A Gap in Education

The foundational idea of education is that students are able to “do something” after the process is complete that they could not do before.

What students can do depends on the experiences that comprise their education.

There seems to be two competing versions of what we hope our students will be able to do after their education is complete:

There is the “standardized” version. Advocates for this version of education promote standards and an associated collection of practices and beliefs. According to this view: All students should learn the standard curriculum. The degree to which they have achieved this is measures by standards-based tests or assessments.

There is a rationale for this version of education: “The standards” tell educators (and others) exactly what should be taught and how it is to be measured. This provides a clear goal and, in many cases, an easy approach to teaching. Simply tell students what we expect them to be able to know and do; give them examples and models, timely feedback, and guided practice. We know what the outcome should look like, so we can adapt our methods to align with those.

There is also the “c’s version” of education. I use that term as advocates typically want students to develop critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. There seems to be consensus that students whose education allows them to do these things that start with “c” will be better prepared for work and continued education.

Over my career, I have heard advocates for each of these approaches to education. I have participated in both and I have taught other teachers who to do both. One thing that became clear to me is that these two approaches are different… very different… so different that if you adopt one you are not doing the other. The root cause of this separation is our ability to predict the answer.

When we adopt standard education, we know what the “answers” will be. We know and are in control of the situation—it is standardized. When we adopt education for the “four c’s” educators cannot know what the “answers” will be. The skills needed to be critical and collaborative depend on the situation. Effective communication also depends on the setting and what needs to be communicated; creativity necessitates something exist that did not exist previously, so it cannot be predicted.

While we can teach strategies for critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity; these skills are inherently non-standardized. When we claim we are teaching for the “4 c’s” through standardized approaches, we are fooling ourselves. We are misleading our students and those who care about their education.

There seems to be a gap between the education we should be promoting (in my opinion both standard education and “4 c’s” education focusing especially on how to apply the standard education) and what we are doing (our schools are unquestionably focus on standardizing education). This may not be a terrible situation as we could fix it by changing our curriculum and instruction practices.

The more troubling gap is that between what we think we are doing and what we are actually doing.