21st century mind could be the basis
of a new approach to education.
Every day we are exposed to huge
amounts of information, disinformation,
and just plain nonsense. The ability to
distinguish fact from factoid, reality
from fiction, and truth from lies is not a
“nice to have” but a “must have” in a
world flooded with so much propaganda and spin.
Human beings already are prone to
think in magical terms; our media-driven social environment has intensified this tendency to live in imaginary
worlds. The celebrity cult replaces real
heroes with made-up ones, much to the
detriment of children’s mental health.
Tragically, far too many young people
experience this manufactured culture as
though it were real.
Critical reflection enables us to see
the world from multiple points of view
and imagine alternate outcomes. For
example, for many years, the dominant
U.S. culture described the settling of the
American West as a natural extension of
manifest destiny, in which people of
European descent were “destined” to
occupy the lands of the indigenous
people. This idea was, and for some still
is, one of our most enduring and
dangerous collective fabrications
because it glosses over human rights
and skirts the issue of responsibility.
Without critical reflection, we will
continually fall victim to such notions.
A second element of the 21st century
mind that we must cultivate is the willingness to abandon supernatural explanations for naturally occurring events.
Floods, famines, and human misfortune
have often been attributed to angry
gods, fate, and fantastic cosmologies
that externalize our locus of control,
The 21st Century Skills Movement
Since 2002, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills has been the leading
advocacy organization in the United States focused on infusing 21st
century skills into education. Its Framework for 21st Century Learning, the
result of a consensus among hundreds of stakeholders, describes the skills,
knowledge, and expertise students need to succeed in work and life.
In their discussions with the partnership about the framework,
; Educators recommended a combination of rigorous courses imparting
both core content knowledge and skills to engage students and increase
; Civic and community groups outlined a set of 21st century skills and
knowledge that citizens in a participatory democracy must possess.
; Business leaders identified skills and knowledge they perceive as essential for success in the workplace.
Four components of the framework describe these skills and knowledge:
1. Core subjects and 21st century themes (such as language arts, mathematics, science, global awareness, and financial literacy).
2. Learning and innovation skills (such as creativity and innovation and
critical thinking and problem solving).
3. Information, media, and technology skills.
4. Life and career skills (such as initiative and self-direction).
Each stakeholder group independently identified these skills, supporting
the need for students to develop deep content knowledge and the ability to
apply that knowledge across disciplines.
To provide educators with concrete solutions from the field, the partnership collaborated with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics,
the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council for the
Social Studies, the National Science Teachers Association, and the National
Council for Geographic Education to craft core subject maps that show
how to infuse 21st century skills into core classes.
In 2005, the partnership began the State Leadership Program. To date,
13 states—Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts,
Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and
Wisconsin—have joined the program. Leadership states develop standards,
assessments, and professional development programs to ensure that
students have the 21st century skills they need. To join, states must demonstrate strong commitment from their governor, superintendent, and other
To successfully face rigorous higher-education coursework and a globally
competitive work environment, schools must align classroom environments
and core subjects with 21st century skills. By combining both skills and
content, educators can impart the expertise required for success in today’s
Paige Johnson is Chair of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. As Global
Manager of K– 12 Education for Intel’s Corporate Affairs Group, she is responsible for the Intel Teach Program, which helps educators integrate computer
technology into teaching and promote 21st century skills.