There is this widespread idea that, if we went back in time, in a time tunnel to 100 years ago that lead directly to a classroom, we would have the weird feeling of being in a classroom that could easily pass for one from nowadays.
Are we trying to change education for real?
Are educators still solely focusing on students’ cognitive development? Is it enough to succeed in life?
What is success in times of liquid relations, cloud (not ground) files, speed-of-light spread of information, limited-concentration-span new physiology and organic mentality?
I have been flooded with many questions such as these ones, and sharing seems to reduce my anxiety a little. Although I don’t have the exact right answers to these questions, I did build up some personal statements.
So, here they go:
1- Social and emotional learning (SEL) plays an essential role in academic and life success. Schooling in all its forms must place a greater priority on developing students’ non-cognitive skills and character strengths. Deep inside, we all know that.
2- To hold information-age jobs in a very near future, students will need to think deeply about issues, solve problems creatively, work in teams, communicate clearly in many media, learn ever-changing technologies and deal with a nonstop flood of information. The rapid pace of changes in our world demands students to be flexible, take the initiative and lead whenever necessary, and to produce something new and useful. Therefore, traditional contents aren’t sufficient anymore.
3- Philosophy is fundamental to cope with the obstacles of the 21st century. Today there is so much interaction on your social media that self control is mandatory. Self controlling is a skill that leads me to Stoicism, an ancient philosophy that focuses on improving an individual’s ethical and moral well-being. Stoics stringently control their perceptions of the world around them to be able to manage emotions and see things as they truly are. According to Stoic philosophy, it is not the objects or events in our lives that cause problems; rather, it is our perception of such events that create issues. It’s not an easy lesson, but I think I have learned it: self-control, in a time of so many triggers and distractions in the digital universe, is an asset.
4- Children need more than syllabus, contents, questions and answers: they need a foundation of values, moral values – the difference between right and wrong (I know this is a dangerous zone to enter, but I write fearlessly about it). It’s important to be a comprehensive, tolerant, flexible and kind adult. Students have to see the black and the white, to separate the wheat from the chaff and to choose the light side of the Force. Even though it sounds a bit Manichean, let’s face it: children can’t see shades of any color, just the bright tones. So, in a few words, it is crucial to teach your children morals and ethics at home, and if not possible, to choose a school that is able to do it for you.
5- In order to choose the light side of the Force, students are expected to have the right skills for that. I usually say at my lectures that we, as educators or parents, are supposed to provide children with the fishing rod and not fish for them at all. Ok, this still works as a very important tip to be successful in raising your kids, but in the Information Era, the most effective rule of the new-come century is this: children have already learnt how to fish by looking it up on Google or playing video games. They should be taught how to sort out the appropriate fish in the pond, lake, river or sea.
6 – Perseverance is my number one strength of character. This is a top skill that can be taught. Although most of us learn it through trial and error, it can and should be taught, just like any other key skill or competency. Perseverance is the quality that allows someone to continue trying even in the face of difficulty, adversity or impossibility. Grit is another important skill aligned with perseverance.
The ability to persevere is necessary to develop a mindset for success because no one, no matter how talented, achieves everything every time. It is a necessary skill for discovering new ideas, and experiencing setbacks or failures, redrafting and replanning are all necessary steps towards developing it. Perseverance enables us to take risks, learn from our failures and forge ahead with new and better information.
By understanding so, it’s no wonder that Paul Tough’s ideas for the 21st Education are being so widespread and that his book ‘How Children Succeed’ became an undoubtedly bestseller.
I attended his lecture in Rio de Janeiro at an Education Conference powered by Eveva Education Group, during which he talked about these strengths of character and drew my attention by stating that adversity in childhood makes happier adults. He reinforced this idea of persevering and overcoming failure (we know that nowadays a great deal of kids can’t deal with failure, as they were told that they were born to always win!) as a way to achieve the success of having choices and knowing the best path to choose. Well, I couldn’t agree more. And, I must confess, I missed one single word: maturity.
It doesn’t matter if it is considered a condition or a skill, as long as we educators keep it in mind as a big step to strengthen character and develop other skills with the help of the Maturity friend.
Maturity, in the field of psychology, is considered the ability to respond to the environment in manners that are considered appropriate. Therefore, it is a response that is learned, rather than developed by instinct. Learning to fail, to lose, to fall, to get up and to insist on doing what you believe in is as important as academics. No cognitive skills lead to a better shaped cognition or a better retained knowledge, nor forms happy and successful adults.