Theory and Philosophy

Education for the 21st Century

The educated man in the 19th Century was expected to have strong skills in handwriting, arithmetic, spelling, and memory.  And rightfully Education concentrated on teaching those skills.  The 20th Century automated those skills, , but primary education continues to use those 19th Century skills as “basic”.  You must learn these first before you can move on.   But do you.

I wrote this in 1990 and it states my vision today as well as it did then.

A major goal of the 20th century has been automation and streamlining of the 19th Century. The major goal of Education in the 20th Century seems to have been the preservation of 19th Century obsolescence. The traditional "3 R's" of Education need to be modified and a new set of Educational Basics developed if our children are to become effective workers in the 21st Century.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic were the basic tools of 19th Century education.  Reading is the most important of these, now as it was then.  It is so important that it will be treated in detail as the last section of this concept note.

Writing is a skill that includes two components: the creation of the thought, and the conversion of that thought so others can share it.  In the 19th Century penmanship was essential if those thoughts were to be shared and handwriting was a course in itself.  In the 21st Century keyboarding has replaced handwriting and is the most effective way to share one’s thoughts.

Writing has frequently been used as a punishment.  And we wonder why students do not like to write.  A keyboard is much easier to use than paper and pencil, especially when it comes to revisions. The purpose of writing is communication.  Let the student concentrate on that communication, using a keyboard.  Then teach them to handwrite that content.

This does not mean that hand written material does not have value in its own right.  But handwriting is secondary to content and should be taught separately from creative writing.  After the student has created work on a keyboard, transfer the meaning to paper and pencil.

At what age can a baby learn to push a key?
At what age can a baby learn to write a letter with a pencil?

The employer in the 21st Century wants employees with 21st Century skills.  19th Century skills are secondary. They would prefer someone who could keyboard to someone who had good hand writing.  The spreadsheet is one of the most widely used programs across almost all industries.  But education stresses paper and pencil arithmetic.  The World Wide Web has made memorization a thing of the past. Handwriting, spelling bees, and rote memory can be called “unnecessary goods”.  Estimable skills but not essential to the workplace.

In the 19th Century if you could not do arithmetic you could not move forward in Science. In the 21st Century arithmetic has been automated.  Teach children estimation and it will replace arithmetic.  Accurate Estimation means that the estimate is close, for example within 10% of the actual.  In most things we do, that works fine.  We estimate 15% when we leave a tip.  How many rolls of cloth are needed?  But when we need the exact answer for business, the accountant uses a computer.

By eliminating Arithmetic, Estimation is best developed within a spreadsheet. It is a flexible platform from which math and science taught with arithmetic invisible.  And most importantly, arithmetic is a major cause of mathematics and science phobias.   Eliminate that stumbling block and there will be an increase in STEM students. 

The second most devastating blockade to education is the “standardized test”.  A test attempts to predict what a student would do in the real world.  Project based learning IS the real world.  A student gets completes a task and is evaluated by authentic assessment, rather than test score.

The most devastating blockade is one that has handcuffed our education system since the Phoenicians.  They invented the concept of building a word from individual letters.  This is akin to movable type in printing word, it allowed sequencing letters into a meaningful word with a pen, same as in a printing press.  They added a twist that the sound of the letters was equivalent to the sound of the spoken word.  They had a perfectly phonetic language.  The Prime example since it was created by Phoenicians.

The Education Establishment decided that we teach reading by starting with the alphabet and the sound of letters.  The children learn their ABCs and sound out words.  This works for about 80% of children.  The rest we call Dyslexic.  The ESF approach is to postpone the alphabet until the child is ready to write.

The phonetic decoding approach asks the child to say the word so they can use comprehension of the spoken word to decode the written word.  Round about, but 80% of children learn to do it.  Phonetic decoding depends on the child understanding the spoken word.  This comprehension is most often prompting by a parent; for example, the spoken word cat, and point to the cat.  The critical point is that they learned the whole word, not the sounds that made up the word.  So, let it be with reading.  When a mother says "cat" and points to a cat, show the word "cat" at the same time.  Babies will read before they can speak.  They will come to school reading and writing.





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