Education isn’t exactly a static process.

The general guiding philosophies stick, I suppose. The goal 400 years ago and the goal today is essentially the same: equip a student to venture into the world more able than before. Princes were bred to be King, educated in policy and warfare. A cobbler would be taught by his father to carry on his family’s legacy and ply his trade.

Inevitably, the particulars are turned on their head often as our understanding of how and why changes. Modern society looks nothing like it did, even for our parents just 30 years ago. Education is not handled in isolation, and our intentions, no matter how well-meaning, aren’t always enough.

Leo Babauta over at frames this problem well:

Unfortunately, I was educated in a school system that believed the world in which it existed would remain essentially the same, with minor changes in fashion. We were trained with a skill set that was based on what jobs were most in demand in the 1980s, not what might happen in the 2000s.

As I reflect on the knowledge imparted to me over the years, I find a great number of useless antiques. The products of rote memorization, all facts now accessible and far more accurate after a few taps against a screen. And it wouldn’t be fair to blame my 7th grade teacher. Even at the time, we as a society had just begun to wrap our minds around its potential, still a decade out from the ease of access we hold today.

Babauta continues, and along the way he hits a point that mirrors my personal philosophy well:

How then to prepare our kids for a world that is unpredictable, unknown? By teaching them to adapt, to deal with change, to be prepared for anything by not preparing them for anything specific.

As a teacher, I work to ensure my students are ready and able to do just this. Textbooks and a stellar curriculum are but vehicles built by a greater (maybe?) mind than my own, one with some foresight and hindsight I might not have.

From these, my job of equipping a student to be an independent thinker is made easier. Babauta’s 9 skills are an excellent start, a practice not so easy to shake off as times and technology change. Learning is no longer about facts. Instead, learning is about taking what is available to you, knowing how to find more information, and forming meaningful conclusions from these ideas: to be a 21st century critical thinker.