18 Comments

  1. As I read, I started to think of the 4 Cs used so often today (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity). The part about email being a communication too made a lot of sense, because it is a way to communicate, just like I was taught letter writing in so many ways in elementary school. The 3 Rs to me are clearly fundamental to someone’s ability to think critically and communicate. Beyond the 3 Rs, I would say that speaking face-to-face and conflict resolution are basics that need to be taught (hopefully leading to better collaboration). Creativity is the one that I am least sure about – obviously basic skills can help us to be more creative, it is also probably taught least in school today, it may need to be defined more to help teachers and students understand what we want from that more clearly.

    I do think that there are ‘basic’ tools that need to be taught, which have shifted over time – letter writing to email to social media, slide rules to calculators (?), encyclopedias to the internet.

    One more question I’m thinking about is the fact that some ‘basics’ have been shifted down over time – i.e. reading is often expected in Kindergarten now, and we expect certain math skills to be learned in earlier grades. What does that say about our ‘basics’ or our expectations for what students do with those ‘basics’?

    • Melanie Carr

      After thirty-one years of teaching mostly science, like you, I see “creativity” as a critical area that I have been lacking. Recently, I have been trying to give students a greater voice in choosing options for their learning; trying to help them match options with their learning style or exposure to different intelligences. I find that where most of my students make the greatest growth is when they are participating in one of our STEM challenges. I see direct connections between how students are allowed to engage in these lessons and the four Cs.

  2. Sue

    So great you are opening this conversation. If we think of the 4 C’s (and I am sure there are others) as our modern world basics, foundational literacy and numeracy are still there and essential for communication. We are merely expanding the context and purpose for “traditional basics” to fit today’s learning needs. Sadly, many conversations about education become polarized debates instead of evolving Issues. Thank you for keeping our focus on the “ceiling”.

  3. Dylan Smith

    You’re full of interesting questions lately, George. Great stuff.

    I think of the “basics” as skills that are widely recognized as foundational from the get-go. Tied to the changing world, they have much inertia and do lag (surely a good thing), but they can and do evolve.

    I distinguish the “basics” in that sense from, say, Fullan’s 6 Cs. Those are basics of another kind, the traits and skills we hope our graduates are packing when they exit a school system to face today’s world.

  4. I think that the word “basics” is subjective to the person who is using it. Basics to people my parents age or people our age who are not in education will be different from a modern/connected educator’s idea of “basics”. I believe there are certain things a student should be able to do when they come out of school, and these skills encompass much more than the traditionally defined “basics”.

  5. Doug Alichwer

    Hi George
    Great post, very thought provoking. I’ve always said if you know the “basics” (can read, write and do basic math computation) you can survive in this world. Notice it is not thrive in this world. As it has been mentioned here, I don’t think you can put a label on what the basics are. They seem to be different things to different people and situations. I agree that our delivery has changed over time and maybe what we deem as “basic”, has too.

    I have really enjoyed reading all the reactions to this post- both here and on twitter. It really has the brain working.

  6. Jennifer

    First, thank you for writing this blog post! While I enjoy reading all of your posts, this particular one is timely. As a Superintendent (actually position doesn’t matter) this is exactly the challenge many of us face in education! As we advocate for our learners, we find ourselves challenged with the mindset of some community members who define education as what was good enough for them is good enough for today’s learners.

    To tackle this mindset, I am currently setting up meetings with key stakeholders in my school community to engage in this exact conversation. I feel we often forget that we are entrenched in thinking about and creating the learning opportunities our current learners deserve, and forget that taxpayers outside of the profession aren’t afforded these opportunities. So it’s no wonder that when they are confronted with these issues they respond with what they know from their prior experience. Just as we give ourselves time to wrestle with these tough questions, we have to give our community time to reflect, ponder, and create their opinions and thoughts. Instead of getting frustrated, we need to be proactive and engage our community in these thought provoking questions! I am optimistic that if we do a better job of providing our stakeholders with questions to ponder, as well as empower our learners to use their voice to communicate their needs, our community will step up to the challenge and embrace the shifts that need to take place in education! Maybe I’m dreaming, maybe I’m naive…. and maybe I’m right!?? What I do know is that I’m facing it head on and asking for their support. My learners are counting our profession to be their advocates!

    • Jill Berrner

      It inspires me to hear a superintendent honestly struggle with these issues. As a teacher, I constantly wrestle with the question of how to best serve my students. Even if I could confidently answer George’s question, just teaching those “basics” isn’t enough. The ideas and attitudes of parents, colleagues, principals, community leaders, and other stakeholders are important and need to be considered.

    • Sarah

      Jennifer, I totally agree . . . and you’re a wise woman. More than ever, when we use or hear educational terms like ‘the basics’ we have to know that it means different things to different people – – – so as you/we speak, it’s important to acknowlege this fact and then explain what YOU mean when you say ‘the basics.’ Just doing this – opens minds to think ‘you mean the basics now are more than reading, writing, and arithmetic?’ Because I am certain many in our communitities are NOT aware of how the educational world is changing – and how it’s changing quickly. Educating the public is key . . . remembering that they’re not in the trenches and often have a completely different point of view!

  7. “Yes, the ‘basics’, whatever those are today, are crucial. I would just contend that our kids need so much more from their time in our schools.”

    Agreed. However, that goes back to your original point. If it is foundational or should be considered that every child gain these skills, would the “so much more” be considered the basics too?

  8. Jill Berrner

    This question of what defines fundamental (or basic) knowledge for 21st century learners is THE most important question facing 21st century educators today. Posing that question with the word “change” is also profound. Opinions run strong on this subject – especially among teachers, and opinions are not easily changed.
    We talk about students needing the 4 Cs (and they do), but teachers need them even more. We need to talk about Moore’s Law and the unknown future our students will face. We need to admit that the fundamental purpose of education is changing, and WE educators need to think critically about why we teach something. We also need to come up with new and creative solutions to student felt needs instead of trying to tell them what they need.

    I don’t have the answer to your question, George. Nevertheless, I encourage you to ask it every day in every way.
    Some examples:
    – With text-to-speech capability, is reading a basic skill? Should instruction focus more on auditory comprehension or reading comprehension?
    – With speech-to-text capability, is essay composition a basic skill? How can we best teach student to organize information and develop ideas using a visual platform.
    I could go on like this forever…and, as technology continues to develop, the questions will change. Educators MUST be willing to change or we will be left behind…The preservation of our profession rests in the answer to the question, “What are the basic skills that 21st century learners should master in order to pursue happiness”🙂
    Thanks for using you influence to get that question out there.

  9. Nicole

    Thank you for this post, George 👍
    As an educator, I feel the “basics” are the same 3 with many more added on. There are more skills required to succeed in this society. Just as teaching used to resemble a “technician job” in the past, it has become a more demanding and complex profession. I need more skills than my grand-mother did as a teacher.

    In 2017, I still need to read to be able to read blogs (to enrich my professional development). I still need to write to be able to tweet (to stay networked and share ideas). I still need math skills to be able to understand the bridge financing on my new mortgage (to help favor a successful closing). But I need so much more to be a good teacher. My students need so much more in the context of their future.

    Coding (predicted to become as important as reading and writing)
    Social media literacy (communication)
    Collaboration (leadership, conflict resolution, negotiation, decoding non-verbal cues, emotional intelligence)
    Creativity (new ideas, new problem solving)
    Critical thinking (making decisions based on criteria, favorable risk-taking)

    As a grade 7 science teacher, I aim to prioritize skill teaching over content teaching. The content is accessory to skill learning.

  10. I am a 1st grade teacher and I believe strongly that this conversation about the basics in education should be happening in every elementary school. Our youngest students are naturally curious and creative. They want to learn to read and write but what they need most is to learn how to learn. They need to have opportunities to explore. Voice and choice in what they read and time to explore topics that they are interested in. They need instruction in what it means to be a self directed learner. They need opportunities to work in groups and practice collaborative conversations. They need to learn how to use technology to search for information and to create their own content. They need a teacher who models how we use social media (class twitter account) and share what we are most proud of with the world. They need to know that we learn from our mistakes and that we do better when we are persistent and optimistic in our learning. We need to teach kids how to solve problems and not just in math, I’m talking about the day to day problems that come up on the playground and in the classroom. We must help students navigate friendships and teach them how to regulate their own emotions. These skills will build the foundation that will ensure their success as they navigate middle school, high school and beyond. Thanks George for inspiring and challenging us to rethink education!

  11. […] Then I finished off a blog post I had been working on and posted it.  Within a few minutes, I had received a private message from someone criticizing my use of a wrong word.  To the point where they said they could go no further on my post regarding discussing the “basics” of education. It was pointing out a mistake that had stopped them from reading any more of what I had to share. […]

  12. Ann

    Do you remember the little ditty that went with the 3 basics- ” Reading and writing and ‘rithmetic,sing to the tune of a???’ Nope can’t remember it all, but I do remember even then as a very young child that these words did not start with the same letter ( it was funny since I was and am such a bad speller!). The idea of putting ‘basic’ requirements into a little song still holds today. We know people generally will remember information if accompanied with a tune and maybe some actions. Which come first? We can not look at reading as only the process of deciphering our ‘alphabet code’ to form words, today we need to decipher SMS messages which contain abbreviations we would never of considered as children growing up, what about emojis ( is that how its spelt?). Today there is a whole language that is becoming more universal our students need to be aware but more importantly I need to be aware and opened. The ‘basics’ that is what we all need the basic open mind to allow new ideas and ways of learning to inspire us to help us learn. This term can no longer be applied just to our students, teachers no longer are believed to know everything that any child would need to know- we can be life long learners too and adapt and change. What basics- tools that inspire creativity, problem solving, self esteem.

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