Jon S Newspaper sunny yellow

Jon S
Newspaper sunny yellow

So much has been workshopped, blogged, tweeted and packaged in terms of helping educators everywhere come to terms with ’21st Century Learning.’  We are already in the 21st Century, but still concerned with catching up, it seems.  Usually the phrase ’21st Century Learning,’ prompts people to think about 1:1, social media, coding, or mobile.  But when we really look at the demands of our current times, shouldn’t we be focusing our pedagogy on the problems plaguing society?


In essence, I think we’ve lost our way when we focus goals on preparing students for ‘the future,’ when in reality, we can do so much as learners with what is happening today.  There isn’t a student out there who hasn’t heard the phrase ‘this will prepare you for tomorrow,’ and thought: ‘hmmm…really?’  Many schools have jumped on the ‘wellness wagon,’ and preach the importance of being in the moment. So let’s reframe that:  Is your school in the moment?

Has the curriculum responded to a pressing global issue making headlines this year?

Do we have time in our curriculum to pursue issues in real time?

Because that’s what being 1:1, or ‘having Google in your pocket’ is really about: being able to be the learner today’s world needs, today.

I know this sounds lofty, so let me try to propose a few tangible ways to rebrand 21st Century Learning into a model which is remarkably in the moment.

  1. Check out 2015’s CNN heroes.  Which initiatives could you and your students start working on next week? I bet there is at least one that you could remix in the context of your campus.
  2. Do a close audit of the apathy barriers in your community.

Apathy as we think we know it doesn’t actually exist…that we live a world that actively discourages engagement…” (Dave Meslin)

Watch the talk in full here. Identify and have an honest debate with students on the tenets in Meslin’s talk.  Find out what ‘intentional exclusion’ might be in the way of your learners (this includes the teachers).

  3. The PBS Idea Channel is one of my favorite Youtube channels out there. The   episode ‘What is Violence?’ is particularly relevant to me today as I type this post.

I think of violence as the removal of choice. Violence is the interruption of inertia, the removal of possibility and most importantly, of choice.

Critically examine your course outline, is it one which promotes a nonviolent approach to learning?  Is it one where opportunities for inquiry flourish? Or are student questions only given a small sliver of time?

As an educator and former Peace Corps volunteer, I believe that a more student-driven educational system will lead to a preference for nonviolence, and an ability to ‘think we, before me.’

Think about times you have felt aggressive. Did your aggression come from feeling trapped emotionally or physically?

School schedules and systems, as they currently stand in many schools do, to a certain extent confine the learning. In her book,   Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, author and editor Heidi Hayes Jacobs writes:

“Currently we have submitted to the concept that the only thing we can do is what the schedule allows. We think, “I only have 40-minute blocks, so I can only do 40-minute types of activities.” It is no wonder that a school’s schedule becomes the tyrant of boredom. Teachers and students look at the clock as the mechanized referee of an endurance contest.”

Could more flexible and adaptive schools promote a nonviolent approach to conflict, both personal and global?  I think a part of that answer can be unpacked by reading Tag Rei’s piece in Aeon entitled “How Could They?”

It isn’t easy to change a culture of violence. You have to give people the structural, economic, technological and political means to regulate their relationships peacefully. Social groups have to learn to shame and shun anyone who hurts others. But it can be done. It has been done in the past, and it is happening as we speak.

Cultures do change. Globally, violence is on the decline. People everywhere are finding ways to satisfy their moral motives and social-relational aims non-violently. This does not mean our work is finished. People still hurt and kill one another because they believe that it is the right thing to do. But if their primary social groups make them feel that they should not be violent, they won’t be. Once everyone, everywhere, truly believes that violence is wrong, it will end.

I believe schools need to prove that violence isn’t ever anywhere close to being the best option.  We can do this by making room to problem solve a priority in every course, at every age.  This only happens when we make more space in the curriculum.  And we can do that better if schools rethink current systems, Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World has another thought on what that could be:

“What if schools gave classroom teachers and teaching teams the option of three or four full weeks to go into depth on their personal projects, research investigations, creative generation of digital products, and onsite visits? These weeks could be planned throughout the year and would provide an open opportunity to create exciting interactive sessions.”
Natalie Warne’s TED talk is one of my top-three all time favorite TED’s.  I’ve seen it at least twenty times.  As a teacher, the thing that haunts me, is thinking about how much time and flexibility Warne needed to make her inquiry matter.  I have had many ‘Natalie Warners’ come through my classroom.  But I have not done nearly (not nearly) enough to make space for inquiry. If you haven’t seen her speak, take the 12 minutes to do so. “Anonymous Extraordinaries” should be required viewing for all educators.
Do our courses meet 21st Century Learners in this shared moment?
Do schools confine or refine the ambitions of the learners they house?
Do we limit our students to simply being aware of current events?

Or…do we recognize that changing the tone of headline news starts with what the headlines of our course syllabi read?

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Jon S

Newspaper sunny yellow