Is what we are teaching “life worthy”? – Part 2.


I have recently been reading David Perkins’ book “Future Wise”. I blogged about the first 4 chapters in a previous post and today I’ll write about the key points (for me) from the next few chapters.

In schools, Perkins suggests we embrace big questions and big understandings.  He says questions should be “open, undermining, rich, connected, loaded and practical” – though he also adds that we need not ensure all questions have all these aspects – phew! Such questions allow students to be a part of the learning process, set them up for this unknown future we keep talking about, allow us to see beyond disciplines, give rise to more questions and, at times, set kids up for the reality that not all questions are answerable… yet!

In order to ‘reimagine’ education and make it ‘life ready’, Perkins suggests 4 quests:

  1. Identifying lifeworthy learning in contrast with not-so-lifeworthy learning
  2. Choosing what lifeworthy learning to teach, based on whether it will help student be ‘life ready’
  3. Teaching for lifeworthy learning – allowing kids to be a part of  the learning process and ensuring learning can be applied, kids know how to apply it and have a vested interest in this learning.
  4. Constructing a lifeworthy curriculum – we can’t fit everything in, in a really meaningful, deep way. So we need to be clever about what we select to teach, which brings us back to those big questions and big understandings.

Following this, Perkins goes on to analyse the silos of education, or buckets of content as he calls them. Perkins argues that there is nothing wrong with this way of categorising knowledge and understandings. However, he does say that traditional disciplines get “crowded with niche understandings and niche questions” which can make it difficult for students to explore really big ideas and questions.

Perkins goes on to argue that some, possibly more traditionally taught areas, can be really meaningful. He gives the example of poetry – it’s unlikely that this will  help us with the practicalities of every day life, like brushing our teeth or getting a better job. However, poetry can offer us key insights into the way the work works and how people operate. So, according to Perkins, not all learning needs to be practical in nature in order for it to be ‘life worthy’.


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