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Monday, February 29, 2016

Preparing Children for Their Future, Not Our Past

In their new book, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing our Kids for the Innovation Era, Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith (2015) take a hard look at key educational traditions and institutions, including standardized tests (SAT, PISA), Advanced Placement courses, and the typical American high school and college experience. 

Their conclusion?  American K-12 schools are increasingly becoming places where testing crowds out learning and higher education is more interested in magazine college rankings than producing intelligent, thoughtful, and creative young people.  They use data, anecdotes, and research to document a case for a re-imagined school experience, PreK-16.  They describe a dreary and desperate future for our children if we continue on our current path:

“Our country may continue to stumble from education reform to education reform like a drunken sailor… We’ll prioritize measuring irrelevant things and drill the innovation and creativity out of our youth… Our wealthiest parents will continue to get their kids into top colleges, arrange the ‘right’ internships, and—despite education’s failings—help their advantaged kids pull ahead.  The rest will plod through enervating school years, leave with abysmal career prospects, and have citizenship skills no better than mob psychology.  As the ranks of the chronically unemployed youth swell, the rift between the unrelenting rich and the disenfranchised rest will rip our society apart.  We will fail as a country, not because other nations defeated us, but because we defeated ourselves.” (p. 59)

I don’t think the future is as gloomy as Wagner and Dintersmith envision, and I am excited about the creative and exceptional learning opportunities available to Needham’s students; but I do believe educators, parents, and policy makers should consider how, exactly, we can best prepare our children for a world that requires innovative, nimble, curious, empathetic, and engaged young people—young people who will become adults in a dynamic, fast changing, and often unforgiving world.  As my mentor Dr. Tony Bent put it to me: We owe it to our students to think about how we are preparing them for their future and not for our past.

On Thursday, March 24th at 7:00 p.m. in the Newman Auditorium, the Needham Education Foundation and Needham’s PTCs will sponsor a viewing of the film, Most Likely to Succeed, which is based on Wagner and Dintersmith’s book and has been widely acclaimed.  A panel discussion follows and will provide an opportunity for Needham’s community members, students, faculty, and parents to discuss the film’s premise and the educational experience and expectations of Needham’s children.

I hope you can join us for this important conversation.


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