Today’s World Requires Our Students to Have an Open Mind, Open Heart and Free Will
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
by:

Section: From our Executive Director


Jonathan Raymond



Since the late 1990s, policymakers and educators have discussed the need for students to acquire "21st Century Skills." The Partnership for 21st Century Skills defines these as the 4Cs – Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity.
Since the late 1990s, policymakers and educators have discussed the need for students to acquire "21st Century Skills." The Partnership for 21st Century Skills defines these as the 4Cs – Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity.
 
And yet, we also need to prepare students for an age where artificial intelligence, robots, and big data are fundamentally changing the way we work and live. Along with math, English, science, history, the arts and the skills embodied in the 4Cs, students will need to be complex problem-solvers and demonstrate cognitive flexibility. If acquiring these skills wasn’t enough, however, the World Economic Forum presents us with a further challenge. How might we prepare our students to advance humanity?
 
Meeting the demands of this global challenge requires students to have more than the 4Cs. They will need to be masters at emotional intelligence, with an emphasis on learning how to persevere, make sound decisions, build relationships, and to empathize with others.
 
Canadian educator and professor Michael Fullan defines these traits as “deeper learning competencies” and argues that students need to develop 6Cs, rather than just the four. In addition to the 4Cs, he adds Citizenship and Character Development to the list.
 
While all six are important capacities for students to become productive participants in our emerging world, I’ve told Professor Fullan that something was missing from the list of skills. It wasn’t until I came across an address to a group of students by renowned legal scholar Frank I. Michelman that I realized what that was.
 
 A few words from Professor Michelman’s talk jumped out at me instantly: individualism, pluralism, unity,and fairness. Liberal values, he stated, balance the tension between the interests of the individual and society, promoting unity among many, and respect for public government and the rule of law. This revealed what was missing from the six critical capabilities for students. All 6Cs could be in play, yet to ensure mutual respect and pluralism, to combat bias and uphold fairness, a “7C” is needed: namely, empathy, or compassion. In other words, a student could became proficient in the above six skills and still lack the ability to fully participate in our democracy.
 
Isn’t compassion inherent in collaboration, you might ask? Doesn’t citizenship or character development breed empathy? At first glance, perhaps, but consider how many clusters of male scientists have worked collaboratively, yet excluded women. Think of the children in all-white neighborhoods whose avid curiosity ends where the “bad neighborhood” begins. Having empathy and compassion — being able to see things from a different perspective — are critical skills for students to master if they are to make an impact on our world. Being able to learn, think, and judge for oneself are fundamental to any democracy with an underlying sense of fairness and an expectation that its members have, as Michelman puts it, “a fair shot at affecting the outcomes.”
 
Our world is being shaped by the digital revolution, but also by economic inequality, racial injustice, and global warming. Compassion, empathy, the imperative to view the world from a perspective not your own — they’re not optional. Without them, our technology will amount to little more than fancy accessories. Self-awareness and cultural competence must be affirmatively cultivated if our children are to approach the world with an open mind, open heart, and open will. Not just their future, but the health of our democracy, lie in the balance.
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