Ok, this one is low-hanging fruit on my "War on Words" but a series of posts on words and phrases in education that have lost their meaning today would be incomplete without it. I am talking about "21st Century __________" (fill in the blank with whichever you like: classroom, pedagogy, learning, etc.).
I have written before about how troublesome this term is so I won't go to the trouble of repeating myself. The troublesomeness of the term has been enough to spawn an exhaustive list of articles, speeches, talks, and blog posts on the subject by others. Here are just a few of them:
- Diane Ravitch - The Partnership for 19th Century Skills
- Alfie Kohn - When “21st-Century Schooling” Just Isn’t Good Enough: A Modest Proposal
- Collection of Posts on Scott McLeod's blog, Dangerously Irrelevant: Reconciling standards- and data-driven accountability with 21st century skills – Wrap-up
- Evan Abbey - 21st Century Skills = fluff?
Problem with this term primarily, for those of you who wish not to follow any of these links, is at least two-fold. First, it no longer is used as a term to describe our present, recent past, and near future but for those who use and understand the buzz-word connotation, the term is used to describe a learning environment that values hands-on activities, authentic assessment, critical thinking, and problem solving. I have no problem with any of these connotations, in fact I openly promote all of them. The problem is, what the "Partnership for 21st Century Skills" has done to the phrase "21st Century" has shifted it's meaning and in that shift many people have not been briefed about the change. So, the result is that you have educators (especially grant writers, administrators, and board members) using the term in an attempt to sound progressive and applying it to things that are anything but progressive. Interactive whiteboard initiatives are just one example but there are countless others.
So, I have to include "21st Century" as a term to avoid and one that has lost it's meaning. It is probably best to just use the language you would use to explain what you mean by "21st Century" instead of using the term itself because at this point no one will know what you really mean.
This post is seventh in my "war on words" series. Other terms in this series are: "best practices," "child-centered," "value added," accountability, "data-driven decisions," and "learning objectives."