Everybody needs that list. That sticky note stuck on the door of their refrigerator, reminding them of the most important things before they leave the house each day. Many is the time when I’ve returned from what I believed was a successful expedition into “town” to gather supplies only to discover when I walked into the living room, and my wife asked if I remembered to get certain items, I had forgotten even the very things that had caused the trip to happen in the first place. Why? Because I didn’t write it down. Not me. Didn’t need to. I had placed the items in my steel-trap mind . And now, there I stand in the middle of the living room, with no paper towels and green peppers, debating whether I should try to convince her there is a paper and pepper shortage or just turn around and head back to the village market. I need remembrances and reminders. I need to write it down. I need that short list.

I’m a proponent of 21st century education. But it gets confusing when discussing this at times because I start hearing a lot of things that aren’t even supposed to be a part of “21st century education”. So let me clarify. This won’t take long. And, since I know that even though I write it doesn’t mean anyone has to read it, I’m probably just clarifying it for myself……just to make sure I understand what I mean when I say “I’m a proponent of 21st century education.” I need my short list to keep with me when I leave the house because there’s a lot of distractions out there and I might forget why I left the house in the first place.

I believe that anyone can learn. I’ve worked with all age groups and types of people and I’ve always been fascinated at the neurological process of learning. We are supposed to learn. The saddest state is one in which a person, even an educator, refuses to learn. Learning creates change and good things come from learning. I care much more about the learning process than the teaching process.

We are currently living in a new land of opportunity where the gold we seek lies just below the surface. This century offers opportunities for learners that have never existed before. We have to stop politicizing the advancement of technology and start leveraging what it can do for us. Digital immigrants, my generation and the generations immediately surrounding my generation, are typically in control of how we deploy technology. Students, digital natives, were born into a world that is infused with technology and it’s a natural part of their life. They wait for us to get over ourselves.

Future historical records will most likely note that we, as adults, wasted a lot of time getting to a comfort level where we could “trust” these strange new inventions simply because they weren’t around when we went to school. Make no mistake, technology can do some things for good educational practice that a teacher cannot do. So to even spend much more time debating the need to form an aggressive plan to utilize technology in a disruptive and systemic way to transform our entire educational frontier is wasted time.

However, while we slowly make our way into a 21st century educational platform, meddlers get in the way. Some use the term “21st century” to spread a huge blanket over everything and attempt to eliminate crucial elements of good education that aren’t, and shouldn’t be, obsolete or outdated. Some things are timeless. So much of the world our kids are growing up in has changed. But so much of the world our kids are growing up in shouldn’t change, ever.

Classical education content has always been the foundation we should strive for when we teach current and future generations. Some things don’t change and classical content, what kids should know, has to be protected. The studies connected to ancient civilizations, Latin and other languages, classical literature, the Trivium, have been the heart of education for centuries and just because it’s now the 21st century doesn’t change that.

Some mistakenly think that classical education only defines a methodology. The “way we teach”. The thought is that “classical” only means structured, disciplined, rigid teacher-driven methods with a rap on the knuckles of any student not paying attention. “Sit straight and pay attention, son. I’m talking.” That’s not even close to what I mean when I say “classical”.

Classical education is, first and foremost,content; rich in historical, proven and time-honored knowledge that teaches truth, beauty, goodness, character and wisdom. We should be changing our methods but we have to protect the content. And that’s where the wheels come off. Meddlers want to tell us that “21st century” means that everything changes. Nope. Not everything.

A student in the 21st century still needs a classical education and that won’t change just because tools and resources progress and innovate our process. Rewrite, rethink and reform the old methodologies that won’t work for today’s student. Rework and restructure the systems that hinder kids from receiving a personalized educational opportunity. But leave the classical content alone. What kids should know is timeless and should remain in place to ensure the passing of classical education to next generations. Put your hands to the plow to change the system but keep your hands off the content.

I appreciate the terms “rigor”, “critical thinking” and “higher order thinking”. Some, though, using those terms, don’t know what they mean, don’t know how to define them and use them as buzzwords. We get caught in this high-sounding cycle that throws these terms around while diminishing the importance of facts and knowledge. We have to understand that there is a body of knowledge that a student should know when they leave us with a diploma. Yes, teaching them how to think is vital. But not at the expense of teaching them what they should know as well.

Our educational system, how we structure, think about and design our schools, needs transformation. That does not mean changing the classical content needed for now and in the future. It means the methodology, the teaching process, the tools and resources, must be changed, deployed and utilized in a disruptive manner that completely transforms the industrial assembly line school. It does not mean eliminating teachers; it does mean changing what teachers have to do for a 21st century student.

Character education has to retake it’s place of prominence in our classrooms. We replaced it years ago with the emphasis on self-esteem. We tell kids whatever they think is ok, that they are just great and we pat them on the head from an early age. We emphasize the “self” as being most important. Then, once we’ve convinced them they are the center of the universe, we ask them to make value judgments and choose their path. As adolescents, they grow confused because the world doesn’t continue to pat them on the head and they can’t understand why their behavior is challenged.

Character education does not place me at the center. Sometimes character education is hard, tough to take. It doesn’t tell me I’m always right. Sometimes I’m wrong. It teaches me self-reflection rather than self-esteem. It teaches me I have a debt to those around me. It doesn’t pat me on the head.

So, my short list, just to remind me………
Protect classical content and teach it to next generations
Aggressively deploy and use digital technology
Start collaborating with students on how best to utilize digital technology
Honor those who teach but change how we train them
Change and transform the structural system of a school day and year
Emphasize character education

I need that list with me every day. I don’t want to stand there at the end and realize I forgot the very things that should have been the most important things because I got too distracted on my trip “into town”.
**If I’m serious about being an architect in education, I believe the best way to prepare a kid to take their place in industry, on a college campus and in our communities is to push for transformation of an entrenched teaching system.
**If I’m serious about being an architect in education, I believe the measure of success will only be a kid who is learning, engaged and characterized by an awareness of others and a pursuit to participate and contribute.
**And, lastly, if I’m serious, I’ll protect the proven classical content but change the methods I thought were good for the methods that are best.

And, at the end of the day, I’m serious.