In his recent blog post, “Teaching Certainty,” New York Times best-selling author Seth Godin lays out, in a few sparse lines, exactly what’s wrong with education today. In short, while we might think we’re teaching to the test, we’re actually teaching to the previous century.
The certainty he speaks of are concrete skills and knowledge sets students study, memorize, and expect to use in their careers after graduation. His point is that the world simply doesn’t work like that anymore.
“Oops,” he writes. “We’ve trained people to be certain for years, and then launch them into a culture and an economy where relying on certainty does us almost no good at all.”
In the Knowledge Economy, there is a premium on workers with strong critical thinking and information skills. Learning how to learn is a prerequisite for professional environments where people are expected to identify necessary changes and react with creativity and agility to innovate in each new market landscape. When solving problems in the 21st century workplace, there are no right and wrong answers to find in the back of a textbook, and pretending there are is a disservice to students at all levels.
Godin ends the piece by asking, “Who’s teaching you what to do when the certain thing doesn’t happen?”
The answer clearly exists within the scope of our educational system – in addition to the knowledge a student gains in his/her degree program, the student who develops critical thinking and problem solving skills will graduate with an advantageous balance of discipline expertise and workforce ready skills. The good news is that there are ways to kick-start this shift that any college or university can implement. Most schools already have First Year Experience, Student Success, or Gen Ed programs in place that touch a high percentage of students and could more directly incorporate instruction in critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and other foundational areas. Several of our partners in higher education have implemented Credo’s Courseware to address the critical thinking skills gap in their students with data on student performance, authentic assessments, and instructional content.
The loss of certainty is not something we need to mourn, but rather an opportunity to take the next step towards meeting the promise of higher education. We can give today’s students more than just one skill set for their first job after graduation; by teaching them how to learn, we empower them to succeed for the rest of their lives.