September 30, 2005

Raw Materials for the Mind (2)

Returning to the subject of this post, a subject which has come up often in my recent conversations, blogs, readings, is this: to what extent should teachers/schools be preparing students for "real world" working experiences, and if so, what kind of real world working skills will they need?

Author Warlick addresses this issue; indeed, it is a main theme of the book.
The fact is that most parents, members of boards of education, or legislators were educated in industrial age schools when it was believed that a majority of our schoolmates would work in industrial age jobs...Admittedly, there are basic skills, and we must assure that those skills are mastered. When I was in school, a literate citizen was one who could read instructions, fill out a job application, and calculate change. Those days are dust.(p27)

He then tells an anecdote about his two young children: his 12-year-old girl was doing some English homework which consisted of sorting nouns into 12 different types. Meanwhile, his 9-year-old son was playing a video game:
He owned a very old Sega Genesis system for which it was nearly impossible to find compatible game cartridges. The only extensive source that my son had found was the local video rental store where he could rent games for three days at a time. The problem - or learning opporunity - was that most of the games came without a manual. Therefore, my son learned to play the game by diving in and exploring it. He had to discover the operation, goals, and rules from within the game and then how to use the rules to accomplish and excel in the goals. I believe that between the two activities, my daughter's work in memorizing a classification of nouns and my son's unguided exploration of a video game, my son was developing skills that will be more relevant to his future, a future of constant change. (p29)

Later, he returns to this theme:
There was recently a discussion on the esteemed WWWEDU mailing list... regarding real world working skills in relation to current educational standards. Jedd Bartlett, of Jedd Bartlett Associates reported a project in his country, New Zealand, where teachers were asked to spend a day shadowing a professional in the workplace. The purpose was to identify and reflect on the skills and knowledge that appear to be most critical to success in their field. The 2001 compliation findings reported the following skills as most critical:
  • information (and information literacy)

  • communication skills

  • problem-solving skills

  • self-management skills and

  • cooperative skills.

The report also found that most professionals learn most of their critical knowledge on the job.
(pp218-9)

Warlick's writing on this issue is cool, calm and collected, knowledgeable and forward-looking. He is obviously excited about the possibilities being presented not only by technological developments and gadgets themselves, but also by a world which is becoming increasingly populated by and reliant on those technological advances. Yet he is not a breathless convert. He has several blogs, but the only one I read regularly is 2 cents' worth, which I highly recommend. He also has a podcast (perhaps several), but annoyingly I can't find the link to it again.

His writing makes a strong contrast to that of another writer I'd like to examine on this blog in later postings: Melanie Phillips.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Hi Marco,

I believe that education needs to subscribe to something significantly higher than merely preparing students for the world of work.

As a teacher, I remember reading through checklists of skills that were purported to be designed to prepare students for the workfroce of tomorrow. Nothing useful came from these checklists, and frankly the lists represented an exercise in creative fiction. At the same time, the marketing propaganda around these "preparing for the workforce" initiatives was quite significant.

I remember hearing Neil Postman say that there are hardly any skills in the world of work that would require an education to prepare for. Perhaps he is right.