Friday, February 27, 2009

Thinking about the 'Doomed Pedagogical Fad'

Ken Kay is on the ASCD blog today, so inevitably, a topic of discussion is Jay Mathews' January Washington Post piece on the 'doomed fad' of teaching 21st century skills.

Webblog-ed had an eloquent response to the column back when it came out. I don't think I can add much to his critique. Though I've found it sort of astounding over the last two months -- as the original piece has made the rounds on the web -- that Mathews would never have considered the irony in writing an article critical of 21st century skills that requires those same skills to deconstruct it.

Hundreds of comments have been filed on this piece. Is Mr. Mathews really still wondering if people understand how to use the Internet?

When Mathews nearly brags concerning his own short-career as a student in a college science class that:

My final exam would be applauded today by promoters of 21st-century skills. We had to plot a course on a Boston Harbor cruise ship, strategizing, analyzing, collaborating. I don't recall understanding any of what was going on, but I turned something in. As I expected, I got a good grade and a bachelor's degree, despite learning no science.

...he demonstrates that he has no idea of what 21st century skills are.

Plotting a course on a cruise ship via pen and paper back in the Dark Ages when Mr. Mathews was in college doesn't qualify as a '21st century skill'. Mathews' admission that he 'didn't recall any of what was going on, yet turned something in anyway' seems more representative of the filing of this piece of reactive schlock in the Washington Post than it does of a bygone take-home test.

I guess Mr. Mathews did learn something in that class.

Mathews says that he's 'nervous whenever I hear of some brilliant new teaching method that is going to sweep our students into a new century'. Well, Jay, it's not the teaching method that's sweeping our students into a new century -- it's our teaching methods that are now playing catch-up to where our new century has already swept our students.

To top it all off, Mathews ends with the tired trope that:

In our poorest neighborhoods, we still have some of our weakest teachers, either too inexperienced to handle methods like modeling instruction or too cynical to consider 21st-century skills anything more than another doomed fad. There might be a way to turn them around, but if there isn't, instead of engaged and inspired students, we will have just one more big waste of time.

All the more reason to get authentic 21st century learning into our classrooms. Because it's not gonna be Jay Mathews who saves those poor neighborhoods, it's gonna be the best and brightest of our creatively skilled and locally/globally connected 21st century students.

And they're gonna need skills.


  1. I clicked on the links and gave up my reading when the author used the term victims instead of students. That author doesn't deserve my valuable reading time.

    However, I work in one of the poorer neighborhoods. I am more than equiped to "model instruction" and not cynical yet.

    The real problem to teaching in poor neighborhoods is circumstance. How can a student focus on reading when they didn't eat dinner or breakfast? How can they do a math problem when they are worred about where they will be sleeping? How can families be involved when they are working two jobs in a single parent home? How can....

    As you can see this is whole different blog. I invite anyone into my classroom to see how we are overcoming these obsticles on a daily basis.

  2. I feel obligated to read newspapers because I teach in a branch of journalism. But I feel Knaus' pain...and I too disagree with Matthews on several levels.

    The problem with his college example is that he DIDN'T CARE ABOUT THE CLASS IN THE FIRST PLACE!! He spends a great deal of valuable column space admitting to it! Of COURSE he wouldn't remember much from that class! I believe our students would behave the same way, towards a class they don't care about, and a subject matter they would never use again.

    I'm also with Knaus about poor neighborhoods. I admit, I spend a lot of my own money on food for my students, instead of technology.

    I also question Matthews' observations of new teachers. We are not too "inexperienced" when it comes to new technology; we're the ones who actually KNOW how to use it! We don't have access to it, and can't bring it on campus due to the high theft-rate, but being tech-savvy, that we're good at. Our cynicism stems from the pipe-dream of ever being able to obtain the technology in our classroom.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.