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Curriculum Opinion

Reflections on 3 of Gary Marx’s 21 Trends for the 21st Century

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 10, 2015 5 min read
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Having spent the last two years focused on the potential for transforming schools by examining schools engaged in a STEM shift, it was with great interest we reviewed Gary Marx’s new book, 21 Trends for the 21st Century: Out of the Trenches and into the Future. His work underscores what we found as we studied school districts and the different paths taken to welcome 21st century designs into their schools. Had his book been published before ours went to press, we surely would have included its perspective. Marx’s 21 trends offer a framework and guidance to prepare our schools for this century. Here we share thoughts on just three:


    • In a series of tipping points, majorities will become minorities, creating ongoing challenges for social cohesion.


    • Millennials will insist on solutions to accumulated problems and injustices and will profoundly impact leadership and lifestyles.


    • Ubiquitous, interactive technologies will shape how we live, how we learn, how we see ourselves, and how we relate to the world.
    • Identity and privacy issues will lead to an array of new and often urgent concerns and a demand that they be resolved.

College and Career Ready vs Test Ready
The first two decades of this century have turned education into a political football. With the 2016 upcoming elections and intensity in sate legislatures and governor’s offices, this will likely intensify. The struggle to meet the needs of all learners will continue. Currently, Common Core and tests aside, we are focused on “preparing students for realities of the 21st century workplace” (Marx. p.14). Unfortunately, where all this leads some is a jump from a vertically planned spiraling of academic and behavioral expectations, social development, solo and collaborative learning opportunities, and performance assessments to a stress on memorization of information and standardized test prep as early as kindergarten.

Educators know that the pull toward teaching for test good results is not good education nor will it prepare any student to be college and career ready. We agree with Superintendent James Lane of Goochland County Public Schools who shared,

We want the performance-based assessments to be the major focus of how we assess whether students are doing well. We want the growth assessment to be a by-product of teaching the right way (Myers & Berkowicz p.85).

We Will All Be Equal If...
It is worth restating the fact that twenty-eight years from now, by 2043, “every racial or ethnic group will become a minority” (Marx. p. 15 Guide). What does that mean in terms of how we relate to each other as individuals, as groups and within communities and the nation? This is obviously happening in some communities much faster than in others. Urban centers are already exhibiting these characteristics. The issue is relevant for all who are working toward preparing students for college and career. How are these young people being developed to be college and career ready, to be in workplaces in a nation where no one is in the majority? What power of moral responsibility does this add to closing the achievement gap. Marx suggests that if we don’t figure this out , we will experience problems with “social cohesion.” Aren’t we already seeing that possibility appear? Are we not hearing the angry voices of those for whom the opportunity to grow up with equal opportunities for success is not available? For better or worse, for right or wrong, public education in America is the place where opportunities are realized or aborted. We set the path for the future to be one of separation of people and division of classes or an inclusive society where lines can be crossed with hard work. What we do now for these children matters for a life time... and beyond. There is no acceptable societal alternative to closing of the achievement gap. The key to possibilities for the future is in our hands.

STEM: Marx Opens the Door
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. By now that is a common understanding of the acronym. But if STEM becomes only the prioritization of secondary school subjects, it may not serve as the antidote we need to perpetuation of the achievement gap. It will do the reverse as it creates a specialized set of opportunities for students who arrive in secondary schools strong in those subjects.

As we teach everything from STEM to social studies, civic education, and the arts, we generally need to align with revolutionary changes in how new generations of students get and process information (Marx, p. 42)

Marx hints at the need for the design of learning opportunities to change to meet the 21st century student in the way that receiving, discovering and processing information takes place for them now. This is true in all subjects on all levels, beginning in kindergarten.

We are convinced that STEM subjects can take down walls, rather than build them higher and more impenetrable. The interdisciplinary nature of those four subjects offers opportunity for creating models of inquiry, curiosity, understanding, and application to take place in ways that they take place in the real world. They exist in the world in web like connections, not as separate entities. They make sense when taught in the service of eachother, revealing their interconnectedness through the active learning, discovery, sense making and performing knowledge. It invites even the academically weaker ones into the learning process and finds a place for the gifts of all to contribute. Done well, it makes learning an inviting place, offering teachers opportunities to intervene and support those who are strong and those who are weak...and use the motivated attention this type of learning environment provokes to move all children forward...and narrow the achievement gap. Beginning early, this increases the possibility for more students to be prepared to make choices for college and career that are not limited by their inabilities.

Emphasizing STEM+: Science, technology, engineering and math are vitally important, but a fully educated, employable member of civil society needs more (Marx. p. 126).

When STEM is used in districts to re-examine the way subjects are taught, with their application as the foundation, and the natural ways social studies, the arts, and physical education interact with the STEM subjects, schools can leverage what they do and address Marx’s 21 trends, each and every one of them. Ethics, civility, working with others, caring for others, openness of disparate points of view, understanding intergenerational and interracial capacities, perspectives and needs, are all facets of become college and career ready these days.

Marx, Gary (2014). 21 Trends for the 21st Century. Bethesda, Maryland: Education Week Press

Marx, Gary (2014). A Guide to 21 Trends for the 21st Century. Bethesda, Maryland: Education Week Press

Myers, A. & Berkowicz, J. (2015). The STEM Shift. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin


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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.