Curriculum 21: Essential Education

Book Review by Keith McAdams

Heidi Hayes Jacobs edited the book Curriculum 21 Essential Education for a Changing World published in 2010 by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  The book contains chapters written by 10 authors who each contribute to the discussion of what they believe education should center on in the 21st century.  The central message communicated through the thirteen chapters builds on the idea that existing educational practices must be rethought and most likely replaced if our students are going to be prepared to engage and productively contribute in the 21st century.

The first four chapters lay a foundation that outlines our current antiquated system of educating our children and provide a solid backbone to support the need for educational change while clearly illustrating how to begin this process in a practical manner.  However, although recognition is given to the different types of learners that educators need to service, the writer does not acknowledge a foundational issue that plagues our educational system—student motivation.  Most of the classroom examples provided in this text illuminate classrooms with highly engaged learners.  The reader is led to believe that if the students utilize technology in creating meaningful products that their motivation will flourish and educational success will be achieved.  Although agreement with this idea could be easily fostered by teachers who teach in highly supportive communities which value education, the reality is that there are many teachers who face the daily reality that the communities where their students are being educated have propagated a message that education has little value.  In addition, these teachers also recognize their powerlessness in “fixing” a broken system that refuses to address why their schools are failing.  As a result, children have lost confidence in their schools and possess a mindset that success in the 21st century is based on a set of practices contrary to those promoted on the pages of this text.  In fairness to the writers though, their intention was to cast a vision for 21st century education, not to discuss the obstacles in obtaining it.  However, their lack of acknowledgement of this issue has the potential to further discourage those who recognize the obstacles that hinder the success of their students.

The strength of this book is found in the variety and expertise of its contributors.  Each passionately communicates from a slightly different vantage point what education could be and should be as we continue to advance in this century.  This is done without the use of technical jargon.  In addition, the writers include helpful web sites to support an educator’s desire to transform his or her teaching practices in view of the 21st century model.  The real power of the narrative is found in its ability to stimulate ideas in the mind of its readers—ideas that cause the reader to rethink what is being taught, why it is being taught, how it is being taught, and how can it be refocused in light of the skills necessary for a 21st century learner.  This book provides a great foundation for educators ready to merge 21st century students with 21st century tools. 

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