Random Thoughts

I’m done with the 21st Century!

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I know it’s the largest word in my tag cloud on this blog….but really I’m over it now.

I have come to hate the phrase “21st Century” whatever: Learner, Thinking, Teacher, Skills.

Has anyone noticed it’s 2008…well 79 days until 2009!

We’re 9 years (depending on how you count) into the 21st Century and we’re still calling for 21st Century things.

I’m sorry we’re in it! These are just skills! They are just what we should be doing and if we’re not teaching them, helping students to understand them then we’re letting them down….big time!

So that’s it…I’m done. No more 21st Century for me.

They just are today’s skills

They just are today’s schools

They just are today’s students

They just are what we should be doing!

No more putting them off.

No more pretending we are thinking of the future.

Either you are a 21st Century school working on preparing students for today or you are a 20th Century school that just doesn’t get it.

That goes for teachers, skills, content, curriculum, students.

From now on it’s just what I do.

The time is now!

(Original Picture: Flickr User: drewn’s http://www.flickr.com/photos/87703047@N00/131314233)

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. “21st Century” whatever” has always been several horizons too far away for my liking.
    With the current global turmoil in so many aspects of life, 2009 will be far enough for most strategic planning and thinking to actually be close to the money.
    We have a great opportunity in these difficult times to make the value and potential of learning and collaborating across “two hemispheres” with a view to making a difference, a reality.
    Congratulations on this much overdue, very bold stand on what has been for far too long an unsustainable and oft glibly used expression.

  2. Sure. It’s 2008. And we’re not there yet. Part of that is because there’s very little agreement on what “21st century” learners/thinking/skills/schools actually are. More than anything, it’s just an acknowledgment that we can’t just sit back and do what we’ve always done. We have to continue to evolve.

    I don’t think, though, that we haven’t make any progress. Surely, in the last decade, we’ve made enormous strides in improving what students know about critical thinking, information literacy, global culture, real collaboration, and innovating thinking. We’re not there, certainly, but we’re also not hanging around at the starting line. And since the finish line keeps moving, I’m not sure it’s realistic to think that we’ll ever really reach the 21st century until we start talking about the 22nd century.

    It helps me to consider what “20th century” means. For most of us, we’re talking about a tradition that started after the war. Certainly the concept of educating 100% of the population isn’t older than that. And the curriculum that we grew up with — everybody takes math, everybody takes science, everybody learns to write a research paper — didn’t evolve until the second half of the 20th century. So it took us half of the century to figure out what it was we should have been doing.

    By comparison, we’re ahead of the game with this century.

    • I agree we’re ahead of the game. I agree we’re moving faster then we did last century. But I would also hope that we are as the rate of change is faster, therefore our pace of change needs to somewhat match it.

      I just don’t see someone in 1909 still using the phrase “20th Century” anything. I could be wrong as I wasn’t around then. But everything was about the future.

      The problem is the future is not the 21st Century. The 21st Century is here and now.

  3. Love it! You are SO right! Sometimes I think catch-phrases are also used to “sound-like” the right things are going on anyway. Easier to stick with Today’s students doing relevant work for tomorrow. Walking the walk is what’s important.

  4. Dr. Sanford Aranoff Reply

    Slogans, 21st century, etc., etc. What we need to know is how students think, and how we build from there. See “Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better” on amazon.

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  6. Thanks for this post, Jeff.

    I’ve been feeling the same way – almost wanting to apologize during communication with admin when talking about 21st Century Literacy, as it’s such a vague term. Unclear terminology clouds meaning and hinders effective communication, and you risk talking about different things without even realizing it.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, a century is a very long time. No one I know of (whose opinions I respect) seriously believe we can speak with any certainty about the knowledge, understanding and skills required of the graduating class of 2090.

  7. The first thing that popped into my mind when I read this post was an epidsode of Friends:

    (I’m paraphrasing here…)
    Ross: I’m going to China.
    Joey: Wow! I bet they have great Chinese food there.
    Chandler: Yes, but they just call it food.

    The only people who call it Chinese food in China are the tourists. The only people that call it 21st century blah,blah,blah are digital tourists (I think natives and immigrants don’t cut it any more: this digital life isn’t so binary…)

    The students don’t call it 21st century literacy; they call it reading.
    The students don’t call it 21st century technology; they call it normal.
    The students don’t call it 21st century anything; that’s just the way it is!

  8. Hear! Hear! I agree Jeff. Felt similar thoughts some time back and I did pen a few ideas… As far as I can tell this century is not all that different to the previous one. Many people associate the term 21st century with the future if you get my drift. As a ten year old I was looking forward to the 21st century. Well, the 21st century has arrived and nothing much has really changed. The year is 2008. People are not living on the moon. The Concorde has been mothballed. I am certainly not flying to work in an aero-car each day. I am in a car pool with three colleagues to save on petrol costs and to play music. The fact that it happens to be the 21st century has no bearing on how I teach or make decisions. My colleagues and I teach. My colleagues and I do so every day. We were all applying those ’21st century’ learning skills last century. Cheers, John.

  9. You have hit the nail on the head! It’s time that we as educators get a clue and stop talking about today as the future. It’s here… we must get with the program and stop burring ourselves underneath a ton of ignorance. Our students deserve an education that will prepare them for the actual future, not this much anticipated future that happens to be now instead of 30 years down the road.

  10. I think the use of the 21st term is not for futuristic uses anymore, at least in most of the cases, and at least that is my impression from people I meet, and stuff that I read. Perhaps this use was widespread 10 years ago. I remember when I was a kid and an adolescent, in the sixties and in the seventies of the 20th centurey, people used to use the term 20th century to talk about nowadays things. That is, in my opinion, the case of the use of the 21st century term in our era – most people mean nowadays things when they use it.

  11. I would also say the same thing in regard to digital native and digital immigrant, so over used. I believe when you start talking to anyone about changes in education as soon as you mention 21st century or digital natives you have turned people off to the conversation before you have a chance to start. Thanks Jeff I agree, I am done too.

  12. Great point, Jeff. I head a presentation the other day where the speaker mentioned that we were almost 10% through with the 21st century–blew some folks’ minds!

    I say keep the term, though. The majority of teachers are still operating in the 20th (or 19th…) in their daily curriculum. It doesn’t hurt to keep reminding them that time is moving on–they might yet get on board, if they will notice their calendars are 14 years out of date!

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  15. Clint: I LOVE that quote from Friends! I hadn’t heard or seen that one before.

    That said, however, I don’t share your sentiment about needing or wanting to abandon discussion about 21st century schools, skills, and learning. It sounds like you’ve taken a few too many sips of the Dave Jakes kool aide on this. 🙂

    The point which Dave makes and I’m hearing you make is that these are skills everyone needs, and we shouldn’t have to preface them with words like “new” or “21st century.” I’m reminded of the observation by Alfie Kohn that it is ridiculous to hear educational calls to “get back to basics” since most of our schools never GOT beyond the basics. This is true in many of our Oklahoma schools. Teachers and administrators are still trying to maintain a 19th century paradigm of learning, when kids are living and breathing new ways of processing and sharing information in their lives outside of schools.

    I certainly am frustrated at times at the slow pace of change, but I’m not convinced abandoning terms like “21st century learning environment” is going to move the school change agenda forward.

    • “but I’m not convinced abandoning terms like “21st century learning environment” is going to move the school change agenda forward.”

      And I’m not convinced keeping the term is going to move the school change agenda forward either. 🙂

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