It used to be that we could rely on an education system that created innovators by accident. People that changed the world with new ideas were the exception, not the rule. In his book Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner argues we can no longer afford this approach to doing school.
Developing young people who can solve problems collaborately, think critically, and use knowledge creatively needs to be the explicit goal of education in the US if we are to remain competitive in this ever-globalizing world. The jobs that allowed individuals to use their skills in a routine way that have sustained the middle class are vanishing. Today rather than finding a job, young people need to be prepared to invent their own jobs. At the same time, the availability of widespread information, means it matters less what you know and more what you can create with the knowledge you access.
Wagner quotes one executive who states, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’ ”
For young people to be competitive in the job market and for the US to be competitive in the world, we need to transform education.
So what does that look like?
Check out this excerpt of Thomas Friedman (our #3 thought leader from Friday) interviewing today’s thought leader Tony Wagner.
TF: What do young people need to know today?
TW: Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course, but they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.
TF: So what should be the focus of education reform today?
TW: We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over. Because of this, the longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school. More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.
TF: What does that mean for teachers and principals?
TW: Teachers need to coach students to performance excellence, and principals must be instructional leaders who create the culture of collaboration required to innovate. But what gets tested is what gets taught, and so we need ‘Accountability 2.0.’ All students should have digital portfolios to show evidence of mastery of skills like critical thinking and communication, which they build up right through K-12 and postsecondary. Selective use of high-quality tests, like the College and Work Readiness Assessment, is important. Finally, teachers should be judged on evidence of improvement in students’ work through the year — instead of a score on a bubble test in May. We need lab schools where students earn a high school diploma by completing a series of skill-based ‘merit badges’ in things like entrepreneurship. And schools of education where all new teachers have ‘residencies’ with master teachers and performance standards — not content standards — must become the new normal throughout the system.
TF: Who is doing it right?
TW: Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world, and it is the only country where students leave high school ‘innovation-ready.’ They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have a choice of many electives — all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing. In the U.S., 500 K-12 schools affiliated with Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning Initiative and a consortium of 100 school districts called EdLeader21 are developing new approaches to teaching 21st-century skills. There are also a growing number of ‘reinvented’ colleges like the Olin College of Engineering, the M.I.T. Media Lab and the ‘D-school’ at Stanford where students learn to innovate.
Questions to consider:
1. What examples from classrooms, schools, or programs can you think of that align with the vision Wagner sets forward? What does this transformation look like in action?
2. What systematic changes need to occur for the education to truly cultivate innovators? What shifts do educators need to make our mindsets? In our habits?
3. Wagner suggests that education needs to harness the power of play, passion, and purpose. What are implications of these ideas for education reform? For your classroom or school?