I found my way to this article by Turnaround for Children called “Building Blocks for Learning.” The tepid title aside, it’s a deeply practical and short document that seeks to answer, among other things, these questions:
- Which skills do we need to build in children for them to be successful in school?
- And if we know what they are, can they be taught?
Excellent questions. And they provide some excellent answers. But what struck me were the outcomes that were sitting on the top tier of their ‘building blocks’: Independence and Sustainability.
Independence and Sustainability: those words resonate. They are mammoth states of being. They are words that might be construed as the basis for civic society. I started thinking about their relationship to several key 21st century skills: digital communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. Probe the trajectory of each of those skills and I think you will find that they have a terminus in ‘independence and sustainability’ for individual learners.
Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, and Communication: my goodness, how dry. Those 21st century skill words, for me, have lost their power. They are overused and exist in the vortex of “a list,” with all the meaning that lists convey. But when juxtaposed to an end criterion – and such a succinct one as Independence and Sustainability – I find that they regain purpose, movement and impact. Those skill sets exude meaning – again.
So whether you call them 21st Century Skills or Human Skills or Top Tier Building Blocks, the end game seems clear: we want our students to be able to think and live independently and sustainably. Nothing less.