A few years ago, John Taylor Gatto, multiple-time New York City Teacher of the Year and one-time New York State Teacher of the Year, wrote a scandalous, revolutionary, irreverent article about what schools should teach students.
He starts the article by listing a set of 10 critical skills suggested by one of the schools at Harvard (“perhaps the School of Government,” he ponders). Here is the list:
- The ability to define problems without a guide.
- The ability to ask hard questions that challenge prevailing assumptions.
- The ability to work in teams without guidance.
- The ability to work absolutely alone.
- The ability to persuade others that your course is the right one.
- The ability to discuss issues and techniques in public with an eye to reaching decisions about policy.
- The ability to conceptualize and reorganize information into new patterns.
- The ability to pull what you need quickly from masses of irrelevant data.
- The ability to think inductively, deductively and dialectically.
- The ability to attack problems heuristically.*
* You probably should check out the meaning of this word if you were to learn, well, heuristically. If you did that, you would learn that heuristic relates to “a method of teaching that encourages learners to discover solutions for themselves.” Ironic, no?
Such skills certainly would be difficult to quantify or grade in the traditional school system.
Of course, these skills are not only helpful in school or in someone’s professional life, they also would be very helpful in anybody’s personal life. If you feel that you were not taught some of these skills in school, then your challenge is to learn them on your own.
I do think that many vet schools teach some of these skills, and in that sense we are very fortunate. But what about other schools? What is taught to kids under say, 18 years of age?
Princeton University (New Jersey) has its own list of what makes a person educated. I could summarize or paraphrase it, but I’m afraid I would do readers a disservice by doing so. Here is the entire list:
- The ability to think, speak and write clearly.
- The ability to reason critically and systematically.
- The ability to conceptualize and solve problems.
- The ability to think independently.
- The ability to take initiative and work independently.
- The ability to work in cooperation with others and learn collaboratively.
- The ability to judge what it means to understand something thoroughly.
- The ability to distinguish the important from the trivial, the enduring from the ephemeral.
- Familiarity with the different modes of thought (including quantitative, historical, scientific and aesthetic.)
- Depth of knowledge in a particular field.
- The ability to see connections among disciplines, ideas and cultures.
- The ability to pursue life-long learning.
I especially love the last time, life-long learning. One of the thoughts that motivated this blog is a conversation I recently had with a teenager. We were talking about the benefits of reading. His concept of reading is checking his text messages and spending time on Facebook. He actually told me: “Well, I’m done reading books for this year, I just finished my English lit class.”
I didn’t know what to say. It was such a silly and short-sighted statement, I was speech-less. What would you tell this kid?
There are similar lists, such as one from George Wyth College’s (Utah). It includes “The ability to keep one’s life in proper balance” and “The ability and discipline to constantly improve.” Remember, this was not written by some self-improvement guru. This is about what to learn in school.
If you were not fortunate to learn some of these skills, the good news is that you still can. Remember, education is a life-long process.
What can we learn from these wonderful platforms? The consensus seems to be that “educated” people should have learned skills to be able to cope with “situations” throughout their lives. Education goes beyond a few letters after your name. The true test is not one that is graded.
The real test is life.