Education Letter to the Editor

‘21st-Century Skills': Ban It, or Rename It?

February 03, 2009 1 min read

To the Editor:

National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” used to have occasional segments in which the host and a guest would decide what terms had been so overused they should be forbidden. Right now, I’m ready to dump “global economy,” “at the end of the day,” and “chops,” as in “he/she’s got the chops.”

I was ready to toss “21st-century skills” until I was skimming your recent article on the topic and found it familiar-sounding (“ ‘21st-Century Skills’ Focus Shifts W.Va. Teachers’ Role,” Jan. 7, 2009). Then I decided we could keep the concept, but just rename it. Let’s call it Progressive Education, or Digital Dewey, or The Reincarnation of William Heard Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick, one of John Dewey’s colleagues, wrote “The Project Method” for the September 1918 Teachers College Record. Whatever we choose to call it, the idea describes a much healthier approach to education than “scripted curriculum” or “passing rate.”

It all brings to mind another term that falls in and out of favor: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Gerald W. Bracey

Port Townsend, Wash.

A version of this article appeared in the February 04, 2009 edition of Education Week as ‘21st-Century Skills': Ban It, or Rename It?