Monday, January 23, 2012

The Most Important 21st Century Skill

John T. Spencer

Joel approaches me timidly. It's a rare weekend where I have no other choice than to work on school-related projects. He senses my frustration, so he whispers his request, "Dad, can we pick oranges and make orange juice?"

"Maybe later. I have to get this done," I respond.

He comes back five minutes later and I tell him, "Later means really later, okay?"

Christy calls him aside and says, "I'll help you. Daddy needs to work."

Something in the gentleness of her tone and the emphasis on the word "need" that pulls me from the office. I shut the laptop and put on my tennis shoes. It takes me a few minutes to adjust to the sun on my face and the cold air on my hands. But with every orange we snatch from the tree, I am forgetting about the website I need to develop or the videos I need to edit.

Brenna joins us. She picks thirteen oranges, but each time she counts, she stops at eleven. "I have eleven," she says to anyone willing to listen - to me, to Joel, to Micah, to the dog and to Micah's Papa Bear.

It feels like magic when the twirling machine converts each orange into juice. Joel is obsessed with technique and Micah is trying to figure out the mechanics, but Brenna is simply delighted to press down on each orange and watch the juice flow from the spout.

*     *     *

When I think about the skills I want my students to acquire, I often say things like, "think globally and act locally" or "recover a sense of the terrestrial reality around them."  Or sometimes I talk of sustainability and organic learning and growth and . . . what I really mean is I want them to learn what it means to shut off the devices, walk outside and pick oranges or plant a garden or study a sunset.

I want my students to figure out what matters in life and then have the courage, patience and endurance to live accordingly. The greatest twenty-first century skill is simply this: to learn to live well.

Mumford and Sons say it best:
Where you invest your love, you invest your life.


  1. That's a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. This is a great lesson for us to hear and do some reflection.

  3. ah. lovely John.
    love to Christy... for her gentle usage of the word ...needs.
    and to you... for noticing it.

    1. She's amazing, that way. I've learned gentleness from her.

  4. John,

    Great reminder..and quite timely for me.

    How was the juice?

    1. Thanks! The juice was so-so. I'm not a fan of pulp. But it was sweet and it was thick and it was real.

  5. Thank you for sharing that experience. I face it over and over again in my own life. It is so difficult sometimes to "see" past the tyranny of the urgent and focus on what will REALLY matter in the long run.

    1. I struggle with it, too. It's hard to choose the important over the urgen.

  6. Thank you for sharing this important and lovely story!

  7. Thank you for reminding me of a timeless message in this current time - make real time for what really matters. The tech teacher at our school recently shared this video titled Disconnect to Connect.


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