I have always felt in my heart that teaching Art to children is important. And not just important because I value it as an outlet for personal expression, or social commentary or because I enjoy doing it; but because I felt that its value was deeper, that it provided a person with a perspective impossible to develop elsewhere. I knew there was more to it than that but I never seemed to be able to put it into terms that highlighted its value to others. It has been a battle every year in my district, and Art has been losing. In five years, we have lost four and a half Art positions, with another one on the horizon. The mentality behind it is that Art is simply not important enough to maintain with English and Math Tests looming.
But I have learned much recently. I have been studying future of business and education and what it is going to take to be successful in our brave new world. The world, I’ve been told, is getting flat, and competition from overseas combined with computer technology automating just about any process with a pattern to it, has created a unique problem for American children. They will wake up tomorrow to a world where the United States is no longer top dog in the world economy, where anyone with a laptop and an internet connection can put them out of a job. So, what will it take to navigate this new world economy? 21st Century skills.
Dr. David Thornburg, a futurist who applies his knowledge of technology trends to education and business has developed a list of 21st century skills. Concurrently, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a huge collaborative effort between educational associations, corporations and experts, have developed a similar list. They are almost identical. I will focus on one of these skills, Creativity and Intellectual Curiosity, as it applies so personally to me as an Art teacher, but if you would like to see the lists side-by-side, I have created a PDF of them here.
The study of these skill sets has had a profound effect on me. I believe in them so strongly, that it is my wish to tailor all of my projects so that I am emphasizing them in the future. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills‘ website is a tremendous resource, gathering together data, position papers, third party articles and practical plans for putting all of this theory into action. In its own words on it’s FAQ page, “As the United States continues to compete in a global economy that demands innovation, P21 and its members provide tools and resources to help the U.S. education system keep up by fusing the three Rs and four Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation)” (P21 FAQ, 2010).
It is their goal to infuse these 21st century skills, including critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, information and media literacy and self direction, into all facets of American instruction. Their framework, pictured above, is a visual guide for understanding the way they view the interconnected “outcomes” (top) and the “support systems” that enable those outcomes. For more on the Framework Definitions, click here. The reason behind this initiative is simple: “Every child in America needs to be ready for today’s and tomorrow’s world” (P21 Assessment, 2010). The outcome is just as simple, to produce children who are critical, creative thinkers and problem solvers who will make successful people, workers and citizens. What surprised me, although it should not have, is the impressive list of collaborating corporations and organizations . What is not surprising is that corporations would want to get involved in something like this because they are investing in their own future success. What better way to invest in your own company than to educate young people to be innovators who may someday provide your company with its next product. What is surprising is that I have never heard of this before.
When trying to find a downside to this ideology or initiative or philosophy, I am honestly coming up empty handed. I subscribe wholly to their list of skills and their insistence that those things will be the key to America’s future success. As an Art teacher, someone whose very job it is to encourage students to look at things in an innovative way and to solve a problem creatively, this information speaks to me very clearly. I try to teach my students the value of persistence and hard work through their art projects, so I am thrilled when I read that P21 wants to teach children to, “view failure as an opportunity to learn. Understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes” (P21 Creativity and Innovation, 2010). Some of these skills are things that Art, Theater and Music are so adept at imparting to a person that I am proud to be able to call myself an Art teacher; and it only reinforces my overwhelming belief that Art in school is vital to the future. It is nice to have brilliant experts think that creativity and problem solving are important too.
Now, by no means am I insinuating that Fortune 500 companies are going to start hiring painters and illustrators by the 1000s to solve all of their problems creatively. But what they are going to do, is to start demanding that all of their employees, from the bottom up, use the creative skills they have to do their jobs better. And so the implication for me and my students is that I now am empowered with information to give them about why what they are studying in my class is important, why it is valid and why it may help them keep their job someday. Teresa Amabile, who specializes in the study of creativity, writes about creativity from a business executive’s perspective. She explains that creativity is not just something that “creative types” are born with, but, “creativity depends on a number of things: experience, including knowledge and technical skills; talent; an ability to think in new ways; and the capacity to push through uncreative dry spells. Intrinsic motivation — people who are turned on by their work often work creatively — is especially critical.” (Breen, 2004). You would not hire a script writer to design your company’s new software, but you would hire a creative computer programmer with a history of developing innovative solutions.
Like I said earlier, I have been profoundly affected by the ideas put forth by both Thornburg and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. They represent the science and the expertise that put words to what I only vaguely new in the past. The gears in my head have already begun to turn as to ways to share this message with co-workers, parents and students. Here’s to the 21st century, may we be ready for it.
Image © Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
Breen, B. (2004, December). The 6 myths of creativity. Fast Company, 89. Retrieved March 24, 2010, from http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/89/creativity.htmlLaureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Skills for the 21st century. Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society. Laureate Education, Inc.
P21 Assessment. (2010). Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Retrieved March 22, 2010 from http://www.p21.org/documents/Assessment092806.pdf
P21 Creativity and Innovation. (2010). Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Retrieved March 22, 2010 from http://www.p21.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=262&Itemid=120
P21 Framework. (2010). Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Retrieved March 22, 2010 from http://www.p21.org/documents/P21_Framework_Definitions.pdf
P21 Frequently Asked Questions. (2010). Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Retrieved March 22, 2010 from http://www.p21.org
21st Century Skills PDF by Megan Boyd