Yesterday the National Research Council released a report supporting the need to develop what it calls “deeper learning,” drawing on cognitive skills, interpersonal skills, and interpersonal skills. All of this sounds swell, excellent, worthy of doing and endorsing. I’m for it. Yes, yes, yes.
But I could not help but be reminded of something I wrote a few years ago. It was in response to a great hullaballoo about 21st century skills. The hullaballoo grew so insistent and so loud that I did my contrarian thing and decided that what we are really missing in our society is what I thought of as 19th century skills.
I don’t know how different they are from 21 century skills, but they are worth talking about, and I would say, defending.
Everytime I dial a business on the telephone and get one of those endless loops, I find myself missing an earlier era when you could call and actually talk to a human being. When I get extra frustrated with the loop, I start shouting, “Human being, human being.” But that’s not the magic word, so they send me back to the beginning of the loop.
But why stop in middle of the 20th century.
Why not a Partnership for 19th century skills? Here is what I wrote for the Core Knowledge blog in 2009:
The Partnership for 19th Century Skills
I for one have heard quite enough about the 21st century skills that are sweeping the nation. Now, for the first time, children will be taught to think critically (never heard a word about that in the 20th century, did you?), to work in groups (I remember getting a grade on that very skill when I was in third grade a century ago), to solve problems (a brand new idea in education), and so on. Let me suggest that it is time to be done with this unnecessary conflict about 21st century skills. Let us agree that we need all those forenamed skills, plus lots others, in addition to a deep understanding of history, literature, the arts, geography, civics, the sciences, and foreign languages.
But allow me also to propose a new entity that will advance a different set of skills and understandings that are just as important as what are now called 21st century skills. I propose a Partnership for 19th Century Skills. This partnership will advocate for such skills, values, and understandings as:
The love of learning
The pursuit of knowledge
The ability to think for oneself (individualism)
The ability to work alone (initiative)
The ability to stand alone against the crowd (courage)
The ability to work persistently at a difficult task until it is finished (industriousness) (self-discipline)
The ability to think through the consequences of one’s actions on others (respect for others)
The ability to consider the consequences of one’s actions on one’s well-being (self-respect)
The recognition of higher ends than self-interest (honor)
The ability to comport oneself appropriately in all situations (dignity)
The recognition that civilized society requires certain kinds of behavior by individuals and groups (good manners) (civility)
The ability to believe in principles larger than one’s own self-interest (idealism)
The willingness to ask questions when puzzled (curiosity)
The readiness to dream about other worlds, other ways of doing things (imagination)
The ability to believe that one can improve one’s life and the lives of others (optimism)
The ability to speak well and write grammatically, using standard English (communication)
I invite readers to submit other 19th century skills that we should cultivate assiduously among the rising generation, on the belief that doing so will lead to happier lives and a better world.