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February 14, 2011
February 18, 2011
March 07, 2011
The other day I noted that an expert panel had decided, according to Education Week, that “the skills considered necessary for the 21st-century workplace” were “critical thinking and analytic reasoning,” “teamwork and complex communications,” and “resiliency and conscientiousness.” I was skeptical, not because those aren’t important skills, but because they didn’t have much to do with the twenty-first century.
Who better to speak to contemporary American youth than one of the nation's most prolific inventors and entrepreneurs?
Photo by Andrew Malone.
Then along came an email from Dee Selvaggi, a former member of a New Jersey school board and a contributor to The BEV Challenge, recommending “a very interesting book,” Benjamin Franklin on Education (edited by John Hardin Best, Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1962). Wrote Dee, Franklin’s “concern [was] about the content presented to youth so they could function well in the new contemporary America.”
Who better to speak to contemporary American youth than one of the nation’s most prolific inventors and entrepreneurs? According to Franklin,
And Franklin proposed a curriculum for the youth of Pennsylvania both “useful” and “ornamental”:
Such a refreshing approach to education—and to the meaning of “useful.”
Franklin proposed too that,
Indeed, wrote Franklin, “the general natural Tendency of Reading good History, must be, to fix in the Minds of Youth deep Impressions of the Beauty and Usefulness of Virtue of all Kinds, Publick Spirit, Fortitude, &c.”
Have we changed all that much since Franklin? Of course, without the hindsight of history, how would we know? If, as a former state commissioner of education once told my school district’s teachers, “we must look only to the future,” how could we possibly appreciate the fact that “reading good history” could be a useful “virtue of all kinds”? By some twenty-first-century standards, the rollout of Google is ancient history; to others, it’s a data point on the long march toward a “more perfect” union.
In an era saturated with buzzwords and acronyms—STEM, critical thinking, twenty-first-century skills—and our new concerns about meritocracy and social mobility, it is nice to be reminded of the importance of the original great thinkers; we might learn something.