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Daniel Pink

09/08/08 7:55AM By Mike Martin
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(HOST) Recently, many Vermont teachers attended a professional development day sponsored by the Champlain Valley Educational Consortium. Business and technology writer Daniel Pink gave the keynote address - and that got commentator Mike Martin thinking about how, for students today - the future is now.

(MARTIN) When I was in high school, I took a computer class that was bone-dry and really hard, even though it was called "BASIC." Most of the time, we made weird flow charts and wrote pages of commands in all-caps. BASIC was a computer language, but its culture didn't seem as exciting as French or Spanish: no exotic customs, no fun clothing, no spicy food. Instead, computer culture seemed to mainly consist of making people think like machines, which didn't seem like much fun at all. And the people who worked with computers back then didn't seem much fun either. They kind of kept to themselves and were pretty different from today's tech-savvy hipsters. Nowadays, computer jocks are trendy designers, chatty bloggers, or edgy filmmakers. Today's technorati wouldn't be caught dead at a party with computer nerds from circa 1985.

In part, this is the message that Daniel Pink brought to more than 3,000 Vermont educators in Essex Junction just before they returned to school last month. Mr. Pink is an NPR commentator, New York Times business & technology contributor, and author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. In his pre-service keynote speech, Mr. Pink showed how current trends in technology and globalization mean we need to totally rethink our schools if we want our children to succeed in the coming years.

Of course, this is a familiar message to us by now, and Mr. Pink reviewed some familiar statistics, from the 150 million English-speaking Indian engineers who are willing to work for under $20,000 a year, to the millions of Americans who file their tax return - or even their divorce - online instead of hiring an accountant or an attorney. But Mr. Pink's solution isn't to produce more engineers and accountants, but rather to give this generation skills that are "high concept" and "high touch." With Asian competition and increased automation, he explained, our students need more "novelty, nuance, and customization" and fewer "routines, right answers, and standardization."

And in an age when standardized testing seems to have taken over our schools, it was good to hear Mr. Pink rail against schools that churn out what he called "bubble test weenies." Instead, he suggested three questions to evaluate the relevancy of skills: Can it be done overseas cheaper? Can a computer do it faster? Is it in demand in an age of abundance?

Mr. Pink insists that demand for "routine" white collar skills is falling rapidly, and that only the most innovative and creative workers will stay ahead of automation and global competition. Unfortunately, our schools don't foster these skills enough. In his words, schools still reward "compliance" over "engagement."

During his keynote, Daniel Pink suggested that if school transformation can happen anywhere, it can happen in Vermont, and the Vermont educators in attendance seemed to agree.

But it won't be enough for us to simply agree that 21st Century skills are important, and then go straight back to our reading and math scores.

After all, the 21st Century is now....
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