Balancing the E’s of a 21st Century Education

A few weeks ago, our 11 year old neighbour told us that she had some extra spending money, thanks to our son Jacob, who paid her to clean his room. I tried to be non-judgemental: “Really?”  Then, when I had time to think about it, I felt sheepishly proud of him for showing a bit of an entrepreneurial spark.

Tony Wagner, Sir Ken Robinson and others have been touting the need to encourage creativity for a while – it is undoubtedly one of the 21st century learning skills. Wagner has a new book coming out in April called Creating Innovators, in which he will show examples of parents and teachers whose unconventional methods nurtured and developed curiosity, imagination, creativity, and initiative.  The proud parent in me hoped that perhaps I could be one of those parents in his book!

But then this week, I overheard the kids talking about Jacob paying our neighbour to do his homework. And I felt sick. Here I had spent time arguing against parents buying grades, and my son is buying homework.

I had the same visceral reaction when listening this morning to Cameron Herald’s TedTalk called, Let’s raise kids to be entrepreneurs. He offered some ideas worth sharing, but many ideas were worth questioning.

So how do we balance Entrepreneurialism and Ethics? What’s the right thing to do?

Richard Weissbourd, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote a book called The parents we mean to be. He has been researching children’s moral development for a long time, and he writes: “But if I could give just one piece of advice to adults, it would be to focus not on children’s happiness or self-esteem but on their maturity.” He advises parents to encourage reflection, so I gave it a try:

Mom:   Tell me about you paying Natasha to do your homework.

Jacob:  She just coloured the background of a poster for me.

Mom:    But is that right?

Jacob:   That’s not cheating. I probably wouldn’t tell my teacher, but I still think it was smart to get someone else to colour when my hand was sore from doing all the hard parts. I would never pay someone to do my math – that would be wrong.

I’m not sure I fully agree with him – especially the part about his standard of ‘would I tell the teacher’ – but I did come to understand his perspective and was reassured that he’s not a bad kid.

So while all schools are trying to improve how they encourage the 21st Century learning skill of Entrepreneurialism, I am comforted by the fact that our CAIS schools excel at emphasizing Ethics. Good teachers – like good parents – take the time to explore questions about what’s right.

CAIS schools live the adage that education is about more than just knowing the right answer. It’s about knowing what’s right.

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