Monday, January 31, 2011

What can the revolution in Egypt teach us about 21st century learning?

It has been a dramatic week in the world. I've found it hard to stay focused on education issues while revolution has spread across north Africa from Tunisia to Egypt and Yemen. It is not every day that hundreds of thousands of ordinary people take history into their hands, but when they do they have the capacity for incredible change.

The media has made much of the use of twitter, Facebook and other electronic tools to organize during these uprisings. But to understand what is happening, it's historical import and what to think about it requires skills far beyond the ability to enter your latest tweet. Rather, some old fashioned twentieth century skills are in order, I believe, for today's global citizens.

Perhaps we should inform our development of 21st century learning on a late 19th century thinker - John Dewey. Wikipedia describes briefly his conception of the relationship between democracy and education:

In his advocacy of democracy, Dewey considered two fundamental elements—schools and civil society—as being major topics needing attention and reconstruction to encourage experimental intelligence and plurality. Dewey asserted that complete democracy was to be obtained not just by extending voting rights but also by ensuring that there exists a fully formed public opinion, accomplished by effective communication among citizens, experts, and politicians, with the latter being accountable for the policies they adopt.

That public opinion, first developed and fostered in public schools, is an essential feature of democracy. Rather than the ability to score well on standardized tests, we should be developing the capacity to inquire, question and analyze. Rather than focus on the work skills needed for the 21st century, we should focus on the citizenship skills for the 21st century.

Here is another educational philosopher I hope we all turn to in guidance for 21st century learning, Paolo Freire:

"Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."

Let's hope the incredible events shaking the middle east open a discussion about citizenship and democracy and the tranformative role of our education system here at home.

1 comment:

  1. A timely injunction! Sadly, though, analyses of current events often don't trickle through very well. For one thing, many curricula are presumed to be too full to make room for these unpredictables. Otherwise, many teachers aren't necessarily well-informed themselves. And even educational programs designed to inculcate critical media literacies often seem to maintain students' dependence on mainstream media and encourage 'apathetic caring' - a hollow 'caring' in which it is assumed that caring is possible but changing is not.

    On an institutional and national level, education which facilitates critical citizenship practices isn't exactly conducive to 'order' or established regimes of power.

    Along those lines, wouldn't it be nice if Freire were more widely used as a referent for ethical teaching?