Thomas Jefferson argued that public education was a keystone of a democratic society; it’s also been said that education is the movement from darkness to light. Despite differences in birth, location, wealth, or upbringing, education has been the key to lasting success throughout time and throughout the world. Of course the meaning of, and components of, education have changed over the years to reflect the times and the world in which it was offered. No longer can an individual just know reading, writing, and arithmetic and be considered well-educated. When we consider how fast the world is changing, how far we’ve come in just the past 100 years, and when we reflect on how quickly knowledge is doubling, there is little doubt that what we need to know and be able to do is also changing rapidly.
This does not negate the reality that individuals still need to know the three ‘R’s, which are key to mastering so many other areas of knowledge and skills. But it does mean that schools need to change in order to continue to be relevant for both students and society. Imagine schools spending significant time teaching students to write by teaching them how to sharpen a goose quill, mix their own ink, and how to appropriately dry their words on papyrus paper in this day and age of instant communication, electronic databases, and international collaboration. That school would be considered out-of-date and unable to meet the needs of students. As the debate sharpens about what constitutes schools – are they the brick and mortar buildings, or the virtual electronic schools; are they children sitting passively absorbing the knowledge of their elders, or participating collaboratively in discovering and applying knowledge and skills – it becomes ever more important to understand the challenges facing students, faculty, and society as we work to educate the next generation.
Over the next months, Gateway will be honing its own definition of what we want our students to know and be able to do. This is a confluence of the rewriting of curriculum to incorporate the national ‘core standards’, defining what constitutes student success in school and how to measure success, deciding the best way to help students reach their potential, and ensuring that 21st Century Skills such as communication, collaboration, and problem solving are mastered in addition to those academic skills tested on state exams. The term used most often by educational experts to describe this multi-modal, and extraordinarily broad set of skills and knowledge is that we need to educate the “whole child.”
Despite our innate knowledge that educating children is essential to ensure their success in the ‘real world’, as a nation we still have not spent the time and resources necessary to develop the various areas that make up the education of the ‘whole child.’ We’ve spent billions on developing tests to measure math and English language skills, spent additional money to norm test results across the country, spent much time to compare our results against the world, and used countless words to negate the efforts of public schools and vilify teachers and administrators across elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions. Despite all of this, the argument still rages about what makes a good education and a successful student and how to fix the perceived problems with education in the United States. Yet, as we continue the debate, top scholars from throughout the world still come to our colleges and universities to get what they consider the best education in the world and, despite this competition for spots in the best schools, we are still successful in getting American graduates—including Gateway graduates—into these positions.