Friday, December 7, 2012

Opening Up a Discussion of Secretary Duncan's Remarks to the Inter-American Development Bank

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has recently delivered an interesting speech to the Inter-American Development Bank that deserves more discussion than it has generated. At the end of the speech, he invites the leaders present to discuss his presentation, and although I wasn't invited, I'm going to join in anyway.

For me the most interesting part of the speech is probably the section just before he begins closing with (well deserved) complimentary remarks on the rebuilding of Haiti's educational system. What follows is a much longer quotation than I usually excerpt, but the matter is vital:

"I talk a lot about the economic value and the personal freedom that a world-class education provides. But I absolutely reject the distinction between preparing students to be career-ready, with employability skills, and preparing students to be global, well-rounded citizens, with critical thinking skills.

"I believe that is a false choice. In fact, I belief there is a happy convergence between the career skills needed to succeed in a knowledge-based economy and the citizenship skills and global competencies needed to participate in modern democracy and civil society.

"Employers today want graduates who have the ability to adapt, innovate, synthesize data, and communicate effectively. They want employees who can both learn independently and work in teams. But many of those same traits—knowing how to ask good questions, working collaboratively with others to solve problems, and appreciating diversity—are also clearly invaluable for participation in civil society.

"In fact, these are global competencies that we should want for all our students. A student with a world-class education should be able to use their knowledge and skills to investigate the world beyond their immediate environment, recognize other's perspectives, and communicate their ideas effectively to diverse audiences."

This is thoughtful, praiseworthy prose, and although I think  the secretary continues to draw the wrong conclusion from his premises, they (and much else in the speech) certainly deserve a response from those of us who believe that current policy is requiring too many students to stay in school for too long, and is hurting those it intends to help. I will explain my reasoning beginning tomorrow.

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