Problem-solving, which isn’t so much solving immediate problems but creating solutions, is an essential skill for success today. The “solving” part is really what’s important, because it necessitates an ability to analyze, recognize patterns, draw conclusions, and create solutions. It requires the ability not just to retrieve information, but to sculpt with it.
Today’s schools have been through the rhetorical wringer. They’re “broken”, “failing”, even “obsolete”. Some of these very poisonous labels are, in part, because the school’s mission has changed. Even the lens by which that mission is viewed has shifted. A school is more of a community center than it has ever been, responsible for providing support services, meals, after school programs, and of course, job training. In fact, the focus of schools has shifted in that job training has become the primary mission of schools; preparing students for the jobs of the 21st century. The problem is that many of those jobs don’t yet exist, and as educators are trying to educate themselves about emerging skills and technology, they’re fighting increasing budgetary and programming cuts and waves of standardization to try to do it. It’s not an easy time to be in public education.
One of the solutions has been to arm kids with the latest tools; tablets, laptops, databases, and educational software. The problem, of course, is that these items are primarily implemented in the classroom as information retrieval and information retention devices. The laptop is for “research”, to find out information, then to spit the information out in a pretty Powerpoint presentation. It’s cut and paste learning. There’s no “digestion”; no analysis, no pattern-seeking, no synthesis, no evaluation.
If we’re going to create real solutions for schools and students, it’s going need to start with difficult, often hard-to-quantify, realities. How can schools give kids the skills they need to lead a team toward a particular goal? To invest others in a vision? To build readership or to reach a target market? What skills will our students need to engineer, market, build, or design the future? Yes, learning the basics are important, and that’s what the Common Core Standards and state standardized tests can accomplish. However, truly preparing kids for a world that is being dreamed up right now, will require instruction that isn’t measurable by a multiple choice test. That world will create a demand for kind of brilliance that bubbles just don’t build.