Future Wise

Future Wise

Future Wise

It’s a decision that is made every day, every hour, and every minute teachers are in the classroom as they answer the question, “What’s worth learning?” Teachers are constantly making value judgments and setting priorities as they engage a universe of information and knowledge, focusing on what they believe is most important for students in their learning. In his new book, Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World, Harvard professor David Perkins wonders if we can find a more important question, given the times in which we find ourselves.

Perkins suggests there is not agreement on the answer to this important question. He points out that there are at least six important “beyonds” for us to help students consider in our present situation. We must move:

  • Beyond basic skills—to twenty-first-century skills and dispositions, such as collaboration, critical thinking, and entrepreneurship
  • Beyond traditional disciplines—to hybrid themes such as bioethics, ecology, and challenges of our time
  • Beyond discrete disciplines—to interdisciplinary topics and problems
  • Beyond regional matters—to global perspectives, problems, and citizenship
  • Beyond mastering content—to connecting content to life situations and productive actions
  • Beyond prescribed content—to learner choices in what to study

Any veteran educator would agree with Perkins’s assertion that we teach a lot of unimportant stuff and fail to teach some really important things; this demonstrates the challenge of opportunity cost—we lose benefits from the paths not chosen. He asks us to consider “life-worthy” learning: “learning that is likely to matter in the lives learners are likely to live.” In asking us to apply this definition to our choices in teaching and learning, Perkins essentially raises the question of “What is the purpose of education?” when he suggests that the answer is to “live well and contribute to society.”

How might we “educate for the unknown” and construct a “life-worthy” curriculum? How do we get rid of our “crowded garages” of curriculum? Perkins notes that memorization of cultural literacy information will not get us to where we need to be because the traditional methods we have used just do not align well with our current world. He points out that as our world has gotten smaller, our individual worlds have become larger and more complex. His suggestion is to seek a flexible network structure that is more responsive and expansive in meeting student needs. While he admits there is no ideal curriculum, he suggests focusing on four big understandings in our curriculum design that he believes might move us further toward a life-worthy education for our students. These understandings are:

  • Big in insight—they reveal how our world works
  • Big in action—understanding that empowers us to take action
  • Big in ethics—understanding that encourages us to be more moral, caring, and humane
  • Big in opportunity—understanding that comes up in significant ways in varied circumstances
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