The iron grip of the Industrial Age has finally loosened in education—a timely development, given that ten percent of the 21st century is over—and schools increasingly promise that students will learn the core skills of the global information age: How to collaborate, communicate, and be creative problem solvers. This commitment sounds admirable and timely, but a distressing number of educational and business leaders still ignore the core challenge of 21st century schools: Teaching skills is not remotely similar to teaching the photosynthesis cycle or the causes of World War I. In fact, the evolution in the mission of schools places the current system at direct odds with the future. Teaching people instead of stuff requires educators to draw upon the fields of psychology and human performance, which consider the industrial structure and mindset as barriers to performance and success.
Nowhere is the dilemma more acute than in the push to teach creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking. All of these ‘skills’ can be lumped into a mysterious set of processes used by human beings to make sense of their world, enter a dark tunnel of confusion, and reemerge with a solution or innovation in hand. How they occur, no one knows. How we teach the process, we’re not quite sure. Assessing the journey though his dark tunnel, or the end product, is even more difficult. Think of judging a piece of modern art. It’s that subjective.