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By Celeste Nelson September 25, 2013

19th century schooling—but we’re in 2013!?

Two hundred years behind
A pressing issue that concerns many parents, pedagogues and community builders of our new global society is the miseducation of our children.

The Canadian educational system as we know it today was designed in the 1800’s to solve the problems of that era. At the time, mass schooling was promoted to address 3 major issue of the 19th century: the heavy influx of immigrants, the transition from agricultural to industrial capitalism and the shift of political power to citizens. Well, guess what—today our children are attending schools that are still designed to address those same social issues that date back 200 years!

A collision that is putting our children at a disadvantage

There is an inherent collision between what our current educational systems are teaching our kids and what our future generations really need to be learning. There is something very true in what English author and social critic, H.G. Wells once said: “History is a race between education and catastrophe."

What are the challenges of today?
Two hundred years after the establishment of Western educational systems, we, as a planetary civilization, have the responsibility of designing a new educational model for our children. We are dealing with a new set of global issues including the unprecedented waves of migration, the development of revolutionary technologies and changing forms of production. In order to rise above these challenges, our children must develop a new understanding of human existence that transcends this sense of separation and unites all humans as global citizens.

21st century skills
In a world of massive flows of information, people and capital, our children require a very different set of skills. According to the Ross Model of education, our children need “enhanced problem-solving and decision-making capabilities, high level communication skills and an ability to collaborate with people across many different cultures." There is also a sense of accountability as a global citizen when one comes to understand how our lives depend on the health of our planet.

Teachers who inspire intellectual curiosity through science
From elementary to university, our children can benefit from independent thinking and a true desire to learn. But these qualities don’t come unless we step out of the box and beyond the current educational system. Here are 2 teachers that foster 21st century skills in our children by their unique approach to science.

Tom McFadden brings hip-hop to biology class
This passionate teacher inspires his 8th-graders to learn more about science through hip-hop. Bay Area middle school biology teacher Tom McFadden makes science history rap videos with his students. He sees music as having a direct impact on learning and motivation. Nothing demonstrates his approach better than to view the actual music video entitled: "Rosalind Franklin vs. Watson & Crick Science History Rap Battle":

Professor Brooks summons the “overview effect”
Canadian academic researcher and seasoned educator, Professor Christopher Brooks is a life-long lover of technologies, advanced intellectual educational systems and geochemistry. His strong commitment to undergraduate teaching and in more recent years to geoscience literacy led him conduct “big perspective” campus-wide courses, including one entitled, “Assembling Spaceship Earth," designed to introduce science to non-science students with a hands-on and engaging  approach. I attended this course in 2005. It left me with a love for Earth, an undying curiosity for space and a fascination with the vestiges of Earth’s early stages of formation. Eight years later, Professor Brooks’ teachings continue to bear relevance in my life. His passion for science somehow gave me the “overview effect” and a deep sense of unity and coherence.

Watch this video for a better idea of the “Overview Effect”

Both Tom McFadden and Professor Christopher Brooks share a holistic approach to education. Transcending the current educational model, they use science to inspire intellectual curiosity and a life-long love for learning. Mass education today must be about engaging the mind, body and spirit if our children are to thrive in a shifting economic and cultural landscape.

About the author

Celeste Nelson is part of a new wave of copywriters fit for the 21st century. Cultural sensibility, critical thought and global awareness permeate her work. Based in Montreal, Canada, Celeste holds a degree in Philosophy and Professional Writing and volunteers regularly for cultural, environmental and educational writing endeavors around the world.


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    Serena Bruzzese

    October 29, 2013

    After reading this, I strongly agree that a new education model needs to be designed and implemented. We are no longer in the 1800s; we are in the great 21st century and we have new issues we need to address and inform students about. There’s no use in continuing this model if it’s a disadvantage to the students. We obviously want students to enjoy learning and benefit from the teachers so that they are better equipped to deal with the new global issues we have today. If only there were more teachers like Tom McFadden and Professor Brooks, students will be more engaged and interested in learning since this method of teaching is more hands-on and is geared towards the younger generations.

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    November 10, 2013

    We are living in the past even though we have grown and developped in new ways. The reason why students hate to have to dragged themselves to school is because the thought of sitting down at a desk for hours while listening the teacher drone on and on, does not appeal to anyone. We should all be thinking up of new ways to make studying and education not make our eyes roll. I’ve been in school for the thirteen years and I have spent my fair share of sleeping, daydreaming and a few skippings. What would make school worthwhile and fun would be to make learning fun.

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    December 3, 2013

    This article shocked me and allowed me to come to the realization that our school system does seem outdated and this proves it. Our education system was created in the 1800’s and it has been more that 200 years since the remodel. Therefore, I do believe that our school system has become boring in a way and outdated. Also, with our world continuing to grow and more and more technologies are become available to us, it is crucial that we are able to move forward with education as we are in technology. Also, you mentioned that students today are at a disadvantage today and you are absolutely right because if they aren’t learning what they need in today’s society then they might not develop the necessary skills for them to be successful.

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