Opinion
Student Achievement Opinion

Is Next Gen Learning a Political Act?

By Andy Calkins — November 02, 2018 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Is next gen learning a political act? Here’s what I say: No. It’s not. It shouldn’t be. It can’t be.

But I can’t believe how much I struggled to feel clear about this.

What are the essential elements of next gen learning, after all? Look at these three:


  • Developing agency and capability in others--students and educators alike--by giving up and distributing control, rather than harboring it in traditional, hierarchical ways that produce mindless compliance and rule-following
  • Facilitating active inquiry and open-mindedness in learning, rather than passive absorption of content with little room for questioning and exploring
  • Proactively embracing diversity as a fact of the modern world and an opportunity for learning, rather than a threat to learning that must be repelled

I list these three not because we have cooked them up in a conference room with a whiteboard. I list them because they (among other elements) genuinely reflect the profile of next gen learning that is emerging from Next Generation Learning Challenges’ national community of educators and school designers. Educators across the country, in all kinds of communities and in all kinds of states, are leading the way on this.

These next gen learning approaches are designed to enable students’ development of the capabilities and dispositions they need--and that our country and the world needs them to have--in order to face the complex challenges of the world they are inheriting. These competencies, which NGLC summarizes in our MyWays Project research, reflect a vision that all of us instinctively hold. It’s what Grant Lichtman points to in his book Moving the Rock as the one ideal that is universally held across all of our divisions--political, religious, racial: all parents want whatever their children need in order to fulfill their highest potential.

Academics. Employability. Wellness. Citizenship.

A Wisconsin school leader I met this year organizes and communicates what her school is all about using those four terms. They are the dimensions of child and youth development that everyone understands and no one would argue against:


  • Sufficiently strong academic skills and core knowledge
  • 21st-century competencies--collaborating, communicating, creating, learning--that employers want and that budding entrepreneurs (I would add) all need
  • Healthy social and emotional habits and the strength to address trauma and overcome all manner of societal ills including substance abuse and bullying
  • Understanding the hallmarks and workings of democracy in the United States and the responsibilities of belonging to a community

Right? These are goals for every child that everyone and every community can get behind. There’s no convincing necessary, because these are already the concerns of every parent--and everyone else who’s thinking about the future well-being of their community.

Next gen learning--with its essential elements of developing agency, facilitating active inquiry, and proactively embracing diversity--is simply a means to those ends. A better name for next gen learning would simply be: learning. Maybe effective learning. It is learning that is built on the science of human development, on what we all know to be powerful learning from our own personal experiences of it, and on what we know young adults need in order to thrive in a rapidly changing world. Instead of learning that is built around century-old ideas prioritizing efficiency, use of a single mode of learning (direct instruction), and age-based batch processing of children.

Our national politics are toxic right now. They are a black hole that consumes and perverts every issue, no matter how nuanced and complex, into tribal battle slogans. But at the local level, as James and Deborah Fallows point out in their excellent 2018 book, Our Towns, good things are happening. Cities and towns from Holland, Michigan, to Chester, Montana, and from Guymon, Oklahoma, to Burlington, Vermont, are reimagining and reinventing themselves, using every available local resource--including their local public schools.

This vibrancy is happening in part because the progress taking hold in these places is non-political. The more vibrant the community, the Fallows write, the less likely it was for national politics to even come up in their conversations with the people of those communities.

This vibrancy is where the future of our public schools--and, let’s say it, the future of the nation--lies. What’s unfolding across the nation in the dynamism and personal and collective agency of ground-up community development is no different from the vibrant, exploratory, agency- and skill-building learning environment every child should experience in his or her public schools. There’s plenty of room for leadership, structure, problem-solving, honest debate, and for learning from mistakes in these kinds of communities and classrooms. There’s just no role--and no appetite--for political toxicity.

Learning, I now understand, is the antithesis of our troubled national politics. Ultimately, it will also have to serve as its antidote.


Image by Next Generation Learning Challenges, with photo by Stephen Marc on Pixabay.
Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Next Gen Learning in Action are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Achievement Schools Straddle the Pandemic and Familiar Headwinds in Quest to Boost Quality
The latest Quality Counts summative grades show stubbornly average performance by the nation's schools overall, despite pockets of promise.
1 min read
Illustration of C letter grade
Getty
Student Achievement Spotlight Spotlight on Learning Gaps
In this Spotlight, analyze where learners – and educators – are in their learning process; see what other leaders are planning, and more.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Whitepaper
The Tutoring Solution: Exclusive Survey Findings
A white paper commissioned by Kelly Education and published by the EdWeek Research Center finds that parents and educators alike are on b...
Content provided by Kelly Education
Student Achievement Quiz Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About Student Achievement?
Quiz Yourself: How is your district doing with student achievement?