Balance in Education

Teaching is all about balance.  We have to be able to teach students basic skills and knowledge, but also challenge them with essential questions as they analyze the information that’s being presented to them.  Teaching and learning is give and take; the student is not just an empty receptacle for the teacher to fill with the material he or she deems worthy.  One of my English courses mentioned the “Banking Theory of Education.”  This theory challenges the idea that the teacher is the “sage on the stage” who spews titles and authors and dates and expects students to collect all this data organically.  If students are just a receptacle, what happens if they get filled to the top and overflow?  Rather, a balance of types of information and activities is needed to engage students in the learning process and give them valuable skills.

So in the 21st century, don’t we need a balance more than ever?  Like the Core Knowledge website suggested, “Students can simply Google anything they need to know.”  We are in an Internet age and as tech-savvy as I think I may be, my fifteen year-old sister has already surpassed my computer experience.  By the time I start teaching, my secondary students will be even farther ahead of the curve.  How do we account for that?  Most of these students have some form of the Internet right at their fingertips, literally in the palms of their hands.  The Internet is a distraction, a diversion.  How do we turn it into something concrete and teachable?  The possibilities are both inspiring and overwhelming.

What websites like Core Knowledge and The Partnership for 21st Century Skills try to get across is the need to align classroom environments with the real world.  These students need to be prepared to use technology in future college careers or jobs.  Besides media literacy, students also need to learn how to innovate, and how to incorporate what they have learned into life and career skills.

However, there are some who criticize the theories surrounding 21st-Century Skills.  For example, in the article “What to learn: ‘core knowledge’ or ’21st-century skills’?,” some worry that incoroporating 21st-Century Skills in the classroom could take away from core content knowledge.  They believe that content knowledge is more important, and that 21st-Century Skills could somehow “de-emphasize” content.

I believe that as with everything in education, a balance is needed.  I don’t think that using these 21st-Century skills in the classroom will take away the importance of content knowledge.  Without content knowledge, there is nothing to necessarily apply.  Therefore, content and application need to be balanced so that students get the most out of the material.

Personally, I don’t think that 21st-Century Skills in the classroom is a problem as long as there is some content.  For example, you can memorize the dates for the Civil War, but it doesn’t have to stop there.  You can use the dates to situate the war in a historical context, which the students can analyze.  Understanding comes from being able to critically think about the political and cultural climate of the time, leading to discussions about cause and effect, and everything in between.  It is up to the teacher to create a well-balanced lesson plan to move from content to application.

A good example that I found in the Technology Integration Matrix was a lesson called Poetry Exploration.  In this lesson, students were required to use technology to do research on a poem, potentially collaborating with the author, then they had to teach the poem to the class.  Both content and application are in this plan.  Students have to know what a poem is and how is is structured and used before they can analyze it and understand it.  In order to be able to teach it, the students have to have both knowledge and skills.

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2 Responses to “Balance in Education”

  1. I really appreciate that you concentrated on the idea of a balance. So much of this argument seems either/or, instead of exploring the potential for a collaborative relationship between Core Knowledge and 21st Century Skills. I agree that there does need to be a combination of the two before our students can thrive, as we want them to.
    Also, I love the points you make and the questions you raise in your second paragraph. “The Internet is a distraction, a diversion. How do we turn it into something concrete and teachable?” I don’t know who will disagree with this distracting nature of the Internet, nor its potential for the educational. While technology can be teachable, I wonder how many teachers expect their students already to have been taught to use the Internet.

  2. Erin Hill says:

    I absolutely agree with you, Gabrielle! Balance is essential in almost everything but, especially in teaching. You hit the nail on the head by saying that, “Understanding comes from being able to critically think about the political and cultural climate of the time, leading to discussions about cause and effect, and everything in between. It is up to the teacher to create a well-balanced lesson plan to move from content to application.”

    To be clear, you are saying that you believe both core knowledge and 21st century skills should be incorporated in the classroom, right? While adding more 21st century skills may take extra time and planning, I do not see how they are at odds with each other. Like you, I think time should be equally allocated to both of them.