Xavier Innovation Prep?

March 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

In recent posts, I talked about the need for Jesuit education to continue to adapt to our wired, e-based world. Drawing upon documents from the Jesuit Secondary Education Association (JSEA), I wrote of the JSEA’s desire for Jesuit schools to effect a shift. It is a shift in how we perceive school. The JSEA called for its schools to become less about transmitting a static body of knowledge than about being places where students “learn how to learn.”

Today in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman’s column accesses some of these themes through the work of Tony Wagner, an “education specialist” (not sure what that means) from Harvard. Friedman quotes a few lines from Wagner’s new book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. Friedman’s argument (borrowing from Wagner) is that schools today must teach kids not only how to get a job, but how to invent one, how to become marketable in “a time when there is increasingly no such thing as a high-wage, middle-skilled job — the thing that sustained the middle class in the last generation.” Friedman continues: the “goal of education today, argues Wagner, should not be to make every child ‘college ready’ but ‘innovation ready’ — ready to add value to whatever they do.”

I hesitate to criticize Wagner without reading his book, but a few thoughts and questions here.

“College ready” v. “innovation ready”: That is vague, demanding elaboration and specification. What is the place of college preparation? Is college old news? Will preparing kids to be innovators include the side benefit of preparing them for college? Who is the “model” student — Muck Zuckerberg or Socrates? If college preparation is done right, if college preparation adapts to the times, can it include the kind of education that Wagner wants? (One assumes so, given his affiliation with Harvard.)

What about deeper, less “market-based” purposes of education? I speak of the classic questions of humanities classes, and increasingly, the questions that only faith-based schools pursue. Who or what is the human being?  What does it mean to live in society? How should I relate with others? What is good and evil? What is the good life? What is life? Who is God? What is faith? Once I learn how to innovate, what do I do with my innovation? Whom should I work for? Whom should I serve? Should I serve anyone? Is the goal of life to make money? Should I pursue happiness? What is happiness? Who determines it? What is the role of sacrifice or calling? What is love, and who deserves it? What is commitment? How do I make sense of temptation and brokenness?

These are questions which have no immediate correlation with a job and a salary, but for Catholic education, at least, these questions must involve themselves in lesson plans if one is to be educated and truly successful. This does not mean that Catholic schools ignore the more “practical” questions or skills (arguably the above questions are the most practical thing we could ask). The choice is not for one emphasis over the other, but for both. Catholic schools have to teach Greek tragedy and computer programming, scripture and algebra, Shakespeare and anatomy. Catholic schools have to teach how to read, how to listen, how to ask, how to contemplate, and how to pray. This is why Catholic schools carry a greater burden than public schools and, historically, have been such edifying places. Catholic education seeks the entire human geography — it assigns itself the entire soul terrain.

Another issue, too, is how to overthrow the reign of standardized testing. Colleges still place disproportionate weight on SAT and ACT scores, as well as on GPAs and AP exams. To the extent that college continues to do that, so will high schools. Perhaps Wagner is calling for us to rethink college altogether — to create a secondary education model that is sort of a hybrid between the traditional high school and traditional college?

I guess I’ll just have to buy his book.

Related posts:

What law school can teach high school: Part II

What law school can teach high school: Part I

Ignatian Education in the Age of YouTube

The Ignatian City

Posted by Matt Emerson.

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