you're reading...
Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Education: The Past, The Present and The Future #2

You know you’ve read a good post when it makes you have several different thoughts about something important.  While this post begins like another, it has a totally different ending…

Recently I read an article from District Administrator magazine entitled,

The Three New Pillars of 21st Century Learning”                                                                                 What happens when our basic assumptions about schooling no longer apply?

and it began:

The textbook, The lecturer and the classroom are three pillars of modern-day schooling that date back hundreds of years. Each was invented to solve a problem. The textbook was invented because information was scarce, the lecturer because teachers were few and the classroom because learning was local. These enduring icons persist into the Internet age, shaping our view of learning and driving the popularity of their digital grandchildren, things like iPad “textbooks” and the Kahn Academy “lectures.”

The author, Rob Mancabelli, goes on to say,

“In the 21st Century, the Internet has ushered in an online learning environment where information is abundant, teachers are plentiful and learning is global.

He talks about each of the three long-standing pillars as impacting curriculum, instruction and assessment. Then he identifies 3 new pillars, which he says are a beginning conversation piece–and he invites readers to help define those.

Rob’s new pillars are

Pillar #1: “I’m only one of my students’ teachers, but I’m the most important because I teach them to connect to all the others.” Implication area: Instruction

Pillar #2: “My students should learn from me how to learn without me.” Implication area: Curriculum

Pillar #3: “My students’ knowledge lies not only in their minds but in their networks.” Implication area: Assessment

In his last paragraph, he says, “We need to have the courage to create new pillars, based on new assumptions.”  I agree, but I think the “pillars” he names as the new ones are perhaps the assumptions we base new pillars on—not the actual pillars.

So, for example, in Pillar 1–Instruction

The Pillar is actually Learning how to learn; teachers have got to move from thinking of teaching to helping students learn. 

in Pillar 2–Curriculum

I think the Pillar is actually Connecting-relationships, both online and off; connections between what you know, what you need to know and what you want to know.

and in Pillar 3, Assessment, the Pillar is actually Doing–using what you know and what you can learn from the Internet, your network and local and global resources to mix, remix, create content and do something that adds value to our world.

What do you think?

About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


10 thoughts on “Education: The Past, The Present and The Future #2

  1. Paula, having read both of you postings, I very much applaud,your sharing your interpretations / personalizations of the article. My thinking after reading your first posting was very compatible with your second posting. In the first, you asked about reaching those teachers who really don’t see a need to change. That’s a really touchy issue, isn’t it. The irony to me is that the learning and the excitement in teaching is indeed when your three pillars are accepted by all educators. So, IF they can be convinced to consider change, it’s highly probable I believe that they will change. Suggestions to get the effort started would be to seek CONSIDERATION of change rather than MANDATING change with exposure through team teaching, hands-on professional development, and meaningful ongoing conversation facilitated by capable coaches.

    The change you describe from years ago to the present was not initiated by the emergence of the Internet but was certainly accelerated and confirmed / solidified by the Internet. The lecture emerged because of the need to distribute knowledge in the time of very few writings / books; it was necessary. As books became less costly and thus more available, lecturing was not necessary but certainly the choice regardless. The “other” component, dialogue or discussion had limited importance years back (most frequently recitation as you note) but has grown to demonstration / prototyping (enhanced recitation) prior to the Internet.

    The evolution accelerated with the Internet. Textbooks are no longer needed, the important determination of core knowledge is critical, the change in emphasis from teaching to learning, the educator’s responsibilities changing from managing the learning (teaching) to leading the learning (mentoring), from teacher centered to student centered, from orderly progression aligned with lesson plans to often messy advancement associated with driving questions, from the industrial model associated with facts to the research model associated with core knowledge and skills. Those of us who have experienced this new approach understand its impact. Given a chance, the reluctant holdouts will do the same.

    When you mentioned the one-room schoolhouse, I was reminded of the one at nearby Sturbridge Village. The guide in the school reminds visitors that people such as she is portraying were really hired to hear the recitations based upon self-study – no lecturing (no preparation). While there will always be a need for limited lecturing, the joy today with the Internet is the teacher becoming more and more a learner along side the students.

    Posted by jcbjr9455 | June 16, 2012, 10:49 am
    • John,
      Thanks for your thoughtful response and for the additions/corrections you made. I also appreciate your optimism and positive outlook.

      The teacher as learner alongside of the students is the most powerful part of today’s changes, I think. And, I agree, when teachers can embrace that as their operating mode, things will change. In fact, I believe all educators, including administrators, need to look at learning that way. If the leaders of the system, whether it be the district or the school, believe their job is to impart knowledge, then it will be a hard job to change the culture of the school to sharing learning.

      I once worked with an administrator who said her job was to figure out how to say “yes” to teachers wanting to try new ways of working with students in their classrooms–whether that be through a specific material or method, or changing up the learning space, or involving teachers in a lesson or book study or what. I’ve often remembered that and thought about how I felt about changing up what I was doing, knowing that when I went to her to ask something, she would be coming from a “yes” mentality.

      You’re in higher ed, right? How do your reluctant holdouts react to others trying to convince them to consider change? The trick for us, in my system, is exactly the components you name in your first paragraph–“exposure through team teaching, hands-on professional development, and meaningful ongoing conversation facilitated by capable coaches.” As a resource teacher in my building, those suggestions lay out a pretty clear path for my work with peers. However, and I don’t mean this as a “yeah, but…” (although it’ll probably come out that way), those things can only happen IF, as you say, the person is willing to consider change–and I would add, IF the administrator believes in those strategies as well. If the admin prefers his or her silo, and believes in being punitive or reactive rather than encouraging collaboration or resolving conflicts, any kind of teacher–classroom, coach, resource person–has tied hands to embrace and encourage change. Boss leader mentalities inhibit change and provide support for teachers who also want to be silo-ish in their behavior.

      We simply have to have the best people working with our kids and the people in leadership roles have to “get it.” Leaders have to not only have a yes mentality, but know what to say yes to, and why the yes is important (or not, in some cases). We have to look beyond structures to make sure we have none in place that inhibit our sharing learning. We have to look beyond learning spaces and materials and grading and all those things that get in the way, in our current schools, of sharing that learning and being co-learners with our students (or, in the case of admins, with our teachers).

      If you were to engineer a pre-k to 16 system designed to promote contemporary learning, what would that system be like? I’m not asking what changes we need to make to our current system , as that was designed to produce workers, not promote learning. What would a system that promoted contemporary learning look, sound and be like?

      Posted by Paula White | June 16, 2012, 4:38 pm
  2. Thanks for the reply. In higher Ed, a few will give change a try, thankfully. More are appreciative but end up with something like “I wish I could do what you’re doing but I just can’t.” Is pretty lonely at times with regard to other faculty. More students buy in BUT most wish I were like the other faculty – lectures, lots of faculty-completed examples, homework regularly, and then exams; no group work and no projects even in engineering.

    My choice for preK – 16, it would be entirely PBL with lots of flipped classroom dealing with core knowledge introduction, optional textbook – not used by me; lots of group work and writing with the PBL of course, likely some blended use; as for the school, it would be a number of circular central area with lots of wifi and lots of movable furniture and prototyping needs when appropriate; around the outside would be educator offices, supplies rooms, seminar / workshop rooms. Exams submitted electronically if possible but NOT multiple guess!

    Posted by jcbjr9455 | June 16, 2012, 9:30 pm
    • John,
      I’m not sure PBL as described would work for K-2–I see that as the place they learn to read, (while reading to learn as they can), explore to get the tenets of mathematical thinking while learning the connections between basic facts and understanding deeply number concepts and the power of estimation and benchmark numbers (10, 25, 50 100, 1/2, 3/4 etc.) I see 3-5 as the place we ask kids to read to learn, do math in real scenarios and explore many, many parts and pieces of various professions in real ways–the beginnings of PBL, but definitely scaffolded as needed.

      But, as I say that, I think of my years in Kindergarten where I gave kids pencils and asked them to write (because I didn’t know back then I was supposed to have them “playing,” not writing) and we dug in our sand tables like paleontologists, and I had them build aluminum foil boats to float in our water table and we cooked each week and we played with eye droppers dropping water on coins to explore surface tension and we built huge structures (or whole towns or cities) in the block area and we explored books and authors and all kinds of math manipulatives, learning about balance and towers of cubes that were the same size or uneven in number patterns. It wasn’t quite PBL, but it was definitely the beginnings of it and working on the habits of mind of scientists and mathematicians and readers and writers and builders and engineers and many, many other professions. It wasn’t drill and kill, but kids learned to read and write and do math in realistic ways. We planted bulbs and real plants, grew seeds, took care of our class guinea pigs and our leopard gecko, and even collected tadpoles to watch them change and hatched chicks in incubators.

      It was fun, it was exciting, it brought many laughs, and kids loved coming to school. I guess in my ideal world, school would once again be like that. Your ideas about learning spaces sounds great–but I think the younger ones (most of them, anyway) need a classroom to call their own, with a teacher they connect with much of the day. I don’t know though–in a school where everyone was pursuing important learning–self chosen, self-driven important learning, maybe they wouldn’t–maybe everyone would be mentoring everyone else and that teacher/student connection wouldn’t be as important for the little ones–cause they’d have so many others.

      Kinda like we do as adults in an online (and offline) world, huh?

      Posted by Paula White | June 16, 2012, 10:42 pm
  3. Paula, thanks for the rich reply. Your description of your kindergarten class is very much scaffolded PBL to me. I know there are preK-12 PBL schools thriving out there. With five grandchildren (now finishing up fourth, fourth, sixth, sixth, and ninth grades), I got to enjoy young peoples’ curiosity and creativity all over again. Great for PBL! I remember once they were digging on our patio (something their mothers were NEVER allowed to do!) and struck the clay base put there when the patio was built. Papa had a neat impromptu class on clay – all because they were digging with garden tools “to rescue a person trapped below ground!” I once facilitated a session on LIFT (keeps airplanes flying, …) to one gramddaughter’s kindergarten class and was reminded by the students on subsequent visits of what we did!

    You and other readers might want to check two excellent sources on PBL: Buck Institute ( and New Tech Network ( The latter has Storify archives of Twitter PBL chats held every Tuesday night from 9-10 Eastern time (#pblchat is the hash tag). I absolutely enjoy these sessions and participate in as many as I can. New contents pretty regularly and great references and links each time!

    Posted by jcbjr9455 | June 17, 2012, 7:41 am
  4. As a homeschooler, this is fascinating. If these ideas came to fruition, I would be tempted to let my kids go back to school – and that is a compliment 😉 !! Great post and great discussion. Thanks!

    Posted by homeschoolingpenny | June 17, 2012, 2:54 pm


  1. Pingback: The 7 Pillars of Connecting With Absolutely Anyone « Jaggi - June 24, 2012

  2. Pingback: Big Picture – Core Assumptions « glencoyote - July 1, 2012

  3. Pingback: Education: The Past, The Present and The Future #2 « Thoughts about Higher Education - July 20, 2012

  4. Pingback: Education: Shadows of Society | pause 2 play - February 18, 2013

Join the Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,099 other followers

Comments are subject to moderation.

%d bloggers like this: