“Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him” (Genesis 8:18). There’s that verse again. Our call, as God’s people in education, is to be a blessing to the world.
In Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith, the authors write, “We will explore the contradictions between what students must do to earn a high school or college degree versus what makes them most likely to succeed in the world of work, citizenship, and lifelong learning. We’ll show what can and must be done to transform education for the twenty-first century and provide examples of best practices in high schools and colleges around the country. And we’ll emphasize the urgency of affecting change.” In other words, the authors present their vision for how educators can be a blessing to the world, albeit from a different motivation. Still, it is worth it to ask ourselves, “For what world are we preparing our students?”
Listen to Harvard University President Drew Faust: “…many of today’s students will hold jobs that have not yet been invented, deploying skills not yet defined. We not only need to equip them with the ability to answer the questions relevant to the world we now inhabit; we must also enable them to ask the right questions to shape the world to come. We need education that nurtures judgment as well as mastery, ethics and values as well as analysis. We need learning that will enable students to interpret complexity, to adapt and make sense of lives never anticipated. We need a way of teaching that encourages them to develop understanding of those different from themselves, enabling constructive collaborations across national and cultural origins and identities” (from Calvin College President Michael Le Roy’s President’s Report, 2016). Shaping the world, nurturing judgment, interpreting complexity, collaborating constructively: how are we doing?
From a biblical worldview perspective, if we are to be a blessing to the world, we must be educating for the world in which our students will be living, not for a world in which their grandparents thrived.
Wagner and Dintersmith detail the failings of an educational system designed to meet the needs of the industrial era. According to Most Likely to Succeed, our current system seeks to meet the demands of an antiquated standardized testing process (itself based in industrial era criteria) and the college admissions process. Neither results in Faust’s vision for educational excellence. The above restraints will not soon disappear, so how does an educational leader navigate this environment?
With help from Wagner and Dintersmith, I suggest the following as a place to begin: incorporate the four Cs of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication throughout all grades and disciplines. Each of these Cs is necessary (although likely not sufficient) for influencing and transforming the workplace and the world of the future. While students seem to demonstrate some innate ability in these areas, all students benefit from further developing these skills.
Collaboration: Working with people of diverse perspectives to reach consensus and/or solve real life problems is essential not only for the modern and future workplace, but for civic and social life in general.
Creativity: Innovation is the engine of current and future economic and social progress and depends on creativity. The amount of current educational practice that actually stifles creativity is frightening.
Critical thinking: As Wagner and Dintersmith demonstrate, facts and knowledge are almost entirely commodities in this information age. Accessing knowledge has become commonplace, but collaborating to use and apply it creatively and critically is the challenge. Critical thinking is a skill that needs to be developed and nurtured.
Communication: The ability to communicate enhances the utility of all of the above. If students are to communicate their ideas and solutions clearly and effectively, they need practice doing so to authentic audiences.
If we as God’s called people are to be a blessing to the world, we need to be effective in that world. That world has been changing for some time. Our challenge goes beyond enabling our students to be effective in the economic marketplace. Our challenge goes to the very foundation of our cause as Christian educators.
– Bart Den Boer, worldview specialist