in skills and content. Techno-toys in the hands of every child will circumvent the need to learn deep math. No struggling with multiplication tables and algebra when a calculator or computer can do it. Some futurists would keep our children at home communicating online with their teachers, also at home. The cost of schools would be replaced by an even higher cost of technology, but lower levels of interaction and genuine teaching.
Kansans have a high value for education, probably traced back to the higher level of education of settlers who came to make Kansas a free state.
Kansans do not confuse an education with test preparation. The majority of parents and teachers abhor the drill work caused by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This is a forum to voice that loud and clear.
Kansans realize school is not just job preparation, but that a person must learn to have a life after they get home from making a living. Music, art, and theater thrive in Kansas communities and these performance skills have never been successfully taught from a distance. Going to a live performance is better than a recording in the same way that a face-to-face class is also better than the online course.
Businesses have specialized technology that they will teach to their new recruits. They want students who graduated with basic mathematical, communication, and problem-solving skills.
Businesses want a student with work ethic. Classes require you to show up on time. “Anytime, anywhere” online classes don’t.
They want graduates who can work in a team of real people, not virtual “second life” avatars.
Businesses and society want honesty. Nothing has accelerated dishonesty and classroom cheating nationwide more than the new technology that allows cut-and-paste plagiarism and texting answers during tests. Under NCLB, teachers nationwide have been pressured to cheat at astronomical levels.
We read and comprehend less on-screen; it may be acceptable to remember 30 percent less when reading a mystery on a Kindle but that is not an advertisement for their use in education.
And the cost is terrific; techno-toys are far more expensive and become obsolete in a few years.
With a long and costly track record of failure, futurists retain an undeserved respect. September 23 will see more 21st Century futurism. It would be good to remember that they once predicted hover cars and jet backpacks.