Most helpful critical review
66 of 95 people found the following review helpful
The Gospel According to P21
on November 23, 2009
Want to read a whole book about how education should be reshaped to fit the needs of America's biggest companies? Then we recommend Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel's new book, 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in our Times, a book-length ad for the content-free learning championed by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Trilling is global director for the Oracle Education Foundation, a P21 board member. Fadel is global leader for education as Cisco Systems, also a P21 board member. They co-chair P21's Standards, Assessment, and Professional Development committee.
Why are 21st century skills so important? Trilling and Fadel's answer is that a "21st century skills gap" causes businesses to spend "over $200 billion a year...finding and hiring scarce, highly skilled talent, and in bringing new employees up to required skill levels through costly training programs." (p. 7) (There isn't a citation for either the existence of a "21st century skills gap" or for the $200 billion figure.)
So Trilling and Fadel argue that the skills identified as "21st century skills" by P21 (critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity and innovation, etc.) must become the basis for education because these skills "address new work skill demands" and will prepare students to "invent new and better services and products for the global marketplace." (pages 49, 56)
The authors imagine schools shifting from a "20th century model" to a "21st century model" in order to teach 21st century skills. In the 21st century school, according to Fadel and Trilling, class time would include "50 percent time for inquiry, design, and collaborative project learning and 50 percent for more traditional and direct methods of instruction." (p. 135) Why? Because "[p]rojects - defining, planning, executing, and evaluating them - have become the currency of 21st century work." (p. 82)
Here's the authors' argument in a nutshell: In order to better serve business and save the for-profit world $200 billion a year, we need to replace at least half of the curriculum in America's schools with an unproven program that puts the needs of business before the needs of students. Trilling and Fadel don't consider the possibility that there are students who might want to be scientists, doctors, teachers, artists, or any of the host of occupations that don't involve "invent[ing] new and better services and products for the global marketplace." And they neglect entirely our schools' role in the creation of knowledgeable citizens.
Jay Mathews, reviewing Trilling and Fadel's book on the Washington Post's Website recently, said that he is "trying NOT to write off the 21st century skills movement as a sham, but its leaders don't make it easy." Agreed.